Embarrassed or Emboldened? (Romans 1:16)
Topic: Romans Passage: Romans 1:16
Embarrassed or Emboldened?
(One Mission: I am Not Ashamed)
September 25th, 2016
I. Take This as Gospel
It's kind of an odd word, isn't it? Gospel.
What do you think most people think about when they hear that word? I would guess many people think about Gospel Music or a particular gospel singer.
Maybe some think about it in a generic way, as in the phrase, “I took it as gospel”.
Maybe certain books come to mind, like The Gospel According to Peanuts, or The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss, or The Gospel According to Coco Chanel, or The Gospel According to Star Trek, or The Gospel According to Starbucks (all real book, by the way).
And maybe, just maybe, some make the connection back to the Bible. For those, what might come to mind are the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But interestingly, that's not how the Bible itself uses the word.
So what is the gospel? Well, our English word is actually an Old English word that, for some reason, never got updated. But just like the original Greek word it translated, the Old English god-spel simply meant “good news”. Why is the gospel good news? Well, that's one the main questions we want to tackle this morning as we dig into Romans 1:16. Turn to Romans 1 if you haven't done so already.
II. The Passage: “I am Not Ashamed” (1:16)
As is our new custom, we heard that verse at the beginning of our time together this morning, but listen again as I read it to you, along with the next verse, verse 17. This is what the Apostle Paul writes to Christians living in Rome, the capital of the Empire. He declares...
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.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
So when we zoom in and focus on verse 6, three questions immediately present themselves: 1) What exactly is this gospel to which Paul refers, 2) why would anyone be ashamed of the gospel of which Paul was clearly not ashamed, and 3) why should we feel emboldened by the gospel rather than embarrassed by it? Let's tackle those question together, using the book of Romans, and some other passages from the NT. Then, and only then, we will be on a firmer footing to talk about what this means for each of us.
1. Not Ashamed of What?
When we turn to that first question about 1:16, it's important to know something about the rest of this letter. We read verses 16 and 17. But if you keep reading, starting in 1:18, Paul begins to talk about this gospel, this “good news” of which he is not ashamed. He specifically starts by showing how every single one of us is guilty before God, how every single one of us is sick with sin; how every single one of us is lost and needy and spiritually dead.
As he goes on to lay out and spell out all this “bad news”, I think there are two passages that wonderfully sum up the “good news” we desperately need to hear, the “good news” of which Paul is not ashamed. First, turn to and listen to Romans 3:21-25a...
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
Now, I know listening to those verses is almost like trying to drink from a fire hose, but let me summarize what Paul just declared: Though we are all unrighteous, we can, by His grace, stand in righteousness before God through faith in Jesus, who died to cover our unrighteousness.
Now listen to a second passage from Romans that I believe summarizes this good news so beautifully...
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:6-10)
So here we have some similar elements, but some new ones as well. The gospel is about the love of God for his enemies (sinners), love expressed so clearly and powerfully in the giving of His Son over to death, that we could be justified and reconciled to Him. And not only does the death of Jesus rescue us, but also the life of Jesus, that is, the resurrection life of Jesus.
So from those two passages, I think we could say that the gospel of which Paul is not ashamed is the good news of God's love for guilty sinners, manifested in the death and resurrection of Jesus, who through his death ransomed us for God.
2. Reasons to be Embarrassed?
But that wonderful news forces us to deal with the second question we might ask of this passage: why would anyone feel ashamed or be embarrassed of this “good news”?
Well, Paul's letter to the Romans does not give us any explicit answers to that question. But clearly Paul's words here in 1:16 are addressing the tendencies or temptations of at least some in this church. So what might the rest of the NT reveal about why some might be ashamed of, or at least tempted to be embarrassed about the gospel.
Let me give you five verses that provide some answers.
First, Acts 19:26, 27...a silversmith named Demetrius said this to his fellow craftsmen in the city of Ephesus...”And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods.  And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”
Christians were often called “atheists” in the first centuries of the Church because they did not believe in the pagan gods and support the social structures built on belief in these gods.
Second, I Corinthians 1:26-28...For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are...
The early church was largely composed, throughout the Roman Empire, of those from the lower classes, even slaves.
Third, I Peter 4:3, 4...For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.  With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you...
Christians often lived very distinct lives from most of those in the rest of the society. They may have been maligned as prudish, self-righteous, and narrow-minded because of their morality.
Fourth, II Timothy 1:8...Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God...
Paul's encouragement to Timothy reminds us that many Christians were tempted to not associate with fellow believers who were being mocked, marginalized, or worse.
Fifth and finally, I Corinthians 1:18...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.
A crucified Savior, a crucified God, would have seemed ridiculous to many in the ancient world, since crucifixion was a degrading penalty meant only for slaves and criminals.
So as you can see, there were many temptations toward embarrassment in the First Century. But Paul will have none of it, will he?
3. Reasons to be Emboldened!
Paul pushes back in Romans 1:16 and reminds the Christians in Rome that they should not be embarrassed by the gospel, but emboldened by it. Why, well look at the reasons he gives in our main verse.
