I remember the first time I felt temptation to be ashamed of the gospel, or at least the implications of the gospel. From age nine to twelve, I’d lived in a town in Eastern Kentucky, and had a few strong Christian friends. Together we were pursuing holiness. After seventh grade, we moved to the western part of the state, to a city named Paducah.
In Paducah, I met a number of church-going friends. In fact, I’d say almost all of my friends attended church at least some. But there weren’t friends like I’d known back in Eastern Kentucky. Nonetheless, one night I had four or five of my friends over to the house, and they were staying the night. As we went to bed, the five or six of us were lying in the living room floor in sleeping bags when one of my thirteen-year-old peers asked the rest of us if we thought we thought we’d pursue sexual purity in our lives, abstaining from sexual activity until we were married, if indeed we married.
I knew the answer to that question. Of course I was. This was an easy one. And I’d been used to agreement among my friends before this move to Paducah on our commitment to obey the Scripture. But before I could say, “Well, of course I’m committed to sexual purity,” another friend spoke up and said, “I’m not sure.”
Suddenly my eagerness to speak up was replaced by me quietly telling myself, “Shut up and see what everyone else says.” Then, each of my friends began giving answers that I couldn’t believe, agreeing that they weren’t quite sure if they’d pursue obedience to the Scripture or not. And I remember that the pressure to give an answer was met with a sense of ashamedness. I was ashamed, embarrassed, to say what had seemed like such an obvious an easy answer before my friends had spoken up.
Now, I honestly can’t remember what I ended up saying that night, and the Lord, in his grace, did end up keeping me over the years from great sexual impurity. But I can remember to this day the feeling that I knew that night. I felt ashamed to confess my commitment to obeying God’s Word. I was ashamed to declare what the Bible mandated of me.
As I stand here, a little over twenty-five years later, I’d like to say that I’ve felt no temptation to be ashamed of the gospel or its implications since then and can write off that moment to youthful timidity, but that simply isn’t true. The reality is that there have been moments I’ve been slow to take advantage of speaking the gospel because of fear of what one would think of me and slow to voice the moral obligations of the gospel out of fear of the offense I knew it would bring.
I dare say that I’m not the only one who has known this temptation. In fact, my guess is that many of us have felt the temptation many, many times to be ashamed or embarrassed to speak the gospel and have instead kept our mouths closed when interacting with unbelievers. And the good news for us this morning is that if that is the case, then we have an example of boldness, of being unashamed, in our text this morning from Paul, who calls us to imitate his example, as he declares that one reason he was eager to preach the gospel to those in Rome (v. 15) is because (in his words), “I am not ashamed of the gospel” (v. 16).
Now, here’s why that’s so encouraging. In these two verses we’re going to look at this morning, Paul not only tells us that he’s unashamed of the gospel (i.e. willing to declare this good news, regardless of the mockery, persecution, or abuse it might mean), but he tells us why he’s not ashamed in the gospel. That is, he tells us what he understands about the gospel that has moved his heart past this temptation to feel ashamed, and specifically what he tells us is that understanding, knowing, and experiencing what the gospel is and does (and how glorious that is) has led him to be unashamed.
So, here’s what I want to do and here’s my hope for this morning. I want to show you what reasons Paul gives us for why he’s unashamed of the gospel (which can be summed up by saying, “Paul is unashamed of the gospel because of what the gospel is and what the gospel does”), and my hope is that in seeing the glory of what the gospel is and does, you and I will be moved beyond being ashamed to proclaim it to a place where we’re eager and longing to do so. Why then is Paul unashamed of the gospel?
Because the gospel is the power of God for salvation
Now, I realize that in this point I’m merely repeating the text, as Paul writes in v. 16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” And typically I try to fashion a statement that isn’t a mere repeating of the text but an explanation of it, or clever way to remember it, or the like. But there is no brief explanation or clever saying that captures what I want to say, so I’m just going to repeat the language of the Scripture and then explain what I mean.
What Paul is saying is that the gospel message that God’s Son took on flesh, lived a perfectly obedient life, died on the cross for our sins, and was raised from the dead and appointed the Davidic King as the God-man is the means, or vehicle, or mediating channel God uses to bring his people to salvation.
