Romans 1:16 – 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.
We’re starting a new series tonight in conjunction with a new initiative we have started in our city this week. We are going to be talking about what it means to “Speak Jesus.” We’re going to see what it means to not be ashamed of the gospel and why the name of Jesus is so important to speak to those around us.
At the heart of what we are seeking to do in our community is Romans 1:16, and in particular the beginning words: “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” This verse is the very heart of the book of Romans, written by Paul — a kind of thesis statement of the book.
So, let’s start off by asking this question: What makes a person feel shame?
Today we will focus on the words: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.” You see the link with verse 15. The reason he is eager to preach the gospel in Rome is that he is not ashamed of the gospel. Let’s begin with the general question: What makes a person feel ashamed? Consider some examples.
First, suppose a boy brags to his friends that he can outrun the new kid in the neighborhood. So the kids set up a race — say, once around the block. Both boys walk the route and see where all the obstacles are and where the turns are made. Then they line up. The neighborhood kids are all out watching. Someone says, “Ready. Set. Go!” And the bragging boy is simply left in the dust. The skinny new guy finishes 40 or 50 yards ahead of the braggart. When that happens it is very likely that the braggart feels ashamed. He feels that he has made a fool of himself.
Second, suppose someone you don’t like at school has a dad who is in jail. And suppose that you make fun of him for this and call him names and point out to people that his dad is a crook. And you boast that your dad is a successful financial officer at a major bank. Then one day you go home to the terrible news that your dad has been arrested and charged with embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars. The next day you don’t even want to go to school because you are so ashamed — both of your father and of yourself.
Third, suppose you are invited to a costume party — you carefully pick out your costume and work so hard on looking good. You are invited to a party and you check with people whom you think are reliable advisers about what to wear and how to look. But when you get there you realize that you are totally wrong in the way you dressed. Everyone is in like suit and ties and you are dressed as an Avenger. You are so embarrassed that you don’t want to go into the room.
Finally, suppose you have a part in a play — just a small one perhaps, because you are nervous and not very good at acting. Maybe you have two lines at some key point in the play. You memorize the lines. The play begins. Your heart pounds out of your chest. The audience is large. Everyone is doing beautifully and setting a high standard. Your moment is drawing near. And at the exact moment, you freeze. You try to say the two lines. Everybody is looking at you. But you can’t do it. Someone whispers to you your lines — to no avail. Somehow they get around you. You run off the stage, and want to run off the planet. You feel so ashamed.
We all know what it is to be embarrassed — or to be ashamed. What would keep you from being embarrassed or ashamed in situations like that? Well, one answer would be that stronger legs would have kept you from losing the race and being put to shame by the new guy. And a more honest dad would not have embezzled, so you wouldn’t be ashamed of him. And with better counsel from your friend you wouldn’t have dressed all wrong for the party. And better nerves in front of a group would have let you remember your lines and speak them with excellence. In other words, you could avoid being ashamed if you could always keep yourself in the best light and never let anyone feel negative things about you.
The gospel causes shame and brings freedom from it.
Now when Paul says in Romans 1:16 that he is “not ashamed of the gospel,” is this what keeps him from being ashamed? Does he escape being ashamed because he keeps himself in the best light? No. Exactly the opposite. Believing and preaching the gospel constantly put Paul in a bad light. It constantly stirred up other people to shame Paul. He gives us a list of ways that he was shamed in the ministry of the gospel (in 2 Corinthians 11:23–26):
23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers…
Paul’s way of not being ashamed of the gospel was not that he could keep himself in the best light or that he had enough skill that people always liked him and approved what he did. Look back at Romans 1:14: “I am under obligation [I am debtor] both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.” When Paul looked out on the huge world of unbelief in his day he felt a debt to all. He didn’t look with utter disdain on the pagans of his day. He instead felt indebted to them. But did they want him to pay them his debt? Do the unbelieving people around you want what you have to give? Not many.
In 1 Corinthians 1:22–23 he says, “Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness.”
Paul had a debt to pay to Jews and Greeks and barbarians, but most of them — as today — did not want his message of love and grace and hope. It was foolishness and a stumbling block.
So, before we can see in Romans 1:16 that the gospel is the basis of Paul’s freedom from shame, we see that it was first the basis of his being shamed.
The gospel does two things: It brings out shame in those who will not believe it. And it gives freedom from shame to those who do believe it.
Much like arriving at a costume party wearing the wrong costume, nonbelievers will one day bow their knee before the reality that they once denied. On the other hand, for the Christian, there is no shame in sharing Christ, no matter what the consequences, because you have the way, the truth, and the life. If you have true truth, there’s no reason to be ashamed. If you know 2+2=4 and someone yells till they are blue in the face that it equals 5, you’re not offended and you’re not ashamed because you know the truth, no matter how hard the person denies it.
What did Jesus do with shame?
Paul followed the example that Jesus had set before him. Jesus was abandoned by his friends, falsely accused of blasphemy, beaten with rods, ridiculed and taunted, stripped of his clothes, scourged with a whip, tortured in public, and made to look like a fool as people hollered at him on the cross: “You who saved others, save yourself.”
With joy, He endured the cross.
What did Jesus do with all this shame — this shaming behavior? What would you do with it?
Hebrews 12:2 tells us what he did with it: “for the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
How could he do that? How can you do that? Hebrews 12:2 says he did it “for the joy that was set before him.” Shame was stripping away every earthly support that Jesus had: his friends gave way in shaming abandonment; his reputation gave way in shaming slander; his decency gave way in shaming nakedness; his comfort gave way in shaming torture.
So, if his present supports were all being stripped away in shaming persecution, how did he not give in to such shame? Hebrews 12:2 says he set his heart not on the supports and comforts of the present, but on the joy of the future where very soon he would “sit down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Though he was being shamed, Jesus was not ashamed of his God and Father. Why? Because God had power to save him from death and give him all-satisfying glory at his right hand forever.
Paul wasn’t ashamed for the exact same reason…and you don’t have to be ashamed as well. Why does Romans 1:16 say why he is not ashamed? He said in Romans 1:16? “I am not ashamed” — “in spite of all the cultured Greeks who mock me as preaching foolishness and all the unbelieving Jews who mock me as preaching a false Christ — I am not ashamed of this gospel. Why? ‘For it is the power of God unto salvation.’”
We are to not be ashamed because Jesus alone saves.
Today, shaming is not to say that you are wrong, but to say that you are arrogant if you think others are wrong. Not that you have bad thinking, but that you have a bad attitude. The greatest weapon of shaming today in the world of religious claims is the accusation that you are intolerant and therefore mean-spirited and egotistical. How dare you say that my way is wrong and yours is right!
To that we must constantly and consistently respond: it is the most loving thing in the world to tell the truth about the way of salvation. If Jesus has said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6), then, for the sake of love, we must pay our debt to the world, and despise the shaming of “intolerance” and tell them, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). In Jesus alone is the power to save. So do not be ashamed to speak His name.