Ashamed? Of the Gospel?
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.”
Francis Schaeffer said Romans is split into two sections: chapters 1-8 and chapters 9-16, and the key to understanding the first section is Romans 1:16-17. John Chrysostom summarized these verses this way, “It is the righteousness of God that is revealed here, not yours but God’s, a righteousness both abundant and easily accessible. For you do not receive it by toils and labors, but you receive it by a gift from above contributing one thing only from yourself, namely, ‘believing.’” If he is right, how could anyone be ashamed of the gospel? What else in the world has the power to change us so thoroughly simply by believing?
The gospel is a powerful message, but there are a lot of powerful messages in the world. What makes it unique? Michael Bird explains it this way, “The gospel is a speech-act, in that it not only announces the way of salvation, but actualizes salvation in those who hear it with faith. The same power of God manifested in raising the Son, in creation, in the divine acts of redemptive history, in keeping covenant promises, and in miraculous events is also infused into the gospel. The gospel manifests God’s death-defeating, curse-reversing, evil-vanquishing, devil-crushing, sin-cleansing, life-giving, love-forming, people-uniting, super- über-mega-grace power that results in ‘salvation.’” In short, the gospel is not only powerful in message but also powerful in action. Powered by God himself, the gospel does something even as it says something.
As powerful as the gospel is, we can somehow still become ashamed of it. That’s how deep our sin is. The very message that saved our soul is the same message that we can be embarrassed by. Jesus warned us about this. In Luke 9, Jesus tells us, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me… whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” We have a choice: embrace the shame of the cross, or become ashamed of the cross. In God’s Kingdom, laying down your life gives life back, and holding on to life takes it away. The choice seems obvious, but it must be made moment by moment.
How can we be ashamed of the gospel? Michael Bird gives us a brief list as a checkpoint:
- I am ashamed of the gospel when I am afraid to tell it.
- I am ashamed of the gospel when I’m too intimidated to uphold it.
- I am ashamed of the gospel when I’m too lazy to teach it.
- I am ashamed of the gospel when I’m too selfish to live a life worthy of it.
- I am ashamed of the gospel when I make other things the center of fellowship.
- I am ashamed of the gospel when I affirm any political, economic, or social position that denies
- what the Lord Jesus taught about the poor, the orphan, the sick, the elderly, or the homeless.
- I am ashamed of the gospel when I make excuses for the unchristian behavior of my political heroes.
- I am ashamed of the gospel when I spend more money on chocolate than charity.
- I am ashamed of the gospel when my social life becomes more important than my church life.
- I am ashamed of the gospel when I spend more time combing my hair than active in prayer.
The apostle Paul was proud of the gospel, but it did make him odd to the world. He didn't mind. Do we?