“For 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,” Romans 1:16.
This is a text that I am sure every true gospel preacher has preached from at least once. Most will have visited it many times in their ministry. It is a wonderful compendium of gospel truth!
The apostle Paul was truly a great man though he never attained to the realms by which worldly men today measure ‘greatness’!
Those whose faces and names frequently, if not ‘ad nauseam’, appear in news reports, will undoubtedly be forgotten, long before 2000 days are passed, never mind 2000 years!
It is believed that it was around AD 68 that the great man was put to death by the Roman Caesar, Nero. It is believed that he was converted to Christ (Acts 9:1-18) around about the early AD 30s. That means that he lived as a Christian and fervently served the Lord for some 35 years.
In those years, he left an indelible mark upon human history. He is still a guide, an inspiration, a pattern (1 Timothy 1:16) and an example to the countless millions of Christians who have sought to obey the gospel Paul preached and follow Christ.
In our verse Paul speaks of being unashamed of the gospel. Without doubt there were many things regarding himself that Paul was ashamed of. He said of himself, “I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God,” 1 Corinthians 15:9. Paul never forgot his shameful pre-conversion days. His heart burned with a hatred for Christ, His Word and His people. His spirit is displayed to us in Acts 9:1. “And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord,” Acts 9:1. He was ‘dragon-like’ in his fury against God and His people!
I recall, while a ministerial student (1965-68), Dr John Douglas, in our English Bible studies, saying it was likely that the memory of his former fury against the Lord that motivated him in his gospel labours and spurred him on so that he could later rightly claim, with due acknowledgement of God’s grace in it all: “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me,” 1 Corinthians 15:10.
He not only surpassed the labours of his fellow apostles, but I believe that he suffered for Christ more than they all. Of this he was warned on the day of his conversion. The Lord sent Ananias, a disciple in Damascus, to help Paul (or Saul as he was then known). “But the Lord said unto him (Ananias), Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake,” Acts 9:15-16.
And suffer he did as he later testified. “In labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?” 2 Corinthians 11:23-29.
These words tell us of his zeal for the Lord, his indifference to what he had to endure to spread the gospel, his courage and his patient endurance. He is indeed an example for every Christian today.
Please come to the famous verse 16. “For 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 and note:
I. WHATEVER PAUL HAD TO BE ASHAMED OF IT WAS NOT THE GOSPEL!
He tells us why he was not ashamed of the gospel.
1. Because by the gospel God puts forth His power. It has often been emphasised by preachers that the word ‘power’ is a translation of the Greek word ‘dunamis’, a word from which we get ‘dynamite’ , a powerful explosive material.
There can be no doubt that God has used the preaching of the gospel to ‘blow up and destroy’ the devil’s kingdom throughout the years and is still doing that.
Furthermore, the ‘power’ of the gospel has been felt by sinners as it has demolished all their false notions and hopes and brought down all their delusions regarding their own ability to get to heaven by their own works and left their expectations in the dust. It takes the powerful denunciations of our self-righteousness, such as the words of Paul in Romans, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; . . . . For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord,” Romans 3:23, 6:23, to make us see the helpless state we are in. Only the power of God can disabuse sinners of the misconceptions they hold regarding themselves.
It was that power at work that brought about the most wonderful change in the thinking of the thief on the cross who repented of his sins and turned to Christ in faith after he had been most wickedly opposed to the Saviour.
“Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left. And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth,” Matthew 27:38-44.
The repentant thief’s change was most remarkable. Luke records his conversion.
“And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise,” Luke 23:39-43.
His conversion and the circumstances in which it took place stand as a confirming witness of the power of the gospel for it was presented to him in the words of the mockers of Christ, the sign erected over His cross and His holy demeanour and prayer, uttered but moments before the conversion of the thief.
“And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” Luke 23:33-34.
2. Through the gospel God reveals His righteousness. “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed . . .” That is, (the word means purity, virtue) that righteousness of God which is seen in Christ obeying all the precepts of the Law of God on behalf of His people, and bearing the penalty of the law in their place, and by which they are justified in the sight of God.
The gospel reveals to men that wonderful plan of deliverance which is beyond their ability to envisage and which they, without divine grace, cannot take in. John stated the matter so: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” 1 John 4:10. Isaiah, some 700 years before had referred to this same marvellous mercy. “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted,” Isaiah 53:4.
How could anyone be ashamed of such a revelation of kindness and mercy toward undeserving men? Again, we have John to thank for the gloriously simple and succinct summary of the gospel.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God,” John 3:16-18.
3. Through the gospel is revealed the means by which men are justified. Job asked the question and this shows how long the matter has puzzled mankind: “I know it is so of a truth: but how should man be just with God?” Job 9:2.
This word ‘just’ is a legal term, and is the opposite to ‘condemnation’. It signifies a man being pronounced righteous in a judicial way in the sight of God, accounted by God to be without sin. How can such a thing be, has ever puzzled fallen man. Indeed, it is a question that the best of men had no answer to, no not even the angels in heaven.
“Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into,” 1 Peter 1:10-12. The final words denote the angels ‘stooping down to examine’ the means of salvation as set forth in the gospel.
How could we ever be ashamed of that which the angels so admired and regarded so highly!
II. ONE OF THE CHIEF GLORIES OF THE GOSPEL IS THE WONDROUSLY SIMPLE MEANS BY WHICH IT IS APPROPRIATED
On one occasion Paul was asked by a deeply troubled sinner how he could be saved. I refer to the Philippian jailer. “Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house,” Acts 16:30-31. That is what our text says. “It is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth”.
1. Let me define faith for you. I will do so in the words of a little gospel chorus taught to children world-wide. “FAITH is just believing what God says He will do!”
On one occasion Paul, in the midst of a storm that threatened him and the lives of all on the ship by which he was being transported as a prisoner to Rome, spoke words of assurance to his fellow travellers, the words of comfort given him by the Lord. “But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me,” Acts 27:21-25. Note his final words. “I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.” That is faith defined. To believe the gospel is take Christ at His Word when He says: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him,” John 3:36. Faith is simply embracing the words of mercy in the gospel and resting upon them. As John says: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name,” John 1:12. To receive Christ is to respond to His command to embrace Him. No better illustration can be given than the words of the Saviour in Revelation 3:20. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”
2. Sadly this is so simple that most reject it, believing that they must DO something more than resting upon God’s promise! That is why Cain erred and brought the fruits of his own labour as a sacrifice to God. “And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD,” Genesis 4:3. His sacrifice was rejected while his brother, Abel’s was accepted by God. What was the difference? Abel believed God and brought that which God required — a lamb. The lamb symbolised the “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” John 1:29. Having heard God’s promise of mercy, Abel brought the lamb as a testimony of his faith in God’s promise and thus was accepted of God.
Sadly, most are like Cain! They feel that they MUST contribute something to their salvation! It cannot be so simple as believing and resting in God’s promise!
But it is that simple. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” ‘HATH’ — present tense! The one who believes the gospel ‘possesses’ everlasting life! Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, “By grace ye are saved,” Ephesians 2:5. He did not tell them a lie when he told them that they were saved as a result of believing the gospel.
3. This doubting of what God says will cost men their souls. “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death,” Revelation 21:8. The Saviour plainly warns of the consequences of unbelief. Heed the warning of the Bible. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him,” Hebrews 2:3.
III. PLEASE NOTE THE FACT THAT THE GOSPEL IS FOR ALL MEN.
“To every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek”.
1. We are reminded of the favoured position of the Jew. Many despise the Jewish race. That is true for a number of reasons. Th chief reason is because they are beloved of God. Yes, they crucified the Lord of glory but they suffered terribly for that crime ever since. However, that does not mean that the ‘nation’ is cast off by God eternally. No, their very chastening denotes God’s continuing love for that people. “And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” Hebrews 12:5-7.
That chastening will end one day and the Lord will gather in mercy the remnant alive on the earth when He returns. “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer,” Isaiah 54:7-8.
There is a great future for this presently troubled and afflicted people. “And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath driven thee, And shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; that then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee: And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers,” Deuteronomy 30:1-5.
There was a token of the favour with which the Lord still looks upon that people seen in the final command of the Saviour to His apostles. “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem,” Luke 24:47. Who can for one moment claim that the Jew has been utterly forsaken of the Lord when He issued such a merciful command but days after they had crucified Him!
2. The gospel is also for the Greek. From a biblical point of view there are only two types of people — the Jew and the non-Jew, or the Greek, or to use another biblical word, the Gentile. All non Jews, irrespective of colour, creed or race are Gentiles. What a plethora of religions are represented by that one word. Man has invented to himself a host of gods and religions all with their own way of reaching heaven, though all have this in common — they all teach that it is by our WORKS that we get to heaven.
In that they defy God for He says, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life,” Titus 3:5-7.
To a world steeped in darkness and defiance of God’s Word there has been sent the message of salvation.
3. How glorious is the power of the gospel that such an infinite variety of moral woes, as afflict mankind, may be wonderfully cured by it! It is said of the Lord Jesus that during His ministry here on earth He “went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him,” Acts 10:38. It is further stated of His ministry that “many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. . . . . This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen,” John 20:30-31; 21:24-25.
That which the Saviour did during His three years of ministry amongst men, He has been continuing through the preaching of the gospel by His people. What the apostles accomplished in their day and which has been accomplished in the many intervening years of gospel witnessing, has been by the grace and power of God alone. Recall please what Mark wrote. “And they (the apostles) went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen,” Mark 16:20.
Yes, whatever has been accomplished through the gospel we must say: “This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes,” Psalm 118:23.
Amen and Amen.
Rev Ivan Foster (Rtd)
12th August 2023