Pastor Marty Baker, Th.M.
Shame. It is exactly what Paul tells the Roman Christians he doesn’t feel when he thinks about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here is how he states it: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel …” (Romans 1:16a). Ostensibly, this means Paul didn’t sense guilt about the story of the gospel, and he didn’t feel like he had to duck his head when he spoke about it in a synagogue. No. For him there was never room for shame or embarrassment.
It is unsettling that many in our culture are embarrassed by the gospel of Jesus. You can’t pick up a newspaper or surf the net without seeing people whose actions or words demonstrate their embarrassment. For instance, a church in Los Angeles removed the three large crosses on the corner of its property and replaced them with three palm trees. All of this was done to supposedly enhance their witness to a Christless community, but it seemed to me the motivation was shame. Unfortunately, such activity is pervasive.
Why do people, Christians and non-Christians alike, blush at the gospel? Answers are plentiful:
“It’s too intolerant because it doesn’t accept other religions.”
“It’s so brutal. After all, isn’t the crucifixion a bit too barbaric for an enlightened culture?”
“It’s so illogical. How could the death and resurrection of one man appease the anger of God?”
“It doesn’t allow room for my good, moral, and highly religious works.”
“It doesn’t recognize the presence of god within me.”
“Its path to God is too narrow and simplistic.”
No wonder those who hold to positions like these blush at the gospel, for it unequivocally presents only one path to God through the person and work of Jesus Christ. And since they find this emotionally and intellectually unpalatable, they are ashamed of it, as if it is something disgraceful or dishonorable.
Paul felt differently. For him, the gospel created pride in God’s salvation plan, not shame. How did he arrive at this conclusion? A brief survey of the import of his statement in Romans 1, verse 16, coupled with an analysis of the immediate context, supplies us with all the evidence we need to answer our query.
Reasons Not To Be Embarrassed
To properly understand Paul’s declaration before us, we must first consider the opening chapter of Romans:
“1Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, 2(Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the Holy Scriptures,) 3Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; …”
Verse two introduces us to the first reason we should not be ashamed about God’s saving plan.
It Was Prophesied (Romans 1:2-3)
From Genesis to Malachi, God worked strategically and intricately through the prophets to unfold the mission of His only Son, who would be our Savior from sin. Mind you, this occurred over a period of thousands of years, across the borders of numerous countries, and through the rise and fall of various kings and empires. Space does not permit a full treatment of this wondrous prophetic evidence, but, to validate the point we need only to touch upon a few texts.
The Messiah/Jesus would be God with us (Isaiah 7:14).
The Messiah/Jesus would be from David’s line (Jeremiah 23:5).
The Messiah/Jesus would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
The Messiah/Jesus would be THE sacrificial lamb (Isaiah 53).
Scholars debate regarding how many messianic prophecies exist in the Old Testament. In his book, Evidence Demands A Verdict, Josh McDowell catalogues sixty-one messianic prophecies (pp. 151-174); while J. Barton Payne, author of Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy, cites 574 (pp. 667-668). Regardless of where you land on the prophetic count, one conclusion is clear. Statistical analysis of this data demonstrates the fact Jesus was the Christ. Barry Leventhal echoes this argument while quoting from biblical scholar John Phillips:
“There are some 25 prophecies concerning the betrayal, trial, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus uttered by various prophets over a period of some five hundred years. These were literally fulfilled although the chances against such fulfillment have been shown to be one chance in 33,554,438” (Norman L. Geisler & Paul K. Hoffman, Why I Am A Christian: 207).
Talk about a long shot.
The bottom line of this reasoning is clear. How could you be ashamed of a God who carefully orchestrated a plan of such extreme magnitude and mind-boggling complexity? A saving plan of this nature doesn’t shame you. It humbles you, it grabs your heart and your mind, leaving you impassioned like Paul.
No wonder he said definitively in Greek that he wasn’t ashamed of this gospel. No other gospel on earth can claim such divine provision and foresight. Skip down to verse five of Romans chapter one, and you’ll encounter another reason this gospel should cause you to hold your head up high.
It Is Perfect (Romans 1:5)
After he speaks about the gospel being tied to the resurrection of Jesus (v. 4), Paul makes this enlightening statement: “through whom we have received grace and apostleship …” Please. Stop right there. Rest your eyes upon that little word, “grace.” A. W. Tozer provides us with a fitting definition: “Grace is the good pleasure of God that inclines him to bestow benefits upon the undeserving. It is a self-existent principle inherent in the divine nature and appears to us as a self-caused propensity to pity the wretched, spare the guilty, welcome the outcast, and bring into favor those who were before under just disapprobation. Its use to us sinful men is to save us and make us sit together in heavenly places to demonstrate to the ages the exceeding riches of God’s kindness to us in Christ Jesus (Edythe Draper, Draper’s Book of Quotations for the Christian World, Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992, Entries 4650-4652).”
Grace is beautiful, isn’t it?
As Paul shows in his letter to the Romans, the Law possessed inherent limitations. It revealed man’s sin, but it couldn’t remove that sin (Romans 3:19-20; 7:7-14).
It revealed to man the futility of righteous works for pleasing God as opposed to the work of grace through Jesus’ substitutionary death (Romans 3:24-30; 10:1-5; Galatians 3:21). It was given to cause sin to increase, so grace could, in turn, fulfill the Law (Romans 5:12-21; Galatians 3:18-19). The Law was magnificent; however, it was only a tutor to point us to the gospel (Galatians 3:24-25).
The same is not said of grace, which forms the bedrock of the gospel. The Law educated sinful man about his need for salvation; however, it is only through the gospel of grace that man can actually receive salvation. It is the redemptive gift, par excellence, secured by the life, death, and resurrection of the prophesied One the Scriptures call Jesus. We needn’t marvel, then, that this gospel is translated in some passages as good news (Matthew 4:23). What could be better news? Further, how could we, along with Paul, ever dream of being ashamed of this news secured by the loving action of God? How, indeed?
One final Pauline point needs to be mentioned about the shameless nature of the gospel.
It Is Powerful (Romans 1:16)
The second clause of Romans 1, verse 16 underscores this truth, “…. For it is the power of God for salvation.” Grammatically, the first word of the clause is “power.” This strategic placement gives it heightened emphasis. What is this gospel? It is the divine power capable of saving the sinner.
A Hindu man approached me after a Bible study one night with this question: “Pastor, I have worshipped three thousand gods of Hinduism my entire life. At this point in my journey, I have discovered I cannot possibly work hard enough to please all of them. I am very tired. Could you tell me about Jesus? Perhaps He is my answer.”
After we sat down and talked about the prophetic nature of Jesus’ life and the perfect provision of His gracious gospel, he did what he should have done years ago. He chose to be one who wasn’t ashamed of Jesus anymore. At that amazing moment of faith, gospel power freed a man from his sinful state for all eternity.
Who could ever be ashamed of that which frees a man from slavery? Certainly not Paul.
As culture descends into greater darkness, prompting people to pull away from the truth of
the gospel so they can blend in, you need not feel compelled to join them. Why? You have ample reasons to be confident and bold with God’s good news. No other salvation plan comes close to its precise prophetic value, its magnificent perfection, and its raw power to shatter the chains of the sinner.
So go ahead. Be courageous.