“I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel” Part 1

Written on: April 1, 2024

Article by: Dave Knutson

Text: Romans 1:8-17

Back in 2011 a number of billboards went up, alerting us to the dangers of colorectal cancer. Remember those? They had a picture of someone’s backside and a caption that read: “Don’t be embarrassed to Death”

Today’s text is a similar warning, because shame is a powerful thing. As God intended, our capacity to feel shame is a strong deterrent. Yet it is possible to be ashamed of the wrong thing.

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So Paul writes: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” Vs.16

When you and I accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, we put ourselves at cross-purposes with Satan and with every society under his control. And sad to say, but that includes the once ‘true north strong and free‘. Satan wants to embarrass us right out of our faith. He wants to shame and ridicule us into walking away from the gospel, only to die spiritually all over again.

Ridicule is just one of his tools, but an effective one. It is effective, because we all put a high value on our sense of personal dignity. Ridicule attacks that dignity and we do our best to avoid it. Satan wants us to feel stupid, foolish, naive and gullible. He wants you to believe that we have been misinformed and duped, played for a sucker. He claims to have truth on his side and that there’s still time for us to smarten up and join the majority. God has fooled us once, but we have been warned – so shame on you.

That is after all how Satan started his relationship with people. He convinced Eve that trusting God was a big mistake and that she could fight back by taking charge of her life. Satan is still at it, palming off half-truths and chipping away at the brittle edges of our dignity.

The apostle Paul was all too aware of this. He was once among those who ridiculed and persecuted the church. Thus Paul’s statement does two things.

It draws attention to the gospel and singles it out for closer evaluation. And it says something about the human component in salvation, that we can choose to take hold of salvation or refuse to do so. That salvation through the gospel is limited to those who believe, and that those who believe will always be surrounded by an unbelieving majority.

Let’s start with the Gospel. Paul does not define what the Gospel is since he’s writing to the church…but it a fair question. In fact there are a number of questions that flow from this one statement:

What is this thing called the gospel which is God’s power to save?

Why would the apostle Paul or any Christian – be ashamed of It?

And perhaps most important of all, what would it mean for Paul if he was?

Let’s look to the immediate context …starting in Vs. 1. Paul begins by making three parallel statements about Himself as he opens the letter. He calls himself “a slave of Christ”: Jesus owns him. He had been “called as an apostle”, commissioned and empowered by God. And Paul says that he was “set apart for the Gospel”… sanctified for a special work.

Whatever the “Gospel” is, it defines who Paul is and empowers him to act. It is now his reason for living and that purpose reaches beyond this life, to Christ who is risen from the dead.

The gospel is the message about the risen Christ which Jesus gave directly to Paul when he sent him to preach to the non-Jewish world. Shame is calling Paul to abandon his new life and renounce God’s divine call, the very thing that the apostle refuses to do.

In verse 2, Paul explains that the gospel was promised by God through His prophets who recorded them in the Holy Scriptures”.

Thus it follows that

  1. Paul is not ashamed of God
  2. He is not ashamed of the Prophets: many of whom died proclaiming the word
  3. He is not ashamed of the Scriptures, given through the Holy Spirit.
  4. Nor is he ashamed of the mighty deeds of God as set out in scripture
  5. He is not ashamed of the promises of God, many of which have already been kept
  6. Nor is he ashamed of the greatest of all of God’s promises; our salvation through the Son of God.

It’s important to see that Paul argues from the certainty of historical events to the certainty of promises yet unfulfilled. At one time, the birth of Jesus, his life and resurrection were just promises. God has kept those promises in Jesus, giving way to a whole new set. Jesus, the son of David was declared with power to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead according to the Spirit of Holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord”.

Those who deny the Gospel, necessarily deny the incarnation and the resurrection. The Jewish leaders accused Jesus of being an illegitimate child – John 8:41. They claimed that he used the power of Satan to do miracles Mat. 12:24. And they spread the story that the disciples of Jesus stole his body from the grave Matt. 28:13

Those who renounce the gospel say that on the cross, Jesus got what he deserved. That is what it means, to be ashamed of the gospel.

