“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.” (Romans 1:16-17 ESV)
There are some things that I’ve done in my life that I’m ashamed of and I’m sure you have some, as well. Shame is an emotion that has an uncanny ability to control our actions. When we feel shame or just anticipate a feeling of shame from a given situation or circumstance then we tend to change our actions to avoid those feelings or avoid those who might express them towards us or about us. Shame can happen in just about any situation or circumstance. In fact, I’ve had a few incidences where I’ve been ashamed of my actions at church. My mother and grandmother were experts at using those feelings of shame to impact my actions when I was young, especially at church. I can still hear my grandmother saying, “Gary, shame on you!” I also remember the shame and embarrassment when I suddenly realized my pants were unzipped in the middle of my sermon. As Charlie Brown would say, “Good grief.”
It is also possible to be shamed by or ashamed of the results or outcome of our actions that were, in themselves, good or noble. For example, Paul had been faithful in proclaiming the gospel among the Jews, but the reactions of the Jews resulted in Paul being beaten, ridiculed, imprisoned and even stoned almost to the point of death. I doubt any of us would wear those results as badges of honor. Have you ever done something good, but been ashamed of the outcome, results or response? Have you ever shared the gospel with someone and had them reject or even ridicule your words or beliefs? There have been times when I’ve tried to share the gospel and had the door slammed in my face. When something like that happens it is possible to be shamed into silence or inaction. We can be shamed by folks reactions and, thus, become ashamed of the gospel and let that affect our future actions.
Why would Paul introduce his most expansive and powerful presentation of the gospel with a statement of reassurance to the Roman believers that he is not ashamed of the gospel? A brief reminder of Paul’s circumstances sheds some light on these words. Paul wrote this letter to the Roman Christians from Corinth immediately following the difficult encounters and strong resistance he experienced as he worked his way down the Greek archipelago from Philippi to Athens (see Acts 16-17). If you’ll remember, he felt called to go over into Macedonia, but he immediately encountered resistance and ended up in a Philippian jail. The Jews of Macedonia hounded and threatened Paul all the way to Thessalonica and then the church leaders had to secretly slip him out of the city and take him to Berea under the protection of night. Once he reached Corinth he was so discouraged that Jesus came to him in a night vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” (Acts 18:9-10 ESV https://www.bible.com/59/act.18.9-10.esv)
Don’t be afraid and don’t be silent… fear and silence are common results of shame. I think we have a tendency to view Paul’s encounters in Macedonia through rose colored lenses and 2,000 years of separation from the circumstances. We see his circumstances with 20/20 hindsight and then expect Paul to wear the shame with a badge of honor, defiance and boldness. Yet, we often grow weary, fearful and silent in the face of opposition to our faith. Paul seems to have faced similar struggles and, thus, the encouraging vision from Jesus after he arrives in Corinth. Is it possible and even likely that these Roman Christians feel a bit like Paul did when he arrived in Corinth?
Luke tells us that Paul met and befriended Aquila and Priscilla upon his arrival in Corinth and that they had just arrived from Rome. It is highly likely that Aquila and Priscilla had been expelled from Rome along with other Jews by Emperor Claudius after some “disturbances” between the Jews over someone called “Chrestus.” The Roman historian Suetonius records this expulsion in his account of Claudius’ reign. This expulsion occurred in 49 AD and was rescinded following Claudius’ death in 54 AD. I believe Paul’s words of encouragement, in the opening verses of his letter, are aimed at dispelling the anxiety, fear and silence of the Roman Christians knowing that Paul has faced similar struggles and circumstances and is still speaking boldly and fearlessly of his faith in Christ. It might do well for us to hear his encouraging words in our struggles, fears and circumstances.
So, I really want to address this topic in two ways… I want us to first consider the struggle and impact of being “shamed by the gospel” and then I want us to consider the impact of being “ashamed of the gospel.” While these phrases are related, they really deal with two different aspects of shame and its impact on our lives and witness. Let’s take a look…
Shamed by the Gospel:
As I mentioned above, Paul writes these words of encouragement to the Roman Christians following his encounters and struggles with the opposition to the gospel by the Jews throughout Macedonia. Their opposition resulted in multiple instances of physical, verbal and emotional abuses towards Paul and his companions. In fact, in Galatians 6 Paul says that he “bears in his body the marks of Jesus.” Paul tells in his second letter to Corinth about the causes of these marks: “but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;” (2 Corinthians 6:4-5 ESV) While we don’t know the precise nature or severity of these “marks”, it does seem apparent that he’s referencing physical scars from the instances cited. In addition to the physical scars, Paul also carries the stigma of being falsely imprisoned and unjustly beaten for the sake of Christ.
You might wonder why I would consider these instances in Paul’s life to be time when he was “shamed by the gospel.” Remember that following these encounters in Macedonia and upon his arrival in Corinth, he is so impacted by those events that Jesus appears to him in a night vision to encourage him and to draw him out of his fear and silence. Don’t be afraid! Don’t be silent! In essence, He says: “Don’t hide in shame, I’ll be with you!”
Do we face instances of shame that cause us to grow fearful and silent about our faith? While modern western culture is certainly growing more resistant and will often seek to shame us into silence, we do not generally face threats of physical abuse or violence for our faith. We face rejection and ridicule of our beliefs but we don’t usually face physical violence because of our faith. However, there are those who face not just threats but actual abuse and violence because of their Christian faith. Some of you, may be facing overwhelming challenges to your faith and, like Paul, I would encourage you to hear Christ’s words and Paul’s resulting bold admonition to the Romans, “I am not ashamed of the gospel!” Whether the challenges and struggles you face are small and relatively insignificant or are large and emotionally overwhelming, DON’T be afraid, DON’T be silent, SPEAK boldly about your faith and proclaim the gospel.
