A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 11/29/1992
I remember once being stuck on a winding mountain road behind an agonizingly slow truck that I was desperate to pass. Unfortunately, I was no longer in my '64 Fairlane with the 289 v-8 (which I am still convinced was the best automotive engine ever built); I was in a '70's Fairmont with an in-line 6 that would have been ashamed to go up against any self respecting 4-cylinder engine. The power wasn't there and I knew it, so brief opportunities that I would have taken in the previous car without a second thought were allowed to slip by. I remember the Georgia Bulldogs in the 1983 Sugar Bowl playing for a second national championship in Herschel Walker's last year, needing just one first down to prevent Todd Blackledge from getting the ball back and throwing the last-second touchdown pass that broke our hearts. But the big all-American linesmen Jimmy Payne and Jack Lindsey were hurt and on the bench, and the subs just didn't have the same ability to open those holes and get the job done. Or one could think of even more significant battles than that: like a Christian with an opportunity to share the Gospel, but he is tongue-tied and stumbles around and his witness falls flat, or doesn't even happen at all. Or we could think of another Believer trying to resist temptation who finally just gets worn down and gives in. If you think about such situations, I won't even need to tell you about the importance of power. You either have enough of it or you don't, and it makes all the difference in the world.
It is not surprising then that the Power of the Gospel is a major Pauline theme. "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16). "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me his prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the Gospel according to the power of God" (2 Tim. 1:7-8). It is also in v. 12, where the word translated "able" is really the same word: Christ is "powerful, mighty" to guard and keep what we have entrusted to him. In 2:1, Timothy is to be strong--i.e., powerful--in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The opposite is the people in 3:5 who have a form of godliness but who have denied its power. And the list goes on.
The word translated "power, powerful, able," etc., is the Greek dynamis, the root from which we get the English words dynamic, dynamo, and dynamite. The Greek meaning is not so explosive, but it is very practical. It mainly means the ability to get things done. Well, if the power of the Gospel, along with the source of the Gospel and the rewards of the Gospel, is to give us boldness for the Gospel in the face of opposition and suffering, we must understand what this power is, where it comes from, and how to turn it on. For, as we have seen, because of the content of the Gospel, there will be opposition to the Gospel, which will often lead to suffering for the Gospel; but when we consider the source of the Gospel, the rewards of the Gospel, and the power of the Gospel, those considerations should give us boldness for the Gospel, in the preservation of the Gospel and the proclamation of the Gospel.
Central to the answers to all those questions is this principle: the Gospel is powerful because God is powerful. As Paul emphasizes in v. 9 ("not according to our works . . ."), the Gospel is about what God has done to save us, not about what we can do. Therefore, the Gospel will have the power or ability to get certain things accomplished in our lives to the extent that we believe that God has the ability to do so. The Gospel is powerful because God is powerful--and to the extent that God is powerful. That is something to think about.I. WHAT DOES THE GOSPEL HAVE THE POWER TO DO?
If power is the ability to accomplish work, to get things done, what does the Gospel have the power to do? The central thing, but not the only thing, is that the Gospel has the power to save. It is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16); it brings to light life and immortality (2 Tim. 1:10). It has the power to reverse the verdict against us from guilty to innocent, to reverse our sentence from death to life. It has the power to convert the sinner from one wrapped up in himself to one who lives for the glory of God, to convert him from a rebel to a son. It has the power to transform his character, his behavior, his motives, his priorities, and his goals. It is the power of God for salvation for all who believe.
Second, the Gospel has the ability to make us wise (3:15). "All human knowledge," said John Calvin, "in so far as it is true and useful knowledge, consisteth almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves." And you can't fully know either without knowing the other. Gnothi seauton, "Know thyself," said the ancient Greeks. But until we see ourselves in the light of God's judgment and his love--in the light, in other words, of the Law and the Gospel--we will never know either the depths of our degradation or the heights of our destiny in Christ. If self knowledge is basic to wisdom, nobody can be truly wise apart from the Gospel.
A third thing the Gospel has the power to do is to help us endure hardship. In 1:8 we are to "suffer according to the power of the Gospel." How does it confer this ability? For one thing, it gives us a sense of purpose. Paul said, "For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus, and with it eternal glory" (2:10). Suffering is much easier to bear if one believes that there is a purpose behind it, that some great thing is being accomplished by our sacrifice. And what could be greater than this? Apart from the Gospel there is no purpose which can justify our suffering, for there are only temporal ends to suffer and die for. Even if we give our life for a friend, he will soon die anyway; we are only putting off the inevitable. But suffering for the Gospel can have eternal consequences. The Gospel also gives us an understanding of the big picture of God's plan. We know that all things--even our suffering--are being worked together toward an end that is good (Rom. 8:28). And this gives us hope. "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18). Only the Gospel frees us from the tyranny of senseless pain. For it tells us that, while our suffering may seem senseless at the moment, neither the pain nor the senselessness is the final word in the Story.
