2016-7-03 The Gospel: The Only Hope for America

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          July 3, 2016

“The Gospel: The Only Hope for America”
Text: Romans 1;16-17

I have today the happy privilege—from this place, on this day—to wish you each and all a happy Independence Day.  Tomorrow we celebrate the two hundred fortieth anniversary of the date when our nation declared itself liberated from Great Britain—and, thus, a sovereign nation.  Such has been the case ever since.  Hence, may the Lord give you enjoyment of festivities, fun, fireworks, and rest from ordinary labor—should any of all of these be His will for you.

We have much for which to be grateful in this season.  We thank God for the liberties we enjoy in our land.  We assemble here both peaceably and devoutly to worship the triune God according to His leading.  We petition (respectfully, I hope) our government for redress of grievances.  We may speak our mind—both audibly and in print—with relative freedom from governmental interference or suppression.  It is possible no nation in history enjoys such freedoms as we enjoy.

We also enjoy blessings of various kinds this day.  We are grateful for all the material provision God so graciously affords.  We give thanks for the privilege of working at jobs not assigned to us by governmental mandate.  Rather, we can seek work that matches our skills, our sense of opportunity, and our need for honest profit or return on labor.  We also enjoy the blessing of family and friends this day.  As much as we enjoy the material blessings, these relational blessings rank higher still.

Yet we must admit, however, that clearly all is not well.  We harbor deep divisions in our land: divisions between rich and poor, between one race and another, between man and woman, between various regions of the country, and so forth.  Add to this an angry electorate just now—with anger expressed both from the political right and the political left—and we are left to wonder in what ways, if any, we remain united as a nation.

I see something else—something I have noted both as a chronic ill for many years and as lately acute.  I see hopelessness and despair in many parts of the country—in rural and small-town America, for example, especially in the rural and small-town South—and I, for one, am concerned about this.  Unemployment typically runs higher there, and opportunities seem fewer and farther between.  Add to this the fact that, in many of these communities, nothing makes money like sin—in fact, in some places only sin makes money—and we can more easily see why some there elect destructive lifestyles.  The end of such lives—by suicide all-too-often and with distressing, increasing frequency—further deepens the hopelessness and despair many feel.

We see some solutions proposed to alleviate our differences and ills.  Some propose that we should modify America’s role in the world.  Whether we should intervene more and take a more active role in our world, or whether we should isolate ourselves more from the world scene, is a matter of debate.  Others propose that we should modify the role of government in American life.  Again, a debate arises.  Should we seek a greater role for government in our national life (to protect, to enforce, or to provide), or should we seek a lesser role for government (in order that individuals and businesses may flourish)?  Still others suggest that we modify our personal morality.  Some want very little, if any, restraint on moral preference and expression, whereas others seek a return to a Judeo-Christian ethic—codified in law, preferably.  These debates continue between people of good will—but, alas, those people of good will are harder to find of late.

None of these proposed solutions to our national divisions and ills—nor all of them taken together–constitute a fundamental solution.  There is one, exactly one, only one solution for what ails America.  The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is the only hope for America.  Let’s see why and how as we look at today’s text.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

This portion of Paul’s Spirit-led letter to the church at Rome, ca. 55-57 A. D., forms the central thesis of the entire letter—and it informs our national situation incisively.  The Gospel, the good news of God in and about Jesus Christ, is the power of God.  The Greek word here translated power is the root of our English word dynamite.  The Gospel, therefore, is explosive force—often exerted within brief time—to change both people and things.  I love, when preaching, to note the explosive power of God in my soul and in those of my hearers.  I love to see the explosive power of God changing lives, bringing joy and peace and right living to folks who formerly did not enjoy these things.  The Gospel is the power of God.

This Gospel, though, is not undirected.  God directs the power of His Good News to an end, namely, unto salvation.  By salvation we mean essentially deliverance or rescue.  Think of salvation along two lines.  First, we are saved from the penalty of sin (misery, death, hell) by Christ atoning work at the Cross, the power of sin by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the presence of sin when either Christ comes or we depart for Heaven.  Second, we are saved to God Himself (now and forever), His ways, and His purposes.  Too often, when we proclaim the evangel—the Good News—we present only the saved from side.  To present both sides is to present a fuller, and more Biblically accurate, salvation.

God bestows this salvation particularly to everyone who believes.  We shall say more about believing later, but, for now, note the scope of this salvation.  It comes to the Jew first.  The earliest Christians were Jewish-background believers, and Peter continued a ministry to Jews, while Paul—before entering his later missionary work—announced the Good News to Jewish-background folks.  This salvation comes second to the Greek.  The Greek word here rendered Greek is the root of our English word Hellenic.  It means Greek; it does not mean, strictly speaking, Gentile.  Yet when paired with the word Jew in this context, it refers to non-Jews, i. e., Gentiles.  Hence, this salvation comes to everyone who believes—and, at the end of all things, there will be an innumerable host from every people group under Heaven worshipping the Lamb (Revelation 7:9 ff.).

In the Gospel, Paul asserts through the Spirit, a righteousness from God is revealed.  In this Gospel we obtain right standing before God—that is, we obtain legal, forensic righteousness from God.  From the Gospel comes right conduct before God as empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Hence, if God has claimed us in the Gospel, we generally and increasingly do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (cf. Micah 6:8).

This righteousness comes by faith—and, demonstrably, it does not come by works.  Faith, as used here, is trust in Jesus Christ to complete reliance upon Him for rescue and to devoted following of Him.  Once again, we do not work to obtain salvation.  Rather, it is God Who works.  From the council of the Godhead comes His eternal decree to save both a people generally and persons individually to be part of that people.  Jesus worked mightily for us via His twofold obedience.  By His active obedience He obeyed perfectly the moral law, and by His passive obedience He yielded Himself obedient unto death on the Cross (Philippians 2:8).  Moreover, the Spirit effectually applies the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection to elect souls.  See now how all is done for us; we bring the sin to the transaction, and God brings all else.

Therefore, I am not ashamed of the Gospel—no matter its relative esteem by others.  It accomplishes tremendous things for us, and it displays His matchless love for us.  Rather, let us, with Paul, glory in the Good News of God about Jesus Christ—news which glorifies Him and blesses us unspeakably.

It is this Gospel—and the Gospel alone—that is the sole hope for our country.  Indeed, what a sure hope it is.  Do not make the mistake, however, of thinking that this is the only hour at which the Gospel is our only hope.  Rather, this always has been the case—even in apparently better times.  We may look back to the post-World War II boom in America—the Eisenhower years of the 1950s—noting the prosperity of the Church and the success of the Gospel (especially through servants like Billy Graham), and pine for such a day again.  The Gospel was our only hope then, and it is our only hope now.[1]  May God, then, in Christ, by His Spirit call individuals to faith and amendment of life.  May He revive and otherwise empower His Church in worship and discipleship.  May He also awaken our culture to esteem Him preeminent in all things.  To Him be glory forever and ever (Romans 11:36).

AMEN.

[1] Many in my generation may remember the prosperity of nation and Church during the 1980s under the Reagan presidency, but, like in the 1950s, so in the 1980s the sole hope of America was the Gospel.

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