If you are able to make that mental picture, you might also be able to picture Paul and other Christians in their pagan and idolatrous world. Paul eventually died as a martyr, just as did Stephen, and nearly all of the other apostles. They lived in a world that hated Christ Jesus from every side – Jewish, pagan, Roman and Greek. I have no doubt that there are hundreds of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan – military and civilian – who are children of God and worshipers of Christ. But probably many of them are reluctant to share Christ even with the non-violent Muslims around them. They might not actually say that they are ashamed of Christ, but the fact is – they are. And very, very sadly, so are a great many Christians living in relatively safe North America. We have no reason to fear being shot, or beheaded, or crucified, and yet many of us can’t bring ourselves to speak of our faith out loud.
Despite the danger that surrounded him, Paul told the Romans – as he would to anyone else: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation.” But it is one thing to say “I am not ashamed.” I am sure that most professing Christians would say that sort of thing, but its something else to stand on a street corner in Bagdad and pass out gospel tracts, or to open one’s mouth and preach the Gospel.
Forgetting about any personal danger involved in preaching the gospel to those who were in Rome, for what reason might someone be ashamed of the gospel – no matter how wrong that would be?
What are some reasons that some people are ashamed of the gospel?
Well, some might be ashamed because the gospel is narrow – it is very, very NARROW. I read a very, very stupid statement the other day by the Roman Catholic bishop of Breda, Netherlands. It is not stupid because it comes from a Roman Catholic, because I’m sure that this is a thought that has filled the hearts of thousands of professing Christians from every denomination. Martinus Muskens said, “Allah is a very beautiful word for God. Shouldn’t we all say that from now on we will name God Allah?” No we should NOT say that – because God has revealed His name to us, and it isn’t “Allah.” If you want to call Him “El” or “Elohim,” you have Biblical authority to do so. And if you want to call Him “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” that would be fine, despite the protests of the Jews. But nowhere in the Bible are we given authority to call the Lord “Allah.”
And this points out a tendency that Catholicism and other corrupted branches of Christendom have had for centuries – compromise for the sake of acceptance. In some ways, the Bible is all about narrowing toward specifics in contrast to broadening into generalities. For example, after the repopulation of the world, God sovereignly chose Abraham. Out of all humanity the Lord took someone – ironically, from the area of Iraq – and called him to Himself. We could also say the same thing about Noah, Abraham’s great, great grandfather. And then out of the sons of Abraham, God chose one. And out of the sons of Isaac, God again narrowed His focus and love. Out of all the people of the earth Jehovah (El – Elohim) sovereignly elected to save and keep Jacob. Over and over again, the Lord has been doing this now for thousands of years. And in a sense every time God saves anyone, it is the singling out of one solitary and unworthy soul.
But man has been fighting the Lord’s confinements from day number one. Eve didn’t like being told “no.” Cain didn’t like God’s apparent “preference” of Abel. Nimrod thought that man should have the ability of reaching into Heaven. Esau was temporarily angry that Jacob received the greater blessing of his father. And moving into the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, in an effort to reach the heathen, missionaries of every ilk have been modifying and moderating the gospel in order to impress and attract the unbeliever. It’s not just Catholicism which has sucked in, and sanitized, the idolatry of the heathen. Half the traditions of Catholicism – Greek, Roman and Orthodox – are heathen and not Biblical. And so are half of the activities, music, practices and evangelistic activities of modern evangelicals. For example, how many professed Christian, evangelical churches this month will be hosting haunted houses and Halloween parties in order to reach out into their communities? They might call it evangelism and outreach, but I think that the Lord would call it sinful compromise.
The gospel is narrow – very, very narrow. I remember a Bible conference in Texas years ago, where Forrest Keener was scheduled to preach. Just before his climb the platform, the host pastor, Keener’s closest personal friend, announced that he had specially prepared paper for taking notes on the upcoming message. He said that this was the only kind of paper necessary, because as everyone knew the theology of Brother Forrest Keener is very, very narrow. Everyone got a big kick out of the joke, including Brother Keener. But that is how it ought to be with every gospel preacher – “KNP” – keep it narrow, preacher.
For example there is only ONE God and He exists in only 3 Persons – The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” Paul tells us there in Hebrews 10 that there are no Jewish, Catholic, heathen or Christian sacrifices acceptable before God since the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore he says that Christ is patiently waiting for the day when all his enemies will be reduced to foot furniture. “For by ONE offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” There is no room here for any other Saviour, sacrifice, salvation or hope.
Then too, besides being narrow, the gospel of Christ could be considered DEMEANING. It begins with the reality that all men, whether in Iraq, India, Indiana or Idaho – all men are lost. They are dead in trespasses and sins against the holy God. They are spiritually worthless, without any ability to do anything good in the sight of the Almighty.
The gospel of God is SEVERE. Being as wicked and sinful as the Bible suggests, without the grace of the Lord, we are spiritually lifeless, and every last child of Adam them will spend eternity in the God-designed and energized Lake of Fire. The Gospel doesn’t leave room for a single person to escape without the salvation of Christ. “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.” “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” and “the wages of sin is death.” There is no wiggle-room whatsoever in the Gospel for anyone to escape the wrath of God.
