"I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith" - Romans 1:16-17
I want to preach to you this evening from verses 16 and 17 [of Romans 1], under the title 'A Message To Be Proud Of'. The theme of the book of Romans is the righteousness that comes from God, that is, the glorious truth that God justifies guilty sinners, condemned sinners, by grace alone through faith in Christ alone. What that simply means is that we as sinners cannot bring ourselves to God, or curry God's favour by anything that we do or anything that we are. If we're going to come near to God, we must come by grace. Grace simply means 'undeserved favour', God is going to have to bring us to Himself.
Romans reveals the good news of Jesus Christ that, through His only begotten Son, God has paved a way by grace whereby we can come to Him through the Lord Jesus, through His death on the cross, through His resurrection. It is by faith in Him, and Him alone that we can know the righteousness of God. Chapters 1 to 11 present the theological truths of that doctrine: how we can know the righteousness of God, 'justification' we might call it. Chapters 12 to 16 detail its practical outworking in the lives of individual believers, and the life of the church as a whole.
So, though the book of Romans mentions some historical characters and situations, it is not an historical book, it is a work of doctrine. The reason why it is a work of doctrinal teaching is that it is God's inspired book, given to us as an explanation of the Gospel. If you're with us on Sunday mornings, we have begun a study in the book of Mark, the Gospel of Mark, and we looked at the first verse this morning: 'The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God'. In that Gospel, and indeed in many of the Gospels, we have the account - specifically in Mark - of the significance of the cross and Gospel of Jesus Christ. But here in the book of Romans we have, in great detail, an explanation of the Gospel so that we might understand how men can be justified by God.
Verses 16 and 17 crystallise the thesis of the entire book and Paul's argument. In other words, the proposition that Paul desires to prove in his writings: the Gospel of Jesus Christ Paul is setting forth, and unfolding, and explaining to us. The Gospel is the way that men and women, and boys and girls, can be justified in the eyes of God. That's what he does in the following chapters, right through to chapter 16, he seeks to explain the answer to the age-old question that Job asked: how can a man be right with God? Have you ever asked that question? Bildad, Job's friend in another chapter in Job, asked the same question: how can man be justified with God, or how can he be clean that is born of woman?
Here we have in the book of Romans the explanation of God's answer to man's sin problem: how can man get to God? Paul says in the book of Romans: 'Through the Gospel, and here is how it is done...'. The Romans' problem is our problem, the problem of sin. But contextually, in the Roman city where this letter from the pen of Paul was addressed to, they had a similar situation to ours today in our society. Someone has said: 'Today is a consumer society, and religion is no exception'. How true that is! Today there are so many religions to choose from, so many answers given to the question: how can a man be right with God?
There were many answers offered in Paul's day to that same question: how can you be right with God? Rome was, of course, the capital of the Roman Empire, and as such there were about a million people populating that city. Of course, being the capital of an empire that spread over much of the known world, there were many different nationalities that would have congregated through that city. It was the heartbeat of the Empire, and because of the spectrum of nationalities there were obviously different religious persuasions that were represented, and therefore there would have been a plurality of gods that would have been worshipped in the city of Rome. Verse 25 shows us that, Paul addresses the problem of idolatry, men who have 'changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen'.
So there was, if you like, a supermarket spirituality. The consumerist idea had infiltrated into religion. People had different gods. You've heard the saying: 'You pay your money, you make your choice', well it's a bit similar with religion, certainly in the day that Paul was writing to the Romans, and I would vouch to say that it's not much different today. There is an attitude around that 'Well, there are many ways to God - and they're legitimate, some of them, if not all of them'. So there is a plurality of answers given to the question: how can a man be made right with God? Now idolatry always leads to permissiveness, and we have that in verses 26 and 27 - because of idolatry: 'For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet' - homosexuality. Lesbianism and homosexuality that resulted in various sexually transmitted diseases - that we see with us today in our world.
The result of leaving the one true and living God and following other false gods, whatever they may be, is a permissiveness in society. Supermarket spirituality gives way to a supermarket morality. In the same way as men decide: 'Well, I'll choose whatever god suits me', that then leads them to a position where they decide 'Well, I'll taste whatever my sensual appetites desire. Whatever I'm inclined to, or whatever thought crosses my mind, I will follow and obey'. Now, God's word says clearly - this is not very politically correct, but nevertheless we have to preach God's word - in verse 18 God says that He is angry with all violations of His law. 'Worship the Lord and serve Him only, have no other gods before Him. Do not bow down to idols', those are the first two commandments, and God is still angry with those sins today as He was in the days of the Romans, and as He was in the days when Moses wrote those ten commandments. Also He is angry with all immorality, whatever it may be: sexual, ethical - God is angry with that. Verse 18 says: 'The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness'.