Paul will confirm this later in this book, arguing in chapter 10 that all who believe will be saved, but that believing is possible without hearing the Word of God preached, ultimately concluding, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (10:17). Then to the Corinthians he writes, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). Then, finally (though we could reference many more texts), Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “We know, brothers, loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:4-5).
In other words, the means God uses to communicate his power to bring men dead in their sins to life in his Son is the gospel. God uses our preaching of this gospel to bring men to salvation. Now, one reason this can help us overcome the temptation to be ashamed of the gospel is because it makes sense to be a bit apprehensive in sharing the gospel if men’s salvation is simply dependent on our ability to deliver a persuasive message or convince men to alter their lives. But, according to this text, the gospel is much greater than that. We merely get to be vessels whereby, as we proclaim the gospel to others, the Lord will at times use that proclamation as a vehicle through which to powerfully bring men to salvation.
Now, the fact that God may not always powerfully save someone doesn’t mean that we’re selective in terms of those to whom we preach. As Paul notes, it’s the power of God for salvation to “everyone who believes.” Yes, Paul made sure to first speak to Jews, those to whom the promises that the gospel fulfills had been made, but he then went to all gentiles as well. As so must we. We should not be ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
Second, we should not be ashamed of the gospel …
Because through the gospel God credits us with perfect righteousness
Paul writes, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith” (v. 17a). Now, this phrase, “The righteousness of God” has led to all kinds of interpretations, but I think that it means the same thing that Martin Luther thought that it mean, namely, God’s gift of righteousness credited to us so that we are justified, credited with perfect righteousness in our standing before him.
The reason I think that’s what it means here is because it fits with this phrase in Paul’s later writings in this book and in other letters, and because he mentions that it is revealed “from faith for faith.” First, when we get to Romans 10, Paul will talk about many Jews who are not saved because “being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says …” (10:3-6).
And I’ll stop there because the point is clear. Paul is talking about our righteous standing before God, and he contrasts a righteousness that we might try to obtain by obeying the law, trying to obey enough and be good enough, and he’s saying that’s hopeless. However, he notes that this doesn’t mean that righteousness is hopeless. Rather, there is a righteousness based on faith so that as we believe, God credits us with perfect righteousness before him so that we might be saved. It is a righteousness from God credited to us. That’s what Paul means by “the righteousness of God.”
Again, in Philippians 3:8-9, Paul writes, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
Here, again, we see that Paul is talking about a righteousness from God that is credited to us as we believe so that we might be justified (or declared righteous) before him. Therefore, it’s hard to believe that when Paul is talking about the righteousness of God in relation to our salvation in connection with faith in Romans 1:17 that he’d be talking about anything different than what we see him talking about in Romans 10 or Philippians 3, namely, the righteousness status that he imputes to us through faith.
Now, I want to elaborate on this more, but let me first make my last point, and then I’ll expand on these things together. A third and final reason why we shouldn’t be ashamed of the gospel is …
Because God’s gift of righteousness comes to us as we respond to the gospel in faith
Paul has already noted this by saying that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes in verse 16, but he doubles down on this point in verse 17 by noting that the righteousness of God is revealed “from faith for faith.”
Now, this phrase might sound a bit odd, but the idea being communicated is that God’s righteousness is revealed to us by faith “from first to last,” or “beginning and ending in faith,” or “faith and nothing but faith.” In other words, Paul is saying that it is faith and faith alone from the beginning of our salvation to the end that is the basis for us being credited with the righteousness of God for salvation.
You see, Paul wants the Roman believers to understand that we are not declared righteous before God on the basis of having obeyed his commandments perfectly or even just pretty well. God doesn’t accept pretty good obedience. He demands perfect righteousness. And none of us has been or can be perfectly righteous. Therefore, here is what God has done: He sent his Son into the world as a human so that Jesus could lived a perfectly righteous life for us. Then, Jesus died to pay for all of our disobedience and was raised on the third day. That’s the good news.
