Not Ashamed of the Gospel

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Romans 1:14-17

The bad news, according to the Bible, is that every last human being is sinful, and no one can be saved by their own efforts. The good news is that the gospel – the news about what God has done to save us through Christ – is the power of God to save all who put their faith in Jesus.

In this series of messages based on the first section of the book of Romans, I haven’t begun at the beginning with the opening verses of Romans 1. I’m calling the series, “The Problem Only God Could Solve,” so for that reason I chose to begin by focusing on the problem, which is really the problem or dilemma confronting the entire human race. The root of that problem, as we have seen from looking at the section from Romans 1:18 – 3:20, is the fact of universal sin and the judgment that sin calls down. Every last person, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, educated and ignorant, civilized and primitive, man and woman, black and white and every shade in between, is both sinful by nature and a sinner in everyday life. That this is a problem for every one of us becomes evident when we see our sin in the light of God’s law, which pronounces that the penalty of sin is death (Romans 6:26), or when we consider it against the background of God’s wrath—that is, his holy reaction against everyone and everything that is evil.

God’s wrath, writes the apostle, “is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18). God’s wrath is related to his judgment. To be true to himself, to maintain the moral nature of his creation, simply to keep his word, God must and will destroy evil and punish evildoers in the end. So the crux of the human problem—or what is wrong with the world—is not just poverty, or lack of education, or a shortage of resources, or an excess of weapons, or too many natural disasters piling up. All these troubles are only symptoms of a deeper problem, namely, the problem caused by the fact that we have rebelled against our Creator. Men and women today are living in revolt, and this fundamental state of sin shows up in everything from the perverse way our minds think and our wills choose, in the dysfunction of our relationships, the brokenness of our communities, and the sick state of our planet.

Not Ashamed

The solution to this problem is the gospel, God’s good news of what he has done in and through Jesus Christ to rescue from sin all those whose faith and hope is in Christ. We will consider in greater detail the content and meaning of this gospel message in the weeks to come. But today I want to focus on one of the most important single statements about the gospel in all of scripture. It is Paul’s stirring personal testimony to the gospel’s power in Romans 1:16-17.

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. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17, ESV

Paul begins with a ringing defense of the gospel itself: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.” That little word “for” at the start of the sentence connects it with the previous one. Paul has been saying how eager he is to visit the city of Rome and preach the gospel there too (v.15), just as he has in so many other places. The reason for his eagerness to communicate the gospel is because he is not ashamed of it. Perhaps familiarity with this text has robbed it of some of its power to startle us, because this is really a very surprising thing to say. Why in the world should anyone be ashamed of their religious convictions? Isn’t the gospel simply the good news that God is love, that God loves everybody? What’s so embarrassing about that? Well, the fact is, there’s nothing terribly embarrassing about that message because it is not the gospel.

The gospel is not a general platitude about the love of God; the gospel is the very specific, particular message of the cross. It is the announcement of what God in Christ had to do to reconcile estranged sinners to himself by taking the penalty of their sin and exhausting the curse of his wrath upon it. And this message, as Paul writes elsewhere, was scandalous to Jews and foolish to Greeks (1 Corinthians 1:23). And as for the Romans, imagine trying to explain to an imperial official that you worshiped as Lord and Savior a man who had been crucified by a Roman governor under a sentence of sedition and treason. Now there was plenty of cause for embarrassment for anyone who embraced and proclaimed this message in the New Testament world.

“I’m not ashamed of the gospel,” declares the apostle. The truth is, you and I often are, aren’t we? We’re ashamed of the gospel because the gospel can cause us to be singled out for ridicule, or worse, depending on where you live. The gospel of Jesus Christ offends many people today. It arouses ridicule, opposition, even hatred. A little polite religion, especially if it’s kept private and quiet, is one thing. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s even quite respectable. There are whole university departments devoted to the study of religion. Few people are really ashamed of religion.

But the gospel—that’s another thing altogether. At the center of the gospel is the message of the cross, which proclaims that human sin has cut us off from God, and human religion isn’t enough to bring us back again. Only the death of God’s very own Son can pay the price, settle the wrath, and save us from judgment. The circumference of the gospel is faith in Jesus Christ. Only those who believe in him, are joined to him through a living faith and are living out that faith by obeying him as Lord will share in the good things the gospel promises. And that message offends human pride, human wisdom, and human religion. It’s very tempting to soft-peddle it so as to not make people angry, critical or contemptuous of us. Oh yes, I know what it’s like to be ashamed of the gospel. Don’t you?

The Power of God

But Paul was not ashamed because he knew, he had seen, he had himself experienced that “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (v. 16). The gospel is power. It’s not about the power of God; it is the power of God. But it isn’t the power of God for anything and everything, like a genie that will do whatever we tell it to when we rub the magic lamp. The gospel isn’t magic. It’s not a secret spell that will give us whatever we want if only we repeat the proper words. It isn’t a secret kind of knowledge that will make us rich and successful, a special “get out of jail free” card we can play whenever we’re sick or in trouble. And it’s just as well it isn’t any of those things, for then it wouldn’t be true.

No, the gospel is God’s power for one specific end: it is God’s power for salvation. No doubt we wish we could have God’s power available whenever we like: to make us well, or wealthy, to guarantee our success or happiness, to protect our families or produce wonders. But God doesn’t offer that. These things may be desirable, but they are not automatically given by God to anybody, nor does the gospel promise any of them. Its power is for something better than all those things. Gospel power is power to save us from sin, death, judgment, and hell.

But to experience this power, to receive the promised salvation, we must believe—believe the gospel, believe in the Lord. Paul says that the gospel is the power of God for salvation, not to everyone, but “to everyone who believes.” Our deepest need as human beings, whether we’re aware of it or not, is for righteousness. Sin has robbed us of the knowledge of the true God, the living God. Even worse, it has made us offensive to him, for in sinning we have turned our backs upon him. As things stand, human beings are dead to God, and if they continue that way, they will perish eternally. Nothing is more important, nothing more urgently needed, than to gain the righteousness that will make us acceptable to God and give us eternal life with him. But how do you get it? We can’t produce it ourselves. So where does it come from, this perfect righteousness? It comes from the gospel, where Paul adds, “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'”

This is how it works: in order to receive the righteousness of God and be saved, you simply believe the message of the gospel that Jesus died for your sins. That’s all you have to do. Think of it—the power of God to save comes from hearing and accepting the truth that Christ died for you. You don’t have to do anything else. You don’t have to do good works or perform religious rituals or offer many prayers. All you have to do is believe in Christ!

Of course, that’s not all you have to do. That’s all you have to do to be saved. But much of the New Testament was written to explain what you have to do once you have been saved, how we need to live once we have received the gift of the righteousness of God through faith in Christ. But first we must receive it, first we must put aside our shame and embarrassment and accept the gospel. And if you won’t do that, nothing can save you.