Now, I want you to imagine this: in the midst of such a cultural cosmopolitanism, a moral liberalism, and a religious pluralism, this one little Jew, Paul, stands up and says: 'I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power unto salvation to everyone that believeth, to the Jew first and also to the Greek'. In other words, there was only one message that Paul was heralding forth, and it was a message for the masses, it applied to everyone - but there was only one way. Let me share this with you from verse 16, first under this heading: this was a message to be proud of, a message to be proud of - that is our title. Now, even to preach Christian certainty in our society today is frowned upon, especially when you preach it in a cultural, moral and religious hodgepodge environment, where people don't know what they believe, and some people just believe absolutely everything. When you preach certainty, assurance, definite fundamental truth in that environment you're inevitably going to court hostility.
That's what's happening today: people are rejecting the Gospel. Now the great danger is that the Christian and the preacher becomes intimidated by that hostility levelled towards them, but we see here that the apostle Paul refused to be intimidated: 'I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, I am proud of this Gospel'. Now, of course, we're not to be proud in anything of ourselves, anything we are or anything that we do, but it's clear from the New Testament that the only thing and the primary thing that the Christian has to be proud of is the Gospel. We should exalt, uplift the Gospel. Paul said in Galatians 6:14 that he couldn't boast in anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in that he freely boasted. Paul said to the Corinthians: 'I am determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified'. He boasted in this great Gospel, and he didn't care who accepted it, who rejected it, what it looked like to others - he was proud of this message!
Now where did his boasting get him? To what extent was he proud of this Gospel? Well, we know that he was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, he was a Pharisee, his father had been a Pharisee before him, and before his conversion he was a persecutor of the church and actually sought to lead Christians to their death. All of a sudden, miraculously, by God's grace he was converted, and his life was completely turned around. He, who was perhaps the chief persecutor of Christians, became the chief proponent of the Christian faith. He was converted about AD 33 or 34, and in chapter 1 and verse 1 of this epistle we see that he became an apostle. From Acts chapter 9 we find that immediately he was converted, he started preaching this Gospel - the one who once destroyed it became a proponent and preacher of it!
Humanly, this became the primary reason, I believe, for the Gospel spreading across the Roman Empire, because of this one man, the apostle Paul. Three missionary journeys were taken in the Mediterranean world by him, and during that time he never wavered to be proud of this message. He was never ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. On occasion he was falsely accused by the Jews. He was beaten, we read in Acts 21. He was arrested by the Romans, appeared before two Roman governors - Felix and Festus - and then before King Herod Agrippa. He was found not guilty, but pressure was put upon the authorities by the Jews to keep him in prison. After two years, eventually Paul exercised the right of a Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar, and he journeyed to Rome. After two weeks of a stormy trip in a boat, and after a shipwreck, he got to Rome. He was released briefly, and then arrested again, and we know from history that he was martyred around AD 65-67 at 66 years of age approximately. Converted at the age of probably 30, spending 36 years, thereabouts, serving Jesus Christ, suffering for the faith - and not once was he ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, and he went through an awful lot for it!
Why was he not ashamed to such an extent? There may have been those in the city of Rome who despised the simplicity of this message of the Gospel. We know that there were in Corinth and in other places: it was just too good to be true! Too simple! A Gospel of grace? A free Gospel? A Gospel of cleansing from sin just by an act of faith? No works of your own? No trying to achieve, or learn, or earn? Someone put it like this: 'The Gospel of a crucified Jewish carpenter, preached in the street of the Imperial Rome, would have been something to be embarrassed about' - but not Paul. It may have been a stumbling block to the Jew, it may have been foolishness to the Greek, but to Paul: he was not ashamed, it was a message to be proud of - why? Because it's the power of God, the Gospel is the power of God for salvation.
Now Paul's very conversion is evidence of that fact, and Paul's own converts are examples of the Gospel's power. Now that's not pragmatism, to say that just because it works it's right - and that's what a lot of people do today. They say that if a thing works it must be right, that is false reasoning. But the fact of the matter is it works because it is right. We establish, first of all, the authenticity and the truth of what the Gospel is, and who Jesus Christ really was; and when we put faith, exercise trust, in Him and His Gospel we find out that the Gospel works! Its effects are satisfactory and mind-blowing, life-changing!
