According to Paul, gospel is the “power of God” to salvation (Romans 1:16). The word for “power” in Greek is the word from which we get the English words “dynamite” and “dynamic.” Describing the gospel as the dynamite of God, however, can be misleading. For example, the Greco-Romanized version of the gospel that dominates modern theories includes angry and retributive categories of power. You know the kind. It goes something like this: Your sin and guilt have earned you retribution, but God has a plan to save you from the explosion of His wrath. Admit your guilt and accept the satisfaction made by Jesus, and you will escape damnation.
How did such a retributive and destructive view of power seep into our understanding of salvation? There’s a more loving way to understand God’s plan for creation, but it requires a different vision of God. If you envision a God who damns sinners, threatening to blow them to kingdom come, you’ll be looking for ways to stop the detonation. Envisioning instead a gracious God of love who has been powerfully revealed through Jesus changes everything.
We like to ensure our weapons are more powerful than those of our enemies. Today, we have weapons that are far more powerful than dynamite. They have the capacity to obliterate entire countries. Their power is destructive, but “we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3–5, NKJV).
Scholar Roy Gane describes God’s power as an awesome force, like a nuclear reactor (Leviticus and Numbers, 2004, p. 188). God’s love is beyond dynamite; it’s power is nuclear. The most powerful weapon in the universe is the unbreakable love of God, and to defeat His foes, God has used this weapon to its maximum power. Indeed, His explosive love unleashed on Calvary blasted through our rebellion, for “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NKJV). It’s not a destructive force that blasts people to bits but a love that breaks open an overflowing narrative of God’s life-giving nature. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us” (Ephesians 1:7–8, NKJV). It’s the exceeding greatness of God’s abundant love that defeats evil and makes us new again. God does not pour tiny smatterings of sprinkles, like one might dash on cupcakes. God’s love abounds beyond our expectations. He lavishes it, for His love is limitless.
Not long ago, I hiked to a remote waterfall while visiting Hawaii. Because the rainy season created perils, the trip was almost canceled, but fortunately, an experienced guide was willing to make the expedition despite the hazards. When we finally reached our destination, I stood watching the powerful waterfall endlessly pouring over the edge, thundering into the depths. I then jumped into those depths, letting the powerful, refreshing water wash over me. This is how God pours out His love in abundance. His love is constant and strong, cascading and washing over us until we are completely saturated in it. We swim in the current of His mercy, plunging into the depths of His ever-flowing love. That’s an excessive amount of love. That’s the gospel!
When temptations loom and life becomes hard, limited views of God just won’t do. We need an abounding current so strong that it moves us steadily and deeply into His arms. We tend to play in the marshy shallows while the boundless ocean of His love is right there beside us, “inviting us to plunge in and let the wild waves of dark glory wash us, wash over us, wash us through and through, and land us on the shores of God’s new creation” (N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began, 2016, p. 416).
Once you glimpse the overwhelming love of God, you feel compelled to spend the rest of your life discovering it. It launches us into the heart of God, the waves of His love breaking our hostility. It brings us power when we are dead in trespass and sin, encouraging us to turn away from the things that hurt and distract us. We experience God loving us where we are, surging through us, for “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20, ESV).
There is a little treasure found in the Book of Exodus, when God’s explosive presence pours out on the Israelites. It is so overwhelmingly powerful that they become afraid, begging Moses to ask God to dial down His dynamic demonstration of glory. Moses responds, “Do not fear.” God’s power is not to blast them. Moses tells the Israelites that God’s display is to ensure “that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin” (Exodus 20:18–2, NAS). Moses hands them the key to defeating temptation and sin.
Moses knows that through recalling God’s gracious acts, the Israelites will gain the power to avoid straying. Having lost awareness of God’s covenantal grace, they had lost their power to live for Him, quickly losing the spark of God’s redeeming love and falling into temptation’s grip. Though experiencing the most profound display of God’s mighty rescue, they defected from walking with Him for one simple reason: they had forgotten God’s covenantal love. They didn’t believe that He really loved them. We share this problem. When we forget who God really is and what He wants to do in our lives, we lose our way. We must recover our wonder and amazement! When we grasp His love, it detonates a sleeping charge within our hearts that has the power to transform our lives.
Real and lasting change only comes through experiencing the limitless abundance of God’s love. God wants to smother the sin from our lives with His extravagant love, but our biggest failure is not doing things that displease Him. The biggest problem is not sin but living without caring about His presence. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer brilliantly notes, when we sin, we are not filled “with hatred of God, but with the forgetfulness of God” (Creation and Fall Temptation, 1997, p. 132)
God, however, never forgets us. He not only loves us powerfully and abundantly but has innumerable intimate thoughts about us:
How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
When I awake, I am still with You.Psalms 139:17–18, NKJV
I envision great sweeps of beaches with billions upon billions of grains of sand. That’s an unbelievably large amount of sand, but God’s love for us measures infinitely more! That’s a lot of love. It’s uncountable; it’s excessive; it’s overwhelmingly abundant to the infinite extreme. The problem is that I am not fully convinced of God’s love. I sometimes think that He doesn’t notice me, and I forget about the vast tide of His love touching the shore of my life. If I only let the beautiful tide of His love surge powerfully through my life, however, it will always be with me. Like children plucking daisy petals, we may be tempted to think that He does not love us, but with God every pluck says that He does. We need to take Him seriously, becoming more acquainted with His thoughts about us. If we really believe He loves us in abundance, how could we ever forget?
I want to do everything I can to respond to God’s powerful and amazing love that has been so richly lavished upon me. I want to receive His dynamic power until nothing separates me from His infinite love. I want His love to ignite inside my heart, so I can experience such love transforming me—and then watch it turn the world upside down.
Craig Ashton Jr.