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.”
At first glance it is an extraordinary thing that Paul should say that he is “not ashamed” of the gospel. For when we read that statement we ask, “But why should anybody be ashamed of the gospel? Why should the apostle even think that something so grand might be shameful?” Questions like that are not very deep or honest, since we have all been ashamed of the gospel at one time or another.
The reason is that the world is opposed to God’s gospel and ridicules it, and we are all far more attuned to the world than we imagine. The gospel was despised in Paul’s day. Robert Haldane has written accurately:
By the pagans it was branded as atheism, and by the Jews it was abhorred as subverting the law and tending to licentiousness, while both Jews and Gentiles united in denouncing the Christians as disturbers of the public peace, who, in their pride and presumption, separated themselves from the rest of mankind. Besides, a crucified Savior was to the one a stumbling-block, and to the other foolishness. This doctrine was everywhere spoken against, and the Christian fortitude of the apostle in acting on the avowal he here makes was as truly manifested in the calmness with which, for the name of the Lord Jesus, he confronted personal danger and even death itself. His courage was not more conspicuous when he was ready “not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem,” than when he was enabled to enter Athens or Rome without being moved by the prospect of all that scorn and derision which in these great cities awaited him.
Is the situation different in our day? It is true that today’s culture exhibits a certain veneer of religious tolerance, so that well-bred people are careful not to scorn Christians openly. But the world is still the world, and hostility to God is always present. If you have never been ashamed of the gospel, the probable reason, as D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones suggests, is not that you are “an exceptionally good Christian,” but rather that “your understanding of the Christian message has never been clear.”
Was Paul tempted to shame, as we are? Probably. We know that Timothy was, since Paul wrote him to tell him not to be (2 Tim. 1:8). However, in our text Paul writes that basically he was “not ashamed of the gospel,” and the reason is that “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.’ ”
In this study, following the treatment of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, I want to suggest eight reasons why we should not be ashamed of this gospel.
The Gospel is “Good News”
The first reason why we should not be ashamed of the gospel is the meaning of the word gospel itself. It means “good news,” and no rational person should be ashamed of a desirable proclamation.
We can understand why one might hesitate to convey bad news, of course. We can imagine a policeman who must tell a father that his son has been arrested for breaking into a neighbor’s house and stealing her possessions. We can understand how he might be distressed at having to communicate this sad message. Or again, we can imagine how a doctor might be dismayed at having to tell a patient that tests have come out badly and that he or she does not have long to live, or how a person involved in some great moral lapse might be ashamed to confess it. But the gospel is not like this. It is the opposite. Instead of being bad news, it is good news about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. It is the best news imaginable.
The Way of Salvation
The second reason why we should not be ashamed of the gospel is that it is about “salvation.” And not just any salvation. It is about the saving of ourselves.
The background for this side of the Good News is that, left to ourselves, we are in desperate trouble. We are in trouble now because we are at odds with God, other people, and ourselves. We are also in trouble in regard to the future; for we are on a path of increasing frustration and despair, and at the end we must face God’s just wrath and condemnation. We are like swimmers drowning in a vast ocean of cold water or explorers sinking in a deep bog of quicksand. We are like astronauts lost in the black hostile void of outer space. We are like prisoners awaiting execution.
But there is good news! God has intervened to rescue us through the work of his divine Son, Jesus Christ. First, he has reconciled us to himself; Christ has died for us, bearing our sins in his own body on the cross. Second, he has reconciled us to others; we are now set free to love them as Jesus loved us. Third, he has reconciled us to ourselves; in Jesus Christ (and by the power of the Holy Spirit) we are now able to become what God has always meant for us to be.
We can say this in yet other ways. Salvation delivers us from the guilt, power, and pollution of sin. We are brought back into communication with God, from whom our sins had separated us. And we are given a marvelous destiny, which Paul elsewhere describes as “the hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2). In 1 Corinthians 1:30 Paul expresses these truths somewhat comprehensively when he writes that “Christ Jesus … has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” Paul was not ashamed of the gospel, because it was about a real deliverance—from sin and its power—and about reconciliation to God.
God’s Way of Salvation
The third reason why Paul was not ashamed of the gospel is that it is God’s way of salvation and not man’s way. How could Paul be proud of something that has its roots in the abilities of sinful men and women or is bounded by mere human ideas? The world does not lack such ideas. There are countless schemes for salvation, countless self-help programs. But these are all foolish and inadequate. What is needed is a way of salvation that comes not from man, but from God! That is what we have in Christianity! Christianity is God’s reaching out to save perishing men and women, not sinners reaching out to seize God.
Paul speaks about this in two major ways, contrasting God’s way of salvation with our own attempts to keep the law, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, with our attempts to know God by mere human wisdom.
As to the law, he says, “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3–4). This means that, although we could not please God by keeping the law’s demands, God enables us to please him, first, by condemning sin in us through the work of Jesus Christ and, then, by enabling us to live upright lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.
As to wisdom, Paul writes, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21).
