“I am under obligation both to the Greeks and to the barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. Thus, for my part I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 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 1:14-16)
The gospel indeed is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. The power of the blood of Jesus to deal with sin is demonstrated in the preaching of the gospel. The power of the death of Jesus to save lost humanity so as to live victoriously in him (2 Corinthians 5:14-15) is clearly manifested in the gospel. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ the power to live triumphantly is made obvious and desired by all (Philippians 3:10).
Need to Hear the Gospel
God could have chosen to save lost humanity by any means; however, he chose to save us by the power of the gospel preached to the sinner. However, those who would benefit from the gospel and be affected by its power must first hear the message.
By his mercy and lovingkindness, God decided to save the inhabitants of Nineveh who deserved to perish in their iniquities. God appointed a preacher to share his word; however, Jonah believed Nineveh did not deserve mercy, but punishment. Who can blame Jonah for thinking that way when other prophets had spoken ill of Nineveh and its moral corruption (see Nahum 3:1 and Zephaniah 2:15)? Jonah was to go to Nineveh “and cry against it,” a phrase which biblical scholars understand as preaching or proclaiming the intentions of God. Indeed, Jonah receives a direct command: “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you” (Jonah 3:1-2).
Ezekiel seems to suggest there is a consequence for not verbalizing God’s word to warn the wicked to turn from their ways. As an appointed watchman of God, just like any preacher today, Ezekiel was instructed, “Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, warn them for me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked ways that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand” (Ezekiel 3:17-18).
As if to illustrate the need to verbally proclaim the gospel for it to have an effect on its hearers, Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37:1-10) finds himself in the Spirit of the Lord and brought down to a valley of dry bones. To Ezekiel’s amusement and great surprise, God asks him if he thinks the dry bones could live, to which he replied, “O Lord God, you know.” God uses this opportunity to emphasize the importance of verbalizing the good news to hopeless situations to make them come alive. God tells Ezekiel to “prophesy over these bones, and say to them, ‘O bones, hear the word of the Lord.’”
As Ezekiel prophesizes, amusement gives way to amazement as rattling bones come together, sinews become attached, and flesh and skin grow. In God’s great sense of humor, he leaves the dry bones-turned-corpses without breath. Then, the Lord calls Ezekiel to prophesy for the breath to come from the four winds and breathe on the slain so that they come to life. We can almost picture the prophet now girding his loins and, with great expectation and confidence, prophesying to the breath resulting in the once dry bones becoming an exceedingly great army.
Likewise the Church, having been given the ministry and word of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19), is given a charge throughout the New Testament to preach the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-20; Luke 24:44-49; John 20:21-23; 2 Timothy 4:1-5) so that spiritually dead people come alive (Ephesians 2:1-8).
Hear, Believe, Call upon the Lord
Romans 10:9-15 emphasizes that the gospel is the power of salvation to all who believe and must not only be preached for people to hear but also for them to believe and confess it. According to the passage, a person believes with his or her heart, which results in righteousness, and then with his or her mouth he or she confesses, resulting in salvation. Sending a preacher to go and proclaim the gospel to those who need to hear, believe, and call upon the name of the Lord leads to a series of questions: “How then shall they call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”
When Peter and John were ordered not to speak in the name of the Lord Jesus by the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:17), they rebuffed the order, knowing that without hearing the gospel no one stood the chance of being saved. Verbal proclamation of the gospel is not optional; it is a necessary act for followers of Jesus to carry on our heavenly command, in defiance to any authority.
Contextualizing the Gospel
The gospel needs to be communicated verbally in an understandable and compelling way. By virtue of that, preachers and proclaimers of the gospel should adjust their message to new contexts and people. In order to do a good job of contextualizing the gospel without syncretizing it, David J. Hesselgrave and Edward Rommen state, “Acceptable contextualization is a direct result of ascertaining the meaning of the biblical text, consciously submitting to its authority and applying or appropriating that meaning to a given situation.”1 Without contextualization, preachers may deliver the gospel appropriately without actually communicating its truths.
Verbalising the Gospel in Power
In Jeremiah 23:29 we read, “’Is not my word like fire?’ declares the Lord, ‘and like hammer which shatters a rock?’” Isaiah 55:11 declares that the word of God, which goes forth from his mouth (as he speaks through prophets and preachers), won’t return empty without accomplishing what he desires and without succeeding in the matter for which he sent it. Why then, when the gospel is preached by some (in this context referred to as prophets), nothing positive seem to come from it?
There are two reasons for the word to not have its intended impact:
- God says his prophets do not get their messages from him directly, but instead steal it from each other (Jeremiah 23:30).
- God says those preachers who steal the word of God from others have impotency in their message because they do not wait and listen to his word (Jeremiah 23:18).
For the verbal proclamation of the word of God to have its desired impact, preachers must learn to wait on God for a message meant for a particular audience at a particular time. An effective message preached in a particular context may not necessarily be effective in a different context. It is God who best knows the condition of his people. Our Lord Jesus Christ never preached the same message in two different contexts. Nicodemus was reached with a message for one already exposed to scripture while the Samaritan woman was ministered to given her own background (John 3-4).
The other key issue that gives potency to the word of God is the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord makes reference (Luke 4:18-21) to Isaiah 61:1 in relation to his ministry, saying that scripture had been fulfilled in him: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.” This empowerment is supposed to be the norm for all who intend to preach with positive results. This most likely explains Jesus’ insistence that the apostles remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit had come upon them in order to clothe them with power from on high (Luke 24:49) before venturing to preach as his witnesses.
To the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:5) Paul said, “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” We have no business pretending to be witnesses of the Lord and proclaiming his gospel when we have not been “clothed with the power from on high,” for it is only when the Holy Spirit comes upon us that we receive power to be Jesus’ witnesses (Acts 1:8).
The gospel must also be preached with power because the gospel message is spirit and life (John 6:63). Paul emphasizes that the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. With these weapons, we destroy speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
Paul further argues that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). These forces sometimes prevent people from hearing the gospel in their state of sinfulness. Paul therefore concludes that “if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4) so they may be saved. The gospel therefore must be proclaimed bearing these realities in mind and preached in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Since God is well-pleased through the foolishness of the message of the cross preached to save those who believe (1 Corinthians 1:18-25), we have no option but to proclaim the gospel. The fate of many may depend upon us. I have always shuddered and sometimes been baffled by Acts 13:48: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”
Although God knows those who are his (2 Timothy 2:19), I sometimes ask myself, “Is it possible that someone could miss heaven because of my negligence? Is it possible for people to slip through my fingers to hell? What does it mean for God to require the blood of someone who missed heaven because of my disobedience?”
For these and many such questions which I cannot fathom, it is my prayer that I and the entire Body of Christ will work the works of God, not shying away from verbally proclaiming the gospel of the Lord as duty demands so that many people may come to hear and know Jesus Christ.
1. 2003. Contextualization: Meanings, Methods, and Models. Pasadena, California, USA: William Carey Library, 20.