In a crowded banquet hall at a wedding reception people mingle around and visit enthusiastically. However, when the MC takes the microphone and says, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to introduce the bridal party!” everyone becomes quiet because they know the festivities are about to begin. When the National Anthem plays at a sporting event, everyone knows things are ready to begin. The warm-up is over and the competition is about to commence.
In Romans 1:16,17 it is like the crash of cymbals in the midst of a musical piece. . The cymbals get your attention in a hurry. These words of the apostle Paul state the gospel message with force. Many call these words the theme or the thesis statement of Romans. If we can understand these words, then we will have an appropriate skeleton on which to build the rest of our understanding of the gospel.
Paul begins with the words, “I am not ashamed of the gospel” Perhaps, like me, you want to ask, “Why in the world would anyone be ashamed of the gospel?” If we are honest there is a tendency for all of us to live like we are embarrassed by the gospel. Let me give you some specific examples
- We ignore opportunities to share the truth with our friends even though they cannot be saved apart from the message of grace.
- We are embarrassed to say grace at a restaurant even though we owe Him everything.
- We proclaim only the part of the gospel that people will like (blessings, peace, love) and ignore the truths about sin, wrath, judgment and Hell, even though to do so is to pervert the true message of salvation. (Let’s face it, even the wonder drugs advertised for various ailments on television are required to tell you all the negative side effects that could possibly take place. We owe it to those we love to warn them of the certain consequences of ignoring God’s command to repent and believe.)
- Sometimes we are reluctant to talk about faith and pray at home with our family.
- Many are embarrassed to tell a boyfriend, girlfriend, or co-worker that they are choosing to live by God’s standards.
- Sometimes we feel we need to apologize for our Christian outlook on life.
Why the embarrassment? Why the shame? It comes from the message itself. The gospel exposes our sinfulness, rationalizations, and helplessness. People don’t want to hear what the gospel proclaims so they are often hostile to the message.
Pastor John MacArthur writes,
It is said that if a circle of white chalk is traced on the floor around a goose that it will not leave the circle for fear of crossing the white mark. In a similar way, the chalk marks of criticism, ridicule, tradition, and rejection prevent many believers from leaving the security of Christian fellowship to witness to the unsaved. [MacArthur: ROMANS p. 51]
Paul knew the message of the gospel might not be received enthusiastically but he refused to be ashamed of the good news. He gives us at least three reasons he is not ashamed of the gospel. If we hear and grasp these reasons it will help us to proclaim the message more boldly.
IT IS THE POWER OF GOD FOR SALVATION
Salvation is one of those terms you hear a great deal and may even use in your own conversation. Often it is a term that people have never really thought about. What is it that we need to be saved from? This is a question Paul will answer extensively in the remainder of Chapter 1 through chapter 3. We need to be saved from the consequences of our sin and rebellion against God’s rule in our life. We need to be saved from the wrath of God.
The Bible teaches us that those who sin will face God’s wrath rather than His love forever. We are like people drowning in a sea of sin. We cannot save ourselves. We have become disoriented and morally incapacitated. Without intervention, we will face the unspeakable horrors of hell.
Paul says It is God’s Power that Saves. The Philippian jailer asked Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul’s answer was “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” In other words, “Trust what God has done for you.”
Do you understand how different this is from the world’s philosophy? If you asked any other religion what you needed to do to be saved you would be given a long list of things that were required: what kinds of good deeds were necessary; what vices needed to be eliminated; what money had to be contributed; what demeanor had to be adopted; and what “catch words” needed to be recited. In each case these people are telling us how we can effect our own salvation! Paul says: it is only through God’s power that we can be saved. He is the initiator. He is catalyst. We cannot do it in our own strength.
This salvation is available to anyone who believes. The gospel is offered freely to all. He said it was first for the Jew first then for the Gentiles. I believe Paul is speaking chronologically. In other words, the gospel came first to the Jews and then it went beyond Jerusalem to the Gentiles.
It is important to see that this salvation is only for those who believe; We have mentioned it many time but it must be stressed again: There are three types of “belief”
- Mental agreement with the facts. This kind of belief says “I believe there was a real Jesus, who died and rose from the dead”.
- Belief in the sufficiency of the facts. In other words, the person believes that Jesus is able to save us those who trust Him.
- There is commitment to the facts. Here the person not only believes the facts are true and can save someone . . . they actually entrust themselves to Christ. It is this kind of faith the Bible talks about.
Let me illustrate. You can say that you believe it is possible that tubes with wings (airplanes) can fly. As such it would be appropriate to say that you “believe in airplanes”. You may believe that airplanes can fly and can safely transport people to various destinations. Again, you would accurately be said to “believe in airplanes”. However, when you actually go to the airport, board a plane and fly to your destination you show a belief that is far different than the other two dimensions of faith. This is the kind of belief necessary for salvation. ANYONE who trusts God’s provision will be saved.
IT SHOWS HOW WE CAN BE IN RIGHT STANDING WITH GOD
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. (v. 17)
The New Century Version translates the verse: “The Good News shows how God makes people right with himself—that it begins and ends with faith. As the Scripture says, “But those who are right with God will live by trusting in him.”
I like the New Century Version because it does a good job of translating a somewhat unfamiliar word, the word, “righteousness”. It means to be in right standing with God or to be in right relationship with God. When we are righteous it means that we stand before God as one who has kept God’s law and relate to God appropriately.
Righteousness is something we cannot earn or gain for ourselves. Isaiah wrote,
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
7 No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and made us waste away because of our sins. [Isa. 64:6,7]
We can be righteous because Christ paid for our sin and provided His goodness and character to our “account” before God.
