James Montgomery Boice pastored Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for about 32 years. During that time he preached through Paul’s epistle Romans and later reported that it was this sermon series that had the greatest and most dramatic impact on his ministry. He later published an edited version of the sermons in a multivolume set. The first volume covers Romans 1-4 and is about 500 pages long. In that book, he has a sermon on this particular passage that he titles The Whole Gospel for the Whole World. Before consulting Boice’s book I labeled this section myself “The Universal Gospel.” What I mean by that is this. The gospel is for everyone. There is no class of people to whom the gospel means more or offers more than it does to anyone and everyone. The gospel is for all people for all time. Like Boice wrote, it is the whole gospel for the whole world. It is a universal gospel.
The gospel message is for everyone
The apostle Paul considered himself in debt to others because of the gospel. He states “I am debtor:” v. 14. He owed as it were the gospel to other people. In this case, the debt is explained in greater detail in v. 15. He writes: “so, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.” He believed he had a divine obligation to share the good news about Jesus with everyone.
He specifically delimited the audience of the gospel message. It was not just to the house of Israel, the Jews. It was for the whole world. In fact, he does not even mention Israel at all as part of his audience, at least not at first. He refers to Greek-speaking people and non-Greek-speaking people. Greek-speaking people is probably reference to the Hellenistic culture. One result of Alexander the Great’s conquests is that it spread Greek culture throughout what we call “the known world.” His empire covered parts of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and even into India, the Asia sub-continent. Greek culture covered a large part of the earth by the time of Alexander’s death. Non-Greek-speaking people were considered barbarous. They were not educated in the same sense as the Greeks. The word barbarians is a reference to their language. It was considered rough or crude. The culture of these people was considered to be tribal and uncivilized. Paul owed them the gospel too.
If the difference between Greek and non-Greek culture was not enough, Paul also delimited his audience to those who were educated (the wise) and those who were not. Just because someone grew up within the confines of a Greek-speaking culture did not automatically mean that he was educated. Many slaves, and there were many of those, were uneducated people. Paul states that he was in a gospel debt to the educated, but also the uneducated. Many of his converts were slaves. Onesimus, the famous runaway slave from Philemon, is a good example of Paul’s evangelistic work among the “unwise.”
Paul did not limit his gospel message to those who were just like himself. He felt burdened to share the gospel with everyone. He owed it to them.
The gospel message can save anyone
Not only does Paul feel indebted to preach the gospel to the whole world, but he explains that it is able (power—dunamis) to save anyone who believes regardless of their cultural or ethnic heritage. This is because the power of the gospel flows from the gospel to the one who receives it by faith. He states in v. 16 that the power is in Jesus’ gospel. The truth that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again from the dead (1 Cor. 15:1-4) has the God-given ability to save sinners. Belief in the gospel makes it operational. This is why faith is so important in receiving the gospel. This faith, a right response to what God has revealed, is a mental agreement with the gospel facts, an emotional reception of the gospel message, and a will to follow the gospel Giver (Jesus Christ). The faith itself does not have the power. The gospel has the power. It is God’s almighty power to save anyone who believes from the power, penalty, and one day, the presence of sin.
It is universally effective. The gospel saves everyone who believes. Paul uses the little word “all” meaning everyone. Anyone who accepts the gospel receives its power to save from sin. This has always been the case. Paul states that the gospel was first given to the Jews. He is thinking back to the Old Testament and how the gospel was given to God’s people. The children of Israel received a “gospel” message to turn from sin and believe in God. They learned of a promised Messiah who would come and save people from sin. This gospel was, historically, first received by the Jews. Later, the gospel message was expanded to the Greek (non-Jews). This is what Jesus was teaching in Matthew 28:19-20. Jesus wanted His followers to spread the gospel globally. The command is to preach the gospel to the nations. This was always God’s intent. Isaiah 45:22: “Look unto me and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth, for I am God and there is none else.” The gospel is for everyone. God has given us a whole gospel for the whole world.
- What is the gospel?
- What does it mean that the gospel has “power?” It is the power to do what?
- How is the gospel received? What is the key word? What does this word mean?
- Do you think any ethnic, racial, economic, or cultural group is more deserving of salvation than another? If not, why not?
- Is anyone incapable of being saved? If you say yes, please explain. If you say no, please explain your reason for your answer.