Southern Gospel

Romans 5:6-8

 

There aren’t too many words as misunderstood as the term “gospel”.  The word is used in many different contexts.

The most obvious one would likely be the first four book of the New Testament.  We know these as the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

But the word’s meaning goes far beyond a book—even a book written about Jesus Christ and His life here on the earth.

 

In light of this, you’ve probably heard some folks refer to the gospel as any sort of truth that has been set forth.

Sometimes, when expressing their opinions, folks will refer to something as “gospel”.  For example, I might interject my thoughts on a matter.

And I could begin by stating, “This is just the gospel according to Matt, but….”  Of course, there have been other, literal gospels produced throughout time.

Some of these were considered for inclusion in our NT, but were deemed to hold inaccuracies or to be outright false.

Some of these include the gospel of Philip and even the one known as the gospel of Jesus.

 

Another common use for the term is in describing that type of music, which many of us love.  Southern Gospel music has a distinct tone and charm.

While the original intent of the music probably had much to do with the message, it’s now come to describe more of a style of music.

Often, the songs in this genre tell stories similar to those we might read in the gospels found in the Bible.

But, many times today, it refers more to a group with a certain type of harmony and signature power to the vocals.

 

I’ve noticed some churches that are described as “Full Gospel” churches.  In fact, I did a little research on the website for the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship.

This denomination began roughly twenty years ago.  Their description of the gospel mostly relates to power.

Specifically, the full gospel includes the eternal power of the cross and the potential power of Pentecost, the baptizing power of Jesus for salvation, and the filling controlling power of the Spirit for serving the Lord.

While I didn’t go in depth in my research, this notion of the gospel being power finds footing in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

You may be familiar with Paul’s words in the first chapter of that letter:  for I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation.

 

It is for this reason that we take a further look this morning at Paul’s letter to the Romans.  As we just shared, the gospel is power.  It’s the power to save.

But the literal meaning of the word, “gospel”, is this:  good news.  So what is this good news?  The obvious answer is one you have heard throughout your time in church—Jesus died on the cross for your sins.

The good news is that one day Jesus will return and we will be taken into heaven.

But is there more to it than that?  Is it possible that the gospel—the real and true “good news”—goes even farther than what we think we know or can imagine?

 

To answer that question—as well as other possible questions—we’re going to turn to turn to the fifth chapter of Romans.

As you may well know, this is one of the weightiest books of the Bible.  Paul’s deep theology in his letter to the Romans would take a lifetime to understand.

But today, we will do our best.  We will begin our reading with verse six of chapter five.  (Read Romans 5:6-8.)

 

Now here we most certainly find some good news.  Let’s explore these words from Paul, written to believers in the church at Rome.

We’ll also take a look at some of the earlier verses in this chapter.  “You see,” Paul writes, “Christ died.”  Now, there’s a lot more to that.

There are a lot of clarifying phrases to expound upon this death of Jesus Christ.

But, for now, let’s remember this gospel truth.  Christ died.  Jesus, the divine Son of God, died.  Jesus, yes fully man but also fully God, died.  God died that day.

It’s scandalous.  It’s provocative.  But it’s true.  I could go on and on pointing out how the Bible verifies this.

Jesus once said, “Before Abraham was even born, I am!”  He existed before Abraham.

He even used the name of God—I am.  Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, described Jesus as One Who was “in very nature God.”

Another translation of this text says that Jesus “existed in the form of God”.  And I could keep rolling with this, but the point has been made.  God the Son died.

 

But what was the context of this death?  You probably know that it happened on a cross.  You might even know that it happened around the time of the Passover.

But I’m speaking more in the grander scheme.  I’m talking about the deeper, more spiritual, and more theological context.

This context helps us understand why the death of Christ is, in fact, good news.  Needless to say, the death of a holy man doesn’t seem like very good news.

But in verse six we read that this death came “at just the right time”.  What made the timing of this death to be so precise and perfect?

I don’t believe we can fully answer that question.  But here’s what we do know.  God deemed that it was just the right time.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote that Christ came and died “when the fullness of time” had arrived.

