Are You Ashamed? Roman Road 4

The Shame of the Gospel

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. Is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes — Jews first and also Gentiles. (NLT) Romans 1:16

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I love to read this verse in the colloquial paraphrase of the New Living Translation. It’s not that there is a deficit of clarity in the NIV or the KJV; both are very clear in conveying the message. What makes this translation of the verse stand out is the use of the term ‘good news’ in place of the well-known word gospel. I’m stopped short to immediately ask why a person might possibly be ashamed of good news.

Living as a Christian for any length of time means that you have had the experience of antagonism to some degree about your belief. Not unexpected from the modern atheists such as Sam Harris but less so from the humanist forces of modern culture, the flying–spaghetti–monster contingent. Family and friends may be subtler in their disregard or disdain for your faith in Christ, but ultimately the objective of these forces is to call you into questioning your belief.

When Paul records this verse he is facing a much more sophisticated attempt to shame him into silence. To one group of addressees the good news contradicted their belief in salvation by behavioral control. To a deeper level it challenged their assurance in being the chosen people. To the other group, the gospel made no philosophic sense. Why would God require the death of his beloved son in order to atone for the sins of total strangers? That is a weak god who cannot make the problem simply go away and who demands such a high price of expiation.

The gospel is both blindingly clear and wrapped in subtleties. Shame or embarrassment at believing in the power of the gospel unto salvation is often rooted in a weakness in our discipleship. How many of us can explain the gospel of Jesus Christ with clarity? How many of us are prepared to place that gospel in the context of our loved ones or even a stranger? Am I prepared to lovingly explain why a self-sufficient neighbor is in ‘need’ of the Savior?

To be a disciple is to understand why the gospel is offensive. It is to test our own beliefs about the good news. Consider for example that we must accept that salvation is free and undeserved. This means that there is nothing good in us worthy of this gift. This means that we cannot earn this gift. This means that we are so lost that the only means of salvation is via the God provided Son of Man dying. The gospel offends by informing us that we cannot be good enough or spiritual enough or anything enough. Salvation is out of our hands.

Even within the family of God the true gospel is offensive. It is not a promise of prosperity and perfect health. Instead, as Bonhoeffer famously states, Christ bids a man to come and die. The gospel is an invitation to suffer, to die to self and to serve a new lord and master, Jesus Christ. The offense of the gospel to modern culture is that it demands that we leave self behind and become servants of God.

Paul had every cultural reason to be ashamed of the gospel as he prepared to journey to Rome. There is much similarity between the culture of Rome and that of the modern-day. Christians are tolerated so long as they remain in their sanctuary and butt out of cultural issues. But that’s not the gospel. The good news is that because of the sacrifice of Jesus, his righteousness is credited to us. In accepting that credit, we commit ourselves to him as Lord and Savior. He is clear in his command that is servants engage the world, that we not shirk this responsibility because we are ashamed. Buried in this verse is a challenge: to whom will you pledge your allegiance?

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Cor 1:18

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A Disciple Walks the Roman Road 3

I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.

That this would be said of me! We’re culturally driven to be noted for our actions, our material acquisition or our leadership and Christ followers are not immune to this temptation. Even those self-styled saints who attempt to mirror the selfless, wanted-to-be-anonymous Mother Theresa but whose ministry is built on being known for their giving-up-everything-to-follow-Christ fall prey to this attraction.

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But to be known for the depth of our faith alone, this is an objective worth pursuing. Known for a faith that perseveres despite persecution. Known for a faith that isn’t swayed by cultural trends or threats. Known for a faith that is a model for others. That would honor Christ.

And it’s dangerous as well. To be known means that we’re known. If we’re following the example of St. Paul we seek not to be known for anything in ourselves. We desire everything we do to point to Christ and away from ourselves.

This is a very narrow wire on which we walk. If I’m not know for my faith am I a failure? If I am known for my faith have I taken what rightly belongs to the Lord? The tension of the Kingdom and the Gospel can be felt but we can also succeed. Follow me as I follow Christ.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:8

A Disciple Walks the Roman Road 2

To walk the Roman road is to walk with the Apostle Paul. Not always the most pleasant of company but one who will always make you consider your spiritual state. He told us the kind of company that he would be in a letter he wrote two years previous, “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Co 11:1) As we reacquaint ourselves, preparing to embark on this journey, the apostle is quick to help us in finding the proper attitude: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus.”

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We step onto the Roman road not as conquerors ready to declare the edicts of the king. Rather, we start the journey as servants. I find this to be an incredible opening statement for such a rich theological book, especially a book that has been the foundation of so much of the church’s belief and practice for the past two millennia. Paul does not set out to provide a systematic theology meant to be the standard for the church age. Instead, he sets out on a heartfelt mission to declare the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ and its all-encompassing span. Keen students of the Bible will take note of this attitude and it will affect the way in which we hear everything that follows.

A servant brings no message of his own but relays what his master has told him. We know from experience Paul’s heart for Israel and we recognize this will color some of the more impassioned pleas. The gospel underpinnings, on the other hand, are not emotionally recorded but spiritually inspired. The tension between these two voices in the letter contribute to its power.

As I read–as we read—we’re initially called to examine our own attitude with regard to the gospel. Have we lost the awe of what Christ has done on our behalf? Is the gospel become a battleground over which we divided theologically rather than a gift of God given to be shared to the very ends of the earth? I’m humbled to remember moments where I have stood in the camp of the latter or, in my busyness, taking the former for granted. Quietly reconsidering a portion of the letter often dismissed to get to the “meat” I’m deeply grateful that the spirit has slowed me down to consider my worthiness to walk with Paul down this road to Rome.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:1 – 7