Not Ashamed of the Gospel

Title: Not Ashamed of the Gospel

Text: Romans 1:16-17

Time: August 14th, 2010

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, The just shall live by faith,” Romans 1:16-17. The Apostle Paul is writing to the Christians in the capital city of the great Roman Empire. We don’t know how many Christians were in Rome at the time but it might have been a few thousand or it could have been lower, like a few hundred. It’s too bad that the Christians didn’t take more care to count attendance and membership because then we’d know. Although it’s kind of refreshing to see the early church as not obsessed with numbers like churches seem to be today. But whether there were many Christian living in Rome or few, Paul takes the time and effort to write to them in order to instruct them in the basics of the Christian life. There’s a lot we don’t know about these Christians, for example, we don’t know who actually brought the gospel to Rome, although the Catholics have a tradition that says the Apostle Peter did – that can’t be verified for sure. Somebody brought the gospel to the Roman capital because there’s already a Christian church community there for Paul to write to. But what Paul wants to do is clarify the Christian message and make sure that the Roman Christians are building on a solid foundation.  It’s easy to get the gospel in bits and pieces. In fact, that’s probably how most people hear it today too, in bits and pieces. We hear some of the gospel on the radio, some of the Bible from a television ministry, a little bit of Christianity we learn from Christian books or literature of some kind. We learn a little Bible teaching from family and friends, in conversation. Then, we learn some of the gospel from attending church, whether just visiting a church or regularly attending. Now it’s great that we learn bits and pieces of the gospel. It’s great that the Christians in Rome knew the gospel from somewhere, but what Paul was concerned about was whether they knew it enough for it to serve as a foundation for their lives. That’s the same concern we should all have today. Do people who call themselves Christians really know the gospel enough to make it the foundation for their lives? Do I know the gospel well enough for it to stand on by faith? Do you know it enough for it to be the foundation of your life? So Paul writes the Book of Romans with the goal of laying the foundation for the Christians in the Roman church, just in case they might have missed the essential ingredients of salvation. He starts out by saying he’s not ashamed of the gospel. That’s a strange statement isn’t it? Why would Paul even have to bring the topic of shame up? We’ll look at that question. Then Paul also talks about the gospel as God’s method of salvation for all who believe. What does that mean? He then states that the gospel imparts God’s righteousness to us. How does that take place? Finally, Paul talks about the importance of faith in the gospel formula, but just what is salvation faith? We’ll touch on this too. It’s a joy to be here today with you as your guest this morning. And it’s an added blessing to preach the gospel to you who are here today. Some of you know the gospel from one end to the other, while others of you may know parts of it, and maybe, some of you don’t know much of the gospel at all. But that’s ok, because I’d like to spend the next few minutes explaining it from the Book of Romans.

First, the gospel is nothing to be ashamed about. Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” Like I said before, that’s an odd way to introduce the gospel – I’m not ashamed of the gospel. There must have been a reason why he started that way. There must be reason for being ashamed of the gospel. He doesn’t say why one might be tempted to be ashamed of the gospel, but we can guess why. Maybe the gospel seems strange; people think that today, don’t they. The whole account of the atoning death of Jesus Christ is a little strange – well, let’s be honest, to a lot of people it’s a lot strange. I remember attending a huge passion play in Las Vegas at one of the large convention centers there one Easter. I lived out there in Nevada for about a year and a half while finishing up my Bible training. By the way, if you think we’ve been having hot weather here in Michigan, think again. I’ve seen the temperature out there reach 120! But I attended this passion play – the story of Christ’s trial and crucifixion and resurrection. Well, one couple brought their 4 year old son along and at the point where the Roman soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross this little kid was horrified and turned to his daddy and said, “What are they doing to that man?” It looked so real, he though they were doing violence to the man; he wasn’t thinking it was just a play. He didn’t know the gospel account and the purpose of Christ’s death on the cross for our sins. I tried to explain as best I could what Christ’s death mean; so did his father try to explain it. But because it is so strange, even today, some people are tempted to be ashamed of the gospel, and they attempt to avoid talking about it. The more sophisticated see it as barbaric, with the blood and sacrifice and all. More worldly people might object to the gospel truth that we are all sinners, that we all deserve God’s judgment and damnation because of our inherited sins and of actual earned sins. Talk of sin today is out of place; it doesn’t fit our times today. People might be ashamed of that. So there are all kinds of reasons why one might be ashamed of the gospel today, that’s why there are so many variations on the gospel today. Some churches are into the social gospel, other churches are in to the gospel of health and wealth, while other Christians are into the success gospel – believe in Jesus and you’ll make a lot of money and be successful and have nice things and be a success in business, for example. Now why are there all of these modified gospel messages? Because lots of people are ashamed of the basic gospel of salvation from sin by the death of Christ on the cross. But Paul wasn’t ashamed of the biblical gospel and neither should we. Don’t be ashamed of the gospel of salvation as described in the Bible. It may not make you popular. People may think you are crazy, or they may get mad at you for believing something so ancient, but truth is truth no matter how old. The gospel is that Christ died on the cross for us sinners so that by trusting in him we might be saved. We can’t save ourselves by anything we do, no matter how good we act, but Christ can save us by faith. Let’s trust him for salvation.