And this exposes another reason why the gospel brings embarrassment to some weak-hearted Christians. To the natural mind the gospel, the gospel of Christ, the gospel of God, is INCOMPREHENSIBLE. To the people of earth who are constantly striving to pat themselves on the back and to point out the few good qualities and tendencies that they have, to be told that the omniscient God can’t see anything good in us, is something that is inscrutable. In fact just about every point of the gospel is unfathomable. How can a sacrifice which was made 2,000 years ago be sufficient for someone today? How can a single sacrifice be sufficient to cover a hundred million sins? How can blood cover sin? How can a human sacrifice be anything but barbaric? You say that Christ is divine, but how can God die? You say that He died, but then you say that He lives – but how? If God was omniscient as you say, and He knew that men would sin, why didn’t He stop them?
The humanistic, philosophical questions go on and on, but without humanistic philosophical answers. This gospel of yours is incomprehensible. Quite true, if you’d like to justify and rectify it rationally. But just as God must be worshiped in spirit and in truth; He must be understood by faith, not reason. When the rationalist puts away his reason, and humbly bows before the cross of Christ, the answers begin flowing down on him like a warm shower on a cold day.
And Paul was just one of those people, but the Lord saved his soul, generated his spirit and changed his heart. Eventually he could honestly say, “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. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”
We could create a long list of reasons NOT to be ashamed of the gospel, but here are just a few.
Even though it is very, very narrow in some ways, in other ways it is universal and completely WIDE-OPEN. “It is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” It is the power of God both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians; both to the wise and to the unwise. Just as Paul could preach that gospel to near savages or the pseudo-intellectuals of Athens, the gospel of Christ meets the needs of Muslims, Methodists, Hindus, Hottentots and the children of Baptists.
And it is the power of GOD. Is the gospel incomprehensible? Yes, in some ways absolutely! But no Christian should to be ashamed of the gospel, because it is of God. It was designed, built and empowered by the inscrutable and mysterious Jehovah. Just because no man hath seen Him at any time, that doesn’t mean that we don’t know He exists. The evidence and proof surround us, like sunshine on a beautiful autumn afternoon. Monday evening about 6:00, I was driving back from Sandpoint and racing along beside me at 65mph was a beautiful double rainbow, appearing to be not more than ten yards from my car window. Don’t the migrating birds bear witness to the Creator? Don’t the conception and birth of a baby?
Not only does the God of the Bible exist, but He has energized His gospel with divine POWER. Not that it is some sort of magic formula or the catalyst to a chemical reaction, but God has made it sufficient to meet the greatest of all human needs. More than we need food and water, more than we need protection from the coming cold, more than we need immunity from disease, we need deliverance from the onslaught of our sins. Just as one bad day, doesn’t necessarily mean a bad week, it doesn’t have to ruin a month or a year. And a year of sickness in person’s life doesn’t mean that it can’t be a good life. Because that single day is just one of a great many days in the average person’s life. How many minutes are there in seventy years – a Biblical life-span? 3.8 million? How many seconds in a Biblical life-time? 2.2 billion? How many average life-times are there in eternity? More than a hundred, million trillion? The gospel of Christ is the only means of preparing a soul for eternity. It is the power of God unto salvation from sin, opening the door for eternity – the single door. Why should I be ashamed of having more concern for that, than for feeding a starving child for a week. Christians have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into thousands of social causes, many of which were probably good and temporarily significant, but compared to the eternal needs of eternal souls, they were as critical as kicking a leaf off a sidewalk lest someone trip over it.
No Christian ought to be ashamed of the gospel, because it is authenticated by PROPHETICAL EVIDENCE. As Paul and Peter, Stephen and Barnabas testified over and over again in the Book of Acts, the message that they were preaching was nothing but the outflowing of the Old Testament. The prophesies and statements of Moses, David, Isaiah and Daniel, were touched by the Person of the Son of God, and became clear and pure before the eyes and ears of all the world. That may not be as important to us, because it doesn’t make much difference to point back 2,000 years or 3,000 – to the New Testament or to the Old Testament, but it was very important to the Apostles to be able to say that even their message was Biblical. They quoted Moses and David, while we quote Paul and Peter, but in neither case, do any of us have cause to be ashamed. Both are Biblical messages; both are divine gospel.
And furthermore we have no reason to be ashamed because of the HISTORICAL EVIDENCE. Paul could point to the biography of his own life and say, “See, this is what the power of the gospel can do.” Even though his testimony may not be quite as dramatic, every Christian should be able to do the same with his life. Look at the barbarians whom the Lord has redeemed, saved, changed and glorified. And take note of those Christians who came from among the Jews, Greeks and Romans. Look and see what God hath done.
And we need not to be ashamed of anything which GLORIFIES THE LORD like this. The Gospel which Paul preached first reduced man to his most basic nature – a sinner before God. That means that Paul considered those people hopeless and helpless. So when the Gospel was presented to one of them, and they humbled themselves before the Lord in repentance and faith, offering God, nothing but absolute surrender, there was no one to praise but the Lord Himself. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.” “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
Even in talking about his ministry of preaching the gospel, Paul didn’t consider himself anything more than an unworthy servant. “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you. For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure, as though we reached not unto you: for we are come as far as to you also in preaching the gospel of Christ: Not boasting of things without our measure, that is, of other men’s labours; but having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly, To preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man’s line of things made ready to our hand. But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” There can never be anything to fear, or of which to be ashamed, if God is properly glorified in it.
Paul was not ashamed to preach the gospel, even if there was danger involved in doing so. We should not be ashamed to share the gospel, either. And no sinner can afford the eternal shame of not believing and receiving that gospel. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”