The gospel is not fragile. In it, the wisdom of God in Christ overthrows kingdoms, powers, principalities, egos, and various cherished doctrines.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16-17)
What is the condition of man apart from Christ, and what salvation is offered to us in that condition? The Word of salvation does not come to sinners who are ailing. It comes to sinners who are dead. It does not come to those who have anything to contribute to the process of resurrection. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He was not pulling while Lazarus pushed. Before the word of life comes to us, before the breath of God is breathed into us, our condition is hopeless.
We are in the grip of carnal hatred. Without Christ, what does the mind of man do? Where does it gravitate? “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (8:7). Described another way, this condition of hatred is a form of death, and it is a death that reigns. Apart from Christ, sinners are dead — not sick. “And so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Again, the image here should be that of Lazarus in the tomb. How much did he contribute to his resurrection?
Enslaved means enslaved. Prior to regeneration, an image Scripture gives for our condition is that of slavery. “Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (6:18). A man cannot serve two masters. He is either a slave of unrighteousness, or he is a slave of righteousness.
This is the condition of sinful man. How extensive is the problem? Does it afflict a portion of the human race, or all of it? The third chapter of Romans is conclusive on the extent of the sin problem. All are under sin (3:9), whether Jew or Gentile. No one seeks God (3:11). No one does good (3:12). No one fears God (3:18). “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 2:23). Tall or short, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile . . . all have angered God.
We are tempted to think that our moral inability to please God must somehow alleviate our guilt. This is because we want to measure our culpability by our own ability to do otherwise, which is not how the Bible defines sin. Sin is lawlessness, and not going contrary to our better impulses. Sin is defined by the Scriptures, not by those things we have done wrong that we might have done right. The fact that the law condemns sinners who by nature are unable to be anything else does not in the slightest excuse them. The law says what it says so that the whole world might become guilty before God (3:19). If the Bible said, “Thou shalt not be a snake,” the fact that the snakes can’t help it would not excuse them. We are by nature objects of wrath.
Now if man cannot save himself, or prepare himself for salvation, then how can it be done? We are saved through the decision of the Father, the obedience of the Son, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. First we should consider the decision of the Father. The fact that a passage is famous does not silence it. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his son . . .” (8:29). Those whom the Father foreknew, those upon whom He had set his electing love, these He predestined to glory. The salvation of God has its origin in the sovereign will of the Father.
But the decision does not save by itself. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit together weave the salvation of man. The obedience of the Son is next — it is through Christ we receive atonement (5:11). The first Adam plunged all his descendants into death (5:17). The last Adam accomplished abundant life for all His descendants (5:17-19), the new humanity. The salvation of God was accomplished in the death, burial and resurrection of the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ (5:6).
Then came the Spirit. The Father chose us before all worlds. The Son died outside Jerusalem, two thousand years ago. When does the Spirit do His work? In the first place, He was poured out upon the Church at the Day of Pentecost. And in the second place . . . well, when were you converted? “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (8:2). Our minds are either carnal, which is death (8:6), or they are quickened by the Spirit, in which case we mortify the flesh (8:13), and we cry out Abba in the spirit of adoption (8:15-16).
How should we respond to this two-fold understanding of redemption? It is two-fold because we are dead and Christ makes us alive. It is a two-part thing — death and resurrection. The carnal mind and the faithful mind respond to this in two entirely different ways. The carnal mind says that “this makes us puppets.” Because the carnal mind will not bend before God’s logic, it breaks. “Thou wilt say then unto me . . .” (9:19). The one place this argument (which makes such good sense to our flesh) appears in the Bible it is directed against the Lord’s apostle. If you make it, who do you direct it against? If we reject this kind of intellectual rebellion, as we ought to, we find the glory of submission. Election, and all the truths that follow from it, are a glory and a covering. “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us . . .” (8:31-34).
And this is how we persevere — the perseverance of the saints is not so much a doctrine to be affirmed as it is a life to be lived. And it is to be lived on the basis of what God has revealed to us. Not only are we to believe the doctrines taught in the Word of God, we are to believe what God tells us about their effect — on our lives, on the unity of the saints, on the purity of our faith, on the eventual salvation of all men.