Have you ever watched the show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”. It is a show where a person’s home is completely remade by a team of designers and builders. In each case there is some problem that needs to be solved. There is some need the family has. The group of experts comes in and does what the homeowner cannot do either due to limitations of ability, finances, or knowledge. When the makeover is finished, the homeowners are stunned that their problem is solved and they are given all kinds of things they could never have obtained on their own. It is still their home, but it is theirs because of what another has done for them.
That’s the way righteousness works. We are a deficient structure that God rebuilds through the grace of our Lord Jesus. He does it, and He does it well. We are able to function as those who are right before God.
IT REVEALS THAT SALVATION BEGINS AND ENDS WITH FAITH
These words, “a righteousness from God is revealed a righteous that is by faith from first to last” started the Reformation. Martin Luther was preparing to teach a class in Romans and was studying these opening verses of Romans. For years Luther had been haunted by the reality that he was not adequately righteous. He went to extreme measures to seek to be clean before the Lord. He confessed his sins for hours, he did acts of penance and went to extreme measures to show his sorrow for sin. But Luther remained frustrated.
When Luther first read this verse, he assumed the righteouness being talked about was the righteousness of God’s character. As he studied he realized that Paul was talking about a righteousness that we could have FROM God. This is what Luther had been longing for he read the next words carefully.
This righteousness was given to us, not earned. It is not something we worked for (because we could never do enough) but something that we received by faith. From these words Luther came to proclaim a salvation that was by faith ALONE.
Dr. Ray Pritchard writes,
What does it mean to have “faith alone” in this sense? If you know what it means to believe a doctor when he says, “You need surgery,” you know what it means to have faith. If you know what it means to step into an airplane entrusting your safety to the captain in the cockpit, you know what it means to have faith. If you know what it means to ask a lawyer to plead your case in court, you know what it means to have faith. Faith is complete reliance upon another person to do that which you could never do for yourself.
How much faith does it take to go to heaven? It depends. The answer is not much and all you’ve got. If you are willing to trust Jesus Christ with as much faith as you happen to have, you can be saved. But if you’re holding anything back, thinking that maybe you need to do something to help save yourself, forget it! Saving faith is putting your trust in Jesus Christ and him alone. In order to do that you have to stop trying to save yourself. [Ray Pritchard sermon from website]
Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4 “the just will live by faith”. In Habakkuk, the prophet wanted to know when God was going to punish the wicked. God said the punishment would come but the just (the believers) would live by faith. In other words, they should trust God even though they did not always understand what was going on.
The true believer then not only starts the journey with an act of faith – they continue the journey by faith. Faith is not something that we exercise once; it is a continuing state of existence. The true believer trusts God for salvation and for life.
What we have seen this morning is the basic points of the gospel. Salvation is through Christ Alone, by Grace Alone, through Faith alone, to the glory of God alone. If we can grasp these elements of the truth we will see that the gospel is not something to be ashamed of. It is something to be celebrated and proclaimed.
Before we conclude, let’s draw some practical applications. First, we need to do some soul searching. Are we living like we are ashamed of the gospel? If so, why are we ashamed? Is it because we don’t really believe the message and are only Christians in name, not in heart? Is it because we want public approval more than the praise of God? Is it because we would rather see someone die eternally than risk offending them by a presentation of the truth of Scripture? We need to search our hearts and resolve to proclaim the message of salvation with confidence and joy.
Second, we need to examine the gospel that we are trusting for salvation? Perhaps you are a person like Martin Luther. Maybe you have been trying to reform your life. You are sincere in trying to be a better person but you know that you are still so far short of the standard that God requires. Maybe you are worn out from trying to meet expectations, do the right things, and be involved in the right organizations. The bills keep piling up, the problems don’t seem to be getting any better, and you feel more guilty than ever.
If so, please hear the message of grace: God has provided a means of salvation! He has done it – you can’t and you don’t have to. He has seen fit to provide a way for you to become righteous in Christ. The key is not running faster, it is trusting more fully. I encourage you to act on the truth of the gospel. Today, go beyond merely knowing the truth, and dare to bet your life on it. Receive the gift of eternal life that is offered through Christ as a gift of God’s grace.
Finally, let’s remember that salvation is by faith from start to finish. Too often we declare our trust in Christ and receive His salvation, only to seem to say, “OK God, I’ll take it from here.” Those who are true believers trust the Lord not only for salvation but also for the outworking of our salvation in our daily living.
Just as we come to Christ by faith, so we walk with Christ by faith. This means
- When things are bad at home we don’t lose heart. We keep trying do what is right and trust that God will bring new life to our homes.
- When finances are tight we evaluate our spending habits and try to learn how to be good stewards of our money, and then trust God to supply our needs.
- When the future is uncertain and we don’t know what direction God is leading us, we will continue to walk through the open doors before us and trust that God is leading us to where we need to be.
- When our physical frame begins to decay and we look for new ways to serve the Lord and trust that God still has some work for us to do.
- When people criticize us we listen and try to learn anything we can and then we entrust ourselves to the Lord to help us live with integrity and conviction.
- When friends pressure us to do what is wrong, we turn away from these temptations understanding that doing what is right is more important than doing what is popular.
- When someone we love dies, we draw comfort from our assurance that there is life beyond the grave and we trust that God will help us cope with the ache in our soul.
I hope you see the point. We are to live our lives by faith from start to finish. If we trust Him, then we should trust Him. If He is sufficient to save, then He is sufficient to guide us in our living. If He loves us enough to save us from the wrath of God, He will not abandon us when the trials of life come upon us.
The gospel is good news! We should share it boldly with others. We should live confidently because of it. May God be praised for His transforming mercy and grace!