I Am Not Ashamed! Back to all sermons
Date: September 9, 2011
Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Scripture: Romans 1:1–1:17
On May 24, 1738, a young man went, in his own words, “very unwillingly” to a religious meeting in London. The leader of the meeting read to the group from Martin Luther’s preface to his commentary on the Book of Romans. In spite of his initial reluctance, this is how the young man described what happened in his journal:
“Almost a quarter before nine, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
That young man was named John Wesley. That evening was the beginning of the great Wesleyan revival which swept England and transformed the nation before spreading to the far corners of the world. What did John Wesley discover on that evening which transformed his life and changed history? What was it that Martin Luther had discovered over 200 years before which revolutionized his mind and his heart and precipitated the Protestant Reformation which swept across Europe in the 1500’s?
We are going to find out. We are going to find out, not by studying the writings of John Wesley or even the writings of Martin Luther. We are going to find out by looking at the original source. We are going to study what Martin Luther studied; a letter written by the apostle Paul in around 57 or 58 AD to a group of Christians living in Rome.
We are embarking today on a voyage of discovery through the Book of Romans. We might think of it as a journey by boat up a long and winding river. It is a river with many twists and turns. The journey will at times surprise us and at times confuse us and at times delight us. Parts of the journey will be difficult as we make our way through dense jungle thickets of theological truth. It will be a lengthy journey. We will probably not complete this journey until late in 2012, or maybe even into the early part of 2013, depending on how many interruptions there are. It is a very important journey. What we are searching for is incredibly valuable. For we are not searching for the fountain of youth. What we are searching for is far more valuable than that. It is the spring and source of eternal life.
here are a handful of you in the room who may remember having made this journey before. I have preached through the Book of Romans before here at ECC. In fact, as I looked back through my files, I also started that series of messages on September 9. But the year was 1994, exactly 17 years ago to the day. To those of you who shared that earlier journey with me, I can promise that I will not simply be recycling the messages, but studying the text afresh each week. And if I do repeat an outline or reuse an illustration, my only defense is that anything you have retained in your memory for 17 years is probably particularly memorable and worth repeating.
With that introduction, let us push off from shore and begin our voyage. The Book of Romans is the longest of the Epistles of the New Testament. In this letter, Paul was writing to a church and a city that he had never visited. He knows many people in the church, as his list of personal greetings in the last chapter will attest. But he does not know them as a congregation. Many scholars believe that it is this fact that he is not personally acquainted with the church that explains the thoroughness with which he lays out the gospel message. He does not know what they know or do not know. So he is not just trouble shooting problems as he does in some of his other epistles, but laying out a thorough, comprehensive discourse on the fundamentals of Christian faith and doctrine, and particularly the doctrine of salvation. It is this thoroughness that makes the epistle so valuable to us and so worthy of our study.
Today, we are going to cover the opening paragraph, verses 1-17. This was the passage we read in the Scripture reading earlier, so I am not going to read it again, but simply make comments on it. In this opening section, Paul introduces himself as the writer of the letter. He talks about his interest in the believers in Rome and his prayers for them as well as his desire and his plans to visit them in Rome.
In introducing himself, Paul also introduces his message. It is this message which defines the man and it is this message which will form the topic for his letter. He refers to this message as the Gospel in verse 1: Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.
For Paul, his message defined him. He identifies himself first as a servant, a slave of Jesus Christ. He received a divine calling to be an apostle, a messenger of Jesus Christ. This calling set him apart, totally dedicated him to a single purpose: what he calls here “the gospel of God.”
We’ll come back to that phrase in a moment. He refers specifically to the gospel three more times in this opening section. In verse 9 he speaks of the gospel of his Son.
In verse 15 he says, “I am eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.”
And in verse 17 he says boldly, “I am not ashamed of the gospel…”
Obviously this word, this message is important to Paul. But what is this “gospel”? As most of you know, it means “good news” or a “message of good news.” Originally it was specifically used to refer to a proclamation of victory and triumph. When kings went out to war with their armies, the people of the city would wait with nervous anxiety to hear the outcome of the battle. Their future prosperity, status and possibly their very lives would hang on the result. Finally they would see the messenger approaching. Would he announce “bad news” of defeat and death? Or would he proclaim “good news” of victory and triumph?
