In the apostle Paul’s classic letter to the Romans, he makes a bold statement to those living in a culture where honor and shame were important – he wrote:
“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.”
(Romans 1:16 ESV)
Ashamed? Why does Paul mention shame in connection with the gospel message? We may be helped by the idea that the Greek word translated ashamed can also mean ‘embarrassed’ or ‘fearful.’ Thus, Paul is saying, “I am not embarrassed or fearful to share the gospel…” But Paul was also very much aware of the natural temptation among Christians to hold back from declaring the gospel out of fear.
Paul well knew that the gospel message exposed the self-righteous and challenged the self-indulgent – and that anytime he faithfully proclaimed the gospel, which was always – there was a chance it might bring contempt or scorn. Nobody enjoys being scorned, and so Paul acknowledges that he understands the challenge for Christians, but seeks to encourage his brothers and sisters to follow his lead.
Even after being imprisoned in Philippi (Acts 16:23-24), chased out of Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9), smuggled out of Berea (Acts 17:10-15), was mocked in Athens (Acts 17:32), was viewed as an utter fool in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23), and was stoned at Lystra and left for dead (Acts 14:19) – and this is just a small sampling of the opposition he faced – he is unfazed by it and still extremely eager to preach the gospel in Rome. And what, exactly, is the message he would share? The same one Christian’s share today:
That you must come to believe that Jesus of Nazareth died for your sins on a cross outside Jerusalem. And, that by coming to trust Jesus as your Substitute for and Savior from the penalty of sin is the only way:
- Sins can be forgiven
- A guilty conscience can be cleansed
- That you can be made right with God
Without question, not everyone welcomed his message. In his letter to the Corinthian church he comments on the general reaction of many to the gospel:
“but we preach about a crucified Christ, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”
(1 Corinthians 1:23 NET)
The Jews were repulsed by Paul’s message of a crucified Messiah, and the Gentiles wanted something more philosophical or intellectual – but Paul wasn’t about to compromise! The primary reason? The gospel had changed his life. Paul spoke of his dark past when writing to the Galatians. He said:
“For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.”
(Galatians 1:13 ESV)
What changed him? Breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, Paul was on his way to Damascus when He had a life changing encounter with the risen Christ:
“Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
(Acts 9:3–6 ESV)
Through this experience Paul came to have another reason for not being “ashamed” of the gospel – As Romans 1:16 says: “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…”
If anyone hears the gospel message and comes to believe in Jesus as their Savior, there is only one reason – the power of God. In the end, God’s power not only convinced Paul of his error, but brought about his transformation from persecutor to proclaimer of the good news. This complete transformation is one of the most striking in all of Scripture. Paul would later say, “but by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
Today, many Christian denominations have completely abandoned the gospel. Others have given in to the “temptation” to be “ashamed” of it by leaving out any reference to the cross, so as not to be offensive. But the gospel is not that you’re OK the way you are, or that God loves you, or that you must simply live a good life.
If we change the Gospel we don’t end up with another gospel – we end up with NO GOSPEL. If we try to clean it up so as not to be offensive – we lose it. The Gospel is a message about a bloody Savior who willingly died for our sins on a real Roman cross – to make all who believe right with God.
As Christians, we must not only reject all false gospels, but like Paul, we cannot “be ashamed of the gospel.” Instead, through God’s power, we must boldly proclaim it, because without it – this world has no hope.
Paul doesn’t say that the Gospel “brings power” or “has power” but that it actually is the “power of God” for salvation to everyone who believes.
When we proclaim the Gospel – words and power come together. Michael Bird says that together they reveal “God’s death-defeating, curse-reversing, evil-vanquishing, devil-crushing, sin-cleansing, life-giving, love-forming, people-uniting, super mega-grace power!
And the result? Eternal life for all who believe!Last modified: June 17, 2022