One of my favorite days of the year is October 31st. Of course, you know it’s not because of Halloween, but it is because of Reformation day. This year, in particular, as we celebrate the 500th year of the reformation, we are being inundated with stories of our heroes of the faith who rescued the Gospel and faithfully stood before councils, popes, queens, and emperors, and boldly stood by the Gospel while facing impending death.
I think, though, that it can be a little overwhelming for us.
As we consider the boldness of Luther, who was pretty much being asked to either recant his writings or be killed, it is tough to put ourselves in his shoes. As he said his famous words, “HERE I STAND, I CAN DO NO OTHER, SO HELP ME GOD. AMEN,” we can’t help but feel not only inspired by Luther but at the same time intimidated by the idea of being as bold as him.
It is important for us, though, to understand that we are called to be bold in our lives as well. The declaration from the Reformation that should ring true in our hearts, as well, is that the Gospel is more important than anything in this life.
The call of the Reformation for each of us in our lives is to live a life unashamed of the Gospel.
When Paul declares that he is unashamed of the Gospel in Romans 1:16, he does so because he must know that it is a temptation for the people of Rome to be ashamed. You’d have to live in a cave not to realize that this is a huge temptation for the Church today.
Being a Christian in this day and age can bring great shame in our lives. Whether it is our stance on marriage, on purity, or on doctrine, we all can be tempted to compromise and, most of all, fear man more than we fear God. So, what will keep us from compromise?
Paul, in Romans 1:16-18, offers three reasons why you can live unashamed of the Gospel.
1) The Gospel is the ONLY way to Heaven.
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 (Romans 1:16).
Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel. And here he gives the main reason why. This reason should ring in our hearts like a 6 am alarm clock. When we face the temptation to compromise, or keep our mouth closed and withhold the Gospel, this truth should propel us to speak out. The truth is simple: the Gospel is the only way to Heaven. The people around us, watching us, are desperately lost, the wrath of the infinitely Holy God is on them, and their only hope is the Gospel. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to your American next door neighbor who has heard the Gospel a hundred times, or the aboriginal tribe member who has never heard it before, the power of God for salvation is only found in the Gospel.
For the person you are talking to, their only hope is the Gospel of Chris, and for Paul, in particular, his shame was replaced with eagerness. Romans 1:15 tells us about how eager Paul was to bring the Gospel to Rome. He had never been there, but, most importantly, he saw Rome as a city that desperately needed the Gospel. Until we start looking at people as completely and utterly lost without the Gospel, we will always feel a little ashamed when around them. We must see them as desperately lost, with the Gospel as their only hope.
It’s all about competing fears. I am desperately afraid of being touched by a spider. I am also afraid of you seeing my reaction to a spider touching me. At times, when sitting on a bench outside, I check under the table to make sure there are no spiders there. I am totally embarrassed by you seeing me check under the table, but my fear of spiders supersedes that fear. When we share the Gospel, our fear of embarrassment or persecution must take second place to our fear of the person we are talking to spending eternity in Hell. Our fear of God must supersede any fear of man. Luther certainly had fear of a diet of worms. The fear of having his head separated from his shoulders is as legitimate as any, but Luther had a greater fear–the fear of going against his conscience, the fear of leading the German people back into Rome and away from the Gospel, and, ultimately, his fear of God was what propelled him to say his famous words. We too must remember that the Gospel is the only way to Heaven to anyone who believes.
2) The Gospel is ONLY received by faith instantly
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)
This verse might have been the key verse of the Reformation. The Roman Catholic view of justification was the main problem. In the Latin, the words “righteous man” or the idea of becoming righteous seemed to have the connotation of increasing in personal righteousness. So, Roman Catholics adopted a view of justification that taught a human being that they were to achieve personal righteousness over the process of a lifetime (and thousands of years in purgatory) in order to become righteous enough to go to Heaven. This led people like Luther to work themselves to the bone.