As we trace Paul’s use of the term, we find that he uses it to refer to the core and essential message of Christianity. This was what he was called and sent to proclaim. He was “set apart” for this task. So what is this “Gospel”? What is this essential message? This is what Paul is going to explain and expound in the chapters to follow. This will be the subject of our study in weeks and months to come.
In this opening section, Paul uses a number of words and phrases in passing which he does not define or explain. He is like a chess player laying his pieces on the table, getting ready for a game, but not elaborating on their purpose or place, or the strategy of the game he is about to play. He introduces words like “grace” and “faith” and “righteousness” and “salvation.” These are the pieces he will use so powerfully as he develops his argument through the course of the letter. But just as he mentions them without explanation, I also will not explain them in this message. We will let Paul do that as his letter progresses.
What I do want to do is simply glean what we can about the “Gospel” from Paul’s introductory remarks. The first thing we discover is that God is the source of the Gospel. In verse 1, as we have already noted, he calls it “the gospel of God.” God is the originator of this “good news”. This is God’s message. This is absolutely pivotal in Paul’s thinking. In Galatians 1:11, he says: “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather I received it by revelation…” This gospel is not the product of human ingenuity or imagination. It is not man’s thought evolved over centuries. This is good news straight from God himself.
The second thing he tells us is that this Gospel was promised by God through the prophets. Look at verse 2: the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures. This tells us that this message, this plan of God was no afterthought. This is not God improvising when his other plans did not work out. The Gospel is not Plan B. This was where he was headed, what he had in mind from the very beginning. From Genesis 3:15 where God promises that the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent, to the writings of Malachi, who promises that the “messenger of the covenant whom you desire will come.”(Malachi 3:1) And now it was here. The messenger had come, the message of good news has been delivered, and Paul had given his life to proclaiming it.
The third thing we discover is that the Gospel is good news about a person. And it is the identity of that person that makes up a substantial and crucial part of the Gospel. Paul makes this identity clear. He states that the Gospel is the message and good news about “God’s Son.” This was a truth which the Jewish leadership rejected. They accused Jesus of blasphemy because he “claimed to be the Son of God.” But this was an essential part of the Old Testament prophecy about the coming Messiah. In Psalm 2, one of the great Messianic Psalms, the Messiah, the Anointed One, was declared to be the Son of God and the kings of the nations were commanded to “Kiss the Son…” The Jewish leaders did not stumble over the fact that the Messiah would be called the Son of God. They stumbled over that fact that Jesus was that promised Messiah, the Son of God.
Paul expounds on this Good News about the identity of this person. He was and is both human and divine. In verses 3-4 we continue to read: who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. This is essential to the Gospel which Paul proclaimed; the two natures of the Messiah, human and yet divine. Son of David and Son of God. This identity was demonstrated and proven once and for all by his resurrection from the dead. And now, lest we have any doubt about the One whom he is describing, he names him. Jesus: that is his human name, assigned to him by angels before his birth. Christ: that is his title. Christ or “Christos” as it is in Greek, is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah”, “the Anointed One.” And finally his status: “our Lord.”
The Gospel is a message about a person. The identity of Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God is central to the message. In fact, I don’t think it is overstepping the mark to say that Jesus is the Message. Jesus is the Gospel.
The fourth thing we discover is that the Gospel is a powerful message. This is what Paul tells us in verse 16: I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God…” The Gospel is the power of God… That is a powerful statement! The Greek word is “dunamis”. When the Swedish inventor, Alfred Nobel invented a powerful new explosive force, he reached into the Greek language for inspiration and borrowed this word. He called his invention “dynamite.” Raw, explosive power. But in fact, that word image is not really helpful. The idea behind this word is not explosive, often destructive power, but constructive power; the power to get things done, to accomplish one’s purpose and to fulfill one’s objectives. And what is the objective of the power of God displayed in the Gospel? It is the power of God “for salvation to everyone who believes.”
