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Sermon on Romans 1:16

April 24, 2007

The following are my final study notes for the sermon I preached last Sunday night. They are not my preaching notes.

Some thoughts on the uniqueness of the gospel.

Romans 1:16, For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

ILLUS>>There is a mall that everyone here has gone shopping in, and some people here are still shopping in it – even tonight, right now. It is the biggest mall in the world.It is the worldview mall.

In this mall is the Muslim store, the Buddhist store, the Hindu store, the humanist store, atheist store, Western culture store, African culture store, Asian culture store, etc., etc., etc. All the different ideas and beliefs and philosophies and religions have their stores in this mall and they are all trying to get you to come in and by their wares and make them your own.

All the stores are vying for your attention. They are impressive stores, very beautiful, promising incredible and amazing things. They are trying to get you to come in and buy – to come in and . . . believe. And so, they make the merchandise attractive. They put the nice things in the front window, and the not-so-nice in the back behind the counter.

Most people, even most Christians, buy things from more than one shop. We are eclectic when it comes to our core beliefs.

And, by the way, this worldview mall is everywhere. Everything preaches. Everything comes from and is promoting a particular worldview. Christians need to be careful where they are buying their ideas from.

But, biblical Christianity, the truth of God, God’s message, God’s worldview, is not in the worldview mall. The gospel message is not in the worldview mall.

The reason our store is not in the worldview mall is because our message, the gospel, is not a truth among other truths. Our message is not just another message from the mind of man competing with other messages from man. The gospel is the only truth judging the lies in this world.

God does not throw His hat in the ring with the gospel and say, “I hope you find my message more appealing than all the others.” Our message, unlike all the others, is a message from God.

Now, some of you are thinking, “Yeah, well, all religions say that. Everyone says their message is from God, so what.” But, the reason we can say this, and be the only one who is right, is because God has said Himself that He does not try and sell His message, as all other religions and philosophies do.

God knows He is not in competition with other beliefs. That is why God does not rent a store in the worldview mall. The proof of this is the doctrine of election. Without election you don’t have a message from God.

Without election all you have is another message from man vying for your attention. The gospel is not vying for the attention of the lost, but of the elect.

Romans 8:29-30, For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son . . . 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

John 6:65, no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father

Philippians 1:29, For it has been granted to you that . . . you should . . . believe.

We say, God chooses you, and then you respond, and even that response is a gift from God. All other messages are designed to sell their system of belief and life, their worldview.

The gospel is not in competition with other messages. All other faiths and philosophies are putting their best foot forward and saying, “Ooh, Pick me!” But God, with the gospel, says, “I pick you.”

Since the power for the gospel is from God, and God chooses who it changes, this means that God does not rent space in the worldview mall. But, shamefully, you will find some who cheapen the gospel and place it on par with human or demonic messages and try and sell it. But, that gospel is a cheap grace gospel, selling grace without discipleship.

Instead, what you will find God doing is working through those that have been changed by the gospel and who love the true God. They will be out on the street, offering it to everyone, and giving it away for free to all who want it.

God’s message is not in competition with the false messages of the world. With this in mind we can better understand what Paul means when he says in Romans 1:16, I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

I am not ashamed of the gospel. How many have been ashamed of the very message that saved their soul from hell?

There would be a reason for apprehension and shame about the gospel if there were a chance that it could lose out to other messages, or that it was faulty or could fail, or if it were an idea dreamed up by men that needed to be tweaked and adjusted. People are rightly ashamed of an outdated message that is not in tune with the modern world.

But, the gospel has no errors in it. It has never failed in what it does. The power of God in the gospel does not come and go. Therefore, anxiety, feeling ashamed or the fear of man in relation to our message is pointless because the gospel is the power of God to overcome sin and condemnation in the lives of men.

The gospel is not in competition with other worldviews. The gospel is impenetrable, as Paul shows in the letter to the Romans, therefore there is no need of fear or shame when it is proclaimed. Paul knew this.

But, Paul is not speaking for effect here. He knew this gospel was a stumbling-block to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles. He knew we are weak and fear the reproach of man. Paul knew he was bringing a message that was at best unimpressive to the world. As far as all the stores in the worldview mall are concerned, we have lots of reasons to be ashamed of the gospel.

