The Gospel Has the Power to Break the Downward Spiral of Sin – Part 2 of 2
In this message, we return to Romans 1:16-17 and learn that the gospel of God has the power not only to break the downward spiral of sin, but also to set the sinner free from the bondage of sin.
1. In Romans 1:16, God reveals His power in the gospel to save all people.
In Romans 1:16 Paul says, “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.”
Paul is unashamed of the gospel because he had met the One who died in the most shameful way on a cross. It was through Jesus’ death, followed by His resurrection, that God has chosen to display His mighty power to deliver from sin. This powerful gospel is available for everyone who believes. No one is excluded!
The terms “believe” (pisteuo) and “faith” (pistis) are key words in Romans. To “believe” is to put full trust in the God who “justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5) by means of the cross and resurrection of Christ.
Larry is an example of the power of the gospel. His mother was a Christian who took him to church. His father wasn’t a Christian. Sadly, Larry walked in his father’s footsteps. He grew up, got married, and lived the party life. As he traveled the downward spiral of sin, he became a hard-drinking, fast-lane kind of guy.
That kind of life has consequences, and it wasn’t long before his wife took their children and divorced him. Larry remarried, but he wasn’t the kind of guy to be faithful to anyone. His life became a mix of drugs, alcohol, pot, cigarettes, and “hard-running.” It wasn’t long before he found himself in trouble with the law.
Drunk-driving, illegal possession—the rap sheet started to build up.
In August 1985, Larry found himself in court—again. The judge, who had seen Larry in his courtroom many times before, placed him under psychiatric care for 30 days before beginning a five-year prison sentence. Larry decided to run. He heard about a guy in Port St. Lucie, Florida, who would give him a job laying carpet if he could get there.
So, he borrowed his girlfriend’s car, and drove to Port St. Lucie. On the way he turned on the radio to get some rock music. Over the airwaves came a man’s voice: “Have you ever wondered if Jesus Christ is alive and real?” There was a pause. The question got Larry’s attention.
The speaker continued, “Why is the Bible the best seller of all time? Why do people give their hard-earned money for the cause of Christ? Why are people willing to die for Jesus? Is it possible that He is indeed alive and real?” Then the speaker said, “Why don’t you ask Him if He is alive and real?”
At that moment the car broke down. Frustrated and angry, Larry got out, walked out into a field next to the road and hollered up into Heaven: “God if you’re real, I’d like to know it before I end my life!”
Before I tell you what happened to Larry, let’s return to our passage in Romans.
2. In Romans 1:17, God reveals the righteousness of God—an act of grace and mercy to provide forgiveness of sin by faith.
Paul writes in Romans 1:17, “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”
The phrase, “the righteousness of God,” which is “revealed from faith to faith,” is God’s act of declaring those who believe in Christ to be accepted and “in the right” with Him. Paul uses this phrase again in Romans 3:21-22, and in Romans 10:3 with this sense.
The phrase “the just shall live by faith,” from Habakkuk 2:4, confirms the truth that justification (right standing before God), is to be attained only on the basis of faith, and that it is also retained by faith (“from faith to faith”).
As Paul explains later in Romans 4, when a person chooses to believe God, his faith is “counted unto him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3-13). At the moment he exercises saving faith, the sinner is freely forgiven, the penalty for sin removed, and he is declared, “Not guilty.”
Paul tells us that we are “justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ” (Rom. 3:24). Faith is the only means of obtaining or retaining the favor of God.
On what basis does God make us right with Him (justify us)? God declares a sinner forgiven and right in the sight of His law because of the union with Christ that occurs the moment a sinner repents of his sin and put his faith in Jesus Christ.
The union a repentant sinner experiences with Jesus Christ is explained by Paul in Romans 7:4. He tells us that believers in Jesus Christ become “dead to the law by [through] the body of Christ that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.”
Marriage to Christ, occurring at the moment of saving faith, establishes our union with Christ. From that moment forward, believers are said to be “in Christ.”