So, right away we see that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not advice - no. 'Trust Jesus and your life will be a wee bit better, you'll have a spring in your step and a smile on your face' - that is not the Gospel of Jesus. The Gospel of Jesus is not: 'This is the best way to live' - whilst it might be, that's not the Gospel. It's not even advice on how you can make your life a little bit better, or lift yourself up into the standards that God may be pleased with. Let me say this: the Gospel does not give you power to lift yourself up, that's not the Gospel. The Gospel is power in itself, and the Gospel is divine power, God's power to lift men up to Himself! I say that because religion, generally speaking, in its myriad versions, is man's attempt at getting to God, man's attempt at making himself right with God - but the Gospel is the antithesis of that, it is God's attempt to make men right with Himself. God getting to man through the Lord Jesus Christ! It is the power of God! The Gospel - you're sitting here in a church, and there's a pulpit, and a preacher, and pews, and you're all sitting there as a congregation, don't think in your mind that the Gospel is simply a load of words, or a meeting that you come to on a Sunday night, or some verbose speech from a hot-air-filled preacher. It is the very power of God, the Bible says!
This message is infused, invested, invigorated with, the Greek word is 'dunamis', it's the word that we get our English word 'dynamic' or 'dynamite' from - it is powerful! It's not a nameless power, like some New Age force going round in the universe, no: the power of God has a point to it - what is it? It is the power of God unto salvation. Salvation, though it's a religious word to many, it simply means deliverance, it simply means to be rescued - 'From what?', you say. From being lost! Verse 18, God is angry with unrighteousness, and you have unrighteousness in your life. I hope we didn't skip over your sins too quickly when we thought about the unrighteousness that was self-evident in the city of Rome. You've got sin in your life, that is why God's anger is upon us - when we break His law, when we lie, when we blaspheme, when we lust, when we covet, when hate, when we murder. God is angry when we put other things before Him, when we worship idols, even if it is only materialism, worshipping things. God's wrath is against us, but the Bible declares that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the method whereby we can be delivered from that wrath.
Not only are we delivered from wrath and lostness, but spiritual ignorance. You don't have to go round all the cults to find out which one you think is true, or all the religions, the Gospel delivers you from all that ignorance and blind groping in the dark. It brings you to the truth, the self-evident truth, and it delivers you from self-indulgence, from wasting your life away in sin, self-destruction. Most of all, it delivers you from the greatest penalty that our sins have incurred upon us, and that is eternal separation from God forever. My friend, the Bible says that our sins will eventually take us to a place called the lake of fire, where we will suffer the second death - that is what we need to be delivered from. Have you experienced that deliverance? The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, for salvation - it's powerful!
One man put it like this: 'When the Gospel enters anyone's life, it is as though the very fire of God had come upon him. There is a warmth and a light in his life'. One of the early church fathers called Theodoret remarked like this, illustrating this fact, the power of salvation: 'Many things have their own operation hidden from the senses', and he chose a pepper, a black pepper, to illustrate this fact, 'For', he says, 'pepper outwardly seems to be cold, and to those who are unaware it gives no outward appearance of heat, but the person who crunches it between his teeth experiences the sensation of burning fire'. This Gospel to many is just fuddy-duddy religious nonsense, and the Bible testifies that even Jesus Christ, there was nothing in Him that men should desire Him of particular human beauty or regality - but in Him the very power of God is revealed, because He is God's Son, and He went to accomplish God's work in the Gospel. Though men revile it and despise it, maybe you're even here tonight and you detest this Gospel, oh that you would see that the very power of God is in it. Oh that you would see that this message of Christ and Him crucified carries with it the omnipotence of God, His all-powerfulness, for only God's power can overcome our sinful human natures, only God's power can make us right with God. Only God can do it, you can't do that, a church can't do it!
Have you experienced such power in your life? Do you feel your need of it? It is needed to counteract all the other powers in your life: the power of greed, the power of lust, the power of anger, the power of jealousy - all those passions, all those habits, all those things you can't control: this is the only power that can nullify them!