The gospel is first, powerful. It is not weak, empty, ineffective, or insignificant.
Second, the gospel is the most powerful kind of powerful, because it contains the power of God himself. Forget the office of the President or nuclear fission, forget the latest lithium battery technology or a 9.5 earthquake, we're talking about real power; the power of the One who made all things and upholds all things; who is over all things.
Third, the gospel manifests God's power for salvation, for deliverance, for rescue, for redemption. We already talked about the gospel being the “good news” ofGod's love for guilty sinners, manifested in the death and resurrection of Jesus, who through his death ransomed us for God.
And verse 17 reinforces that summary by pointing us back to the righteousness it gives to those who trust in Jesus. It is a righteousness that comes through faith alone, by God's grace alone. Faith is the empty hand of the heart receiving the righteousness of Jesus himself, so that we who are unrighteous can belong to God.
Fourth and finally, this “good news” is for everyone, not just the pretty and privileged and powerful. As Paul put it in 1:14...I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. All are welcome. This redemption is not only available to all, it is effective for all, regardless of who you are, what you look like, where you come from, what you've done or what's been done to you. All are welcome.
So far from being embarrassed, Paul is emboldened. For him, being ashamed of the gospel is like a doctor being embarrassed about having the antidote to a deadly plague; like a lawmaker being embarrassed of a bill to create a million new jobs; like a rescue worker being embarrassed of his helicopter, when people are huddle on the roof a burning building; like Luke Skywalker being embarrassed about his X-Wing fighter, or of the Force, as he flew down that Death Star trench; like a mother in a grocery store being embarrassed of a wad of $100 bills when her children are starving at home.
Listen to the verse again: 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.
III. Facing Our Own Feelings
So what does all this talk about the gospel and Paul and the Christians in Rome and perspectives in the First Century mean for us in the Twenty-First Century?
Well, I think there are many reason why this is significant for us today. But what is of incredible importance is how this verse, Romans 1:16, confronts you and me about our true feelings concerning the gospel of grace.
Through Paul's statement, God wants to ask you personally, “Are you embarrassed or emboldened by the gospel?” And in the context of chapter 1, in the context of this letter, your answer to that question will either by supported or considered suspicious by your involvement or lack of involvement in God's “One Mission”.
In most cases, this embarrassment is not a temptation when we're with God's community, but rather, when we are out in our communities, for God. Isn't that what Paul's talking about here, about sharing, about declaring the “good news” of Jesus? Look back at 1:13...
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.  I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.  So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome (and I believe he means “you” as in citizens of the city).
Are you eager to preach the gospel with those who come into your circle? My question is not necessarily about whether or not you struggle to share the gospel. There could be many reasons for that kind of struggle. Some don't feel like there is an “open door” to share. Some aren't sure how to share the “good news”. God's question to you is not simply about struggling, but about feeling ashamed.
In principle, all of the same reasons the Roman believers were tempted to be ashamed of the gospel are still with us today. I say, “in principle”, because they all have to do with the world's values and the opinions of others. Aren't those still temptations today? To be labeled narrow-minded or intolerant? To be labeled a “Jesus freak”? To be associated with extremism or ignorance or a judgmental, self-righteous attitude? Of course those are still issues today.
And I would dare say all of us have given into those very temptations, caring more about the approval and acceptance of others than the approval and acceptance of God, which ironically are the very things the gospel makes possible.
But if you are willing to acknowledge those times of embarrassment, if you don't want to give in to that temptation or feel that way, if you want to declare with Paul, from the heart, “...I am not ashamed of the gospel...”, then what can you do? I think you can stop and camp on just one word from 1:16...everyone. A couple things to think about regarding that word.
First, “everyone” includes you. Have you experienced the reality that the gospel is the power of God for salvation? For some who come to church, the gospel is only a doctrine to affirmed and studied, not a power to be experienced. But if that's the case, we have a far bigger problem than feeling embarrassed. We can only be emboldened for God's work when God's work has taken place inside us. But if it has, you need to remind yourself of that story, and be emboldened by that power for your salvation. Paul certainly did that.
Second, “everyone” includes everyone. I believe reading about and hearing from those who have experienced this gospel power does in fact embolden you. It helps us fight temptations toward embarrassment by reminding us that no one is beyond God's reach and no human argument is above God's word. How could you not be emboldened when you hear about the power of God at work in the life of the rebellious teen, in the life of the militant atheist, in the life of the junkie, or the successful millionaire, in the life of the womanizer...
...in the life of the scientist, in the life of the self-righteous, in the life of those immersed in the LGBT community, in the life of the confessing Hindu, or Muslim, or Mormon, in the life of the hostile, the indifferent, the proud, the closed off, the capable, confident, and competent.
“Everyone” means everyone. Including the family member, co-worker, or neighbor in your circle.
Do you feel emboldened, even by our time together this morning? God, through the very power we've been celebrating, God wants to help you face feelings of embarassment and be emboldened instead; emboldened to share the “good news” with those who so desperately need to hear it, and maybe first, see how it changes lives through your changed life.
Let's pray and ask God to help us in these very ways, so that He might be glorified, and those around us might experience this gospel power.
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