Now In verse 5, Paul includes himself among those saved by grace of God and adds that Jesus has elevated him to serve as an apostle. What he means, is that God has forgiven a man who murdered Christians. This is why Paul called himself “the chief of sinners” in 1st Tim 1:15

But before we get feeling superior, the chief – was just one of many. We were all sinners and just as lost as he was. Hell is an equal-opportunity place with room for all and the place to which we were headed.

So before we allow ourselves to be embarrassed by the gospel, let’s remember what we have been saved from. And let’s hold on tight to God’s promise of heaven. We have not just been redeemed from hell but chosen for everlasting life.

Now Jesus chose Paul – a ‘Hebrew of Hebrews’ – to preach the gospel to a world of non-Jews. In fact, the church at Rome was at this time, made up primarily of non-Jews. So Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel or of those who believed it. He was not about to renounce Jesus or to close the door on those to whom he had been sent.

May we never underestimate the influence that each of us have on the lives of others. God intends for our faith to ripple outward. It is not a private matter, just between us and God. Our lives play a vital part in determining the flow of history and the progress of the gospel. For all of these reasons then, the apostle Paul was “not ashamed” of the it.

But why did Paul feel it necessary to include this denial in his letter?” Was he responding to something that was being said about him? Perhaps the answer is hinted at in verses 13 & 14 where Paul says:

“And I do not want you to be unaware brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented thus far) in order that I might obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to Barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish”

Paul had wanted to preach the gospel in Rome for some time but had not been able. Not only that, but he had wanted to preach it to Christians. Preaching to the converted is not a waste of time. It needs to be done and Paul was all about doing it.

When Paul wrote that he wanted to “obtain some fruit among them”, he was saying something important. Some fruit is an admission that many in the church at Rome will not want to grow in knowledge or mature spiritutally. Others in Rome will not believe the gospel.

Even a great preacher like Paul expected rejection. Rejection and feelings of shame are strong disincentives. When Paul preached to the Jews in Pisidian Antioch, they rejected him. He responded by saying “you have counted yourselves unworthy of eternal life”, and then he turned his attention to the Gentiles who were receptive.

But rejection was common and still is. Paul sums up the usual response this way in 1 Cor. 1:22-23 “Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Greeks foolishness”.

They dismissed the message and thought that the whole enterprise of preaching was foolish. “You really want me to believe that the God of heaven and earth has no better way of saving the world than by sending preachers? Give me a break!”

But believe it or not, Paul said that it was by the “foolishness of the message preached that God was saving men and women”. Regardless of the reception, Paul was under obligation to preach to all categories of people, to Greeks and Barbarians, to the wise and the foolish.

The great commission has never depended upon the worthiness of the audience but on the authority of the sender. The integrity of Paul’s mission did not depend on the opinions of those who heard. Paul’s job was to preach; to provide an opportunity for the gospel to save. He was not about to step aside or stand down.

That is the context of Romans 1:16-18, and it brings us to another and perhaps more profound reason why a person might be ashamed of the Gospel, perhaps even two.

The first is found in the nature of the Gospel itself. And the second has to do with just what it is that the Gospel reveals.

This article will discuss the first of these: the nature of the Gospel. We will carry this discussion further in a second article from this text

Now the Nature of the Gospel is best understood by the force of the definite article. It is the Gospel, not a gospel. It is singular, instead of plural. It is not one among many, for the Lord has given no others. And the one that he has given is the only one that leads to salvation..

As Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph.4:4-6)

Our society rejects the concept of strict exclusivity. It is offensive and unacceptable. But then that reaction is hardly new. If you think about it, the universality of the Gospel affirms the sovereignty of God. Men and women all over the world are under the rule of God. That’s why Paul’s mission was to preach to Greeks and Barbarian alike.

That’s exactly what Paul is saying. That the Gospel of Jesus Christ is universal in scope and singular in number. Paul was fully aware of that and not ashamed.