God’s wrath against sin has been placated by the shed blood of Jesus. On the cross, Jesus Himself bore the wrath of God the sinner rightly deserved. Faith receives the message of God’s love and Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and believes that Christ’s death is the basis on which God, for Christ’s sake, forgives sin and unites the believer with Jesus.
Every phase and aspect of the Christian’s life involves the gospel’s message of union with Christ. Growth in the Christian life comes through union with Christ (John 15:2). The blessings that the believer enjoys are “in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). The righteous life of the believer is possible only because he is sharing Christ’s resurrection life (Rom. 6:4). Union with Christ is the key concept that helps us to think biblically about the Christian life. We receive “the righteousness of God” because we are incorporated into the Son of God Himself.
All that Jesus died and rose again to provide is ours “in Him.” Included in our union with Christ is freedom from the power and chains of sin. Paul asks, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:1). His response is, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:2).
Paul further explains that because of our union with Christ, “our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Rom. 6:6-7).
Twenty-one days after Larry ran from the law, he was working in a trailer laying carpet. While he was working, he heard someone say, “I love you.” There wasn’t anybody in the trailer, so he figured it must be somebody at the door. He hollered: “Come on in!” Nobody came in. Then the voice spoke again: “I love you.” He wondered if he was losing his mind. Then he thought, “God, is that you? What do you want?” The voice said “Love me.”
“But I can’t, God. You know me. I’m a drug addict, partier, alcoholic. I can’t love you.” The voice said, “Give it to me.” Larry was standing in the trailer’s small kitchen by the sink. “How can I give it to you?” The voice said, “Lay it down.”
So he took his cigarettes and laid them down. Took out his pot and laid it down. When he got to his cocaine, he argued with God. “I can’t do this, God. I’ve got to have this stuff.” The voice said, “Trust me.” So he laid down the cocaine, too.
Again the voice said, “Lay it down.” He checked all his pockets but there wasn’t anything else. Then he remembered his alcohol. “But God I don’t have it with me.” The voice replied, “Say it.” So he said, “OK God, you can have the alcohol too! What do I do now?” The voice said, “Go serve me.” “Go serve you? How?” “Go tell them!”
Right then and there he knew he was free from his drug-addiction, his alcohol, pot, tobacco. He could hardly believe what just happened. On the way out of the trailer park, he saw a group of guys and God said, “Go tell them.” “What do I say, God?” And God replied, “I’ll tell you.”
Larry walked up to them and said, “Hey guys, I’ve got a new lighter in my pocket here. I’ll sell it to you for a dollar.” “We don’t need your lighter. If you need some money, we’ll give you some.” Larry responded, “No, I’ve just quit my smoking.” Then he told them what had happened to him “I’ve just met Jesus. You can have the same freedom he’s just given me. God told me to tell you ‘I love you.’”
Larry drove home. He called his mother and said, “I think I’m going crazy. I just met Jesus.” His mother didn’t know what to think or do, so she called me, her pastor. I went to Larry and listened to Larry’s story. I explained that he was not crazy but had gotten saved.
Larry started attending my church and, in the process of time, I and another member of the church, a police officer, testified on Larry’s behalf at his parole hearing. The Florida board heard his testimony and pardoned him totally. Today he is ministering to homeless people with the gospel.
The downward spiral of sin so graphically described in Romans 1:18-32 finds its total cure in the good news of the gospel of God. Every sinner, caught in the chains of his own sin, can be set free through the powerful cure found in the gospel message of union with Christ.
Where sin did abound, through the grace provided lavishly in Christ, we can experience the joy of victory over sin and a continually clear conscience. “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57).
Dr. Allan P. Brown teaches such courses as Christian Beliefs, Doctrine of Holiness, Wisdom Literature, Hebrew, Preaching Holiness, Romans and Galatians, and Letters to the Hebrews.
He has been on faculty at GBSC since 1996 and is the author of several books and articles.
Dr. Brown also speaks at churches, camp meetings, revivals and more.