The early church father Chrysostom said this about the unimpressiveness of the gospel, it was about a man who “passed for the son of a carpenter, was brought up in Judea in the house of a poor woman and who died like a criminal in the company of robbers.” That is what the world thought of Jesus 2000 years ago. And, frankly, it has just gotten worse since.

From the world’s point of view the players in our message are unimpressive compared to the performers in the stories, legends and fictions of the world. They have the great heroes and epic battles where the fate of nations and peoples are played out.

We have a man who told good stories and did tricks and who walked around a rural, insignificant part of the world with a few friends for three years. And then he died like a criminal and his friends went back to fishing.

And from the world’s point of view the gospel is unimpressive compared to the heady, intricate, deep philosophies of the world. We have a ridiculously simple message that can be clearly communicated in a few moments or written in a few lines.

The world has a lot of impressive stories and impressive people telling them in impressive ways. Movies, TV, radio and the internet are all flashy and more interesting than church and Bible study. The media is always trotting out someone with 3 PhD’s telling you all the philosophical and scientific reasons why you need to think and believe and do certain things because they are the top experts in the world in their field.

We can be ashamed of the message because, from the world’s perspective and compared to the messages of the world, ours is pretty lame.

And this is to say nothing of the spiritual animosity in the world toward the gospel. Not only do they think it is a foolish message, but a contemptible one as well. As far as the world is concerned we ought to be ashamed of a message that points out how wrong and sinful people are and says the resolution to the problem is the bloody, messy, brutal death of an innocent man.

It is pretty intimidating to be known as the person who does not believe in evolution, and who does believe in the virgin birth and the miracles and the physical resurrection from the dead and the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible and its message.

If you stop to think about it, we believe some pretty wild things, and our cultured, intellectual, scientific, post-modern, anti-God world wants us to be ashamed of them. And they often succeed at shaming us into keeping our mouths shut.

Who wants to be known as the religious nut? Who wants to be known as ignorant? Stupid? Foolish? As a threat to society? We prove them right every time we keep our mouth shut. It is nothing new that Christians can be ashamed of the gospel.

But, we must remember, the gospel is not just another message. The gospel has what men’s vain ideas do not have – the power of God. It is the power of God that calls and provides faith. This is why it does not need to be sold. It is not a truth competing with other truths in the marketplace.

This apparently weak and foolish message is really, in spite of all appearances, powerful. And this is not just some other power. This is not the power of Christian ideas as compared to the power of Muslim ideas or Hindu Ideas or humanistic ideas. The power in the gospel is the supreme power in the universe.

It is the almighty power of God Himself directed toward the salvation of souls. It is powerful by virtue of its content and its subject – the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul was bringing to Rome the one message that had the power to change men’s lives, regardless of its appearance.

No divinity that dwells in idols or temples made with hands, or is served by the hand of man – no divinity that needs anything like human propaganda – could ever have the power of God in it.

ILLUS>>Any message that is sold to humanity by humans does not have the power of God in it. For instance, I visited a student in Lesotho a few weeks ago. He lives way up in the mountains in the middle of the country.

The Muslims are not in his area yet, but they are in the next valley over and they are quickly moving through the country. Their method of evangelism is this, they move into an area, build a mosque and start giving out food, clothing and blankets to people who come to the mosque.

And they say that allah has provided all this stuff and that is the kind of god allah is. And they ask, what about that Christian God? What has He ever done for you? What kind of a God is that that can’t even provide basic things to His people? Look at the pastors, they are the poorest people in town.

The Muslims are selling allah because they have to sell allah. Because, allah is a false god, an idol. He is not the One True God and he does not provide power, so his message has to be sold.

The Christian reply to this accusation is simple. We say, What kind of a god is it that has to buy your allegiance? What kind of a god is it that has to buy your belief? What kind of god is it that has to be sold to people with food and blankets?

Or, not sold, but forced to obey? What kind of a god is it that has to threaten people with death if they do not follow him? Is that a strong god? Is that a powerful message?

Selling a message or threatening death if it is not believed is proof of a weak message from a weak ‘god’ that is in competition with other false gods and philosophies.

The fact that the gospel message spreads and the church grows in spite of suffering and poverty and in spite of the fact that it is thought of as foolish is proof that the power of God is in the gospel.

There is power in the message, but we Christians often make some errors when we present this gospel.