I believe a better analogy for this power is the power of the acorn. For one year, I pastored a small church in a town in California called Oakhurst. The most common trees in the area were oak trees. It is an inspiring exercise to stand with a tiny acorn in hand and look up at a towering oak tree. How does the one produce the other? What kind of power rests in the acorn which can produce such a mighty tree? And what must you do with the acorn to release its power? Set it on fire? Hit it with a hammer? Put it in a gun and pull the trigger? There is no flash or bang in an acorn. But plant it deep in soil, water it, and the power is released. It is the power of life. It is the power of growth. That is the kind of power that is in the Gospel. It is a power that changes lives. It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
In verse 17, Paul lays out this acorn of God’s power. It is a kind of cryptic summary of the Gospel. I am just going to read it, and not explain it. Paul will spend the rest of this letter explaining verse 17, so we are going to allow him to give the explanation in the weeks to come. But here it is:
For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
That’s it. That is the kernel, the nugget, the acorn of the Gospel message which we will be exploring and expounding throughout this series of messages. I do want to make one very crucial point from this verse today, however. It is the answer to the question I posed a moment ago. What must you do with this acorn to release its power? The answer is found embedded in these two verses. In verse 16, we read, “The Gospel is the power of God for salvation…” What is the rest of that verse? “For everyone who believes.” That’s the key. That’s what it takes to release to power of the Gospel into your life “for salvation”. You have to believe it. If you take a quick look at verse 17, you will see a word that is repeated. It is the word “faith.” “Faith from first to last…the righteous will live by faith.” Now what you need to know is that in Greek, the word “faith” and the word “believe” are the same root word. In fact the only difference is that one is a verb and the other is a noun. Verse 16 tells us that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes. Then verse 17 tells us that it is by “belief, from first to last,” and “the righteous will live by belief.” It is faith, belief that releases the power of God into our lives for salvation. This is what Martin Luther discovered, and John Wesley and countless others before and since.
Before I close, this message, I want to come back to some other phrases and statements in this opening section. They are statements by Paul about his own motivation and commitment to the Gospel. I find them immensely challenging to me. Let me quote them:
Set apart for the gospel of God…God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son…I planned many times to come to you in order that I might have a harvest among you…I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and to the foolish…That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome… I am not ashamed of the gospel.
Set apart, serving with a whole heart, obligated, eager… I wonder how many of us can say the same? Are we eager to share the gospel? Do we carry a sense of obligation and indebtedness to the people we meet? Are we serving God with a whole heart in preaching the gospel? If not, why not?
Could the flaw be that we are not convinced of the power of the Gospel? Are we sometimes hesitant, even ashamed, just a little bit, of the Gospel? You’re not one of those “born again” Christians are you? How do you feel when someone says that to you?
What does it mean to “be ashamed of the Gospel”? The original Greek word used has a rather specific meaning. It means to put confidence and trust in something, only to have it fail. The resulting emotion is a mixture of disappointment and embarrassment. When we were living in Kenya, my sons and I used to enjoy following the Kenya Safari Rally that took place each year in April. It was fun to stand by the road and watch the cars go flashing past, and to follow their progress through the week. One year, I read in the newspaper that on one of the legs of the rally, the cars were going to make a very early start, and go out of Nairobi on the main road not far from our house. I thought this would be a great opportunity to see the cars, without a lot of other people around. So I set my alarm early. It was still dark as I woke my sons up (they were around 7 and 9 at the time) and we dressed and walked out to the main road. No one else was around. We decided to wait in the middle of the traffic circle. What a great way to see the cars! They would have to come down the road straight at us and then swing around us. It was still dark but the edges of the horizon were just beginning to lighten. We stood and we waited. And we waited. We got tired and sat down and we waited. The paper said the cars were to leave downtown at 5:30 am. 5:30 came and went, 5:45, 6:00 o’clock. The sun was now coming up, everything was growing light. Still no cars. And no one else was around. By 6:30, I had to admit that either I had misread the route, or the rally organizers had changed the route at the last minute. At that point, I experienced a combination of two painful emotions. One was disappointment. We weren’t going to see the cars. The second emotion was triggered by the thought: What if someone I know comes by and wants to know what I am doing standing in the middle of the traffic circle with my two sons that early in the morning? So my disappointment was combined with the possible embarrassment of looking foolish. That is the essence of this phrase.
