Romans 1: Not Ashamed

Sermon for June 14, 2020

Have you noticed how often the word “shame” keeps cropping up? I mention this, because in chapter 1 of the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul says that he is not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of those who believe. He’s basically saying he will not be silenced, even if 

at various times and places his message proves to be unpopular.

Paul was eager to preach in Rome and beyond. He wanted to encourage the Roman Christians in the faith and to preach in their city. Because Christ had sent him explicitly to the Gentiles, Paul felt that it was his calling to help the believers in Rome take the message about Jesus out of the Jewish community and to the gentiles before moving on around the Mediterranean.

Because of the power of the message he would bring and the testimony that God would provide through signs and wonders, Paul’s efforts would be noticed. The challenges that he issued to both Jews and Gentiles would generate opposition from the unbelievers, but he was determined not to be shamed into silence.

God Works Powerfully through the Gospel

Paul knew that God works powerfully through the Gospel. Where God wished, his Gospel would create and sustain faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation that he had procured upon the cross. 

Everyone who believed would receive a form of righteousness from God that would bring about major changes in their lives. It would free some from their bondage to self-destructive behaviors and beliefs. Others would be called upon to abandon their illusions of righteousness and repent of sins such as pride and greed. As people came to faith in Christ and received the power of God’s Holy Spirit, positive changes occurred in their lives just as they do today when people come to faith.

The message would change how people thought of themselves, what they believed and how they behaved. Those changes would disrupt their family lives, their working relationships, and as the number of believers increased it could (and historically speaking, did) disrupt the city and the nation.

Cultures React to Radical Change with Opposition and Shaming

People often react to challenges to their cultural norms by shaming those responsible for bringing change. They say things like, “That isn’t how we do things here,” or “How dare you!” 

One of the biggest changes that can permanently alter a culture is a change in religion. That’s because religion is such a big part of everyday life. Many of the traditions and social expectations of a community are a part of the people’s faith. When those traditions and social expectations are threatened communities respond, sometimes violently.

The Gospel Challenged Rabbinic Judaism

For example, consider the challenges that Christianity posed to Rabbinic Judaism. The law of Moses regulated how the people dressed, what they ate, what they did every Saturday, who they could marry, and how they worshipped. Added to this were the traditions of the elders that were intended to help the people avoid violating the Mosaic legislation and the traditions of the synagogue, but according to Jesus, many of the legal decisions codified in those traditions actually made matters worse and got in the way of the people’s relationship with their God.

When Paul came to a synagogue and proclaimed a Messiah who had suffered crucifixion and then rose from the dead it caused great debate for they had expected the Messiah to stoke Jewish nationalism and conquer the world. When Paul said non-Jews could be baptized and be included in the people of God without being subjected to circumcision and other provisions of the law of Moses, it was often received as if he had declared war. And they responded with the same kind of violence that Paul himself had once visited upon the Churches before his conversion. 

The Gospel Challenged Roman Paganism

The challenges to Roman paganism were at least as great. The Romans had never known the true God. They worshipped a variety of gods, any of which were thought to be capable of causing trouble if ignored or offended. The professional guilds often had a patron deity, as did cities and families. Significant life events were celebrated in their various temples. One more God wasn’t necessarily a problem, but that the Christian God was the only true God and that the others didn’t exist was a truth that struck at the very core of Roman society. In Philippi, they had sent Paul away after a flogging and imprisonment. In Ephesus, the craftsmen whose wallets had suffered because of Paul’s preaching started a noisy, public demonstration that nearly broke into a riot.

The Gospel Challenges Many Modern American Attitudes

The Gospel also challenges many modern American beliefs and attitudes. It challenges the self-reliant by pointing out their need for God. It challenges the self-righteous who insist on their goodness and the self-indulgent who insist on their right to various vices and pleasures, by calling both to repentance. But to weak, sinful people and to those who are oppressed, our Gospel presents a God of grace who stands ready to help in their time of need.

The Gospel Reveals the Righteousness of God

It does that by revealing the righteousness of God. And here is where we get to the heart of the whole letter to the Romans. What is this righteousness of God? Although many have thought Paul was speaking of righteousness as a characteristic of God, why would that need to be revealed? As the scriptures say, “Will not the judge of the whole earth do right?” That God does what it is good and right and holy is a given.

What then does it mean? Paul is referring to a righteousness that God gives to those who believe. 

The problem, as Paul points out in succeeding chapters, is that we are not righteous. The Jews who had the law of Moses did not keep it whole and undefiled. The Romans were just as bad or worse. And Americans are no better. What had to be revealed is how sinful, self-centered, self-righteous people could become righteous.  

The answer is that God bestows the righteousness of Christ on all who believe in him.  Then, those who are counted as righteous because of their faith in Christ, live by the that faith.

The Revelation Is Communicated from Faith to Faith

This is the revelation that is communicated from faith to faith. Faith-filled Christians know this righteousness because they have heard the good news that Christ died and rose again that they might receive it and they have gladly accepted it by faith. Having received this faith and knowing that the gift is promised to all who believe, they also speak of it to others. Then, where and when God wills, those who hear believe what has been shared and join them in calling upon Christ to grant them the same gift. This gift, the righteousness of God, is able to save sinners from any nation and any people. It is God’s own power that works salvation for all who believe.

Where This Happens Expect Powerful Change

 When God goes to work expect things to happen. After just a few weeks in Thessalonica Paul’s preaching had cause such an uproar that a mob came to the house of Jason looking for Paul and his companions. When they could not find them, they took Jason before the city authorities saying, “These men who have turned the world upside-down have come here also.”

But it was not Paul and Silas who turned the world upside-down, it was God working through them with his mighty power. God is still working and exerting his power wherever the Gospel is preached. As he works he transforms the lives of those who hear and believe. 

The God who called to the darkness and said, “Let there be light” has called us righteous so that we may become righteous. He has called us saved so that we may be filled with hope. He has called us beloved so that we may love others as he has loved us. Such faith, hope, righteousness, and love can transform entire communities. Even nations. Rome, for example, changed mightily over the succeeding centuries because the Christians refused to be shamed into silence. The faith continued to spread, little by little, until even the emperor was a Christian. 

Therefore, let us not be ashamed of the Gospel, for as Paul says, it is the power of God that has saved us and which through our speaking will save others.

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