Romans 1:16 begins with the word “for.” Whenever that word begins a verse, what follows gives a reason for some previous statement. Paul had said, “I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are in Rome also.” He desired to go to Rome, but was “let,” or hindered hitherto, and he prays for a prosperous journey according to the will of God. What accounts for his eagerness and his zeal? “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”
That must be your and my confession too. Personally the confession that we are unashamed of the gospel is important because the gospel is the power of God to salvation in our souls. I do not say it must be the power in your soul. The text is not a call that the gospel be the power that moves your soul. The gospel is that. It is that because it is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes, in you and me too. To be ashamed of the gospel would be to be ashamed of the only power that works salvation in your hearts, in my heart, and in the hearts of everyone who believes.
In the text the Scriptures teach us that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. The word “gospel” means glad “tidings.” In the context the gospel is called “the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:2). The gospel is the gospel of God because he is the author it of and works salvation by it. In our text the gospel is called the gospel of Christ. That phrase means exactly what the apostle said earlier: it is “the gospel of God…concerning his Son Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:2–3). The gospel is and can be only about Jesus Christ. The gospel, then, is the glad tidings from God to his people in the world concerning God’s Son, Jesus Christ, as the fulfillment of God’s promise and the salvation of all who believe in him.
According to the apostle the gospel contains two basic elements: “which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures, Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:2–4). That is the gospel.
Between those two events stands the cross. Christ was born to die, and he was raised because in his death he effectually accomplished salvation. The gospel at its heart is the cross. The gospel is the glad tidings that the Son of God—God—came in the flesh, died according to the flesh in payment for the sins of God’s people, to pay their debt to God and to earn for them by that death eternal salvation.
The gospel is the heart of Christianity. What we mean is that every truth of the Christian faith is the gospel. If the gospel concerns Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” then the gospel is very simply the whole truth of Jesus Christ.
The gospel of Jesus Christ includes all of Scripture. This is the teaching of the apostle when he says, “which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures.” When the apostle says “the holy scriptures,” he is referring to the Old Testament. That Scripture contains the promise of the gospel. That promise he fulfilled in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. It was the gospel of Christ as he also spoke it through his apostles and set it down in the New Testament.
Where do you find the gospel? In Holy Scripture! The content of Scripture is nothing less than the gospel, and the whole of Scripture is the promise of the gospel, the revelation of the gospel, and the doctrine of the gospel.
That gospel is also preached. The apostle says, “I am ready to preach the gospel at Rome.” Wherever the Scriptures are faithfully preached, there is the gospel. That is the means by which the gospel comes to us to today, as it came to the Romans in their day.
The Gospel’s Power
When the apostle says, “for it is the power of God…” he begins to give his reason why he is not ashamed of the gospel. He is not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God.
A power is the ability to accomplish some purpose. The word “power” is the word in the Greek from which we get our English words dynamic, dynamite, and dynamo. A dynamic speaker is a powerful, effective speaker who moves his audience to sympathy, action, or whatever his purpose might be. Dynamite has the power to explode rocks. A dynamo—an electric generator—has the power to generate electricity. Wind is the power to move a gigantic sailboat or to destroy a house. Likewise, the gospel is a power.
The gospel is the power to accomplish salvation.
The salvation that the gospel works is salvation from this world: its folly, guilt, pollution, death, misery, corruption, and from the wrath of God to come.
The gospel is the power of God to salvation that consists in righteousness. A man cannot be saved apart from righteousness. God loves the righteous, blesses them, and saves them. God hates the unrighteous, curses the wicked, and damns the ungodly.
That saving righteousness is righteousness in the legal sense of acquittal in the judgment of God. That righteousness is also righteousness in the ethical sense that being justified, we are also transformed according to the image of God in Jesus Christ. The gospel is the power of God to salvation that consists in this righteousness.
The gospel is the power to salvation because “therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith.” The phrase “righteousness of God” refers to the perfect and complete righteousness and so many holy works that God worked out for his people in Jesus Christ at the cross as the only ground of their salvation, and as the pattern of their spiritual transformation.
The apostle is giving the reason that the gospel is the power of God to salvation. In the gospel God reveals the righteousness of God by forgiving the sins of his people for Christ’s sake and imputing his righteousness to them. By the gospel God reveals the righteousness of God by transforming the justified sinner and giving new life to him.
The gospel is the power to salvation because it is “the power of God.” That it is the power of God means that God himself accomplishes salvation by the gospel in the hearts and lives of his people in the world.
The gospel is the power of God to salvation. Not an offer of salvation; not might be; not could be; not should be; but it is. When God purposes to save a man by the gospel, then the gospel cannot be refused, rejected, or resisted, but God delivers the gospel into that man’s heart, acquits him of his sins, imputes Christ’s righteousness to him, and on that basis frees him from sin’s bondage, pollution, and corruption.
The gospel alone is the power of God to salvation. God only uses the gospel. He does not use anything else, because he will glorify his Son who is the content of the gospel.
The gospel— all of it—is the power of God to salvation, because God will not have his Son denied in the least.
The gospel is the power of God to salvation “to everyone that believeth.” When the gospel comes and is delivered by God into the soul of a man or a woman, that man or woman believes. They infallibly believe. They cannot help but believe. As the wind comes irresistibly, so the grace of God in the gospel irresistibly gives faith. He works every aspect of faith, including the will to believe, the power to believe and the act of believing, and saving righteousness by faith.