Before I move on to my last point, I want to make sure you know HOW we should speak or proclaim the gospel, especially in a hostile environment or in a culture that rejects your beliefs. The Apostle Peter puts it this way: “But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense (or answer) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:14-17 HCSB) Proclaim the gospel, even in an environment of rejection, skepticism and outright violence towards the message, with GENTLENESS and RESPECT.
People tend to want, expect and do those things in their lives that work. Put simply, we DO what works. Have you ever tried to do something and finally came to the conclusion that it just won’t work? I have and then I would try and find another way to accomplish whatever task I was attempting. I would generally try and try until I found something that DID work. I think we tend to want a faith that “works” like that or one that gives us what we want or expect. Ah, therein lies the issue. We want or expect something from the gospel that it never promises to provide and cannot provide. We want God’s blessings, but we want to define what those blessings involve and what they include.
Often, our assumptions and expectations fall far short of God’s promises. Yes, I said that exactly the way I intended to. Our assumptions and expectations of God’s blessings are less than what God promises. The blessings of the gospel that God promises go to the heart and soul of man, much farther and far deeper than the physical or financial blessings we often seek. In our hearts, we know this but our culture tends to speak so LOUDLY that our hearts needs and desires are often drowned out by the noise. If the noise of our culture dominates our lives long enough and loud enough then we can actually become deaf to the needs and desires of our hearts. Spiritually deaf. When that happens, we completely miss the life transforming message of the gospel. So, let me ask you… do you hear the cry of your heart or are you listening to the noise of our culture?
Ashamed of the Gospel
This leads me to my final point for the week, are we ashamed of the gospel? To be “shamed by the gospel” implies that the work, struggles and impact of the gospel can leave their marks on our lives – marks that can cause shame – like Paul’s scars. But our misunderstanding of the gospel can result in us being “ashamed of the gospel” because we feel it doesn’t “work” like we think it should. As I mentioned above, our expectations and assumptions about the gospel are often false and, when that happens, it can cause us to be “ashamed of the Gospel.” We aren’t quite ready to reject our faith, but we find ourselves a bit underwhelmed by its impact on our lives. We expected God to bless us and that His blessings would echo our national Declaration of Independence – “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We want God’s blessings, but His blessings should enable us to live life on our own terms, pursue personal liberty to the point of license, and personal happiness to the point of excess. In essence, we’ve associated the gospel with the “great American dream” and when God fails to meet those expectations and assumptions, then we grow silent and “ashamed of the Gospel.”
This has become so ingrained in our lives and our culture that when scripture challenges us on those assumptions, we act like the older son in the story of The Prodigal – we storm off mad that Dad would do something so CRAZY! What? I can’t believe you’d waste your money on letting that sorry son of yours come home. Do you know what he’s done? Dad, he wasted everything, everything you gave him. I’ve been here all my life, slaving away on this farm and you’ve NEVER let me party with my friends. We’re often so focused on our desires and expectations that we missed the fact that it isn’t about partying but about LIVING! As the father says, I thought he was dead but he’s not – he’s alive – come in and party with us because your brother is ALIVE!
Let me be VERY, VERY clear here… the gospel isn’t about us receiving some physical or financial blessing. It is about finding life! Real life. Paul says here, the gospel is the power of God for salvation… the just/righteous shall live by faith. The righteous will have real, meaningful life because of faith! If all we want is to live life our way, freedom to do as we please and the ability to fill our lives with meaningless possessions and passions then we don’t need Christ, we just need a credit card with a small balance and large limit. However, if what we really want is to find the real meaning and purpose of life, the freedom and power to do as we ought, and the desire and ability to pursue the source of true happiness, God, then the gospel provides that. When we realize the gospel truly provides those very things that were missing in our life then, like Paul, we won’t be ashamed of it either.
C.S. Lewis put it this way, “Jesus didn’t come to make bad men good. He came to make dead men live!” If we make the focus of the gospel about improving man’s moral behavior then we’ve truly missed the truth and power of the gospel. The gospel is the power of God that gives us life. Life in Christ results in changed behavior, but life in Christ is not changed behavior. In other words, you don’t have new life in Christ by “living a good life.” By the way, this also why the Gospel is true and why other religious traditions are false – Jesus IS the power of God for salvation and not your moral achievements, religious dedication and sacrifices, or any other human method. Just Jesus…
The Gospel is the power of God for salvation, but what is the Gospel. The word means “good news” or “good tidings” from the King. It is both the announcement of God’s mercy, grace, forgiveness and restoration of mankind and it is the righteous life and atoning sacrifice of Jesus, the perfect, final and ultimate Passover Lamb. So, the gospel is both the proclamation and the person. It is the written Word of God and the Living Word of God. Paul will tell us later in Romans, “So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ.” (Romans 10:17 HCSB)
Let me close by stressing that faith is not something you “work up” regarding Christ. Faith in Christ is the result of His work, not yours. You have faith in someone because they are faithful and do what they promised. You lose faith in someone when they fail to live up to their promises or your expectations. This is why I stressed earlier that your assumptions and expectations regarding Christ and the salvation He provides must be correct. False assumptions and unrealistic expectations regarding the life that Jesus promises can result in a crisis of faith. We have seen several public figures have a crisis of faith and walk away from faith in Christ. In my opinion, their false assumptions regarding the life Christ promised probably means they may have never really known Him as Savior and Lord. He delivers what He promises. If they lost faith then it wasn’t due to His promises being unfulfilled but must have been from their false assumptions and unrealistic expectations being unmet.
What about you? Are you willing to be “shamed” by the Gospel but “unashamed” of the Gospel? Don’t be afraid! Don’t be silent! I’m not ashamed of the Gospel… are you?