Fourth, the Gospel has the power to equip us for service. Nothing is more fulfilling to the redeemed person than being granted the grace to serve our Redeemer and hear him say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." For Paul, this is one of the greatest of the benefits of the Gospel, the gifts of God's grace (1 Tim. 1:12). So Timothy is to be strong--i.e., powerful--in the grace that is in Christ so that he can teach faithful men who can teach others (2:1-2). Scripture, the source of the Gospel, is able to make us complete, equipped for every good work (3:16-17). To be effective servants of God we must have motivation (gratitude for the blessings of salvation that came to us by pure grace), know-how (provided by Scripture, 2:15, 3:17), courage (the Gospel gives us a spirit not of timidity but of power, 1:7), and ability itself (promised to the disciples as they waited for "power" from on high in the upper room at Pentecost, Acts 1:8). All these things the Gospel abundantly supplies.
Finally, the Gospel has the power to preserve us faithful in Christ until the end. "The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed and will being me safely to his heavenly kingdom" (2 Tim. 4:18). And he who has begun a good work in us will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6). By bringing us into relationship with the God who can do all these things, the Gospel has the power to do all these things.II. HOW DO WE TURN IT ON?
OK, if the Gospel has the power to save, transform, strengthen, make wise, equip, and preserve, why do some of these things seem to be happening so weakly in the lives of so many believers? If the Gospel has the ability to do such things, why does it seem to be doing them so poorly? Perhaps the very way we phrase the question is part of the answer. We said that by bringing us into relationship with the God who can do all these things, the Gospel has the power to do all these things. So perhaps the whole idea of "turning the power on" is part of the problem. God is a person, not a machine. The power flows from the relationship. So there is no secret spiritual formula, no "button" to push. If you want the power to flow, you have to pursue the relationship. From the deepening of the relationship comes the faith that allows the Gospel to do more fully and effectively the things it was meant to do.
This means that we must be diligent in the use of what are called "the means of grace." These are the things God has given us by which we pursue that personal relationship with him that is the Christian life: Christian fellowship, prayer, public worship, the sacraments, and above all the Bible faithfully exposited and personally studied. "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth" (2:15). The Bible is more than a manual for Christian living--though it is that. But it does not work automatically either. As through the Bible and the other means you immerse yourself in the thoughts, the ways, the mind of God, the harmony of mind, will, and purpose between you and your Heavenly Father, between you and your Lord, between your spirit and the Holy Spirit, will grow. Then the Holy Spirit will be better able to accomplish the things in your life that the Gospel was designed to do. It is a chicken-and-egg type question, really. Does use of the means of Grace allow the Holy Spirit to work, or is the Holy Spirit actually working both to will and to do in that very use of the means? Yes. Both. Use them in dependence on Him or they are worthless; but use them. For a Christian to expect to have power for service apart from regular daily prayer and Bible study, apart from regular participation in a Bible-believing Church, etc., would be like Richard Petty expecting to win the Atlanta 500 without any gas in his tank.
Having done all this, then undertake the service God has called you to, whether it be witnessing to a neighbor, teaching a Sunday School class, visiting the sick, or whatever. The thing, in other words, that you know God wants you to do but you have not done because you lack confidence in your ability to do it. With the spiritual preparation done, it is time to step out in faith expecting God to use you. Paul exhorts Timothy in just such terms. "Join with me" (1:8); "Retain the standard" (1:13); "Entrust these things to faithful men" (2:2); "Suffer hardship" (2:3); "Remind them" (2:14; "Preach the Word" (4:2). In other words, just do it! And God will be in it to bless and empower, if we trust him.CONCLUSION
Spiritual power is not just energy; it is energy harnessed to accomplish work! For God to give most of us a supernatural endowment for service would make about as much sense as flooring the accelerator in the carport with the clutch held in. There would be much noise, much burning of resources, but no movement. So if there is unconfessed sin in your life, confess it and forsake it. If regular habits of prayer and Bible study have not been established, establish them. Then, get in harness, put your shoulder to the plow, and do not look back. Then God will back you up in ways you cannot predict or imagine. Let it be so, for our good and his glory.
Here endeth the lesson. Dr. Donald T. Williams