What are some things someone might be ashamed of? Maybe one might be ashamed of their past. Pondering on certain mistakes and failures of our past are sure to bring disgust that would leave us ashamed of what we have done. One also might be ashamed of their past because of a shameful act inflicted upon them by someone else. A person experiencing shame could be due also to a cantankerous family member who disgraces themselves in public. In addition to being ashamed, we can all relate to finding ourselves overwhelmed with guilt when we know we have been caught doing or saying something wrong. Various things may cause us to experience shame, but the gospel is not one of them. In the text we will look at, we are not drawing from it a solution to the tearing pain of shame, but a declaration to not be ashamed of the gospel.
“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. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith”” (Romans 1:16, 17 ESV).
Introduction to Romans
We are beginning a study that will take us through key concepts taught in the letter of Paul to the Romans. Romans is the longest and most systematically reasoned of Paul’s letters. Paul was writing to the Christians in Rome and Paul wrote Romans as an organized and carefully presented statement of his faith–it does not have the form of a typical letter. He does, however, spend considerable time greeting people in Rome at the end of the letter. He authored this letter about A.D. 57, from Corinth, as he was preparing for his visit to Jerusalem.
Not Ashamed of the Gospel
Crack open a history book, or just look at modern-day pictures of Rome and you will find that innumerable pagan gods received worship in Rome. Especially impressive temples were dedicated to such ancient gods/goddesses as Mars, Saturn, Castor and Pollux, Vesta, Venus and Roma, Apollo, and Jupiter. Indeed, devotion to all the great Roman gods was offered in the monumental domed Pantheon, which stands in Rome to this day. For the Romans, it was common to worship many gods. When you know that, the way you interpret this passage totally changes. We have to first discover what Paul meant to the Roman Christians before we can see what it means for us today.
But why would the Christians at Rome be “ashamed of the gospel?” Well on the surface, the gospel seems like a very strange message. It is about a Jewish carpenter and teacher who was put to death on a cross by Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Judea. The message says that this man Jesus was raised from the dead and is now Lord. To the Romans, this would be offensive. You could say that Jesus was “god” for there were many gods in New Testament Rome. But to say that Jesus is Lord would imply declaring allegiance to Him. There was only one “lord” in Rome and that was Caesar. In addition to the gospel message being strange, Paul himself wrote that this message seemed foolish to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23) and was a stumbling block to Jews. A crucified Messiah seemed to be a contradiction in terms to the Jews. A crucified Jew seemed like foolishness to the Romans, who despised Jews in general. Anyone who was crucified was considered among the lowest members of society; in fact, they were criminals!
In addition, because of their lack of size, fame, or honor in the Roman corridors of power and influence, the Christians might have been tempted to be ashamed of the gospel message. But Paul says it is nothing to be ashamed of, for it is in fact a message coming with the power of God that brings people to salvation. The Apostle experienced this truth first-hand. In fact, Romans 1:16 would serve as a great motto for Paul. He wasn’t ashamed of the gospel. He had experienced Jesus and soon after that, he was preaching everywhere. Just read Acts. Luke ends the book of Acts this way: “He [Paul] lived there [Rome] two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30, 31 ESV). What an honorable way to be remembered.
You may have heard that Paul persecuted and killed Christians and that is true. The book of Acts attests to that. One instance I remember is in Acts 8; “And Saul [Paul] approved of his execution. . .” (v. 1). This is referring to the execution of Stephen. Stephen was a bold and outspoken follower of Jesus who was “full of grace and power” (Acts 6:8). He is mainly remembered for his bold address before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7 and his vision of Jesus “standing at the right hand of God” (7:56). How did the Sanhedrin respond to Stephen’s defense and proclamation of the gospel? “. . .they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. . .they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him” (v. 54, 57, 58). And the Bible goes on to say that Stephen died praying for them. Paul saw the whole thing and “approved of his execution” (8:1). In Acts 9 you find a beautiful story of a persecuting Pharisee who turns to Jesus; and that is Paul. He experienced the gospel’s power first-hand and it is no wonder he declared “I am not ashamed of the gospel.”
The Righteous Shall Live by Faith
This next verse likely means primarily “righteousness from God,” so that it denotes right standing before God (a legal reality) that is given to people by God. A similar expression in Greek clearly has this meaning in Phil. 3:9. However, it is important to note that this expression in Greek likely also carries an additional, fuller meaning, which refers directly to God’s right moral character, particularly manifested in His holiness and justice, and in the way that His method of saving sinners through Christ’s death meets the just demand of His holy nature. Although today’s world often regards using words that carry a double sense as confusing and ambiguous, in NT times such wording was commonly used to add weight and enrichment (See John 12:32 where “lifted up” refers to Christ being “exalted” by being crucified).
“From faith for faith” probably means that right standing with God (justification) is by faith from start to finish. In the latter part of this verse Paul is quoting Habakkuk 2:4. The life of faith is all-encompassing: it is by faith that one initially receives the gift of salvation (eternal life), but it is also by faith that one lives each day (Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38).
Are You Ashamed?
Christians today aren’t the most honored people or famous just as the Christians at Rome were not. Being a believer brings persecution (John 15:20; 2 Timothy 3:12), in addition, the world thinks we’re foolish (1 Cor. 1:18). You might be shamed for your faith, but do not be ashamed of the gospel! “You will be shamed, but you need not be ashamed. Because the message of God’s saving work in Christ is the only final triumphant message in the world. Short-term pain. Long-term gain” (John Piper). When you are tempted to be ashamed, remember what the Good News is all about. If you focus on God and on what God is doing rather than your own inadequacy, you won’t be ashamed or embarrassed. Be a bold witness both with your life and sharing the gospel. “You may be the only Bible people are reading” (Billy Graham).