 

And there’s more to this context.  Jesus also died “while we were still powerless”.

Other translations refer to us as “helpless”.  No one likes to be referred to as “powerless” or “helpless”.  These are weakened states.

The idea here is that humans had no ability to help or save themselves.  This is not physical weakness, necessarily, but “moral frailty,” as Leon Morris states.

We were deficient in every way before Christ came onto the scene.  Something in us was broken, lacking, and incomplete.

And, for some reason, Paul found it necessary to state that Jesus, the Son of God, died while we were still in that state.

Jesus died, but not after waiting on us to fix ourselves.  Jesus died, but not after first making us whole and new and beautiful.

No, Jesus died—while we were still powerless and helpless, broken and lacking.

 

This starts to make sense as good news.  Jesus took action, and He didn’t wait for us to get everything fixed and ready.

This is good news because, as you probably know, we are terrible at fixing ourselves.  Even humans who’ve never been to church know that.

We’ve tried it all—more money, less money, more friends, new friends, different house, different spouse, more kids, less kids, more schooling, better job, new activities, different church, and the list goes on and on.

We’ve tried and failed because, ultimately, we cannot fix a thing.  We can apply bandages and gauze and possibly even plastic surgery.

But we can’t fix a thing.  And Jesus took action, knowing our inabilities.  But that leaves the question—why was His action to die on a cross?

 

The end of verse six—and our last bit of context—helps us out in that regard.  We see why Jesus died.  It was for—or on behalf of—the ungodly.

Now let’s clear up a bit of misconception here.  We may read this and shudder at Christ dying for the ungodly.

Some of you may be thinking, “You mean He died on behalf of the Muslims and those of other religions?  And the homosexuals?  And the murderers and rapists?”

Such thinking gives us a very narrow framework for understanding the ungodly.

By its very nature, the word “ungodly” means anyone who or anything which stands opposed to God.  First, we must assume that we are talking about the God of the Bible.  Christians believe there to be only one God, so we can operate only within that parameter.

So, taking “ungodly” people to mean anyone who stands opposed to the One True God, might I just say, “We’ve all been there”?

 

If we were to catalog our entire lives, dividing them into two categories—Times When We Oriented Things Around God and Times When We Oriented Things Around Our Desires—which do you think would top the charts?

You and I are the ungodly.  We’ve all shaken our fists at God—more often than you might think, and sometimes even in our sleep.

Your ungodliness might be more covert and less noticeable than those sitting around you, but that makes it no less wicked in the eyes of God.

And His eyes are the only eyes that truly matter.  We have to come face-to-face with this bad news before we can embrace the good news within this passage.

 

You see, were we to look at the third chapter of Romans we would read that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  Bad news.

Furthermore, in chapter six, we read that the wages of sin is death—not merely physical death, for that comes to all of us.

But we are talking about spiritual separation from God.  It’s an eternal death, one to which we are enslaved because of sin.  More bad news.

But in our passage today, we read that Jesus died on behalf of the ungodly.  He paid the price that none of us could pay.

Yes, He died a physical death on the cross, but He did far beyond that.  He cried out to His Father, “Why have You forsaken Me?”

The answer, of course, was because of the sin of the world.  The prophet Isaiah foretold that all our sins were to be placed upon Him.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul states that Jesus “became sin” on our behalf.  He endured the pain and suffering and separation that we deserved.

 

This is very good news.  It’s a verse laden with good news.  And the next two verses highlight that good news.

Rarely would someone be willing to die for someone who follows the rules to the tee.  It’s possible that someone would die for a person who was good and incredibly good-natured, such that they even went beyond simply obeying the rules.

But God, out of His limitless love, went far beyond that.  Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. 

When we come to grips with our ungodliness, this becomes the best of all the good news we could imagine—an obvious cause for rejoicing.

 

Unfortunately, more many folks—and especially some folks within churches—this actually isn’t the best news imaginable.

In fact, it hardly qualifies as good in their eyes.  And here’s why.  Based on this news, we are charity cases, plain and simple.