Luther famously worked harder than most. He fasted for days on end. He beat his own body. He constantly prayed and went to confession. He cleaned the floor for hours on end trying to make each spot as clean as possible, wearing his hands down till they bled. Finally, the head monk of his monastery, Van Staupitz, told him to stop it and go to Rome, hoping that going to the mecca of Roman Catholicism would encourage him to be a bit more joyful. But, it had the opposite effect. He was disgusted with the priest who would openly go in with prostitutes. The indulgences sold were an embarrassment. Everyone claimed to have the nails from the cross. Everyone claimed to have the skull of the apostles, etc. Finally, he had a moment on the Holy Steps wondering to himself is this really so? Is this how one earns Heaven?
Finally, he went home and over time started reading Romans and zeroed in on this verse. It was obvious in the Greek that this isn’t to make one righteous, but rather it means to “declare one righteous.” The difference is between a process of many years and an instantaneous declaration by God. On one end, the man himself works himself to the point where he is righteous enough to
enter heaven, which is pride-inducing and steals from God’s glory, and on the other hand, we have God giving people faith and instantly declaring them children of God.
As I’ve spoken to many belonging to other religions, I’ve realized that all their “faiths” boil down to a form of works-based, performance-based religion. One where they are trained to build up their resume, and one they hand God their resume and expect or hope to be allowed into Heaven based on how righteous they are. It’s fascinating to talk to them. I’ve asked Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and people who are part of the mother-God cult, as well as dozens of others, this question. Okay, let’s say your religion is right, I want to be saved today, what should I do? And unanimously they all respond to that same question the same way, IT’S NOT THAT EASY! What do you mean it’s not that easy? The Bible says, Behold today is the acceptable time! Today is the day of salvation! What do I have to do? After seconds of silence one once said, you have to take the Passover! Or you have to read this book, then you have to read this other book, then you must go door to door and preach our gospel. I just want to scream, Ain’t nobody got time for that! The Bible declares that salvation happens in an instant and that it is the Lord of Glory who gets all the glory by saving individuals and by instantly declaring them righteous. This produces confidence. This produces boldness in the heart of the preacher who knows for certain that he or she will spend eternity in Heaven, and knows that salvation is not dependent on their own ability to perform works, or even their own ability to persuade others. Instead, it is solely dependent on the grace of God. You can stand unashamed of the Gospel because it is an instantaneous act of God on the heart of man.
3) The unbeliever is the ONLY one who should feel shame
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18)
You’re not the one with the problem.
Have you ever come home after work, looked in the mirror and realized there was something in your teeth? What’s your first thought? How embarrassing! Your second thought is probably which one of my friends saw it and didn’t let me know? I’m the one with the problem! I’m the one with the forest growing in my teeth, and yet the people around me felt too embarrassed to say something.
The Gospel is similar. The Bible tells us that man without Christ has God’s wrath abiding on them. That they are on their way to an eternity of torment in hell. And here we are feeling embarrassed to say something.
So many times we talk to atheists and take their word for the fact that they say they don’t believe in God. Yet Paul declares here that everyone believes in God, and yet they suppress that truth in unrighteousness. In other words, atheists don’t exist. Everyone you talk to is simply madly and deeply in love with their sin and unwilling to come to God. And so many Christians stand in front of them embarrassed and sheepish, and yet they stand before someone with a more serious and strong addiction than any drug or alcoholic beverage available in his life. They are a slave to their sin, they have God’s wrath abiding on them, and are the ones who should be ashamed. And we gently, and yet with great eagerness, must love them enough to tell them the truth.
It is going to be pretty difficult to be ashamed of the Gospel when we realize it is the only way to Heaven. It will be difficult to feel shame when we realize that salvation does not depend on us in any way, but it is completely dependent on the grace of God, and ultimately it will be pretty difficult to be ashamed of the Gospel when we see the person in front of us with clear eyes–as a person who is enslaved to sin, who has God’s wrath on them, and whose only hope for salvation is the powerful Gospel that has saved us.