By Earl E. Robertson
We contend that the power ‘ to save sinners is the gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16), not the preacher. In the New Testament emphasis was given to the message rather than the messenger. Paul wrote, “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. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16, 17). The apostles really had a message to proclaim and did not want Him detracted from by any emphasis toward themselves. They affirmed, “. . . we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord . . . .” (2 Cor. 4:5). They knew they were nothing more than servants making known the good news about Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (1 Cor. 3:5-7). The term “righteousness” in Romans 1 emphasizes “the condition acceptable to God” (see Thayer, pp. 148-150). Paul showed the basis for making man right with God is in the gospel-not in the man. Jeremiah cried in the distant past, “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). So, God who justifies the sinner does it by his word. The word of God is the medium by and through which his power and influence is exerted to the salvation of souls. James exhorted, ” . . . . receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). Peter declared, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Pet. 1:23). And Paul said, “I have begotten you through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15). “Through” translates the preposition dia, and it is the “means or instrument by which anything is effected; because what is done by means of a person or thing seems to pass as it were through the same” (Thayer, p. 133). Though God used earthen vessels (2 Cor. 4:7) to get His word preached, it is obvious that the word was the means through which God worked to the salvation of sinners and not the messenger.
The Word Revealed
God’s word is truth (John 17:17) and will remain such without ever considering the man through whom He speaks His word. “Yea, let God be true, but every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4). Prior to the word of God being revealed it was hidden in the mind of God. At that time “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man . . . .” But now “God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit,” says Paul, “for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:9, 10). The revelation of His word was not accomplished with “the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth” (1 Cor. 2:13). God committed His word to “earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7) and “manifested (it) through preaching” (Titus 1:3). The preaching they did was by force from without: they spoke “as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). Furthermore, Peter affirmed, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. 1:20, 21). “Interpretation” translates epiluseos, which means “a loosening, unloosing.” It means God’s word did not have its origin within man; the urgings which brought forth scripture came from God. Scripture came not by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved (borne) by the Holy Ghost.
Concerning this message from heaven, Paul said, “For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:12). Again, he wrote, “If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:2-5). The mind of God is now no longer a mystery (hidden), but is revealed (unloosed) through the apostles by the Holy Spirit.
The Revelation Inspired
Inasmuch as the unloosing of God’s mind was not an act of man but of God, the revelation was, therefore, God-breathed. Paul wrote, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16,17). Theopneustos is translated by “God-inspired.” The words spoken by the apostles were God-breathed words: words the Spirit received from God and gave to the apostles (cf. John 16:13, 14). If the scriptures were not God breathed the Bible would be no more than the words of mere men. Yet, when the Thessalonians “received the word of God which ye heard of us (apostles), ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1 Thess. 2:13). They knew at once the difference between the words of God and the words of mere men. Some in Thessalonica, like many in Berea, investigated what they heard, comparing it with scripture, to see if it was the truth (Acts 17:11).
Apostolic Behavior Justified
The phenomenal actions of the apostles can be justified only on the ground that they, as God’s agents, endowed with His Spirit, moved at His orders to the accomplishing of His will. The apostles “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Yet, it was not by their power that such was done (cf. Acts 3:12); they were “earthen vessels” chosen to bear his word, “the excellency of the power of God, and not of (us) apostles” (2 Cor. 4:7). “Excellency” is literally “a throwing beyond.” The superiority, pre-eminence, and exceeding greatness of the power characterizing the actions of the apostles was, Paul said, “of God.”
Civil authorities often threatened and jailed the apostles for their preaching “in Jesus’ name.” The supernatural power attendant with apostolic work was acknowledged by the enemy as “a notable miracle” which could not be denied (Acts 4:16). But when charged that they could no longer teach in the name of Christ their response was “we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard;” and “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 4:19; 5:29).
Preach The Word
The newly raised Lord commissioned the apostles to “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,” assuring salvation to each “that believeth and is baptized” (Mark 16:15,16). Timothy was charged, “Preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2)! The power to save sinners is in this word; the preaching of it demands a use of the Bible. Some today are trying to preach Christ without use of the scriptures! What nonsense! Sinners are not converted by miracles or direct operations of the Holy Spirit, but by the word of God. The Holy Spirit operates in the conversion of sinners, but not directly or independently of the word of truth; He operates through the truth (cf. Eph. 6:17 for the fact that the sword of the Spirit is the word of God). The creeds of men demand a direct operation of the Spirit for the conversion of sinners because they also teach error concerning the nature of man; they teach he is born depraved and, therefore, an immediate work of the Spirit is essential to his salvation. This action would, then, be without the word of truth.
Jesus said, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). The truth frees from sin, and God’s word is truth (John 17:17); therefore, the word of God is the agent through which God frees sinners. There has never been one case of conversion to Christ where the word of God was not first preached. The word can not save if it be mixed with the precepts of men (Matt. 15:9). If what “Dr. So and So” said is not in the revealed truth of God, it will damn souls-not save them. An analysis of the conversions in the book of Acts reveals this significant fact: faith that saves comes from the word of God (cf. Rom. 10:17; Eph. 1:13). The power in the word preached by the apostles is seen in the actions of the people “when they heard” (Acts 2:37).
Man is an intelligent being. He can communicate and be communicated with. The message of Christ can be comprehended when told. It must be told that sinners may be saved. “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher” (Rom. 10:14). If the power of God to convert sinners is something besides the word of truth, why then all the emphasis and stress for the sinner to hear the word? The gospel of the grace of God (Acts 14:3; 20:24, 32) and only this gospel, reveals God’s will about his son.
The freedom from sin which one may enjoy comes when one obeys the teaching (Rom. 6:17). The messenger merely taught this doctrine and the freedom (salvation) offered stems not from the messenger but his message!
Life In The Seed
God’s physical creation had seed in itself and yielded seed after its kind (Gen. 1:12). In the germination of this seed new life comes into being which also has seed to produce accordingly. The power to produce a harvest after its kind lay not within the farmer; the power-the germ of life-is in the seed! Jesus said, “The seed is in the word of God” (Luke 8:11). The seed contains within itself the germ of future life. The seed of the kingdom produces citizens of the kingdom. This seed, sperma, by the power of God, has built within it the ability to reproduce. The production of offspring is procreation and this is impossible without the function of seed-,seed producing after its kind. God chose the means of His word (seed) to be the cause of producing saints out of sinners. Who are we to withstand God (cf. Acts 11:17)?
Let all servants of the Lord be aware that we must preach Jesus and not ourselves. Let us stress the fact that God’s power to save sinners is the gospel! No effort should ever be made in our teaching to emphasize self; rather, let us hide ourselves behind the cross of Christ and make the world see God’s Christ revealed in his word. When the audiences have a tendency to be impressed with and remember us as the preacher rather than what we preached, it is past time that we make a change! In all of our labors for Jesus let us be careful in whatever reports might be given, that we stress what God hath done with us (Acts 14:27; 15:4). We do not have to “doctor” the word or re-dress it in any way for it to do what God wants done (Isa. 55:11). We need to be humble enough to tell it like it is and that will not only be enough, but it will be just exactly right for God to save sinners!
Truth Magazine XXI: 12, pp. 184-185
March 24, 1977