Romans 1:1-6, 14-17

Romans 1:1-6, 14-17

SERIES: The Book of Romans

 Unashamed of the Gospel

Introduction:  The official name of this church is First Evangelical Free Church.  The first time some people hear that name they wonder, “Is this some kind of a cult, or why do they have such a weird name?”  Well, our first name is not such a problem, because lots of churches have that name—it simply signifies that a particular church is the first one of its denomination in a given city.  Our last name, “Free,” is a little more difficult to explain, but it historically means “free from outside control.”  Our Free Churches are autonomous, and there is no human hierarchy outside the local church that tells us what to do.

But without doubt our most important name is our middle name, “evangelical.”  It is a transliteration of a Greek word found often in the New Testament—the word euangelion.  It is the word for “gospel” or “good news.”  In effect, this is really the First Gospel Free Church of St. Louis.  We are the First Good News Free Church.  That’s quite a reputation to live up to, but it’s exactly what we’re called to be.

So important is it that we understand this word “gospel” that we are going to devote the entire sermon to it this morning.  We will concentrate upon Romans 1:1-6 and 14-17:

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures {3} regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, {4} and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. {5} Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. {6} And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ….”

{14} “I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. {15} That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. 

{16} I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. {17} For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Last Sunday we began our exposition of Romans by examining the significance and influence of the book, the writer, the recipients, the occasion, and an overview of the letter.  Today my goal is to help us understand the Gospel, with the hope that all of us may come to the point where we can say with Paul, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.”  I want us to focus our attention on two paragraphs in the first chapter.  

What is the Gospel?  (2-6)

In verse 2-6, which we skipped over almost without comment last Lord’s Day, the Apostle Paul defines the term Gospel by reference to six different aspects of it: its source, its channel, its means, its subject, its object, and its scope.

The source of the Gospel is mentioned at the end of verse 1, where Paul describes himself as “set part for the gospel of God.”

The source of the Gospel is God Himself.  God is our Creator and it is fundamentally against Him that we have sinned.  Yet He brings us good news.  And that Good News is that He loves us—loves us in spite of who we are and loves us in spite of what we have done.  Romans 5:8 puts it this way:  “God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still, Christ died for us.”  The source of the Good News is God Himself.

The channel for the transmission of the Gospel is the prophets and the apostles.  Speaking of the Gospel of God, verse 2 describes it further as “the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures.”  Here Paul is speaking of the Old Testament prophets and he tells us that they were the channel through whom God promised the Gospel.  We know, of course, that God continued this process of revelation through the New Testament apostles, including Paul himself.  They didn’t have to promise the Gospel; it was now here.  They just explained it.

Some people have the distorted notion that there is only Law in the prophets and only Gospel in the Apostles.  That is a gross oversimplification.  There happens to be much law in the New Testament and there is plenty of Gospel in the Old Testament.  For example, in the opening chapters of Gen. (3:15), we see the first hint of the Gospel when God tells the Serpent that the Seed of the woman, i.e., Messiah Jesus, would crush his, i.e., Satan’s, head.  When we come to Isaiah 53 the Gospel is made explicitly clear, as the prophet speaks of Messiah some seven centuries before His first coming:

         He was pierced through for our transgressions.

                  He was crushed for our iniquities.

         The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,

                  And by His scourging we are healed.

         All of like sheep have gone astray.

                  Each of us have turned to his own way.

         But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.

As a matter of fact, the Old Testament prophets close with a prediction of the Gospel.  Malachi 4:1,2:  

“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace.  All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty.  “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.  But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will arise with healing in its wings.  And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.”

There is no question but that the Gospel was promised by God through the channel of His prophets.  But these men did not appoint themselves as spokesmen for God or decide to write good news just because they had unusual insight into spiritual things.  No, 2 Peter 1:21 tells us that these men were moved by the Holy Spirit and spoke directly from God.  When we come to the New Testament Apostles, we find them to be, with the exception of Paul, men who were recruited from very ordinary walks of life to be Jesus’ disciples.  After living and working with him for 3½ years, they became so convinced He was the Son of God that they were willing to die for that belief.  