Second, the gospel is the way of salvation for all of us who believe. Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” Now this part of the verse is a little harder to understand because of the language, “For it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.” The gospel, the euenggelion in Greek, or literally, “good news” is the power of God for the purpose of salvation. The gospel is the means by which we are saved, it’s the plan of salvation. Now the gospel, as we all know, doesn’t save us like the cross of Christ saves us. The gospel is the account of the atonement of Christ on the cross for our sins. But if we didn’t know about Christ’s death on the cross, we couldn’t be saved, because we couldn’t put our faith in anything. But the gospel is the plan of salvation that we hear, understand and then believe. Do you understand the gospel of Jesus Christ? Are you sure? Every year they put out surveys among Christians and ask a question, “If you died today, how would you convince the angels of heaven to let you in?” And time and after time, people, Christians, say, “Well, I’ve tried to live a good life, pleasing to God.” That is not the gospel of salvation. That is not the plan of salvation as outlined in the Bible. That is some human plan for obtaining God’s favor, but it doesn’t work because nobody is good enough to please God by their good deeds. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Roman 3:23. We not only fall short of God’s holy standard but we do so continuously. We can’t please God even if we try as hard as we can – which few people do anyway. Now why is the gospel so important? Because it tells us what Christ did on the cross on behalf of our sins – and in knowing this we have something to put our hope and trust in. We might look at it from a slightly different perspective. The gospel is the road map to the kingdom of God. It tells us what we need to do, where we need to go in order to reach God. It points us to Jesus and his atoning death on the cross for our sins and tells us to believe and be saved. Saved from what? Saved from the Judgment to come for our sins. The Bible also teaches us that God is perfectly just, as the Supreme Judge, who can’t simply ignore sins. He can’t simply wink at sin; he must balance the books of justice, every sin must be punished and paid for. But we can’t pay the price even for our own sins and live to see God. That’s why Christ must pay for us and we must believe that he did in order to be saved. Have you trusted Christ for salvation, or are you still trying to save yourself by your own good works? Why not abandon yourself to the cross of Christ. Throw yourself on Christ to save you.

Third, the gospel explains the righteousness from God. Romans 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith.” The righteousness of God — now there’s one of those famous Reformation phrases that changed the world back in the 16th century, during the time of Luther, Calvin and the other great Reformers. One of the great biblical truths that Luther and the Reformers rediscovered was that in order to be saved we need not only to have our sins forgiven through Christ’s death on the cross, but we also need the righteousness of God given to us as a gift on our behalf. Christ died on the cross to take away our sins, but he also imparted to us his own righteous life to make us righteous. We receive the righteousness of God just the same way we receive forgiveness of sins – by faith. Now there never was any dispute or disagreement over the fact that God is righteous. Everybody believes this. The Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox church both believe that God is righteous. The Reformers also believed in the righteousness of God. But how does God’s righteousness help us sinners who are not righteous? Even if all our sins are forgiven through the cross of Christ, that isn’t enough because we not only need to be forgiven, we need to be righteous too. If we want to fellowship with God, if we want to dwell where God dwells in heaven, we not only need to be sinless, we need to be righteous, we need not only our negatives removed through the blood of Jesus, we need positive righteousness through Christ’s holy life. How is this imparted to us? Through faith as well. Now here’s the problem. Every Christian knows that while we are forgiven, we aren’t perfect, we aren’t holy and totally righteous. So how can we be forgiven and righteous while we are still sinners and unrighteous? The answer is that God the Father declares us righteous, counts us righteous through the righteousness of Christ. In and of myself, I’m a sinner, deserving of Judgment and condemnation in everlasting hell. But through the blood of Jesus I’m forgiven of all my sins and the holy and righteous life of Christ is counted on my behalf. “Blessed is the man whose sins are not counted against him,” says the Psalmist. A better translation of our verse in this instance is, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed,” The New International Version. A righteousness from God is given to everyone who believes; the righteousness of Christ. Do you have the righteousness of Christ? If you are still trying to justify yourself to God through your own good works or human effort, you don’t have it yet. In order to obtain God’s righteousness you must give up pleasing God on your own and turn to Christ alone through faith alone in order to obtain what only comes as a free gift. Humble yourself today if you haven’t and get from God what you can’t give yourself, righteousness.

