1 The Gospel is God's Power
For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
The gospel is the power of God! It is not a doctrine nor a rite. It is not one of the new religions. It is of course not a lecture. It is a simple message or the proclamation of a messenger about what God, the creator of the world and life, has done in Christ for the salvation of all the peoples in the world. Paul tells at first that he is not ashamed of disseminating such a simple message, even in the face of people's aspiration for deeper knowledge and meaning from what they expect to be a new and more profound religion.
Why was Paul the messenger not ashamed of this simple message? He expresses the reason in the following sentence that begins with the word "gar", a Greek conjunction used to express cause and inference. He is not ashamed because this message encapsulates the very power of God the creator, who is the ultimate foundation of our being and life! Now, it should be understood that a power is also a vector, it does not only carry a force but also has a direction. The phrase "It is the power of God" is the very expression of that strength, for there is nothing God cannot accomplish or realize! (Mark10;27) A power, when it works, always affects the motion, speed, position, direction or condition of the object it is applied to. God's power elicits deep changes within us, His creatures, changes the nature of which we can neither comprehend nor imagine.
The direction of this power is defined in those words: "the power for salvation." God's power works toward our salvation. What is salvation, then? We will further explore this question in the context of these evangelistic messages, but, at this stage, we only state that God's power steers us toward salvation. There are various kinds of powers at play within human beings in this world and universe. There are many powers that steer us toward anguish and destruction, while God's power leads us to a fellowship with God and to our participating into the glory of God, into the reality of God's salvation.
Then whom does God's power for salvation work for? It works for "everyone who believes"! "To believe" here means believing the message. If one rejects the message, thinks it is a falsehood or it is not the message of God, this message can not work as God's power for salvation, which is quite natural. When God works, God is always the subject, and we are the objects of His work. When God works as a saving power for us, He works through His Word as we always do while interacting with one another. If we do not believe this gospel message, how can our actual relation with God be possible? God can not show His saving power to unbelievers who refuse this message.
Let's now address Paul's statement, "to the Jew first and also to the Greek." What does this expression mean? This expression is often interpreted as a reference to Paul's evangelistic work. It is true that Paul was called upon to bring the words of the Gospel to other nations beyond the Jewish nation. But this expression means much more than just "the Greek", it means all nations that are not the Jewish nation. Jews refer to such people as "heathen", people who can not claim a portion of God's kingdom. But Paul, with this phrase, also made the heathen a part of "everyone who believes"! This declaration was so shocking to the Jews that they felt that Paul was going against the tenets of their holy religion, Judaism. If the heathen outside Judaism can have some portion of the kingdom of God and share the glory of God, what does Judaism mean? Paul had to struggle with their criticism and persecutions throughout his life.
Some believers among the Jews asked of the heathen believers that they subject themselves to circumcision, circumcision symbolizing the conversion to Judaism. Those who have converted to Judaism must then obey all the rules of Judaism, Sabbath regulations, food restrictions, specific purification rules, etc. Paul rejected their demands and fervently opposed them. If Paul had acknowledged the need for the heathen to be circumcised, his entire evangelistic work would not have amounted to anything more than promoting the conversion of the heathen to Judaism and propaganda.
The Jews used to call Judaism "Torah," word that was usually translated to "law" in Greek. So, when Paul wrote in Greek, "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law" (Rom.3:21), and "A man is justified by faith apart from works of law"(Rom.3:28), Paul meant God's saving power is working for everyone who believes in the Gospel, even outside of Judaism. In these sentences from Romans the phrase "apart from law" is emphasized. The original Greek text can be translated to either "without law," "outside the law," or "without any relation to the law." So, Paul emphasizes that God's saving power works "outside Judaism" or "without any relation to Judaism" for everyone who believes.
This proclamation of Paul's was truly revolutionary and shocking to the Jews. However, the proclamation of Rom.1:16, "the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" is just as revolutionary and shocking today as it was in Paul's time. In Paul's time, Judaism was the only religion through which one could claim a portion of God's kingdom (reign). But when Paul proclaimed that God would give salvation (share in God's reign) not only to the Jews but also to the heathen, God's saving power was revealed to operate beyond the confines of Judaism! Let's suppose that a modern day preacher of the Gospel is to proclaim that God's saving power can also be found outside of Christianity, that is, even to pagans that have not converted to Christianity by receiving the rite of water baptism. Many Christians would be shocked and would criticize him. They would be shocked by the notion that their God might reveal His saving power and activity outside or even in the absence of Christianity.
We should not restrict God's saving power to Christianity. In the Gospel, God's saving power is revealed and given to everyone who believes, to the Christians first and also to the heathens. But in the history of Christian missionaries, the primary aim has been the conversion of heathens to Christianity by baptizing them with water, for water baptism meant conversion to Christianity. They have been doing the same thing as Paul's opponents did when they tried to restrict God's saving power to Judaism.
Now we have to overcome this restriction and recognize God's saving power outside Christianity. We have to proclaim the Gospel outside Christianity and see how God's saving power will create new religious cultures in the gentile world. Certainly Christianity has provided a fertile ground and has produced good fruits for mankind, but it is not the sole religion through which we can reach God's glory and His kingdom. Christianity can not make itself the sole gate to salvation. Christianity and all other religions, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and so on, that is, all religions that were shaped by the course of history and have controlled each society, are relative. They can not claim an absolute or universal value by which all the nations must abide. They can not be the conditions for the salvation of humanity. We have to testify God's saving power in Christ outside the framework of any established religion. We must not aim at conversion to Christianity.