The gospel. The gospel. The gospel. Read almost anything in evangelical circles today, and you find the “the gospel”. What is it? And why is it so important? And why might we be, of all things, ashamed of it?
Paul tells the Romans he’s champing at the bit to preach the gospel at Rome, because he’s obligated to Greeks and non-Greeks (1:14:15– http://theoldpreacher.com/the-obligated/.)
He explains further . . .
“[For] I am not ashamed of the gospel . . . “
Whoa! Why write that? Why might Paul be ashamed of the gospel? Primarily because the gospel is news of a Jewish Messiah crucified by the Romans like a common criminal. This is why Paul wrote earlier that this Christ was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
Remember that (Good) Friday’s events? Jesus seized by Jewish authorities (little more than a mob accosting Jesus in an olive garden in the dark) . . . dragged before Roman Governor Pilate, who wants to release him but succumbs to the mob’s cries for blood . . . flogged by Roman soldiers and herded through the city like an animal to the execution hill . . . nailed to a cross, mocked by soldiers and passers-by, forsaken by God the Father, buried in a borrowed tomb. Days later his followers proclaim him resurrected, but only they saw him alive.
Why is Paul not ashamed to preach the news of this Messiah, especially in the heart of the empire, especially when he’s persecuted and beaten down doing it?
“[For] I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:16,17).
Paul’s not ashamed of the gospel, because “it is the power of God . . . ” The abject weakness of Christ crucified is, in fact, the dynamic power of God—God’s dynamite (the Greek for “power” is dunamis).
God’s power for what? “ . . for the salvation of everyone who believes”. In other words, God, in Christ’s death, saved everyone who would believe throughout all time and in all places. That rescue becomes our experience when we hear that good news and believe it.
Salvation (rescue, deliverance) from what? Paul answers starting in 1:18 . . .
“[For] The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness . . . ”
And he climaxes his explanation in 3:23 . . .
“ . . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . . ”
We’ll dig more deeply into that text when we reach it. For today, it tells us that God, in Christ’s death saved everyone who would believe from his own wrath against us because we have sinned against him.
This saving power, writes Paul, is the revelation of God’s righteousness. That is, Christ’s death reveals God’s condemnation of sin. He poured out his wrath due us believers on his Son. Therefore, God’s righteousness is his absolute moral uprightness according to his standards. But in Paul’s mind, righteousness is more. It is God’s action by which he puts a sinner right with himself and which then becomes a transformative power in the believer’s life.
And this saving power, this righteousness of God, is “by faith from first to last . . .” That is, we experience God’s saving power–God’s righteousness–when we believe. And it’s ours progressively as we progressively believe. Ultimately, God will consummate his saving work in believers at the end.
This obviously implies the good news that God’s saving power in Christ is ours not by how well we keep his laws, or how loving we are to the loveless, or how “good” a person are. It’s ours by faith. We trust what God says is true about Christ’s work. In the gospel, God’s righteousness is revealed, not ours. Our part is to admit we need God’s saving power in Christ, then to trust that it reaches us.
This, writes Paul, is the gospel. It’s God’s power to save from his wrath those who believe it. Therefore, he claims, I’m not ashamed of it, even though it’s news of a crucified Messiah and his believers get “beat up” in this world. I’m announcing, Paul declares, God’s power to save.
* * *
Put me in a church building, give me a Bible and pulpit, and I’m proud to proclaim the gospel. But in a supermarket, or office building, or kitchen table, or anyplace else out in the world I hesitate. Am I ashamed of the gospel?
Not because of the crucified Messiah. For two other reasons, I think. One, the claim that he’s the only way for salvation from God. In our society, “one way” implies that all other religions are wrong. That marks us as intolerant troublemakers. Check out this interview by Bernie Sanders as a glaring example . . .
If we don’t accept “religious pluralism” (which probably means the ridiculous idea that everybody’s faith is “right”), we’re “disqualified”. I think there are times I’m ashamed of that.
Second, the appearance of the church. Is this what God’s power produces? People who look and apparently act like other “morally upright” people? What’s so different about believers except what we do Sunday mornings together in a building shut up among ourselves? The answer to such questions is, “Be patient. God’s not finished with me yet.” In other words, nobody sees the full effect of God’s saving power until The End. Still, a bit more visible power now wouldn’t hurt, right?
So how can I (we) not be ashamed of the gospel? One way is to meditate on Romans 1:16,17. Better yet, meditate on Romans 1-8. And pray for God to strengthen our faith to believe it. Because, after all, this Christian life is a faith-walk in our God who is mighty to save.