This morning we begin a new sermon series in one of the great books of the Bible, Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. The Roman church was not one that Paul had ever visited, yet still he had a great love and deep concern for them, and in verse 10 today says he is always praying for them.
So why did Paul write this letter to Rome, why did he first put pen to paper?
And we too are so fortunate that Paul did write this letter, because throughout church history, over two thousand years, God has continued to use the letter of Romans to work powerfully in the lives of men and women – drawing people to Christ and equipping them for his service.
For example, Saint Augustine and John Wesley were both converted to Christianity whilst reading Romans. And it was whilst studying Romans 1, our passage today, which prompted the young German monk called Martin Luther to discover the Gospel of grace for the first time – a discovery that gave birth to the Protestant Reformation. It is no surprise that Luther called the letter to the Romans the “chief part of the whole Bible” and the “gateway to Heaven”.
Over the next three months we will be taking time ourselves to enjoy this great letter – taking time to upack Paul’s understanding of the Christian life and faith. And we start today by examining Paul’s unapologetic defence of the Christian Gospel – his unashamed faith in Jesus Christ.
The Gospel Paul preached
Do you remember the last time you applied for a job, or applied for a place at a university or college? Normally it involves writing a CV or completing an application form. As well as basic biographical information, you may also be asked to give your personal mission statement, a succinct summary of your career goals and ambitions. Who can forget Captain James T. Kirk’s mission statement in Star Trek: “To boldly go where no man has gone before!”
Companies also have their own corporate mission statements nowadays, don’t they? For example, Cocoa-Cola say its mission is to: “To refresh the world and inspire moments of optimism”. And our current mission statement here at St. John’s is to be “A place of worship where all are welcome”.
In today’s passage the apostle Paul sets out his own mission statement, his goals for his ministry. He does this by giving two “I am” statements that sum up his mission and purpose in life.
So that’s Paul’s mission statement. But what is our attitude to the Gospel? Are we equally eager to share our Christian faith in our community, or are we ashamed of the Gospel?
Both our Bible readings today, from Luke as well as Romans, tells that we have no excuse to be ashamed of Jesus – on the contrary, we can be bold and confident in telling others about him. They remind us that the Gospel message isn’t something shameful, but the power of God for salvation.
The Gospel that’s not shameful
The word shame is often in the news, isn’t it? Journalists love to ‘name and shame’ politicians and celebrities by exposing their embarrassing secrets and bad behaviour. But its not just politicians and celebrities who have a sense of shame, is it? All of us have done things that we would be ashamed of if they became public. If a video of my whole life started playing on the screen now I know there would be lots of things that I would be ashamed of.
But the big question this morning is, are we ashamed of the Gospel? Should we be embarrassed to be Christians? Should we be reluctant to tell others about our faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour? There are plenty of reasons why we might be fearful of speaking openly about our faith. There are temptations to keep quiet about Christ we may well feel in certain situations:
• For example, we might be afraid of getting tongue-tied or confused, and not able to express our Christian belief clearly.
• At other times we may stay quiet about our faith for fear being unable to answer questions put to us by an intelligent friend or neighbour.
• And thirdly, we might fear being ridiculed or rejected for our Christian faith, by people who regard our beliefs as old-fashioned, irrelevant or even bigoted.
These may all sound like good reasons to be ashamed of the Gospel, good excuses to keep quiet about Christ. But the truth is that the apostle Paul faced each of these temptations himself (and worse!) – yet still he remained unashamed of the Gospel:
• For example, in the book of Acts we read that Paul was prepared to explain and defend the Gospel in both Athens and Jerusalem, before the leading intellectuals and expert religious authorities of his day.
• In 2 Corinthians, Paul himself tells us that preferred to face beatings, imprisonment and other persecutions rather than stop telling people about Jesus.
• In Philippians we read that Paul was prepared to sacrifice his status as a Roman citizen and his privileges as a Pharisee, all for the sake of his Christian mission.
• And lastly, in 1 Corinthians Paul tells us that he didn’t stop preaching the good news of Christ crucified, even when people called him foolish and out of his mind.
The Gospel’s saving power
So what sustained Paul’s gospel ministry? What was it about Jesus that made him so bold and completely unashamed of him? I think there are at least three reasons which Paul alludes to in our passage this morning. Three reasons for being bold about Jesus, three reasons which, thankfully, apply as much to us today as they did to Paul two thousand years ago: the Gospel is true, the Gospel works and the Gospel is our calling.
Firstly, the Gospel is true, so we have no need to be ashamed of it. Look again quotation at the end of our reading today, in verse 17. It says “The righteous will live by faith”. Paul is quoting here from Habbakuk, a short book in the Old Testament, to show that his message of salvation by faith is not new or innovative – on the contrary, it is the way God has always saved his people. Moreover, Paul’s Damascus Road encounter with the Risen Jesus meant he knew everything he preached about him was authentic and divinely inspired. The Gospel is true.
The second reason why we should not be ashamed of the Gospel is that it works! As Paul says in verse 16, it is “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes”. The good news of the Gospel message is that whatever guilt or shame we feel for our past behaviour is wiped away by God when we put our faith in Jesus. And in its place we are adopted as God’s children and made heirs to a heavenly inheritance. The Gospel works.
Thirdly, and finally, we should not be ashamed of the Gospel, because Christ calls us to tell others about him. Paul, of course, received his personal call from Christ on the road to Damascus, when Christ appeared to him in a blinding light and commission him to be his apostle.
None of us, of course, has received a command from Christ to share the Gospel quite as clearly and miraculously as Paul did. But nevertheless, Jesus does expect us to share his Gospel as well. Every Christian has his or her part to play in the Great Commission that Christ gave to his followers just before his ascension – the call to “go and make disciples of all nations, to the very ends of the earth”.
Jesus makes this responsibility of every Christian very clear in our reading from Luke chapter 9 this morning, doesn’t he? In verse 26 he utters this challenging statement: “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory”. In short, if we wish to be obedient to Jesus, we will share his Gospel and make his name known. The Gospel is our calling.
So as I finish this morning, I hope we have been reminded and encouraged with the message that the Gospel is true, the Gospel works, and the Gospel is our calling. So with God’s help, let’s be eager and unashamed to share the good news of Jesus with those we meet – our family, friends, and neighbours. We can be confident that the Gospel is true, that it really is the power of God for the salvation for all who believe. We can be confident that Gospel really does transform communities and save souls. And we can be confident that Christ’s Spirit is with us whenever we tell others about him.
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