In today’s sermon, Greg Ho explains from Romans 1:16-17 and other scriptures three reasons not to be ashamed of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ:
1. The gospel is the awesome power of God to save
2. The gospel is applicable to everyone
3. The gospel is absolutely free
Two weeks ago, there was this report coming out from US News that ranked all fifty states for quality of life. Out of fifty states, any guesses for where New Jersey ranked for quality of life? We ranked 49th! California was in 50th place. Which is where our elders are this morning, so I suppose the joke is on them. It could be the long commutes or the pollution.
I actually spent about eight years of my life in California. So basically the two states I spent the most time in my life are the 49th and 50th for quality of life. I do not know what that says about me.
This is nothing new, we all know that New Jersey gets a bad rap. I was born and raised here, and so are my children. When I spent time out in California, I learned that people love to dump on New Jersey. When they asked me where I was from, I would say New Jersey and they would reply with, “The armpit of United States!” Eventually the mocking got so bad, that when people asked where I was from, I would just say the New York area and that would get me some respect.
Well you know that being from New Jersey is nothing to be ashamed of, in fact we should be proud of it. It is okay to tell people you are from New Jersey!
What other things in our lives are we tempted to be ashamed of? Let me tell you a few from my own experience. This is when I was in third grade. It might surprise you to know that I was not always the best behaved kid in school. In addition to getting some bad grades once in a while, my teacher had also written some very pointed remarks about my behavior in class. I remember the day I had to bring that report card home to my parents. I was sitting on the school bush and I was feeling so ashamed that the thought of bringing it home to my parents filled me with a sense of dread. By the time the bus pulled up to my house, I was terrified. So I came up with an idea.
As I got off the bus and looked to my right, I saw a storm drain. I casually walked towards it and slipped the report card down the drain. I thought I was so clever and went home acting casual and natural. I pretended that I never got the report card and that everyone would forget all about it. What I did not know at the time was that my mom had a habit to go to the picture window when she heard my bus arriving every afternoon and watch me as I came off the bus to make sure I got home okay. So she saw the whole thing. And I will leave the rest of the story to your imagination.
Suffice it to say that it would have been better off for me if I had just given her the report card and faced the music.
Well is there anything in your life that you are ashamed of, so much so that you would want to hide it away? Let me ask you this, how about the gospel? Is it possible that sometimes you are ashamed of the gospel?
Let me tell you how to answer that question and to know if you are. Ask yourself this question: when was the last time you shared the gospel with an unbeliever?
Be honest, most likely all of us at some time or another have been ashamed of the gospel. There have been times where God has given us the opportunity to share the gospel with coworkers, friends, or family, but instead we keep our mouths closed. Or there are times when we shrink back at even slight opposition.
Every once in a while, we need to be reminded not to be ashamed of the gospel. That is what the Apostle Paul sets out to do in one of the most defining passages in the New Testament, the book of Romans. More than any other book of the Bible, Romans delivers the most comprehensive treatment to the gospel and the good news. The gospel is the good news of the Christian faith.
Romans 1 starts by outlining the reason why we need the gospel. It takes us through the unredeemable sinfulness of all humanity. It tell us how we all in our natural state have violated the law of God. As a result, we are all under the condemnation of God. Later in the book, Paul tells us the good news of God sending His sinless Son into the world. God sacrificed His own Son on the cross for us so that all who believe in Him will have their sins forgiven on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice.
Later on, Romans tells us that there is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ. For those of us who have believed in our hearts and confessed in our mouths that Jesus is Lord, Jesus has paid in full for this condemnation that we formerly deserved.
Instead of condemnation, a believer can look forward to eternity in paradise. That is the gospel in a nutshell. One of the primary purposes of the book of Romans is to explain the gospel and to answer all of the questions that arise from it. If you have a question about the gospel, it is probably answered somewhere in the book of Romans.
Our passage today is the thesis statement of the book of Romans. In many ways, the rest of the book is an exposition on this verse. It is such an awesome verse that we put it on the back of your t-shirts. That is why I asked you to wear it today if you have one. Let us read it together. Romans 1:16-17 says this:
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 to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
Let us pause for a moment to ask for God’s blessing. Father, as we examine your words this morning, please help us to understand them. Help our ears to be attentive as You speak to us through Your Word. And finally help us to apply this to our lives. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Let us break down the passage together. Paul starts with a declaration: “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” And you might ask why anyone would be ashamed of good news? There are two reasons.