Fourth, the gospel must be believed by faith. Romans 1:16-17 , “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, the just shall live by faith.” Here we come to another very important point concerning the gospel – it must be received by faith alone. Now here is the controversy. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches teach that the gospel is received by faith but not faith alone, while Protestants teach that it’s faith alone. So which is it? Well, we need to return to the Bible and find out what it teaches, because only the Bible is the sure word from God, not human tradition or even sacred church tradition. And when we examine the Bible closely we see that it teaches salvation by faith alone. “For therein is the righteousness of (or, from) God revealed from faith to faith, as it is written (in the Old Testament book of Habakkuk), ‘the just shall live by faith.’” A better translation of this Old Testament quotation is, “The righteous shall live by faith,” or better still, “The righteous by faith shall live” – as opposed by works shall live. God’s righteousness imparted to poor but forgiven sinners through the blood of Christ is totally and utterly by faith. We aren’t given righteousness because we earned it as a reward. We are given righteousness because of our faith in Christ. We believe in salvation by faith alone because that’s what the Bible teaches. It’s here in Romans, in this verse, but also in many other passages. Now what throws off some people is that there are other passages in the Bible that appear to teach some form of works and faith righteousness. For example, there is the Book of James where he teaches what appears to be salvation through faith and works. “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone,” James 2:24. So is there a contradiction here between Paul and James? No, but it can be confusing if we don’t look carefully at the context. Paul is talking about justification before the eyes of God, James is talking about justification before man, or outward observation, evidences of faith. If you want to learn about spiritual salvation, about justification of the soul before God, go to the Apostle Paul. But James needs to be heard also, although he’s not talking about the same thing as Paul. James is arguing that there must be some evidences or proofs that someone has actually believed internally from the heart. But evidences for faith aren’t the basis of our salvation, trusting Christ is the basis of our salvation. So our salvation comes through faith and only through faith, from first to last, from start to finish, all faith only faith.

Let me return to the poll question that I mentioned before: if you died today and the angels asked you why they should let you into heaven with God, what would you say? Would you try to talk your way in by reciting all the good deeds you’ve done in life? Would you mention your efforts at trying to love others or following the golden rule or obeying the Ten Commandments? Would you say you tried your best? If so, then you are basing your salvation on your own personal efforts. That’s wrong. That’s not the gospel. If you answer in this way it shows you don’t really understand the gospel as taught in the Bible. The only answer if asked by angels outside the gates of heaven is to reply, “My only hope is in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and his righteousness. Through Christ’s death on the cross I am forgiven of my sins. Through Christ’s perfectly righteous life imparted to me, I am made righteous. I believe this by faith. I trust that Christ will save me from Judgment, condemnation and damnation. I trust that Christ will bring me into heaven. That’s the biblical salvation gospel. Is that what you understand? Is that what you are trusting? If not, you can get it right today by believing this gospel and by trusting in this gospel to save you. It’s only the most important thing in the world. It’s only the most important question you will ever face in life. It may be about the only reason we are on this earth, to get this one thing right. Do you have it right this morning? Are you sure of your salvation? Let me ask you this, “If you say you are saved, does you life bear the evidences of a saved life?” While Paul is correct in explaining salvation by faith alone, faith, as James teaches, is not alone in a Christian’s life because a saved person will bear fruit. The Holy Spirit will inspire and motivate you to pray and read the Bible and talk about the gospel to others and live a holy life and gather for church on Sunday and other times, for example. Is the Spirit moving you in these directions? Also, the Spirit will inspire you to repent of sins. Is God cleaning up your life? If not, why not? Maybe you haven’t properly believed the gospel. Maybe you are still trusting in your own righteousness. I invite you to settle the issue today with God. Get the gospel right. Don’t miss this one. If you get one thing right in life, get this one right. Don’t walk away from here today without being 100% sure you believe the gospel right. Let’s pray.

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