First, we also try to sell the gospel. This is why we preach the death of Christ, but not the death of the believer to sin. We preach the cross of Christ, but not our cross that we are to bear in this world. We preach the love of God, but not the exclusive love we are to have for Him.

We say things like “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” but we don’t say that maybe God’s wonderful plan for your life is poverty and persecution, or even martyrdom. We try and help God out by making His message more attractive.

Another thing we do is give the fallen world too much credit. People believe they are free from God, autonomous. People believe they are the masters of their souls. This is self idolatry and is the sin of Satan, and the sin of the world, and it is their guilt.

One of our errors when we present the gospel is that we don’t challenge this sin. We present the gospel and ask them to consider it, to ponder it, to give their opinion. In short, we ask the fallen world to judge the gospel.

The fallen word does not have the authority to judge the gospel. By appealing to their false authority we confirm their sin as supposed judges of the gospel. People must set aside their self idolatry and submit to the gospel which judges them and their world from the outside.

The gospel is an onlooker in this world, above it. The gospel did not originate in this word, it was sent from God. The gospel condemns and offers blessings on those whom it judges from the outside.

The gospel does not negotiate nor discuss its position, power or promises. The gospel makes demands on people. It does not ask for input or discussion.

The gospel demands, it does not ask, to be taken on faith. Believe it and be blessed. Refuse it and lose everything and suffer for eternity.

We show ourselves to be ashamed of this message when we think we have to help out the gospel, or the Holy Spirit who empowers the gospel, by trying to sell it like any other idea or by asking the world to act as judge over it.

And this gospel is to go out to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. The appropriate response to the message is to believe it. Believe and have faith in Jesus Christ because that is who the message is about and who’s power the gospel is. The gospel will save everyone who believes it.

The believer is the man who puts his trust in God, in God Himself, and in God alone. Everyone is saved in the exact same way and that way has nothing whatsoever to do with them or who they are.

All are to abandon their worldly identity, Jew or Greek, and are to let the gospel become their identity in everything in life. The believer abandons self. Once you are saved any other identity is irrelevant. An American Christian or African Christian or Asian Christian or Baptist or Presbyterian or whatever is unknown to God.

Dietrich Bonhoffer, “When God bids a man come, He bids him come die.”

Thomas A Kempis, “You cannot possess perfect liberty unless you wholly renounce yourself. Bound in fetters are all they who seek their own interests and are lovers of themselves.”

Arthur Pink, “Growth in grace is growth downward; it is the forming of a lower estimate of ourselves; it is a deepening realization of our nothingness; it is a heartfelt recognition that we are not worthy of the least of God’s mercies.”

Jesus, Mark 8:34, If anyone wishes to come after Me he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.

That message does not sell in this world. No gospel that appeals to the self could demand this kind of abandonment or allegiance.

When I say the gospel cannot and must not be sold and marketed I am not saying that the church should not be exciting, relevant, and welcoming. The church absolutely should be exciting, relevant, and welcoming.

The joint should be rocking. Let’s have excellent facilities, friendly people, great music, events for all ages, whatever you want. Church should be relevant to the culture it’s in and overflowing with love.

But, that’s not what you use to get people in the door and that is not what keeps people. At least that is not what keeps people in a true church. Jesus and His gospel is what you use to get people in the door, it’s what keeps them, it’s what excites them. Those other things cannot be what the church is about. The church is about God, His gospel and His people.

But, for Jesus to get them in the door we need to be living and proclaiming Jesus to them in the first place. The very thing Paul was eager to do in Rome, in spite of the foolishness of the message.

The gospel is the right message for the arrogant, cultured, intellectual, God hating world we live in, and Paul was eager to proclaim it. It is the right message because it is powerful and it makes people right – right in themselves and right with God by faith alone.

Consider where you are getting your ideas and beliefs from. Consider why you may be ashamed to present the gospel, even to yourself. Consider how you present the gospel. Consider what you think the church should be like. For those who have not followed Christ, consider the gospel, the foolish, yet powerful, gospel.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. CovenantBride permalink
    April 24, 2007 10:42 am

    hallelujah…beautiful …not ashamed…hallelujah…i love the Lord…good post…be bless… -g-

  2. September 13, 2007 2:31 am

    Cool!

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