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. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17 ESV
Paul was eager to preach the gospel to the people in Rome. That is why he wanted to make the long, arduous journey there. He was grateful to God for those who had already become followers of Jesus and commended them for their faith. But he knew that there were many more who had not yet hear the good news regarding God’s gift of salvation through His Son. And Paul was anything but ashamed of that message. He proclaimed it anywhere and everywhere he could to anyone who would listen, whether they were Jews, Greeks or even barbarians. Because he knew that the gospel had the power to change lives. It was the one and only way for sinful men to be made right with a holy God. For Paul, the gospel – the message regarding God’s sending of His Son in the form of a man to live a sinless life and die a substitutionary death on the cross as payment for the sins of men – was powerful and life-changing. He knew from personal experience. He had been radically changed by his side-of-the-road encounter with the resurrected Christ. And that same power was available to any and all who would believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior. In other words, they had to give up trying to earn a right standing with God in their own strength or according to their own merit.
Paul wasn’t ashamed of the gospel because he knew it worked. He knew it was of God. In fact, it had been God’s plan from the very beginning. His sending of Jesus to earth was not some kind of plan B that He was forced to quickly come up with in response to man’s inability to keep the Law. He had planned all along to send a Savior, and it had to be His very own Son so that He could meet the stringent requirements of a sinless sacrifice. Peter tells us, “God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but he has now revealed him to you in these last days” (1 Peter 1:20 NLT). Paul goes as far as to say, “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes” (Ephesians 1:4 NLT). The gospel is not only the plan A of God, it is the very power of God that leads to man’s salvation. “For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith”, Paul states (Romans 1:17 ESV). Because of what Jesus did on the cross, man has access to a righteousness he could have never achieved on his own. The law could only reveal God’s holy standard, but it couldn’t help man achieve or live up to it. And Jesus told His followers, “But I warn you – unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” (Matthew 5:20 NLT). As shocking as this statement must have been to those who heard it, Jesus was simply telling them that the righteousness God required could never be man-made. It was going to have to be the result of the power of God as revealed in the gospel.
Man’s salvation is based solely on faith. It begins and ends on faith. It is our initial faith in Christ that leads to our growing faith in the power of the gospel to not only save us, but transform us into His image. The righteous, Paul says, live by faith. Our righteousness is based on faith. Later in this letter, Paul states, “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are” (Romans 3:22 NLT). He reiterates this same thought in his letter to the church in Corinth. “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT). The gospel, the good news regarding salvation in Christ, reveals the righteousness of God – the very means by which sinful men and women can be justified or made right with God. It is through His Son’s death. And it is confirmed by God’s power that raised Him from the dead. It would not have been enough for the death of Jesus to forgive us our sins and leave us in a sinless state. Sinlessness is not the same as righteousness. Once our sins had been paid for and forgiven, we still needed to be declared righteous. But in order to do this, God had to impute or transfer to our account the righteousness of Christ. So our spiritual account went from having a negative balance to a zero balance, but then God added to our account the invaluable righteousness of Christ.
The reason so many of us find ourselves “ashamed” of the gospel is because it sounds so far-fetched, even to us. After all the idea of God sending His own Son to take on human flesh, live a sinless life and die as our sacrifice on a cross doesn’t exactly come across as logical or sensible. It can also come across as offensive to those with whom we share it. Telling someone that they are a sinner, completely unrighteous and incapable of pleasing God in any way can be a bit off-putting to say the least. But Paul was unashamed of the gospel because he knew it was the only way. It was the power of God made practical and personal, providing mankind with a fail-proof means by which they could be restored to a right relationship with God. The righteous, those who have been made right with God through Christ, were saved by faith and live their lives based on faith – in the power of God.