Paul, in the sixteenth verse of Romans 1 says, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” The general theme of our meditation is the power of God in the gospel of Christ. As witnesses to this power, one of our most difficult tasks is to proclaim in such a way that we don’t obscure this power of God.
We often hear things like this: “If we really believe this, and I mean really, then such and such will take place”; “If we really, truly, and sincerely take this seriously, then it will result in this or that.” Lately, I ask myself more and more what in the world it can mean to talk like that. It almost seems as though, for all our good intentions, we are apologizing for the fact that this whole business is really not very credible anymore, and that we have to help it along a little, that we have to give it a boost by adding some of our own steam.
It’s as though the gospel really doesn’t have power any longer, that it doesn’t have the power to attract people, to draw them in, to create faith of itself – and so we have to stir up our own enthusiasm. After all, we have to keep things going. We’re stuck with this thing called the church, and we can’t let it collapse – there may still be good in it. And so we find ourselves very often playing the part of the cheerleader to keep the team from quitting even though the score is forty to zero, and there are only a few seconds left.
I wonder if we speak and act this way partly because we’re bewildered and confused by the world in which we have suddenly found ourselves – a world about which all the analysts and observers of the times are saying things we don’t like to hear and don’t quite know how to cope with. We’re told that all, or most, of the presuppositions for the message which we preach have been swept away.
The modern person, we’re told, is no longer concerned with serving God, or living up to his law, nor is he concerned with such things as guilt or justification. Quite to the contrary, modern people seem more concerned with getting rid of God – with constructing life so that we no longer need God. And we’re worried about his apparent success. We don’t know what the gospel should have to say to us in this modern situation.
Thus, I find it difficult to believe that God is worried about the apparent godlessness of our age, any more than some other age. It is, after all, no new thing that people attempt to construct their lives so as to get rid of God. It is all a part of the same old game – the same game played out at Calvary, and all through history, for that matter. God in Christ has taken all this upon himself. And in the cross and resurrection, he has won the victory.
Therefore, it seems to me that our greatest task is not that of seeking skills and methods whereby we can inject power into the gospel, but simply to beware lest we obscure the power that the gospel is. We are not called to the irksome task of being cheerleaders for a game that is already lost. We are not called to sound a retreat back to the good old days, to do battle for worn-out ideals. For in as much as we have been baptized into Christ, Paul says, we have been baptized into his death.
We have been baptized into this act of divine daring, in which God has dared the powers to do their work. And having been made a part of this act, we are partakers of the victory, so let us speak therefore as victors. We are called, not to become entangled in vain human deceit, to apologize and argue and cajole people onto the old paths. We are called rather to put all these things behind us to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ – for it is the power of God unto salvation. Amen.
This series of sermons by Gerhard Forde has been kindly submitted by Lutheran Quarterly journal. To learn more about the Forde legacy, visit them at lutheranquarterly.com