Faith, then, cannot be a condition. Faith is a benefit of the gospel given graciously, and not a condition of the gospel that man must fulfill, not even a condition that he fulfills by grace. Teach that faith is a condition, and one denies the gospel.
The importance of this point is that by faith we are justified and saved, so that if faith is man’s work, then salvation is man’s work; but if faith is the gift of the gospel, then salvation is too. The text speaks of this when it says, “as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” That means that a man who is righteous by faith only, not by his works, shall live.
Being Unashamed of the Gospel
Of that powerful gospel the apostle is unashamed.
We can more easily understand this if we examine what the opposite means. To be ashamed is be embarrassed. If a man is ashamed of the gospel, he is embarrassed by it. Being embarrassed by it, he is silent about it, eventually denies it, and soon forsakes it. Being ashamed of the gospel is bad because it is the power of God to salvation, so that in forsaking the gospel one forsakes the only power to salvation.
Such shame for the gospel manifests itself by open renunciation of and opposition to the gospel, as well as one’s shamelessly teaching false doctrine.
There are, however, other ways than this bold renunciation of the gospel that shame as the gospel manifests itself.
Many are ashamed of the preaching of Scripture. Many pulpits that should proclaim the gospel proclaim everything except the gospel, so that the pulpit becomes a platform for the proclamation of the latest in social or political activism, the gospel being deemed a sorry method for the advancement of earthly agendas and earthly kingdoms.
Many are ashamed of the doctrines and teachings of Scripture. In their college lectures they are ashamed that the gospel teaches that God made the earth in six days. Being ashamed, they teach some form of evolutionism.
In their preaching they are ashamed that the gospel says that God elects and reprobates. Being ashamed they rarely, if ever, preach it.
In their seminaries they are ashamed that the gospel teaches that salvation is not by works, because they say that doctrine will make men careless and profane. Being ashamed of the gospel, they teach justification by works.
In their counseling rooms they are ashamed that the gospel demands suffering for the child of God, brings a sword into his relationships in the world, home, and workplace, and calls him to be at enmity with world and separate from impenitent sinners. Being ashamed of the gospel, they teach otherwise.
Being ashamed of the gospel, they will not defend that gospel when it is attacked at their church assemblies, in their church papers, in the books of their colleagues, or in their presence. The explanation of the silence of many in defense of the gospel is that they are ashamed of it, deeming it unworthy of even a tepid defense.
Being ashamed of the gospel, a man is silent. He does not speak it when called, confess it when demanded, or preach it when sent.
Such an attitude is not the attitude of the apostle. He is unashamed of the gospel. Upon the Christ of the gospel he relies entirely for his own salvation, and upon the power of that gospel he depends absolutely in all his work in the churches. Because he is unashamed of the gospel, he is ready to preach it at Rome.
The apostle might have had a reason to be ashamed of the gospel if the gospel was only words, so that it did not accomplish what it said. But like the wind moves a sailboat, dynamite explodes rocks, and generators produce electricity so does the gospel effect salvation.
He might have had a reason to be ashamed of the gospel if the gospel did not deliver more than Rome gave. But the gospel is the power of God to the greatest good, a good so great that if a man should lose all, life included, and have the gospel, he has gained the world: salvation from sin, righteousness, and life everlasting.
The text then also speaks to the Christian young person and to us as members of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
First, you and I may not be ashamed of the gospel. If the gospel is the power of God unto your salvation, then you will not be ashamed of it either. That too is the power of the gospel. By nature we are ashamed of the gospel. The gospel gives faith and by faith boldness. As the Psalter number says “Thy truth before the kings of earth with boldness I will speak.”
Second, confessing the gospel, we will not be put to shame. We may suffer in this life, but we are living heirs of the world to come, to an inheritance reserved in heaven for us. Such was the experience of the apostle for his boldness in the gospel. He would come to Rome, but as a prisoner for the gospel’s sake. He would preach in Rome too, and for it lose his head. But he gained that crown of righteousness laid up in heaven for him.
Third, the gospel speaks to the Christian young person because it calls you to be a member of a church that is not ashamed of the gospel, but that preaches it in her own pulpits and wherever God in his good pleasure sends the gospel, and while she is faithful to that gospel, never to leave that church.
Fourth, the resolve of the apostle to proclaim the gospel must be ours as churches. There is no time like the present in which there is a great need for the vigorous proclamation of the gospel. I make mention of only one example relevant to your life and to the work of the Protestant Reformed Churches in which you are members. Presently, the heresy of the conditional covenant as taught by the movement called the federal vision sweeps through the Reformed world. Shame at the gospel would manifest itself in silence on this point in an hour of great opportunity and need.
Fifth, the gospel speaks to the great work in which you should be both interested and involved. The gospel does not countenance laziness, but calls us to abound in the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:54). The issue, though, is What is this work of the Lord in which I must be involved? The gospel and all connected with it, is the answer.
What kind of involvement, you may ask? For the Christian young person: hear it, study it, learn it, read it, believe it, confess it, live it, and love it. Support it by prayer, word, and deed. Be thankful for it, too, because like Paul and like the Romans to whom he wrote, we have received the gospel as a gift from God, and salvation by it.