Thursday 19 April 2012

Not ashamed (Romans 1:16)

Our memory verse from last night’s bible study at Rock Fellowship was Romans Chapter 1, verse 16:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.
Romans 1:16

What does Paul mean when he says that he is “not ashamed”? We might immediately think of situations today when Christians ought to be bold in their faith, in speaking out for Jesus. Some of us gave examples yesterday of recent events in the news of Christians getting into trouble for wearing crosses in the workplace or of persecution in some countries where publicly confessing your trust in Jesus will get you into trouble. These are indeed situations in which believers are challenged not to be ashamed of Jesus in the face of opposition, in the face of the temptation to compromise.

Yet I think that when we read on to the next verse, we get a clearer idea of what Paul meant when he said he was not ashamed of the gospel.

For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed - a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’
Romans 1:17

Paul is not ashamed of the fact that God’s salvation comes to us by faith. You see, we get ashamed of stuff that makes us look bad. We are ashamed of stuff that’s embarrassing, that if our friends found out, they might laugh at us and think less of us. So the question is: what is so embarrassing about the gospel? After all, Paul says it is God’s power that brings salvation - that doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Look again, it is God’s power to bring salvation to “everyone who believes”, or you could just as accurately translate it as, “everyone who has faith”. What is embarrassing about the gospel is the fact that we contribute nothing to our salvation. Zero. Salvation comes by faith alone.

Here lies the biggest difference between good news and good advice. Good advice is my doctor saying to me, “Calvin, you should eat less chocolate. Chocolate’s bad for your health. You need to exercise more.” That’s good advice. I should follow it. It’s good for me and my doctor is giving me that good advice to me out of his concern for me. But friends, that is not good news. Good news is, “Calvin, God has taken care of your chocolate problem. He’s taken away your need to constantly snack on Kit Kats. In fact, he has given you something even better than chocolate!” You see, good advice is about what I can do. Good advice tells me what I need to do. Only the good news of the gospel tells me what God has done for me.

What this means for us is this: We might be ashamed of the gospel when we are tempted to give our friends good advice in place of the good news. Stop sinning. Work harder. Tuck in your shirt. We might have their interests at heart. Following that advice might even change their lives for the better. Yet when we only give good advice we are telling our friends what they need to do instead of what God has done for them. We might have given them good advice, we haven't told them the good news.

That is why the gospel sounds so foolish. So shameful. All you do is hear the gospel and trust in the gospel - that God really has taken all our sin and all our punishment for sin and put it on Jesus on the cross; that by looking to Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we receive his full blessing of forgiveness and eternal life. It is shameful because the cross is supposed to be shameful - it is an innocent man condemned to die by execution two thousand years ago, gasping for his last breaths as the crowds around him are cursing Jesus to his face in God’s name. But the cross is also shameful because it means I didn’t do anything to earn my salvation. It is an admission that I deserve to be on that cross, not Jesus. Giving someone good advice might make us look good, it makes us feel good about ourselves. Yet telling someone the good news might reveal how bad and hopeless we really are.

The world expects us to give good advice. About marriage and sexuality. About religious freedom. About spending too much time on Facebook. What it hasn’t heard enough of is the good news. The reason might simply be this: Many of us as Christians are ashamed of the good news. Much easier it is for us to dish out good advice, to have an opinion on the economy and what is needed to fix this or that problem in our society. Much harder and more honest it is to admit that we are part of the problem, that God has given us the only solution - the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The only way we can receive the benefits of this solution - of this salvation - is by trusting in God’s promise found in the good news.

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