The Power of the Evangel

by J. Philip Scranton

THE EVANGEL of the kingdom associated with Israel and the evangel of grace committed to Paul differ in many ways. Both messages encourage a holy and devout life, but their sources of motivation to live a God-pleasing life are different.

The kingdom evangel's chief motivational factor is fear of the loss of privilege and blessing, and even life. Not only were kingdom subjects to repent, produce fruits worthy of repentance and be baptized (Luke 3:3,8), but the establishment of the earthly kingdom was to come through a fiery cleansing and winnowing of its subjects (Matt.3:10-12). The pardon of sins was conditioned on obedience and righteous living, and could be revoked (Matt.6:12-15; 18:21-35). The performance of miracles and the casting out of demons were not sufficient to guarantee a kingdom allotment (Matt.7:21-23). And future kingdom subjects are even warned to use stringent self-control in order to avoid Gehenna (Matt.5:21,22,27-32).

Paul's evangel, on the other hand, lacks the element of fear found in the evangel of the Circumcision. It is true that the additional allotment of reigning will be awarded to many for faithful suffering with Christ (Rom.8:17, 2 Tim.2:11-13), but justification, reconciliation with God and the allotment of life are all gracious gifts from which we cannot be separated.

What, then, is the guiding and motivational element for the believer under grace? The answer to this question is to be found in one of the chief underlying themes of the epistle to the Romans. The Roman letter takes us from man with a disqualified mind to man with a renewed mind (Rom.1:28; 12:1,2). Under the disqualified mind, man is guilty of all kinds of sins (Rom.1:28-32), but under the renewed mind man is transformed and is testing what the will of God is (Rom.12:2). This renewed mind is the source of motivation for righteous living.

The first chapter of Romans relates man's journey deeper and deeper into the corruption of sin and death. The milestones along the road are the different taskmasters which have had custody of mankind. Three times "God gives man over" (Rom.1:24,26,28). The word translated "give over" paradidomi does not mean "cast off" or "thrown aside", but clearly something else. The word is used many times in the Greek scriptures and means to place in the custody of another. Judas "gave over" the Lord Jesus into the hands of authorities; he "betrayed" Him (Matt.27:3,4). The householder "gave over" the talents to his stewards for their use. A soldier would "give over" his prisoners to the jailer. God gave mankind over to uncleanness, dishonorable passions and a disqualified mind for the experience of evil.

Thanks be to God that He has not left us under this cruel bondage! Instead He "gave over" His Son for us all (Rom.8:32) and for our offenses (Rom.4:25), and He has "given us over" to the teaching of His evangel (Rom.6:17). A teaching is something that is implemented in one's life through the understanding of the mind. So the teaching of the evangel becomes the custodian of our lives, and the task of the mind is to comprehend and implement it.

But the mind struggles with many seemingly insoluble problems. How did mankind come to be in such a lamentable condition? Why did God favor one nation over all others, and how can such favoritism be just? Why must mankind experience such evil? These questions, and many others, are answered in the Roman epistle, and the answers are the means of bringing peace to the mind of the believer. In fact, Paul's method of expounding the evangel is to do so by raising (although not always directly asking) and answering such questions. When reading the epistle, this question-and-answer method stands out through repeated phrases such as "What shall we declare"? (3:5; 4:1; 6:1; 7:7; 8:31; 9:14,30), "By no means"! (3:4,6,3 1; 6:2,15; 7:7,13; 9:14; 11:1,11), and "Do you not know . . . "? (2:4; 6:3,16; 7:1; 11:2,25).

When sin and death came upon mankind in Eden, there was an overthrow in the ranks of authority. The serpent which was to be subject to man, through deception overthrew man's dominion. The first chapter of Romans shows us the same type of thing happening within man (Rom.1:19-32). Though man had the knowledge of God and His attributes available to his mind, he became vain in his reasonings and was subjected to the lusts of the heart and dishonorable passions. But when the mind is renewed by the evangel of grace it is reinstated in the position of authority and gets the response of obedience from the heart (Rom.6:17).

© J. Philip Scranton
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