Not Ashamed of the Gospel

Text: Romans 1.16 RV “For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.”

Most of us know Robert Browning’s poem, “How they brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix” with its galloping rhythm:

I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris, and he;

I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three…

As we read on, we gasp with wonder at the fine horses, and especially that Roland. But have you ever wondered what the “Good News” was that caused these men to ride their horses with might and main? Apparently that was no concern of Browning’s. His interest was taken up in the horses.

Mark’s record of the life of Christ begins with the words, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. The word “Gospel” and its compounds are used about 130 times throughout the New Testament. Since then it has been used innumerable times in speech and writing. It is much used today. But what is this “Good News”? Many, it is feared, are like Browning — far more interested in the horses that have come with the Good News! They ponder the mighty work of God in raising up the Church, the new theological and ethical concepts, the new ritual observances, which accompanied the Gospel... But the Gospel in essence is none of these.

Rome was a mighty city, a city of great military power. Surely Romans would laugh at the Gospel. Yet Paul could fearlessly declare: “I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” What, then, is this Gospel? How is it the power of God unto salvation? And how is it appropriated by faith?

I. At the beginning of this Epistle, Paul says that God “had promised” the gospel “afore by his prophets in the holy Scriptures”, and that “the gospel of God” concerns “his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (1.2-4).

However humble the beginnings of the Messianic hope in the Old Testament and whatever local phases of God’s redemptive activity were seen as its fulfilment, prophecy ultimately reached the point of awaiting the Messiah, seen as a divine-human Person who would suffer for the sins of mankind. Of course, the prophets did not realise the full implications of what they said, while the Jews, under oppression, came to look for a national leader and a king. But what God had promised by the prophets he fulfilled in the coming of Jesus.

A striking similarity to our text is to be found in the opening chapter of 1 Corinthians. Paul is explaining that he was not sent to baptise but to preach the gospel — “for the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (v 18), and again, “we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (v 24).

For Paul the Gospel is not only about Jesus Christ, but is particularly concerned with “the cross of Christ”, “Christ crucified” — not that he would minimise at all the importance of that total divine act which we call the Incarnation, or the redemptive quality which pervades it throughout, but the Cross is the crux of the matter. Here was the divine act whereby men were saved from sin and reconciled to God.

Of course, to the Jew, this was a stumbling-block — nothing could be allowed which short-circuited the ceremonial law. To the Greek it was foolishness — in one stroke this alleged act of God would make all their learned philosophical disputings void.

The world today is not without its Jews and Greeks — and Romans, too, in their satisfied trust in the powers of the atom. But “I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.”

II. The reason that no Christian need be ashamed of the Gospel is that “it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.”

People of the world pin their faith on science because, they say, “Science does things. Look at all the benefits in the world today from science. Almost every aspect of our life is influenced by some new advantage given us by science.” “Yes, yes, yes!” we say, retreating into the corner with the Gospel lest someone see it and say, “Well, well, what an old-fashioned wowser you are! Religion is all right for simple people, but we have to keep up with the times, you know!”

Shame on us! Have we forgotten that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and the only power working towards man’s salvation there is? Have we so far forgotten and neglected the Gospel that its power to transform men’s lives has escaped our notice? Have we forgotten? I sometimes wonder whether we have not tried to reduce Christianity to a man’s quest for God and commitment to him, and forgotten the power of the Gospel — the grace of God “works” in us, the presence of the Holy Spirit is a mighty driving force! No attempt to preserve a particular theory of Biblical inspiration should blind us to this! None of the world’s mocking should blind us to this!

The power of the Gospel is “of God”. That is why it has such importance for all men. No power but of God could effectively work for men’s salvation. How could sinful man dare to come into the presence of Almighty God? Even knowing the good-will of that God, how could he then come into his presence? But God acted, and the Gospel is about that divine act. The power of the Gospel flows from that divine act.

This power of God is “unto salvation”. It seeks to raise men from sin to righteousness, from a self-centred life to a God-centred life, from a life of hatred, bitterness and tension to a life of love, joy and peace. It so deals with sin that a man’s temporary existence is transformed into eternal life.

III. Good news indeed! A Gospel to be proud of! A Gospel for the whole world –

For the love of God is broader

than the measures of man’s mind,

and the heart of the eternal

is most wonderfully kind.

Yet God does not infringe that freedom of will which he has given man. He does not force the Gospel upon us but graciously offers it. His Holy Spirit is at work within striving to bring us to God, but the power of the Gospel is only released in us as we believe.

“Arr!” said the disgusted heckler in Hyde Park, London, “You and your Gospel! Christianity has been in the world two thousand years, and just look at the state of the world today!”

“Quite true,” came the reply, “but water has been in the world for far longer than that, and just look at the state of your neck!”

The Gospel, just like the water, needs to be applied.

The Gospel is “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth”. The truth of this is to be seen in those who believe. See Zacchaeus before he met the Lord and as a changed man; the defeated Paul who cried, “the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not that I do.…O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” and he who was bold to declare, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me”; look at the huddled, frightened group of disciples and that flaming band of missionaries filled with the Holy Spirit! And know that the Gospel is “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth”— and the work of Christ at Calvary will not be exhausted in all eternity!

What then will the world say? My friends, I know not how to speak these words — I sense that many do not accept the Gospel because of us. Our faith in God is so half-hearted and with so many reservations. People look at us and judge the Gospel by what they see. Here they see someone who is a hypocrite through and through, as good as his fellows, but also as bad as his fellows. Christians, they notice, are often given to as much tension and worry as anyone else. They hardly know how to love their friends, let alone their enemies. They can be just as greedy and selfish as far as things of this world are concerned. They give, sometimes well, but only after they have provided themselves a fine home, a car and a TV set.

Of course this is not true of all who claim to be Christians! But may the Lord search our hearts to see if it be true of us! I once heard a young man say, “I know some non-Christians who are finer people than any Christians I have met”. He was looking with a critical eye. He wanted assurance that there was no need to believe the Gospel, and he found the excuse he wanted.

Beware! People judge the Gospel by us! We need to be more convinced than ever of the power of the Gospel, and this can only be as we believe in this work of God with all our hearts so that it begins to change us.

Let me emphasise. The act of faith must be followed by a life of faith.  Paul could have used a tense here to signify an action once made and completed, but instead he uses a continuous tense. The reference is to those who believe and keep on believing. Do you say, “I believed ten years ago, and therefore am saved”. Praise God for the work of grace begun ten years ago. But is there ever selfishness, pride or anger in your heart today? Have you accepted the Gospel but not allowed it to change your life? Have you let it change your life so far and no further?

O my Christian friends, “I  am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth”. If  any here have not believed before, then believe now and let the grace of God work in you. If your faith has been half-hearted or reserved, or has grown that way with the years, then believe now with all your heart. Then you will not be ashamed of the Gospel, for this power of God will be working in your heart for salvation. You will be a new creature, a different person, for “though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day” (2 Corinthians 4.16). Be not ashamed of the Gospel, but know it as the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes!


© Peter J Blackburn, 2017. Bible references are from the Revised Version.
(Note: This sermon was preached at the Hendra Methodist Church, Brisbane, as part of Peter Blackburn’s presentation to the 1960 Queensland Methodist Conference as a candidate for training as a Methodist minister. Transcribed from the hand-written original at the age of 78… it’s true, it’s so very true! The word “man”was inclusive in those days, and the Gospel is always inclusive!)


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