But it wouldn’t help us to know that God spoke the Gospel through prophets and apostles several thousand years ago if we weren’t assured that it was available to us in a form we can trust.  

The means God chose for the communication of the Gospel was and is the written Scripture.  He speaks of “the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures.”  We here at First Free have a rather primitive view of the Bible, and we don’t apologize for it.  The Bible is the very Word of God.  It doesn’t just contain the Word of God; it doesn’t simply witness to the Word of God; it is the Word of God and is therefore accurate, reliable and authoritative in all that it says.  If you want to hear God’s good news you’ve got to listen to the Holy Scriptures.  You won’t find it anywhere else—not in nature, not in science, not in philosophy. 

The subject of the Gospel is God’s Son.  The phrase “regarding His Son” at the beginning of verse 3 refers back to the Gospel of God in verse 1.  The Gospel concerns God’s Son, Jesus of Nazareth.  It doesn’t concern angels, it doesn’t concern the social betterment of mankind, it doesn’t concern political power, it concerns God’s Son. 

Well, what about His Son?  Two things in particular:  He is human and He is divine.  Jesus’ humanity is clearly stated in verse 3: “as to his human nature he was a descendant of David.”  His deity is affirmed in verse 4:  “through the Spirit of holiness he was declared with power to be the Son of God by the resurrection of the dead.”  A common error in our day is the tendency to view Jesus as a divine human or as a human God.  He is neither.  He is the God-man.  He is fully God and fully human, and these two natures are forever united in one person without forming a third nature or two separate persons.  And whenever one of the two natures of Christ is overemphasized to the exclusion of the other, you have serious heresy.

Why is it so important that Jesus be both God and man?  Why would we not have good news if that weren’t the case?  Well, in the first place, He had to be one of us in order to redeem us.  The blood of bulls and goats, animals which were sacrificed by the Jews before the coming of Christ, can never take away human sin.  The blood of an angel, if they have any, could not suffice.  There had to be a human sacrifice for human sin.  Hebrews 2:14-18 explains it this way: 

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants.  For this reason he has to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.  Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

But it is not sufficient that Christ be only human, for if he were only human, He would be under the same sentence of condemnation as all other men.  Suppose for a moment that a person is facing bankruptcy proceedings due to a huge debt at the bank.  A friend of his walks in and says to the bank official, “I want to be responsible for that debt.”  If the friend is as bankrupt as the debtor, the gesture is meaningless.  But if the friend is rich with unlimited resources, then the offer becomes an act of grace on behalf of the debtor.  The value of what he promises to do depends entirely on his own position and worth.

Because He is not only human but also God, Jesus Christ is immeasurably rich and has unlimited resources.  He knows God’s demands perfectly and He has kept them perfectly because He is God. Therefore, He is able to save all those who come to the Father by Him.  

The object of the Gospel is obedience of faith.  In verse 5 we are told this about the subject of the Gospel, namely Jesus Christ our Lord:  “Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.”  

That last phrase reads “obedience of faith” in the KJV.  That has an odd ring to it, because some of us were taught that there is a great dichotomy between obedience (or works) and faith.  But we may have made too much of that distinction.  The Apostle James tells us clearly that a faith without works is dead.  The Christian faith was designed not just to provide a fire escape from Hell, but to help us reach our full potential as obedient children of God.  

The term faith or belief in the New Testament (same word in Greek) is never mere intellectual assent to a set of religious propositions or facts.  James made that crystal clear when he told us that “demons believe in God and tremble,” which is more than many men do.  But their belief or faith is mere intellectual assent to the fact that there is a God and that He is a Judge—it involves no active obedience to Him.

I fear there are many people on any given Sunday sitting in even the best of churches, giving intellectual assent to the basic facts of the Gospel.  If asked point blank they might say “yes” to a whole set of doctrinal questions:

         Do you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God?

         Do you believe Jesus Christ was born of a virgin?

         Do you believe Jesus Christ lived a perfect life?

