According to Webster’s Dictionary, the fourth meaning for the word “transcendent” is “universally applicable or significant.” This is the meaning we intend in our title “The Transcendent Power of the Gospel.” In our post-modern age, where “truth” is viewed as uniquely individual, Christianity makes the bold claim that our message is universally true and applicable for all humanity.
Christianity’s universal claim is certainly central in this issue of the HeartCry magazine, which highlights the regions of Nepal and New Brunswick, Canada. The differences in these regions could hardly be more pronounced. Geographically, one is coastal; the other is landlocked and holds the highest mountains on earth. Ethnically, one is primarily European; the other is Asian. By religious heritage, one is mostly Catholic and Protestant Christian; the other is Hindu and Buddhist. To the post-modern mind, Christianity’s claim that both regions require the same spiritual solution seems naïve at best and blatantly arrogant at worst. Yet our source of authority, the Bible, declares our gospel to be the only accurate assessment and answer to the human condition.
A Universal Curse
On the morning of September 10, Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm with 130 mph sustained winds. Regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, religion, or economic status, all residents of south Florida faced one common problem – a massive and deadly storm. All of them sought the same things – shelter and safety. The Bible diagnoses the entire human race with one spiritual disease, leading everyone to the same drastic consequences:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (Roman 1:18-25)
...through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…. (Romans 5:12)
Mankind was formed by God and placed in a perfect environment in order to walk with Him and with each other in unhindered intimacy and to govern creation as God’s representatives. However, rather than trusting His loving commands and care for us, we preferred to make our own way and define our own morality. The holy, righteous, and just God could not allow this rebellion against all that is good and pure in Himself to go unpunished. The tragic consequence of our treason was instant and eternal spiritual separation from our God, resulting in disorder, decay, and death in all creation, all physical life, and all human relationships.
Today’s news headlines broadcast the catastrophic fruit of our refusal to trust God’s love and wisdom and to honor Him with lives of grateful obedience. Like cutting the roots of a tree, we have cut ourselves off from the source of all goodness – an action which has allowed nothing but destruction and dismay to spread to every area of human existence.
Regardless of ethnicity, geographic location, or cultural and religious heritage, the Apostle Paul pronounces the same solemn verdict for all humanity:
What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one…. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” …for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…. (Romans 3:9-12, 18, 23)
A Universal Cure
A good doctor labors to help his or her patient understand the nature of a life-threatening disease in order to prescribe life-sustaining treatment. Similarly, in the first two and a half chapters of his letter to the Romans, Paul labors to drive home the grim reality of human depravity. Then he quickly transitions to a glorious message of hope – God has provided a universal cure for humanity’s universal curse:
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in
Jesus. (Romans 3:23-26)
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:6, 8-10)
Humanity’s greatest problem is our separation from God. This separation is sustained from both sides – our proud rebellion against God, and God’s righteous wrath against us. Such a stand-off must surely end in humanity’s destruction, unless a monumental solution can be found. God’s justice against our rebellion must be satisfied; His wrath for the dishonor of His holy name must be appeased; the broken relationship between God and humanity must be restored; and our corrupt nature must be renewed.
Our jaws should drop and our hearts should tremble before the majesty of God’s merciful solution. It is a solution entirely foreign to every other religion in the world, a solution solitary in its ability to solve the greatest dilemma of divine justice and mercy. In the most astounding act of humble condescension,
eternal God clothed Himself in human flesh! Divine nature was miraculously united with perfect human nature. Jesus Christ entered the wasteland of our fallen existence, lived a flawless life of worship and obedience to His Father as the representative of His people, and offered Himself as a sinless substitute to die under the wrath of God that they deserved. God vindicated His perfect sacrifice by raising Him from the dead. Jesus Christ returned to His Father and took His rightful seat on heaven’s throne, where He intercedes for all His followers and rules history for their good.
A Universal Call
What better news could cursed humanity receive? Yet God’s universally sufficient cure is not universally applied apart from a humble response.
But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness…. (Romans 4:5)
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…. (Romans 5:1)
We are called to respond to God’s gracious work in Jesus Christ by repenting of our rebellion and trusting only in the Rescuer that God has provided. The same Spirit of God who enabled such a response in us continues with a lifelong process of
transformation, empowering ever-
increasing degrees of loving obedience to God.
Since the curse is universal in every human culture, and since God’s cure is universal for every human culture, then the call to respond must also be universal for every human culture. Before Paul launches into his explanation of God’s wrath against sin, he begins with a triumphant declaration of the gospel’s power to save:
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. (Romans 1:16)
Much later in his letter, Paul repeats his confidence in the miraculous multi-cultural power of the gospel:
For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:11-14)
Here Paul is absolutely confident that the same simple gospel of Jesus Christ can transform both slave girls and Roman governors, both simple laborers and Greek philosophers. He and his fellow apostles preached the same simple gospel to Jews, Asians, Greeks, Romans, Africans, and Spaniards with the same miraculous results!
What wonderful confidence this gives us in evangelism and missions! The same simple gospel message is as powerfully effective in the Canadian coastlands as it is the Himalayan mountains, the Amazon jungle, the African plains, or the Arabian desert. Like Paul, do you confidently rest in the power of the gospel as you travel to distant lands or as you encounter international students in your hometown?
A Universal Climax
In closing, we move from Romans to Revelation, where we are given a glimpse of the climax of human history. Here, again, we find a declaration of the gospel’s universal power, as it is sung by heavenly creatures in praise to
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10)
Please pause and allow the wonder of these words to sink in!
Former proud rebels from every people group on earth have become rulers and priests to God! Can you picture such a scene in your mind’s eye? Imagine one universal kingdom of God, ruled by people from every culture on earth, cultures that once hated one another and fought to advance their own national agendas. Saints from the United States and from North Korea; French, English, and German saints, whose nations fought so many wars throughout the centuries of history; Arab and Jewish saints; Hutu and Tutsi saints from Rwanda; Zulu and Afrikaner saints from South Africa – all these diverse and opposing cultures finally united for a single purpose, governing the universe together with only one agenda: to carry out the perfect will of Almighty God!
Think of the Olympic games or the World Cup. For weeks, we watch our nation’s athletes competing to defeat other nations in a celebration of national pride. Now imagine all those countries who compete in the Olympics someday together exerting all their talent and energy for all eternity in one united purpose – to do the will of God and exalt His glory. Incredible! But we must add even another element to this amazing scene.
Imagine former worshipers from every world religion – Italians who once followed the Vatican, Arabs from Syria who once prayed to Allah five times a day, Tibetans who once wore the orange robes of Buddhist monks, Indians who once bathed in the Ganges River and worshiped thousands of gods, fierce Massai from the plains of Tanzania who once practiced witchcraft and prayed to their ancestors – men and women who once followed every false religion on the planet, and now what are they doing? Now they are all priests to the One true and living God, offering eternal praise and worship to their Creator and Savior!
Imagine such a scene! All the education and philosophy and politics and religion of humanity could never accomplish this. What centuries of humanity’s best efforts could never do, Jesus Christ accomplished alone through His victorious death on the cross! Men and women joined from every culture, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, reborn and transformed by the power of the Spirit, will worship God and reign as His representatives. The culmination of human history is a return to God’s ultimate intention for creation. All of history is designed and destined for this moment, when God receives the beauty of multi-colored worship from those He has redeemed from every culture on earth.
Would you not agree that such a scene is worthy of any amount of sacrifice and suffering in spreading such a mighty gospel?