It is a message to be proud of, Paul says, because the Gospel is the power of God for salvation. But then he says that the Gospel is offered to all who believe, that's why I'm proud of it. This is the scope of the Gospel. He says: 'the power of God unto salvation; to the Jew first, and to the Greek'. He combines the Jew and the Greek, and that's signifying the totality of mankind. He is communicating this fact that, yes, the Jew is first of course - that means that he's given priority in the sense that the Messiah came from the Jews, and the Gospel was taken first to the Jews, and that's the pattern that we find in the book of Acts that the Gospel should always be taken to the Jew first - but the point that he's making is: whether you're a Jew or a Greek, in other words a Gentile, a non-Jew, nationality is never a barrier to salvation! God's power in the Gospel is greater than any boundaries, any borders, any cultural differences, any skin tones - it is greater than every type of distinction that is known to mankind!
Now may I apply this, because I feel that this, being the message to the masses, is the message that Ireland, the United Kingdom and the whole of the world needs to hear - a world that is divided by racism, nationalism, fascism, communism, you-name-the-isms. We need to hear in Northern Ireland and on this island of Ireland that there is no difference with God, He is no respecter of persons. Let me say this, and this is controversial and will offend maybe some folk in the meeting tonight, but I've got to stick with God's word: to politicise the Gospel is sin, for this is to the Jew first, and to the Greek. This is something that knows no barrier! All who are saved are saved by the one Gospel, Paul says there are no restrictions at all!
Even when we're converted, the apostle in Galatians says that we become brothers and sisters of one another who were never related: 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ'. The distinctions are erased - why? Because Romans 3:23 says that just as all have sinned, all may be saved! Just as we're all guilty before God, and we've all broken God's law, and we're in this awful lost state needing salvation, needing God's power to deliver us from the power of our flesh and the world and even the devil himself: praise God that all can be saved!
I love the story of the sceptic Edwin Rushworth. He began to read the book he hated so much, the Bible, and he decided he was going to read it an hour every day. The first day: 'Wife', he said, 'if this book is right, we're all wrong'. Then he continued reading for another week: 'Wife', he exclaimed, 'if this book is right, we're all lost'. He went on reading keenly: 'Wife', he said a few nights later, 'if this book is right, we may be saved'. That's the Gospel! That's the message of these two verses, verses 16 and 17. If this book is right, we're all wrong - and we are all wrong. We come to God's holy law and we're condemned, because none of us can live up to it, that's the purpose of God's law: to show us that we haven't a hope of getting to God on our own steam. The conclusion of that is that we're lost, all of us. But praise God, the power of God unto salvation is in the Gospel so that men can be saved! Praise God, Edwin Rushworth and his wife were saved, and they left all their 'ifs' behind them. God's word was true, and they were converted.
Let me say this: the only restriction that there is in the Gospel message and the power of God unto salvation is faith. 'I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to' - who? Everybody? No. To him that believeth. Let me dispel a modern fallacy, because in the spectrum of religious belief that we have today in our world, just like Paul's, people are saying: 'Well, as long as you have faith in a god, or faith in a system, I mean you Christians are always propagating that it's faith that saves'. Whilst we say those words, they are qualified, because it's not 'faith' that saves - no, no. It is faith in the Gospel, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who He is and what He did, that saves. Because there's no power in faith, that's why there's no power in the ecumenical movement or in other religions, because it's this attitude that 'All roads lead to God', and as long as your faith is sincere and devoted that's all that matters - no! Your faith has got to be in the Gospel that's got power in it, and there's only one with God's power, the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
Let me say also that it doesn't matter how weak your faith is in that Gospel, a strong Christ can receive a man or woman with weak faith. That demolishes a number of objections. People say: 'Ach, it's not for me'. Paul says it is for you, if you believe it's to the Jew first and also to the Greek, it's a universal offer. People say: 'Ach, but that's not my persuasion, that's not my way. You know, I was born into this religion, or this denomination'. Listen: banish the thought! Paul says, God's word is saying through Paul: no distinction, all that matters is that your faith is in Christ. What it also does in the converse is that it shatters the faith of anyone who trusts in a church, in a saint, in a catechism, in an ordinance or a sacrament, or a religion or whatever other than Christ, or above Christ, or added to Christ. There's no power in that, that faith will never save, but faith in Christ and Christ alone.
This is an offer that's only to those who believe, but can I finish by saying that this is not just a message to be proud of, but a message to be justified. Paul says in verse 17: 'For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith'. Man's problem is sin. If I can say it, you understand what I mean when I say it, God's problem in bringing man to Himself is His holiness. Our sin is our problem, but God's problem is that He is a holy God and can't look upon sin. So how does He bring us together? The only answer, this is what Romans is telling us, is to give men the righteousness of God, give men the holiness of God - but we certainly couldn't live up to that. How can we have the righteousness of God? Verse 17 says that in this is the righteousness of God given: 'For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith', better translated, 'the righteousness from God, given from God' - the Gospel is the way that God makes men right with Himself, to bring them to Himself, and that is operated by faith in Christ.
