Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart unto the Good News of God (Rom 1:1)*
Paul Was A Gospel Man
Gospel means good news and Paul was a “gospel man.” I am uncertain where I first heard this expression but it is a good expression because it captures a basic orientation to the faith. There are those Christians who are perpetually glum, whether about the state of the world (this is a big pothole into which it is easy to fall) or about the state of their sins. To be sure, there are plenty of examples in the Psalms and elsewhere of believers reckoning with both and crying out to the Lord, but there is a difference between realism and honesty before the Lord and others about the state of things or the state of one’s soul and perpetual, relentless misery. I am increasingly convinced that those whose spiritual environment (e.g., church, Christian friends, the spiritual culture in which one lives) is dominated by the law (e.g., “do this” “you need to get better at that”) tend toward glumness. Eeyore (the fictional donkey in Winnie the Pooh) is amusing because he represents such a contrast to the generally upbeat characters in the stories. Christopher Robin is generally cheery. Of course, Pooh, so long has he has had his honey, is cheery. Eeyore is the exception and we only have to bear with him briefly.
A gospel-oriented spiritual culture makes a real difference in a congregation and in one’s outlook generally. Paul was a gospel-oriented Christian. To be a gospel-man, of course, means that one is utterly committed to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Paul was that. He brooked no corruption of the good news by anyone, not even by a fellow apostle (e.g., Peter. See Gal. 2:11–14). When the Apostle Peter compromised the gospel by refusing to eat with Gentile Christians (for fear of offending the Judaizers), the Apostle Paul rebuked him publicly and to good effect. If the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) happened after the rebuke, then we see the fruit of it. Peter stoutly defended the gospel against the Judaizers and insisted on their full inclusion into the visible church. After all, in Christ the dividing wall (contra the Dispensationalists) has been torn down (Eph. 2:11‐22). In Christ there is no Jew nor Gentile (Col 3:11; Gal. 3:28–29).
Because he was a gospel-man, Paul preached the Good News. He preached the law in its three uses (pedagogical, civil—contra the theocrats, we never see him calling any magistrate to enforce the 1st table—and the normative, i.e., as the rule of the Christian life) but the thing that got him into trouble with the civil authorities, with the Jews, and with some Christians was that he was relentless about preaching the good news. We may infer from Romans 6:1 that some were accusing him of antinomianism. “The Doctor,” Martyn Lloyd-Jones, is famous for his comments on Romans 6:1:
If your presentation of the Gospel does not expose it to the charge of Antinomianism, you are probably not putting it correctly. What do I mean by that? Just this: The Gospel, you see, comes as this free gift of God–irrespective of what man does. Now, the moment you say a thing like that, you are liable to provoke somebody to say, “Well, if that is so it doesn’t matter what I do.” The Apostle takes up that argument more than once in this great epistle. “What then,” he says at the beginning of chapter 6, “shall we do evil–commit sin–that grace might abound?” He’s just been saying: “where sin abounded grace does much more abound.” “Very well,” says someone. “This is a marvelous doctrine, this ‘Go and get drunk, do what you like, the grace of God will put you right.’” Antinomianism. Now, this doctrine of the Scriptures–this justification by faith only, this free grace of God in salvation–is always exposed to that charge of Antinomianism. Paul was charged with it. He said, “You know, some people say that’s what I’m preaching.” Paul’s preaching was charged with Antinomianism…So I say, it is a very good test of preaching. You see–what is not evangelical preaching is this: It’s the kind of preaching that says to people, “Now, if you live a good life; if you don’t commit certain sins; and if you do good to others; and if you become a church member and attend regularly and are busy and active you will be a fine Christian and you’ll go to Heaven. That’s the opposite of Evangelical preaching—and it isn’t exposed to the charge of Antinomianism because…it is telling men to save themselves by their good works…And it’s not the Gospel—because the Gospel always exposes itself to this misunderstanding from the standpoint of Antinomianism. So, let all of us test our preaching, our conversation, our talk to others about the Gospel by that particular test…If you don’t make people say things like that sometimes, if you’re not misunderstood and slanderously reported from the standpoint of Antinomianism, it’s because you don’t believe the Gospel truly and you don’t preach it truly.
The Doctor was exactly right. He knew what the gospel is just as Paul knew what the gospel is. It is scandalously good news. God justifies those who, in themselves, are still sinners. That scandalizes those who think that we present ourselves to God on the basis of what we are intrinsically and that lot, the moralists, shall always be with us.
The magisterial (i.e., Reformed and Lutheran) Protestant Reformers were gospel men. Some of them paid for it with their lives. Their orthodox successors in the British Isles and in Europe were gospel men. They were constantly preaching the scandalous message of free justification and free salvation in Christ. This is why the Remonstrants were offended because they were convinced that such a message would never produce entire perfection—Arminius and the Remonstrants were perfectionists—and anything short of entire perfection in this life was not satisfactory to them. The Marrow Men were gospel men. They stood for the gospel against the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which had come under the miserable influence of Richard Baxter, and suffered the slings and arrows of the moralists.
In all this, these were all following Paul, the original gospel man if you will.
Called to What?
The Doctor was, of course, exactly right about another thing. He understood what Paul meant when he wrote, under the inspiration of the Spirit, “set apart unto the Good News.” He understood what it meant to say “called.” He had both the internal call by the Holy Spirit—after all he had seen the risen Christ on the Damascus Road—and the external call by the visible, institutional church. His call to ministry had been recognized and validated by the church.
Paul begins Romans by declaring that he is not his own. He is a wholly-owned subsidiary. He writes from Corinth, the church which he had reminded, “you have been bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20), as one who had been bought with a price. He knew what he had been: A murderer and especially a murderer of Christians–and now a preacher to Christians and a planter of Christian churches. What a glorious reversal.
It was not the Sanhedrin who called Saul to plant churches and to preach the gospel. It was the risen Christ. He had been a slave of the rabbis. Now Saul of Tarsus is a slave of Jesus and to his gospel. He had been set apart to the law. Before he met Christ, he thought that he could earn righteousness through law keeping. “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me” (Rom. 7:10; ESV). Paul understood the covenant of works, but before Christ he thought that he could meet the terms of the covenant of works by grace and cooperation with grace. Do not be confused about what the rabbis had taught him. They were not, to put it anachronistically, Pelagians. They were semi-Pelagians. As Mike Horton has reminded us, the Reformation was responding in substance to the rabbis as they stood up for Paul.
Paul was “set apart” for the Good News that Christ has saved sinners. Christ justifies sinners. He sanctifies sinners and he glorifies sinners by sola gratia, sola fide. Does that scandalize you? That is a warning sign, is it not? If it scandalizes you, if that sounds a little Antinomian to you, then perhaps you are not yet a gospel-man like Paul.
©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved
* Παῦλος δοῦλος ⸉Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ⸊, κλητὸς ἀπόστολος ἀφωρισμένος εἰς εὐαγγέλιον θεοῦ (Rom 1:1; NA28).
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