         Do you believe Jesus Christ died for our sins?

         Do you believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead?

         Do you believe Jesus Christ is coming again?

You say, “Well, if a person agreed to all that, then surely he or she must be a born-again believer.”  Not necessarily, for if in accompaniment with an acceptance of these facts, there has never been a personal surrender of one’s life to the Savior or any sign of active obedience to His commandments and His will, then I would have to say that their faith is dead.  

The scope of the Gospel extends to all nations.  The word “Gentiles” in verse 5 is synonymous with “nations.” and the Apostle’s point is clearly that the door of mercy is open to everyone.  In Old Testament days God limited Himself largely to a work among the children of Israel.  No longer.  The Gospel is the good news for all people that Jesus Christ has solved mankind’s sin problem through His death on Calvary.

Having defined the Gospel, it is time to ask a second question: “Why should we be unashamed of it?”  Just what did the Gospel mean to Paul personally, and what should it mean to us?  

Why should we be unashamed of the Gospel?  

Let’s read again verses 14-17:

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish.  That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.  I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes:  first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”  

I think the Christian world is largely divided into two categories.  One is made up of people who are constantly on crusades against this or that or something else—always harping, critical, negative, boldly denouncing anything new or different or unfamiliar.  Frequently on their lips you will hear the Seven Last Words of the Church:  “We’ve never done it that way before.”  They will speak unashamedly at almost any forum.  Though sometimes you agree with them, you are hesitant to be identified with them.

On the other hand, there is an even larger group which never speak up because they fear that disunity will result.  Better to let an organization go down the tubes than to stand up for one’s convictions.  Better to go around as an incognito Christian than to risk embarrassment through exposure at an inopportune moment.  The password of this group is, “Play it safe.”  Peter prior to the Resurrection is this group’s Patron Saint.  When our Lord was arrested, Peter was ashamed to be counted as one of His followers, eventually denying vehemently before a servant-girl that he even knew Jesus.  When Jesus looked at him, Peter he went out and wept bitterly. He became ashamed of his shame.

What we desperately need today is an army of Christians to fill in the gap between these two extremes.  People who can speak the truth but speak it in love.  People who can be tolerant of insignificant disagreements but who at the same time will absolutely refuse to compromise on the important watershed issues.  People who are willing to stand up and be counted as the people of God.  People who have counted the cost and have decided that it doesn’t matter how much it costs—they will stand up for what is right.  People who believe that “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”  Back in 1964 Barry Goldwater employed a slogan that went something like this: “Extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice.  And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”  

There’s a spiritual application of that principle.  There are times when moderation is totally unacceptable.  You would not give a moderate warning to a neighbor whose house is on fire.  You would not make a moderate effort to save a child from drowning.  You would not seek to fight a moderate battle to protect your homeland.  No, at times like these you do not equivocate, you do not excuse, you do not draw back.  To Paul the Gospel of Jesus Christ was exactly such an issue.  He believed it to be a life-or-death matter and he boldly proclaimed, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.”

There’s a very simple but convicting question that I want to ask each of us, and that is, “What is our shame quotient?”  Are we ashamed of the Gospel?  The Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t ashamed of their gospel.  The Mormons aren’t ashamed of theirs.  The atheists aren’t ashamed of theirs.  The environmentalists aren’t ashamed of theirs.  The radical Muslims aren’t ashamed of theirs.  The ACLU is not ashamed of theirs.

Why was Paul not ashamed of his Gospel?  

Because it is the power of God for salvation.  The word for “power’ here in the original Greek is the word “dunamis”, from which we get our English words “dynamite” and “dynamic.”  It refers to raw strength or explosive force.  It is often used to describe first-class miracles, in which divine power invades the human condition to accomplish something unique.  The Gospel has that kind of power, says Paul.  It can turn the world upside down.  It can shake the empire of the Caesars and outlive it by centuries.  But at the same time its target and its goal is not political power or social advancement but spiritual salvation.  The Gospel is the power of God for salvation.

