Just Victory Baby
What does it mean to have spiritual victory? Much of life is a struggle against opposition - suffering, pain, and evil - but Christianity is the joy-filled announcement that God is making war on these things. How does God do that, and how do we receive it? The apostle Paul explains God's breathtaking plan for victory.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."
The gospel, as has often been observed, is good news, not good advice. It is a declaration of something definite, not doubtful; something finished, not fluid; something done, not something to do. This is the song of Paul's heart and the epitome of what he wants the Romans to know – that their God is way ahead of them, having already provided salvation for his people.
Paul says this gospel is "the power of God for salvation." Notice that Paul does not say that the gospel describes the power of God but that it is the power of God. Why is the gospel – the message itself – identified with God's power?
Commenting on this verse, Pastor Tim Keller says that the gospel is the power of God in "verbal form." That is to say, the message carries with it its own transformative influence. When the gospel is received by faith (verse 17), it has an inherent power that is different from any other religious system, precisely because it announces news, not advice.
When I was a child, I often visited my grandparents and listened to their stories from their youth. I was transfixed by their accounts of America during the Great Depression and World War II. They described what it was like to live in fear of great military powers; of the domestic shortages of clothing and other basic supplies; of the terrible suspense of not knowing whether friends and family would return from the war.
But then after cataloging these trials, they described what it was like in May 1945 when Germany surrendered. The news that the war was over electrified the nation (as the famous photos of the joyous mobs in Times Square attest). The announcement of victory carried with it its own liberating power. This was a message of freedom and triumph for every American at home, achieved on their behalf, and therefore a gift simply to be received. To hear and believe that news was to be caught up in its joy.
Likewise, to hear the message of God's righteousness and approval freely given - 'There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus!' (Romans 8:1) – is to hear the message of a far greater spiritual victory. It is the victory of Jesus that is now your victory. It is the righteousness of Jesus that is now your righteousness. It is the life of Jesus that is now your life.
So, the gospel is not what we can do to achieve victory; it's just victory, full stop. It is omnipotence verbalized, God's favor in verbal form. To the degree that the gospel of Jesus is heard, understood, and trusted, its recipients are set free.
Paul will spend the rest of this letter unfolding the treasures of the gospel, but here are a few applications to think and pray about today:
1) God's gift is not something that I can ruin; by definition, Jesus' perfect labor has no imperfections.
2) God's gift is not something that I need to supplement; by definition, Jesus has done everything needed.
3) If my faith is frail and brittle, I won't find renewed strength by urging myself to 'try harder to believe better.' I will be strengthened by thinking about Jesus, about his perfect righteousness: about the sort of victory I get to trust in.
4) As I ponder the gospel, the greatness of God expands before my eyes. Paul is not ashamed to preach because his God is staggering in power and love, providing all we need to be reconciled to him. Today I worship my heavenly Father because, in his gospel, 'from him and through him and to him are all things – to him be the glory forever. Amen!' (Romans 11:36).