And the reason it’s good news is because when you and I realize that we can’t be good enough and quit trying to be good enough but instead simply by faith rely on Christ’s obedience for you, Christ’s payment for you, and Christ’s resurrection for you, then on the basis of your faith, God takes the perfect righteousness of Christ and applies it to you in your standing before him. It’s not dependent on anything you’ve done, whether good or bad, but simply through faith “from first to last.”
And if you think that this surely can’t be true, then Paul doubles down once more, not only showing that it is from faith to faith, or by faith and faith alone, but he notes that this has always been how it’s been. He quotes the Old Testament text of Habakkuk 2:4, writing, “As it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (v. 17b).
Now, the situation in Habakkuk is one where the prophet predicts of a day when the Chaldeans will come and judge Judah as a divine punishment for their sins. Therefore, the call for those in Judah is to trust in God, to have faith. After all, the Lord makes many promises to deliver Israel one day, as he’ll in turn judge Babylon as he is using Babylon to now judge Israel. And the Lord calls the people through Habakkuk to have faith, noting that by faith, they’ll have life.
Moreover, Habakkuk notes only proclaims this message of life through faith, but he models it. Looking ahead to this day of coming judgment, he declares in 3:17-18 that
though the fig tree does not blossom, the vines bear no fruit, and there be no herd in the stalls, yet he will rejoice in the Lord. He will trust. He will believe. He will place his faith in the Lord and trust him.
Paul’s point, then, is that God has always promised eternal life not on the basis of our good works or obedience to the law but always through faith. This is then why the gospel is so glorious. It is the means that God uses to credit to us Christ’s perfect righteousness on the basis of faith alone. And the reason this is so good is because otherwise salvation is impossible.
Let me lay out why, though we’ve already touched on it. God demands perfect righteousness. He demands absolutely perfect obedience. Any time the enemy tries to tell you that you haven’t been good enough to be approved or by God or for God to be pleased with you, you can say, “Of course I haven’t. He demands perfect obedience. That’s impossible. I can’t even begin to think about going down that road.”
Nor can you or I even think about trying to mix in a little bit of our good works as if God is saying, “Do your best, and then I’ll make up the difference by supplementing it with what my Son has done.” In talking to the Galatians, who were tempted to try to mix in some obedience to the law of Moses as the basis for their salvation, doing things like being circumcised, Paul wrote, “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law, you have fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:3-4).
In other words, these are mutually exclusive paths. You can rely on your works as your basis for being righteous before God, but if you do, not only do you have to be perfectly righteous but you don’t get to count Christ’s righteousness at all. You’re “severed” from him, to use Paul’s words. If you want to be righteous on the basis of your works in the slightest bit, then it’s all on you, and you better be able to be perfectly righteous.
However, if you realize that that’s hopeless, then the gift of perfect righteousness can be credited to you on a completely different basis than your good works. On the basis of faith and faith alone, God will credit you with the perfect righteousness of his Son. This is what we mean by saying that we are saved by faith alone.
But what this means for us is glorious. It means that if we’re trusting in Christ for our salvation, credited with his perfect righteousness, then you and I can live our lives knowing that God is pleased with us and approves of us. And the reason we can know this is because his approval of and his pleasure in us is not based on what we’ve done but on what Christ has done for us. You can go to bed at night saying, “I’m trusting that what Jesus did is enough, and on that basis I know that God approves of me, that I’m forgiven, and that I have eternal life.” You get to live your life knowing that the verdict that is to be pronounced on that great day of judgment has already been pronounced for you. You’re justified. You’re declared righteousness before God on the basis of a righteousness that he has given. He provides what he demands – perfect righteousness.
And that is good news. That’s amazing news. That news that is so glorious that it seems foolish that we would ever be ashamed the gospel, the very means that God powerfully uses to bring people to faith and credit them with his Son’s perfect righteousness.
Why shouldn’t you and I be ashamed to declare the gospel boldly? Because it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes as through faith God credits us with perfect righteousness so that we might be saved from his wrath, forgiven of our sins, and given eternal life with him. Brothers and sisters, that’s a truth so glorious that far from being ashamed, we should, like Paul, find ourselves eager to preach it. And we should find ourselves eager to rejoice in that truth even as we will now as we come to the table. Amen.