First, the gospel is inherently an offensive message. It requires you to start by telling people that they are sinners. They are not the good people they think they are, but they stand condemned before God. Indeed, everyone stands condemned before God because His standard for goodness is perfection and no one can meet it. You cannot have the good news until you have the bad news. You have to come to a place where you understand that you are in absolute trouble with God.
The problem is that everyone thinks they are a good person. To tell people who have thought that all their lives, that they are actually condemned because of their sin threatens the very perception of their identity. Ironically this can infuriate people to physical violence or murder, which ends up proving their point. This is what happened to Jesus in the New Testament, right?
The gospel is an offensive message. But not only are we tempted to be ashamed because it is offensive. But it is also a foolish message. It is now considered backwards to believe in an afterlife. It is unscientific. Was the universe not created by a Big Bang, and not God? Do we really want people to believe that a carpenter that lived 2,000 years ago was born of a virgin? And that He performed actual miracles like raising the dead? And He was resurrected Himself and floated up to Heaven?
You have to understand that if you are going to give the gospel to people today, you are going to be labeled as a kook and gullible. You are going to be labeled as superstitious and unsophisticated and uncultured. You will not fit in, you will be laughed at and ridiculed. You will be called a brain washed nut.
1 Corinthians 1:18 even says this:
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
It is not by accident that the gospel is foolish! God made it so! Turn to 1 Corinthians 1:27, where it says:
God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are so that no man may boast before God.
God wanted to make it clear through the foolishness of the gospel that you were not saved because you were clever, strong, wise, or popular enough. He made it foolish so that no one could boast in himself. It was by design that God did this. It was not inspired by the intellectually elite, academics, or trend-setters. It is seen as backwards and unsophisticated on purpose so that anyone that looks at your faith would see that it is so unconventional and uncool that it would only really be attributed to the work of God.
God gets all the glory. The gospel is offensive and foolish, but our job as the church is to share that gospel despite its offensiveness. We need to understand that sharing the gospel will never be cool, fashionable, or acceptable. And some people will always think you are nuts, and that is okay.
Back in Romans, Paul tells us that he is not ashamed of the gospel regardless of how offensive or foolish it is. Looking in the Bible, I cannot recall a time when Paul was even remotely ashamed. Even after all he had been through, which included being ridiculed, criticized, mocked, confronted, physically assaulted, imprisoned, shipwrecked, chased, forced into hiding, and even stoned. What is his secret? How can he be so unashamed of the gospel? He tells us three reasons in this passage.
The first reason is that the gospel is the awesome power of God to save. This word for power in the Greek is interesting, it is dunamis, from which we get dynamite. The gospel is the dynamite of God! It is like a grenade, full of the explosive power of God. Whose job is it to pull the pin of that grenade and unleash the power? Ours!
If we are ashamed of the gospel, it is like carrying around the grenade without ever pulling the pin, without ever unleashing the power. Our mission as Christians is to unleash the power of God. We do this by telling the gospel to whoever will listen.
When we do, God’s incredible power, the power that created the Heavens and the Earth, raised Jesus from the dead, and will destroy the universe and make it anew will explode out in glory and decimate the powers of darkness that holds sinners in bondage.
But if we are ashamed of the gospel, that power will stay bottled up in us and it will never see the light of the day. The gospel is the power of God, but our mouths is the instrument through which the gospel flows forth in all its explosive power. What Satan wants is to make us ashamed of the gospel so that the power never goes forth.
But the gospel is all of God’s power deployed, not for destruction, but for salvation. Salvation means to save, it is God’s power to rescue sinners. When I was studying this verse, I was asking why it takes this much power to save a sinner. To understand this, we need to understand what a sinner is saved from. A sinner has to be saved from its own evil nature.
The Bible teaches us that as human beings our nature is to be in constant rebellion against God. Jeremiah 17:9 says:
The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?
This is not something we can change on our own. Jeremiah 13:23 says:
Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil.
The sinner has to be rescued from himself, as well as from spiritual and demonic forces which currently hold the world. Demonic forces are really strong, it says in 2 Corinthians 4:4:
The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
1 John 5:19 says:
We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
Make no mistake, Satan is at work controlling the spirit of the age, promoting false ideology, false religion, and false philosophy so that people would not hear the gospel and believe.
Not only does a sinner need to be rescued from himself and demonic forces, but also God Himself. This last one makes the other two look puny by comparison. The most formidable force against a sinner is the full force of the wrath of an omnipotent God. His holiness and justice aligns straight at the sinner’s soul. That is why the situation is so hopeless. How can anyone stand against the wrath of the Creator and Destroyer of the universe? It is hopeless.
