Friday, November 17, 2006

A Gospel Made Man

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ…
(Romans 1:16a)

Paul is not talking about his strength, but God’s strength. Paul is a gospel made man. Paul is not saying only that he isn’t ashamed of the means the gospel, but that he is not ashamed of the message and the meaning of the gospel. Jesus is the gospel (John 14:6).

Paul is not ashamed of the way to the gospel. The means of the gospel is preaching; it was considered a foolish medium in Paul’s time and it still is, perhaps more than ever. But faith in Christ comes by hearing the message preached (Romans 10:11-15 / 1 Corinthians 1:18-26 / 1 Thessalonians 2:13). His message included repentance; he didn’t promise the blessings of heaven without warning of the threat of hell. He knew if he preached fire it would draw fire.

Paul isn’t ashamed of the truth of the gospel. The message of the gospel is the death and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. John 3:16 / 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 / 2 Corinthians 5:21 – justification by faith (Habakkuk 2:4 / Acts 4:12 / Romans 1:17 / Galatians 3:11 / 1 Timothy 2:5). He knew if he preached truth people would question truth.

Paul is not ashamed of the life from the gospel. The meaning of the gospel is the weakness of man and the power of God, the wretchedness of men and the righteousness of God. That wasn’t popular in Paul’s time or today, especially with the emphases being on self-empowerment and self-esteem. The meaning of the gospel is that man cannot save himself, nor sanctify himself, he is not only weak, but he is dead! Paul is not ashamed of his weakness. Romans 3:23 / Romans 8:3 / Titus 3:5-6 / Ephesians 2:8-10 – He knew that to live for Christ meant to die for Christ (John 12:24-26 / Galatians 2:20 / Philippians 1:21 / Romans 12:1-2).

How do we know, what are the signs of being ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

When we don’t preach it – Sugar coating the offense of the gospel – take off the hard edges and it won’t penetrate the heart. We are so afraid of saying no to anyone we take on everyone. We add so many side dishes no one eats the meat. The gospel plus garnish equals the power of God plus the poison of the world. It does not save. We are using the gospel as a means rather than the means of the gospel. We use other means to draw because we don’t believe in the means, and whatever we draw them with that is what we must sustain them with, be it programs, pomp, pleasure, or pragmatism. The reason we don’t preach it as the power of God is because we don’t believe it as such. We believe it is true, but we don’t believe it is sufficient to draw the sinner or strengthen the saint.

When we don’t believe it – Presenting the good news as a life improvement course rather than a life-destroying course. It is not a better life but a new life. The gospel isn’t for the upwardly mobile; it is for the spiritually mobile. It is not for those who want the strength of God; it is for those who know they are dead without God! It isn’t “just add Jesus”; it’s “lose everything but Jesus!” We must not reduce "power of God for salvation" to "power of God for human improvement" or "self-fulfillment" or "peace of mind" or any such thing. Yes the salvation of God brings peace (Romans 15:13), but not primarily. In the first instance the salvation of God is a righted relationship which spells rescue from real peril. Pragmatism rather than proclamation and entertainment rather than exhortation, as if we’re afraid it won’t work without the extras. It is people pleasing instead of doctrinal purity – redefining terms, capitulation to the culture. We change things or add a thing because we don’t believe what God did is enough for today.

When we don’t live it – When we aren’t lights in the world (Philippians 2:15), having the dimmer switch on (Philippians 1:27 / 1 Thessalonians 2:12 / Titus 2:11-14). However, this is not about your strength; again, the gospel of your justification is also the gospel of your sanctification. James 1:22 – we act in accordance with the decrees of God (Philippians 2:12-13). Remember the operative phrase; don’t let go of God. We will always be dissatisfied with our performance. For a growing Christian, desire will always outstrip our perceived performance.

What is it then that will keep us going in the face of this tension between desire and performance? The answer is the gospel. It is the assurance that we have indeed died to the guilt of sin and that there is no condemnation for us in Christ Jesus that will motivate us and keep us going even in the face of this tension.

We must always keep focused on the gospel because as we grow, we see more and more of our sinfulness. Instead of driving us to discouragement, though, this should drive us to the gospel. It is the gospel believed every day that is the only enduring motivation to pursue progressive sanctification even in those times when we don't seem to see progress. What God started God will finish (Philippians 1:6), and that is why we act in accordance with it and can keep on keeping on (Philippians 3:14). We need to "preach the gospel to ourselves every day."

Paul didn’t present a watered down gospel; he was not ashamed of what it says, what it means, and “what it means for me”. Paul knew that some of the people in Rome were too smart for this silly message, but he doesn’t try and make it more palatable by compromise, so unlike those today. Paul is preaching to Christians as well as unbelievers. This letter was written to believers, and so preaching the gospel has more than just “initial salvation” in mind. Do you tell it like it is, put first things first, and live like you mean it, or are you ashamed? Is it on your lips, is it in your heart, and is it evident in your life? I say this even to those of you who believe they are saved: repent, and believe the gospel to meet your needs. Be a gospel made man.


Craver Vii said...

I won't say I've been "ashamed" of the gospel, but it's funny that you should mention this today, because last night I was wondering whether I should an adjustment to my typical gospel presentation as it relates to the meaning of lost, death, punishment, etc. Later that night, I was invited to present the gospel at a food pantry Christmas program next month. Every time I get to do this, I think real hard about how to go about it, since I want to say everything, yet I only have 15 minutes (max) to communicate it (in both English and Spanish).

I don't talk a whole lot about hell, but usually, I tell people something like this: When we pass from this world, there are only two options. Either we spend eternity together with God, or we stay separated from God forever.

I sure hope I can communicate enough in the little time that I will be given. But even when I have one-on-one conversations, perdition is acknowledged, and we do not usually talk much about the consequences, but mostly about the solution.

Even So... said...

We'll be praying for you...let us know...