Paul knew all about the pressure of multiculturalism. The Greek and Roman world worshipped hundreds of deities. It was up to it’s eyeballs in philosophies, iike skepticism, asceticism, even atheism. This is all the more reason that we need to take our stand with Paul upon the gospel. And we need to do it for the same reasons that he did, for the Gospel is God’s power to save Mankind.

To put it another way: God does not have any power to forgive the sins of men and women apart from the Gospel. God Himself has one and only one way to bring people back to himself, and that is through the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. He has just this one.

Buried in that fact is perhaps another reason why a person might be ashamed, for the Gospel is just a message. It is a verbal, propositional communication from God to Man. It’s been written and we find it in the Bible and especially in the New Testament. Those who believe it are responsible for teaching others. But, that’s part of the problem since the method is ordinary and unimpressive.

It has to compete in the marketplace of ideas and do so without today without miracles. I mean, why doesn’t God just rip the heavens open and appear in person? How about a miracle every now and then?

Well, the scriptures say that God has chosen at this time, not to do that. But miracles or no miracles, God has always preserved Man’s freedom of choice. When God sent Moses to bring Israel out of Egypt, he told him to go to Pharaoh and command him to let Israel go. Pharaoh made the mistake of thinking that God was asking permission. Any God who has to ask permission of a man, is not much of a God. In the same way, it is possible for those who hear the Gospel to hear it wrong. And it is possible for those who preach to preach it wrong. God is not asking permission of you in the Gospel.

When Paul preached to the philosophers in Athens, he said to them:

“Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising him from the dead”. (Acts. 17:30-31)

The gospel of Jesus Christ actually commands repentance. It calls us into his presence and judges us in advance. In the process of doing that it explains the internal affairs of heaven itself. It explains the dilemma facing God from the day that sin entered the world.

God wanted to forgive, but was prevented from doing so by two things.

On the one hand, some men and women refuse to admit that God exists. If God does not exist, then wrongdoing is just against other people. Crimes against people, property or humanity rise no higher than that. So sin as an offence against God…does not exist. And then, among those who do admit that there is such a thing as sin, the majority are not ready to stop doing it.

So Man’s refusal to acknowledge God and to repent is the first obstacle, but not the whole story.

Down through history, some people have believed in God. They have repented of sin and obeyed the commands of God, which brings us to the second obstacle, residing with God.

God is Holy…in the sense that He is pure and righteous. He can have nothing to do with sin. Sin is opposite to the essence of God in such a way that He can associate with sinners only at the expense of His own purity. For God, that has never been an option

When the first man and woman sinned, God cut them off from his presence. The rift was absolute with consequences extending beyond time and space. To God, there is nothing more serious than sin.

The uniqueness of the Gospel is that it actually provides the solution

In Romans 3:26, Paul unites these two thoughts: The first is that God has found a way to remain just while at the same time, justifying sinners. Because of the price that Jesus paid on the cross for the sins of Mankind, God the judge and God the saviour are now one and the same person. He is both Just, and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

When we come to Romans 1:18-32, what we find is that while there are many paths that lead to hell, there is only one that leads to heaven. It is revealed only in the gospel which is why Paul is not ashamed of it. God has been satisfied. One of those two obstacles is gone, leaving only the second, our human response.

The gospel is the power of God unto salvation “to everyone who believes”. God does not make anyone believe. The very idea of a forced faith is a contradiction of terms. If we have no choice, then faith is not really faith nor is obedience the real thing.

There is also no hint here of Universalism in this verse. That is the belief that all people will one day in some way be saved by God, despite how they have lived or what they have believed.

Paul honours both the voluntary nature of faith and the conditional nature of salvation. To say that salvation from sin is to “everyone who believes” is to say that salvation is a universal offer to everyone on earth. There is no fine print, no prerequistes and the deck has not been stacked. If God had his way, not a single person would ever be lost. If on the day of Judgment, we are lost, then in our case, His will has not been done. We will have successfully prevented God from forgiving us. Which means that the responsibility for our eternal destiny is ours alone.

God has done all that He can to save us. He loves us and pleads with us to accept his forgiveness. The gospel is his only means and fully sufficient, if we are willing.

Barrie ON