But lucky for you, the gospel is also God’s power. Only the gospel is enough to save you from the power of God. When it is God’s wrath you are up against, it is God Himself who can provide you with the way out. In fact Psalm 130:3-4 sums it up, it says:
If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.
Both the wrath and forgiveness of God come together and collide at the cross with overwhelmingly powerful forces. That is why salvation needs the dynamite of God. That is the power to save that is in the gospel. But again, this power only manifests when you aren not ashamed to share it.
There is a second reason that Paul gives us why we are not to be ashamed of the gospel. The message of the gospel is applicable to everyone. Back in Romans 1:16, it talks about the power of the gospel to Jews and Greeks. Here, Greek refers to being a non-Jew. The offer of the gospel is open to everyone who believes, it does not matter your nationality or previous religious affiliation. The gospel is an open invitation to you.
We talked about this in Sunday School this morning. It is true the that the gospel came to the Jews first. That is why Paul calls that out here in Romans. The whole nation of Israel was chosen by God and Jesus Himself came through the Jews. So it was to the Jews first, but the plan was to make salvation open to the whole world all along. That has always been in clear, even in the Old Testament. The gospel was offered to Jews first.
Paul explicitly states that it is also offered to the non-Jews, the Greeks. Why does he have to do that? The answer is that Paul’s readers at the time were tempted to be ashamed of the gospel because it was too inclusive. It did not discriminate enough against those they did not like. We need to understand that the Jews and non-Jews did not always get along. We see this conflict in the church as well.
The Jews often of Gentiles as lawless profaners, unclean, and who had illegally come in, invaded their land and occupied it. On the other hand, Gentiles thought Jews were legalistic and pretentious and separatists. These groups were thinking the same thing, that the gospel could not possibly be for someone like that. What that amounts to is basically a sophisticated, religious type of racism.
Part of the miracle of the gospel is that it unites groups of people together that would not ordinarily have anything to do with each other. That is the beauty of the gospel! I have always been proud of that with this church! Our church has always been made out of a multiplicity of ethnicities, there are people from every race and nation represented.
If you ever find yourself in a church where everyone looks too much the same, then you should be careful. Part of the power of the gospel, is that it unites the people who society would rather divide. The gospel is for and applicable to everyone.
Not only is applicable to all races, but go back to Romans 1:14:
I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.
Not only does the gospel save equally and without discrimination, but it also saves those who are wise and those who are foolish. Those who are educated and uneducated, rich and poor, etc. Sometimes I think subtly and on a subconscious level, we fail to believe this. We probably do not say this out loud that the gospel is not for a particular group of people.
Think about this, when the opportunity arises to share the gospel with someone of a different group, maybe we do not only open our mouths with people who fit our mold. Have you ever had the opportunity to share the gospel, but then said that someone is too educated and would never believe? Or that someone is a homosexual, and would never believe? Or that a muslim would never believe, or that someone is too old to change or a person is too rich?
We simply do not share the gospel with those who do not share our stereotype. When we do not open our mouths, what we are really saying that the gospel does not apply to someone. What the Apostle Paul is saying that the gospel is for everyone! It is not for us to limit it, rather it is for us to speak it.
What this verse is saying is that you can be confident that the gospel will always apply to the person you are speaking to without exception. It does not matter what their upbringing is, what their political views are, their former religion or sins they are involved in. The gospel can save them and they need it. It is up to you to share it. Let God worry about whether they will believe or not. Do not be ashamed of the gospel, because it applies to everybody.
Finally the third reason not to be ashamed of the gospel is that it is absolutely free. We are not trying to sell anyone anything. We are not trying to get something from a person. But we are simply giving them a gift. Let us look at Romans 1:17 again, which says:
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
The phrase “the righteousness of God” is perhaps the most profound verse in the Bible. We could stay here for weeks but we cannot exhaust all there is in this phrase. We will just skim the surface for today.
It is not speaking of righteous living, ethical righteousness. It is also not saying that by faith God is making us better people in a moral sense. It is true that as time goes on, a true believer will become more righteous as he gradually puts off his sin. But that is not Paul is talking about here, but later in Romans. I actually preached on Romans 6 a few years ago and that is where Paul talks about that.
Here, the righteousness of God means something else. The reformer Martin Luther famously refers to this as an alien righteousness, one that did not originate in yourself. It is a righteous standing that comes from outside of yourself. Romans 5:17 refers to the same righteousness as a gift. It originated from outside yourself and then it is given to you as a gift. This is a gift of righteousness produced by God, packaged up, and given to you for no charge.