The Chinese language is a pictorial language, and the character in Chinese for 'righteousness' is interesting, it is composed of two other characters, separate characters. One represents a lamb, and the other is the word for 'me'. I'm led to believe that when the lamb is placed directly above 'me', there's a new character created that means 'righteousness'. That's the Gospel: the Lamb was put above me, He was made sin for me, He took my place on my behalf, and He came to be the Saviour on God's behalf to bring righteousness to men, to bring satisfaction to God, so that God could bring Himself and men together. He who knew no sin became sin, was made sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him - that is the Gospel! It's not about you, my friend, or what you can do, or how you can be. Horatius Bonar put it like this:
'Upon a life I did not live,
Upon a death I did not die;
Another’s life, Another’s death,
I stake my whole eternity'.
Christ dying for you, bleeding for you, taking your sin - and faith in Him, and that alone. This, Paul says, is the way that God is revealed. It doesn't come through your natural knowledge, or through your religious work or effort, it is the revelation of God; and, as such, all that must be done is for it to be received. How do you receive it? By faith! Oh, I can't make it any clearer. 'From faith to faith', verse 17 says, that means 'by faith from first to the last', faith through and through. To reinforce his point, Paul quotes an Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk 2:4, that: 'The just shall live by faith', or 'He that is just, by faith will live'. Righteousness has been revealed from God in the Gospel, and that righteousness can be received by faith alone in Christ.
Romans 4:5 puts it well: 'And to the one who does not work, but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted unto righteousness'. Now let me ask you very plainly as we close our meeting: have you exercised faith in Jesus Christ and in His Gospel? Let me be plain here. You're saying, perhaps, 'How do I exercise faith?'. Well, faith consists of three things, there are three aspects: one is mental, two is emotional, three is volitional. The mental is: you've got to understand in your mind what the Gospel is all about, and we've been talking about that tonight. You understand the truth of who Christ is, God's Son and also flesh of your flesh apart from sinfulness. Do you understand that? Do you understand that He died for your sin? Do you understand that you cannot earn your salvation, and there's nothing in you that is worthy of God's favour? Nothing! You deserve hell, my friend - but Jesus came to save people like you and me who deserve hell. Do you understand it?
The next step of faith is emotional, that is: 'Saving faith', as one has said, 'is grasping God with the heart'. It is to embrace the truthfulness of the things that you've understood with your mind - that means that you've got to have sorrow over your sin! Not just saying: 'Oh, I wouldn't mind going to heaven one day, I think I'll have that' - no, that consumerism has no part in God's salvation. Sorrowing over your sin means repentance, because repentant faith is saving faith. It also means, not only being willing to turn from your sin and change your mind about what sin does and where sin is taking you, but have great joy at the wonder of God's mercy and God's grace, realise emotionally what He is offering you!
A mental response, an emotional response, and a volitional response - that is your will, your volition. That is, you must submit to Christ's will and trust Him alone as your only hope of salvation. William Gurnall, the Puritan, put it like this: 'Faith has two hands. With one it pulls off its own righteousness, and throws it away. With the other it puts on Christ'. Have you thrown away your own righteousness, and attempts at it, and your unrighteousness, and by faith put on Jesus Christ? Such a faith will always produce obedience.
My friend, let me say tonight: this is the only way to be right with God - through the Gospel - and it requires a response. You must have faith in Christ to be right with God.
Oh Father, what an expression of utter helplessness and abandonment: 'Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling. Naked come to Thee for dress, helpless look to Thee for grace. Foul, I to the Fountain fly; wash me, Saviour, or I die'. Oh Lord, may a sinner, conscious of their sin and their need, come just like that to Jesus; and by faith hide themselves in the Rock. Lord we, Your children, afresh hide ourselves in the cleft of the Rock - for as we have been saved by grace, we don't keep going on in the flesh. It's grace that saves us and grace that keeps us. Lord, if it wasn't for Your grace, none of us know where we'd be tonight. Help all of us, no matter who we are or where we are, to cling always to the cross and hide ourselves in Thee. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the first recording in his 'The Gospel Explained' series, entitled "A Message To Be Proud Of" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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