Romans: I Am Not Ashamed
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles.” Romans 1:16
Paul is not ashamed of the gospel. In fact, it is his whole reason for writing and his driving force for traveling and ministering to people he otherwise never would have met or loved.
Why would he state the seemingly obvious so early in his letter? Of course, he is not ashamed of the gospel.
Remember his audience and reason for writing. The whole point of the gospel is that we receive salvation through faith alone, not based on anything we do or accomplish. However, the Jewish believers in Rome prided themselves in their affiliation with their Jewish ancestors and their keeping of the Law and Jewish tradition. Not following these would be shameful. They likely looked down on their Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ. After all, they did not even have the Law.
“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 shall live by faith.’” Romans 1:17
The message of the gospel, of course, is that salvation is available through faith, completely and only. Nothing we do saves us. We are all sinners through and through. This is not a happy note to start with but Paul starts there nonetheless. After all, it needs to be said: We are all sinners.
The world around us is sinful, and there is sin in us as well. In fact, it's a little worse for us because we really should know better. It’s a sobering truth for Paul's audience and for us before he dives into the good news…
“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” Romans 3:21-24
This is the good news: righteousness imparted to our sinful selves because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Redemption for all!
There is then no reason to boast in anything we do because salvation is completely a work of God and not at all a work of us. It's all Him! All praise and glory be to Him!
The gospel is freeing and it is humbling at the same time. We should never forget that we have been redeemed through Christ, not ourselves. If we live in the light, it is because of Him, not because of ourselves.
Of course, Paul's Jewish audience would have had a question immediately: “What advantage then is there in being a Jew, and what value is there in circumcision?”
Paul addresses this question in all its nuances many times throughout this letter. After all, this would have been unsettling to his fellow Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ, and Paul cared about them.
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The gospel is the greatest message ever told. It is full of freedom, forgiveness, and love. It revolutionizes our lives. We owe everything to the salvation we find in Jesus Christ and the connection to God that we gained through it.
Yet, in Paul's day - and today still - this message is also controversial. Not everyone likes to hear it.
Back then, we see strive between Jewish and Gentile believers. They were saved by the same gospel, by the same God, by the same faith in Jesus Christ. Yet one group had a hard time letting go of the significance of the Law and Jewish traditions. It seemed good to them that we should be saved by our obedience as well as faith in Jesus.
The gospel message, however, is that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone. If we wanted to be saved by obedience, we would have to obey the Law to a T. That is what it would take to save ourselves. It can't be done!
The whole story of the Old Testament leading up to the birth of Christ is evidence of this: We cannot save ourselves. We cannot stay obedient to God for long. God led His people patriarch by patriarch, then as a nation. He led them through personal connection, a cloud in the sky, prophets, and kings. He gave them the Law so it was clear to them what they ought to do. He forgave them. He warned them, exiled and restored them. What is evident is this: No matter the condition, we cannot stay obedient to God on our own. We are stuck too deeply in our sinful nature.
This is why Jesus Christ had to come. We needed a Savior. Our obedience will never save us. It is our faith in Jesus Christ that leads to salvation. It is God's work, not ours!
Do we do away with obedience altogether then? Does it not matter how we live as long as we have faith in Jesus Christ? No. Read the epistle of James to get your full answer. In short, obedience should be a result of our faith and devotion to God. When we declare that Jesus Christ is the Lord of our life, we declare that we want to follow Him and His standards with the help of the Holy Spirit. As Christians, we have committed to living according to His will. Obedience is huge but it does not save us.
It so happens that another controversial issue comes up in these early pages of the book of Romans. Paul uses homosexual behavior as a portion of the evidence of the world’s sinfulness. Paul explains that wickedness starts in our hearts when we walk away from God's truth. As we turn a blind eye towards God, this wickedness begins to grow in us, and God in return gives us over to these sinful desires, lusts, and depraved minds. That is why we see sin abounding and abounding in the world.
Now, you will see people in the world and in the church try to explain away this truth. It has become more common to take an issue that is so controversial, such as homosexuality, and wonder if we can read the Bible slightly differently and interpret things just so in order to take a stance that has come to feel more right to us because of our culture.
The truth is that Paul does not go into detail on homosexuality. It is not his main message. He names it among many sinful behaviors that the Roman believers would see in the world. He is confirming that, yes, the world is sinful.
He mentions this as the first part to the point that he makes in these chapters: We are all sinful. Yes, the world is sinful. We see it in a number of different ways. But in chapter 2, he is very stern about another thing: Believers are sinful as well. Paul points out their stubbornness, unrepentant hearts, and their disobedience despite having the Law and knowing God's requirements. In fact, he says that even some Gentiles, who don't have the Law, obey it better, just by their natural knowledge of what is right and wrong, than the Jews who really should know better.
I propose that Paul's point in these early chapters was not to point a finger at the world or point a finger at homosexuals. Paul’s point was to say that we are all sinful and in need of Jesus Christ as our Savior. We cannot save ourselves by our works. We cannot save ourselves by obedience, including our heterosexual behavior. This is not what makes us stand justified before God. It is the blood of Christ that washes us clean.
What can we take away from this nowadays?
We don't really distinguish between Jewish and Gentile believers, do we? Yet, there is an important message here for us.
The world has come to see us as judgmental. They see us as the ones who call out, “these guys are sinners.” I truly believe that there is a group of Christians that has given us a bad name. Nowhere does the Bible give us the sense that God would want us to go to the world, to their weddings and funerals, and shame them for their sinful behavior. This passage should definitely not be used to condone such behavior for Christians.
Rather, Paul brings up the sinfulness of the world to show so clearly that we too have sinned against God. The only reason we are clean before God and are in a relationship with Him is the blood of Jesus Christ. It's not because we are better than them, and we should never take such a stand.
We also should not swing the pendulum too far in the other direction. Some believers, in the spirit of loving others, have come to applaud and support the world’s sinful behavior. This certainly is not God's heart either.
Here is the fact: In one sense the gospel will always be offensive to the world (1 Corinthians 1:23). We, along with Paul, have to declare that we will not be ashamed of the gospel.
Rather, we know that it brings freedom. We know that it is the best news in the world. To really love the world means to present it with the truth and the opportunity to repent and come to faith in Jesus Christ because that is the only way to gain true freedom.
If we don't believe that inner freedom is found in Jesus Christ alone, we have completely missed the point of the gospel.
Here's what we have learned so far: The world has sinned. Believers have sinned. The Jewish believers, having the Law, are even more accountable to obey it. Similarly, we can say that the Church, having the Bible, is also more accountable to obey it. We should not fall into legalism or trust in obedience to save us. Rather, while following God wholeheartedly, we should remember that our salvation is and always will be found in faith in Jesus Christ. We stand justified before God because of Christ’s sacrifice, not because of our works. Being believers does not make us superior. It simply makes us blessed with freedom and everything the gospel has to offer.
The Old Testament Law was meant to make us aware of our sin and need for a Savior. It was never meant to save us. It points us back to the gospel: We all are saved through faith because of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. We cannot save ourselves. This is true for Jews and Gentiles alike. It is still true today.
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