A lot of people prefer the translation, “the righteousness from God.” We can also understand this to be a legal kind of righteousness. It is a righteous declaration, or a verdict that you do not deserve. One day you will end up in front of God in His court room and there will be no doubt of your guilt. There is no defense you could put up against the omniscient God, you are totally guilty. Despite all of that evidence against you, God will simply declare you righteous. That is the righteousness that God gives to you.
The verse says that the righteousness of God is revealed. The tense of the word revealed here is present tense. In the English, it is past tense. But in the Greek it means that it is continually being revealed, like over and over again. The meaning of the verse is that when you preach the gospel and someone believes, the righteousness of God comes into that person and is revealed in that person.
Imagine this happening over and over again, and the gospel being preached over and over again from person to person. The lights and the hearts of sinners are going on one by one all throughout the world. The righteousness of God is being revealed from person to person all the time. What an amazing picture!
I think this is what Paul is saying in the next phrase, from faith to faith. When we open our mouths to tell of the gospel, we illuminate God’s righteousness like a Christmas tree. There are also a lot of interpretations of this phrase, from faith to faith. One commentator says that this is Paul is talking about the faith from both a Gentile and a Jew. He might be talking about the faith from the beginning and the end of your life as a believer.
Whatever the case is, Paul is simply saying that salvation is by faith and nothing else. It is faith through and through and for everybody. It is not faith and something else. It is not plus a little bit of good works. It is not faith plus church attendance. It is not faith and confessions to the priest. It is not about giving a certain amount of money to the church. We retain the righteousness of God by faith alone.
Paul talks about this more later on in the book of Romans. Turn to Romans 3:21-25:
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.
There is another verse in Philippians 3:9:
Not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.
Paul is saying here that whatever you think you have in terms of good works, he has more. It is the same message. It is the righteousness of God that comes from God through faith. The Bible is absolutely consistent about this. If you simply believe the gospel, you get as a gift the righteousness of God. That is free righteousness!
No one would turn down free money. If I took out my wallet here and started throwing out hundred dollar bills across the congregation, you would all try to catch them right? No one would turn down free money.
But think about this: free righteousness is better than free money. It is the currency of Heaven. When you get to the Kingdom of Heaven and you are at the gate and start to pull our your wallet, God is not going to take your money. But you can buy an entrance to Heaven with righteousness. That is Heaven’s currency. Right now, God is literally throwing free righteousness from Heaven and it is falling down on the Earth for your taking. It is free righteousness for all who would believe. Too good to pass up.
But for those who would refuse to believe despite God’s generosity, it is a different story. Look at Romans 1:18. Something else will be for those who refuse:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
If you do not take the revealed righteousness of God, then something else will be revealed for you, the wrath of God. There are only two choices: righteousness or wrath. One or the other will be revealed in every person.
Finally, someone may ask if this free offer of righteousness is a new thing that was invented by Paul. To answer this, Paul pulls a quote from the Old Testament that shows that salvation by faith was not something he invented, but designed by God all along. Let us look at the last part of Romans 1:17b:
As it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
This is a quote from Habakuk 2:4, where the prophet contrasts the proud, those who trusted in themselves, with the people who trusted in God. Here is the full verse:
Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him; but the righteous will live by his faith.
Many translators have advocated that this verse is better translated “the righteous by faith shall live.” The proud who are trusting in themselves, God will destroy. But those who are righteous by virtue of their faith in God who trust not in themselves will live. Paul’s point is that God’s plan was always for salvation, even in the Old Testament. He elaborates on that in Romans 4.
We have seen three reasons why we cannot be ashamed of the gospel. First because it is the awesome power of God to save. Second, it is applicable to everyone. Finally, we cannot be ashamed of the gospel because it is absolutely free.
Brothers and sisters, the gospel is awesome news is it not? We cannot as Christians close our minds and be ashamed of the gospel. In fact far from being ashamed of the gospel, we should be boasting and bragging about it to everyone who will listen.
As we close, let me ask you :if you were to say that you are not ashamed of the gospel, then who will you share the gospel with this week? Calvary, go out and proclaim it with your mouths this week! As you do, watch carefully as the power of God explodes forth and the righteousness of God is revealed one faith-filled heart at a time. Let us pray.
Father, we thank You for the reminder this morning of how powerful Your gospel is, how universally applicable your offer is, and how absolutely free it is. How can anyone turn down such a generous gift of righteousness? And how can any Christian be ashamed of such a joyful message? Help us, Lord, to open our mouths this week and share the gospel and boast of what Christ has done for us. As we do, help us to be able to see Your righteousness being revealed in the hearts of sinners through faith. We know that this is possible because of what Christ did for us on the cross. So help us to remember this week and not to ever forget Your love for us. In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.