Salvation is a word that is much bandied-about in Christian circles but not always understood.  I like the following definition:  salvation is everything that leads to the safety, health and happiness of the human soul and spirit.  It must begin with the soul’s relationship to God by removing the barrier of sin and guilt, which create enmity between us and God.  But it doesn’t stop there.  In regard to the past, salvation delivers one from the penalty of sin.  In regard to the present, salvation delivers one from the power of sin.  In regard to the future, salvation eventually delivers one from the very presence of sin.

But the Gospel is only the power of God for salvation to those who believe, that is, to those who take God at His Word when He says we are sinners and that the only way to find forgiveness of those sins is trust in the shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.  You see, the Cross is a great leveler of people.  Steve Zeisler, a pastor in California, has written perceptively:

We live in a disintegrating world that is becoming tribalized.  Increasing isolation takes place as people huddle in groups defined by race, ethnic background, age, gender, etc.  More and more people want to know only people who are like themselves and find themselves increasingly paranoid about everybody else.  The school systems and others are attempting to overcome this by championing multiculturism, saying that everybody is as good as everybody else; every culture, every work of art, every history, every memory, every place ought to be celebrated as equally wonderful.  I’m convinced that this effort, like others that want to draw only on human strength to fix human problems, is doomed. 

But there is a basis on which all of us can be united, find common ground, break down barriers, stand arm-in-arm, and experience real love for one another.  That basis is not that we’re all equally wonderful, but that we’re all equally desperate for the love of God.[i]

There ought to be no distinctions between us because we’re all in as much need of God’s grace as everyone else.  The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

One final point is made here in verse 16, and that is that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  That is speaking of a chronological first, not a first in importance.  Historically the Gospel did come first to the Jews, but today it is to be offered to every man, regardless of his race.  

Now Paul offers a second key reason why he is not ashamed of the Gospel: 

Because it reveals a righteousness from God (which is the only kind of righteousness that can make us right with Him).  Consider verse 17:  “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written:  ‘The righteous will live by faith.'”  Now in order to understand this point we must realize that there are two kinds of righteousness—God’s and man’s, and these two kinds of righteousness are literally worlds apart.  

It is a great mistake for anyone to think that human righteousness is just a lesser form of divine righteousness or that there is a certain degree of righteousness in us that is acceptable with God, so that when a person reaches that point, he will find peace with God and get to Heaven.  Everywhere the Bible repudiates such an idea.  The Old Testament prophet called out, “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) And in Titus 3:5 we read, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”  It really could be no other way, for if God had set some level of humanrighteousness as the standard for receiving eternal life, it would inevitably be unjust, for some people are brought up in a better environment than others, some receive the benefit of better education than others, and some receive better parenting than others.

God comes to us, however, with a standard of righteousness that is impossible for any of us to attain, and when we finally accept the hopelessness of ever attaining it, God then says He will credit that righteousness to our accounts as a free gift if we will simply put our confidence in His Son.  As Romans 4:5 puts it, “To the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”  

I would like to borrow an illustration at this point from Dr. Barnhouse:

If we take absolute perfection as the norm of human righteousness, we might say that the convict has fulfilled twenty per cent, the average man fifty per cent, and the ethical leader eighty per cent.  No man who has ever lived has achieved the one hundred per cent ….  

         Unfortunately. there are some people who spend their time trying to increase the percentage of their human righteousness, and thus fail to lay hold upon the totally differentdivine righteousness which is provided by the gospel.  

Do not think that the convict is to say, “God, I have done twenty per cent by myself and so I need eighty per cent from you.”  And do not think that the ethically good man is to say, “God, you see that I have done eighty per cent by myself and so, fortunately, I need trouble you for no more than twenty percent to make up that which is lacking.”  On the contrary, the convict must learn to curse his twenty per cent of human righteousness, abandon all hope of salvation by means of it, and come to the cross of Jesus Christ to receive the one hundred per cent of a totally different righteousness which is provided by the Lord Jesus Christ on the basis of His atoning death for sin and sinners.  And what is much harder, the good man must curse the eighty per cent of human righteousness, abandon all hope of salvation by means of it, and come to the cross of Jesus Christ to receive the one hundred per cent of a totally different righteousness which does not come from man at all, but which is provided by the Lord Jesus Christ on the basis of His atoning death for sin and sinners.[ii]

Much of our hymnology is not award-winning when it comes to theological accuracy, but on this subject of the need for divine righteousness. one of our hymns is absolutely “right on.”  We sang The Solid Rock earlier in our service.

