Martin Luther was a German monk who knew something about the holiness of God but little about the kindness of God. He believed that a person had to live a righteous life in order to be saved from God's condemnation. When he read the term 'the righteousness of God' he thought it simply referred to the righteousness whereby God punishes people for their sin. He also knew that he couldn't live a good enough life to satisfy the demands of this holy God. So he was miserable.
Then he had a breakthrough in his understanding. He began to understand the term 'the righteousness of God' more fully. 'I grasped that the righteousness of God is that righteousness by which, through grace and sheer mercy, God justifies us by faith.' Now he could experience peace and joy. 'I felt myself reborn, and to have gone through open doors into paradise ...'
This gospel is amazing, so why might we feel ashamed of it? This gospel is amazing, so we ought to boast about it.
1. Four things that might tempt us to be ashamed of the gospel
'I am not ashamed of the gospel ...'
The great Welsh preacher of the last century, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, suggested that if we have never been tempted to be ashamed of the gospel it is probably not because we are an exceptionally good Christian but that our understanding of the gospel has never been clear. For the gospel is a message that will cause people to look down on us and we are tempted to feel ashamed when people make fun of us. I want to suggest four things that might tempt us to be ashamed of the gospel.
Firstly, we are tempted to be ashamed of the gospel because people think it is irrelevant.
Rome was the centre of Caesar worship with all its grandeur, pomp and ceremony. But the Christians in Rome claimed that a poor carpenter from the provincial backwater of Galilee was greater than Ceasar. They claimed that Jesus is the King of kings. That seemed unlikely. Compared to the Caesar, Jesus seemed unimportant. They were likely to be laughed at in mighty Rome.
In our society Jesus can also seem irrelevant. Our society has turned its back on the version of Christianity it grew up with. To become a Christian is to be a member of a minority group. It is to belong to something that people believe no longer matters. We can be tempted to feel ashamed of the gospel because people claim it is no longer relevant.
Secondly, we can be tempted to feel ashamed of the gospel because people say it is foolish.
The Roman world valued the intellect. They loved the lofty ideas philosophy. But the gospel is a simple message for ordinary people. It is not designed to make us look smart. In fact it may make us look foolish. A man dying a shameful death pays for the sins of the world. Many Romans didn't think it made sense.
In our society atheists present a false divide between science and religion, and so label us as simply being superstitious. We might be tempted to feel ashamed of the gospel because people say it us foolish.
Thirdly, we can be tempted to feel ashamed of the gospel because it is fanatical.
The gospel calls for a whole life response. Jesus calls us to take up our cross and lay down our life for his cause. Jesus also claimed to be the truth and the only way to God, which sounds decidedly fundamentalist.
In our society fanatics and fundamentalists are seen as the enemy of freedom and tolerance. To be labelled a fundamentalist puts us in the same category of Islamic State; even though our fundamentalism teaches us to love our enemies. If you understand and live the gospel even your friends and family will claim you take Christianity too seriously. We are tempted to be ashamed of the gospel because it us fanatical.
Fourthly, we are tempted to feel ashamed of the gospel because its message is offensive.
If you misunderstand the gospel, leave out the cross, and present Jesus as a moral teacher who wants to enhance our lives then you will offend no one. If you want to make Christianity popular then explaining what the cross is about is bad public relations. The cross says that God is angry at human sin and that we would be condemned if Jesus did not die in our place. The gospel also reveals that even the most noble life is absolutely pointless and that without Jesus and that the most moral life amounts to a pile of stinking rags. The gospel is offensive, so people ridicule it and resent it, and therefore we are tempted to be ashamed of it or even afraid to share it.
2. Six reasons to be proud of the gospel
When Paul writes 'I am not ashamed of the gospel' what he is really saying is 'I am proud of the gospel.' It causes him to rejoice. While we might be tempted to be ashamed of the gospel because the world mocks it, there are actually many reasons to boast about the gospel. I want to mention six.
Firstly, 'I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power ...' This message is powerful stuff. Through the gospel God opens the eyes of the spiritually blind, draws rebels to himself, changes us from within, and keeps us until we see him in glory. Who knows what God will do when we let this message loose?
Secondly, 'I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God ...' Every other religion centres on what people do for their gods; Christianity focuses on what God has done for us. This is not a program for self-improvement or a call to self-effort. This is a revelation of God's wonderful goodness and kindness.
Thirdly, 'I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation ...' Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that salvation is the key word of the New Testament. Salvation is more than forgiveness. We are forgiven and we are being changed from within. We are restored to fellowship with God and adopted into his family. We are made the apple of God's eye and can look forward to enjoying him in glory forever.
Fourthly, '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 ...' God is an equal opportunities rescuer. This message is good news for the self-righteous and self-loathing. 'There is nobody hopeless as regards to the gospel' (Lloyd-Jones). God wants us to share this treasure generously so that he may do for others what he has done for us.
Fifthly, '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. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed ...' The gospel reveals how God makes sinful people righteous. God takes our guilt and places it on Christ on the cross and then God clothes us in Christ's perfect obedience. The gospel shows how God is righteous in accepting sinful people as his children because through the cross God demonstrates that is is both just and the one who justifies the ungodly.
Sixthly, '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. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last ...' The word translated faith can be translated trust or believe. Faith is the means by which we accept God's gift of righteousness. But we can not take the slightest amount of credit for our salvation because even this faith is generated by God. The Christian life begins by trusting God and continues living in that same trust.
In Cafe Church we are doing an Old Testament overview. We are trying to see that the Old Testament points to Jesus and proclaims his gospel. It might not be as clearly seen in the Old Testament but it is there, as the final words of these two verses show. Paul quotes the prophet Habakkuk who said, ‘The righteous will live by faith' (or possibly 'the righteous by faith shall live'). God's grace is on every page of the Bible.
So tomorrow morning, as you mix amongst the people at your school, workplace, family or neighbourhood, you are going to have a battle of two competing emotions.
On one hand you will be tempted to keep your head down and your mouth shut because it is easy to feel ashamed of the gospel. It is not because there is anything wrong with the gospel, it is just that it is hard to share something that people think is foolish, and causes people to label you as a weird, superstitious, religious fanatic.
On the other hand you should be so proud of the beauty of Christ and his cross, and so great-full that he has rescued a wretch like you that you want to tell others about this gospel. I am not encouraging you to be tactless or disrespectful, but may this gospel so delight us that our desire to share this treasure will overcome the temptation to be embarrassed or fearful.