Fallen humanity doesn’t like to hear that it cannot fix itself.  No one likes to accept that they are helpless or powerless.

We like phrases such as “God helps those who help themselves,” even though there is no such verse in the Bible.

Surely we can play some role in this, can’t we?  Surely we can have some say in it all, right?  Surely something depends on us—something is within our control.

 

That’s an attitude that the devil has been infecting humanity with from the very beginning.  And it stands diametrically opposed to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, it points to a cheapened, watered-down version of the good news.

Look at it like this.  Take a peek at the beginning of our chapter today—Romans, chapter five—as well as at the end.

In both places, Jesus is referred to as the “Lord, Jesus Christ”.  Notice that it isn’t “Christ, the Savior,” though that’s certainly true.

The emphasis is on Christ’s lordship.  He is king.  He is ruler.  He is supreme.  Look at the verses 3-5, the ones immediately preceding our passage today.

 

Paul states that we “exult in our tribulations”.  We rejoice when we face trials and sufferings.  And why do we face these things?

Is it not because we are powerless and helpless?  Is it not because we have no control over the world around us?  Why is this so hard to accept?

We are reminded of it, day in and day out!  Cancer, tornadoes, moral evil, and all other sorts of uncertainties and agonies tell us this, over and over again.

There is nothing eternal that is in our grasp, under our control.  Perhaps you can marginally control the circumstances around you for a fleeting period of time.

But, ultimately, we are lord of nothing.  We are not lord over our money, our time, our circumstances, our salvation, or our entire lives.

There is only one Lord.  Jesus Christ is Lord of all.  He alone stands as King!

 

And do you know what?  This, too, is very good news!  We might be tempted to see it as difficult news to swallow.  Releasing control is not something that comes easily to sinful human nature.  But, believe it or not, it’s actually quite freeing.

Our camp pastor, Matt Chandler, addressed that last week with our students.  This good news is littered throughout our Bibles.

Equal to the good news of Jesus Christ dying in our place is this:  He is also our Lord and Master.  He is our reigning King.  He leads and we submit.

In fact, the Bible speaks much more of the glory and goodness of God than it does about you and me and what we are to do.

 

I love trying to find myself in the passages in the Bible and interjecting my own situations into whatever I might read.  But we can go too far with that.

If we take the Bible to be a book primarily about us and the living of our lives, then we can start thinking of ourselves as the focal point—or even the hero.

And, as with all books, the hero is the one who does the rescuing.  But we cannot rescue ourselves!  It is God who rescues us!

He is, always has been, and always will be the hero, the focal point, and the headliner—the only star in the entire saga.

We are called to make little of ourselves and much of Him.  That’s why we are commanded to do all to the glory of God.

Whether we eat, drink, walk, talk , work, or play—we do it to His glory.

 

And why is this good news?  It’s because there’s no pressure on us.  There’s no stress or strain of attempting to live up to something we are not.

The news that Jesus is King and we are not frees us from the burdens of fixing ourselves, achieving salvation, and living up to God’s standard of holiness.

King Jesus does it all for us.  He mends our broken lives—we can only accept that.

He accomplished salvation for us, making us right with God by paying our price—we can only accept that.

He lived up to God’s standard of holiness, living the life we could never live—we can only accept that.  It’s not—and never has been—Jesus-plus.  It’s simply Jesus.

 

Yes, we must first embrace the bad news about ourselves before we embrace the good news of King Jesus and the salvation He alone can provide.

We are not “going to be ok” without the grace of God.  It’s a lie to say that we “aren’t all that bad” without the grace of God.

Nor is it true to say that “people are basically good”.  Psalm 14 says this:  “The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind, to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.”

“All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

So how can we possibly have any say in our salvation—or in our lives in general?  If we, who are not good at all, are left to our own devices, our destruction is sure.

 

Therefore, Jesus being Lord and Master and King is truly the good news of all good news.  Today, as we prepare to sing this old favorite song, I urge you to sing it as a life-truth rather than a mere lyric.

Sing it out as a confession to Him.  May your knees be those that bow to this Lord.  May your tongues be those that honestly confess this Lord.  Would you pray?