         My hope is built on nothing less

         Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

         I dare not trust the sweetest frame

         But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

         On Christ the solid Rock I stand

         All other ground is sinking sand.

         When He shall come with trumpet sound

         Oh, may I then in Him be found.

         Dressed in His righteousness alone,

         Faultless to stand before the throne.

         On Christ the solid Rock I stand,

         All other ground is sinking sand.

Conclusion:  I return to verse 17, where it says that “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”  That statement is in quotation marks in your Bible, indicating that it comes from the Old Testament, actually from the little book of Habakkuk.  It is probably the most important phrase in the entire book of Romans, and inasmuch as it is found not only in the Old Testament but is quoted three times in the New Testament, it may very well be the most important statement in the Bible.  It has been called, “The Magna Carta of the Christian faith.”  

Yet for all its profundity, it is still fairly simple, especially if the emphasis is put in the right place.  The emphasis belongs on faith.  I like F. F. Bruce’s translation, “It is the one who is righteous by faith who will live.”[iii]  You see, there are all kinds of people trying to achieve righteousness by other means than faith.  There are many who try to achieve it by avoiding the grosser sins.  They make good neighbors, but they fail completely to achieve the righteousness of God that way.

There are others who try to achieve it through deeds of mercy and kindness.  They make super Peace Corps volunteers and little league coaches and drivers for Meals on Wheels, but they fail completely if they try to attain eternal life through such means.  Countless others try to achieve righteousness through religious rites and rituals.  In the City of Rome there is a church called St. John of Lateran. In it is a famous staircase built in three parallel sections.  Visitors use the two outside stairs, but the center one is reserved for pilgrims who climb on their knees, step by step, saying their prayers.  Those stairs supposedly came from Pilate’s Hall in Jerusalem and on several of those steps there are blood stains covered with glass, which the pilgrims stop to kiss.  The blood is claimed to be the blood of Jesus Christ.

Martin Luther, a monk from Wittenberg, was climbing those stairs and reciting prayers when the Holy Spirit broke in on his mind with these glorious words of the book he had been studying:  “It is he who is righteous by faith who will live.”  And immediately he set aside the fear that had gripped his soul for years.  Whereas before he had believed that the righteous person must live by fear, he now understood for the first time that he must live by faith.

How are you trying to achieve righteousness today?  Is it by avoiding the grosser sins, doing deeds of mercy and kindness, giving generously, practicing religious rites and rituals faithfully, or even weighing yourself morally against others who call themselves Christians?  Every such effort is absolutely and totally doomed to failure, for it is only the one who is righteous by faith who will live.  And that faith must be in a Person, namely the Son of God who loved you and gave Himself for you.

How do you know if you are really trusting Christ for your salvation?  One of the best ways I know is to extend to Him a specific invitation to come into your life, to forgive your sin, and to help you become His faithful follower.  I want to close this morning with a prayer, and if it expresses the desire of your heart, I invite you to pray it silently after me:

Dear God, I thank you for the Good News that you sent your one and only Son to die on the Cross for my sins.  I acknowledge my sin and I receive Jesus; I believe He is the only one who can provide forgiveness to me.  I not only need a Savior; I need someone who can help me to live a happy, meaningful life, and I want Jesus to become my Master as well.  I want to be His obedient disciple.  Thank you, Father, for letting me become your child.   Amen.

DATE: November 27, 1994




[i] Steve Zeisler, “Great Good News,” sermon preached at Peninsula Bible Church, January 3, 1993, catalog #4289.   

[ii] Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans, Vol. 1, Part I, Man’s Ruin, 182-183.

[iii] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, 81.