But notice what Paul says: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.” Why not? Because it is the power of God. The power of God to accomplish his purpose. The power of God to bring salvation to everyone who believes. The Gospel of God will not disappoint us or leave us embarrassed. When the Gospel is shared and believed, it will accomplish God’s purposes. A powerful message is a powerful motivation. Do we believe in the power of the Gospel? Do we believe in it enough to be eager to share it? Do we believe in it enough to plant it, like an acorn in another person’s life, believing that if it is met with faith, it will grow into a towering oak tree?
I am eager to preach again through the Book of Romans. Let me tell you just one story so you’ll understand why. I preached through the Book of Romans many years ago in my first church in Alaska. There was a teen-ager in the church; a tall, red-haired kid named Carl. He wasn’t much interested in what went on in church. His parents made him come. He had other things on his mind. He wanted adventure. He wanted to experience life. Shortly after high school, he trained a team of sled dogs and entered the Iditarod race, over 1600 kilometers from Anchorage to Nome. Not long after that, we lost track of him. His family moved to a church in another town, and we moved out of the state. I must admit I forgot all about him.
About 8 years later, I was participating in a training course in California, preparing missionaries to go to the mission field. A young man approached me and said, “Do you remember me?” It was Carl. He was now married with a couple of kids and they were preparing to go to Africa as missionaries. He was eager to tell me the rest of the story. After we lost contact, he had continued to bounce around, looking for his purpose and place in life, getting into different kinds of trouble, experimenting with all the things young men experiment with. Then he agreed to drive someone’s car from Alaska to Washington State over the Alaskan Canadian highway. Over 2000 kilometers long, much of it at the time still gravel road, running through long stretches of untouched forest and wilderness. It was a great adventure, but also a long and often boring drive. And he was going to do it by himself. Before he left, his father handed him a plastic bag. The bag was filled with cassette tapes – the entire set of my tapes on the Book of Romans.
Carl grinned as he told me the story. “I had no intention of listening to them, but I took them along to keep my Dad happy,” he said. But as he drove, mile after empty mile, he got bored. So he stuck in the first tape and started to listen. By the time he got to Washington, he had listened to the entire set of tapes, Romans from chapter 1 to 16. And his entire life changed direction and focus. He had met Christ face to face in the words of the Apostle Paul. He had experienced “the power of God for salvation” because he believed what he heard. And he now had a new purpose and reason for living. He enrolled in Bible School – and now he was on the way to Africa to share the same Gospel message.
That is why I am eager to share these messages with you. I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes…A powerful message is a powerful motivation.
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
- What do you hope to get out of this series of messages on the Book of Romans?
- Based on what he wrote in Romans 1:1-17, how did Paul feel about “the gospel”?
- What do we learn about the identity of Jesus from these verses? Is it necessary to believe these things about Jesus in order to be a true Christian and experience the “salvation” Paul speaks about in verse 16? Why or why not? Do you agree or disagree with Pastor Cam’s statement: “Jesus is the Gospel”?
- Pastor Cam described the word “ashamed” as a combination of disappointment and embarrassment when something or someone we have trusted or relied on does not fulfill their promise. Can you share an anecdote of a time you experienced that emotion? What is Paul saying when he says he is “not ashamed” of the Gospel? Can you say the same thing?
- What is the link between faith/belief and the power of God in the Gospel?
- Spend some time together in prayer as a group, both reflecting on what you have discussed and also praying for Pastor Cam and this series of messages and the potential impact on ECC.