The Power of God
This leads to the fourth reason why Paul was not ashamed of the gospel, the matter he chiefly emphasizes in our text: The gospel is powerful. That is, it is not only good news, not only a matter of salvation, not only a way of salvation from God; it is also powerful enough to accomplish God’s purpose, which is to save us from sin’s pollution.
It is important to understand what is involved here, for it is easy to misconstrue Paul’s teaching. When Paul says that “the gospel … is the power of God for salvation,” he is not saying that the gospel is about God’s power, as if it were merely pointing us to a power beyond our own. Nor is Paul saying that the gospel is the source of a power we can get and use to save ourselves. Paul’s statement is not that the gospel is about God’s power or even a channel through which that power operates, but rather that the gospel is itself that power. That is, the gospel is powerful; it is the means by which God accomplishes salvation in those who are being saved.
Since Paul puts it this way, we are right to agree with John Calvin when he emphasizes that the gospel mentioned here is not merely the work done by God in Jesus Christ or the revelation to us of that work, but the actual “preaching” of the gospel “by word of mouth.” He means that it is in the actual preaching of the gospel that the power of God is demonstrated in the saving of men and women.
In the previous section I quoted what the King James Version calls “the foolishness of preaching” (1 Cor. 1:21), and since that is Paul’s own phrase, we can see it as proof that Paul was himself aware of how foolish the proclamation of the Christian message is if considered only from a human point of view. Some years ago I had the task of talking about “The Foolishness of Preaching” as one message of seven in a weekend conference on reformed theology. My address came after a break for lunch in the middle of what was a very long Saturday, and I began by saying that if there was anything more foolish than the foolishness of preaching, it was preaching about the foolishness of preaching after lunch on a day during which the listeners had already heard a number of other very distinguished preachers. It was a way of capturing what every preacher feels at one time or another as he rises to proclaim a message that to the natural mind is utter folly and that is as incapable of doing good in the hearers as preaching a message of moral reformation to the corpses in a cemetery—unless God works.
But that is just the point! God does work through the preaching of this gospel—not preaching for its own sake, but the faithful proclamation of God’s work of salvation for sinful men and women in Jesus Christ.
Let me say this another way since it is so important. We read in the first chapter of Acts that when the Lord Jesus Christ dispatched his disciples to the world with his gospel, he told them: “… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (v. 8). Earlier they had been asking about the kingdom of God, no doubt thinking of an earthly, political kingdom, which they highly valued and hoped for. But Jesus’ reply pointed them to something far greater. His was a spiritual kingdom—not spiritual in the sense of being less than real, but a kingdom to be established in power by the very Spirit of God—and they were to be witnesses for him. Moreover, as they witnessed, the Holy Spirit, which was to come upon them, would bless their proclamation and lead many to faith.
And so it happened. Three thousand believed at Pentecost. Thousands more believed on other occasions.
So also today. The world does not understand this divine working, but it is nevertheless true that the most important thing happening in the world at any given time is the preaching of the gospel. For there the Spirit of God is at work. There men and women are delivered from the bondage of sin and set free spiritually. Lives are transformed—and it is all by God’s power. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “The thing to grasp is that the apostle is saying that he is not ashamed of the gospel, because it is of God’s mighty working. It is God himself doing this thing—not simply telling us about it: doing it, and doing it in this way, through the gospel.”
A Gospel for Everyone
The fifth reason why Paul was not ashamed of this gospel is that it is a gospel for everyone—“everyone who believes.” It is “first for the Jew” and then also “for the Gentile.”
Paul’s phrase “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” has led readers to think that he was saying something like “to the Jew above the Gentile” or “to the Jew simply because he is a Jew and therefore of greater importance than other people.” But, of course, this is not what Paul intends. In this text Paul means exactly the same thing Jesus meant when he told the woman of Samaria that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). Both were speaking chronologically. Both meant that in the systematic disclosure of the gospel the Jews had occupied a first and important place. This was because, as Paul says later in Romans, theirs was “the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Jesus Christ …” (Rom. 9:3–5). No one can fully understand the gospel if he or she neglects this historical preparation for it.
But this does not mean that Paul is setting the Jew above the Gentile in this text or, as some would desire by contrast, that he is setting the Gentile above the Jew. On the contrary, Paul’s point is that the gospel is for Gentile and Jew alike. It is for everybody.
Why? Because it is the power of God, and God is no respecter of persons. If the gospel were of human power only, it would be limited by human interests and abilities. It would be for some and not others. It would be for the strong but not for the weak, or the weak but not for the strong. It would be for the intelligent but not the foolish, or the foolish but not the wise. It would be for the noble or the well-bred or the sensitive or the poor or the rich or whatever, to the exclusion of those who do not fit the categories. But this is not the way it is. The gospel is for everyone. John wrote, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, italics mine). At Pentecost Peter declared, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21; cf. Joel 2:32). Indeed, the Bible ends on this note: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take of the free gift of the water of life” (Rev. 22:17). (I have added italics to these passages to emphasize this important point.)
How can one be ashamed of a gospel which offers hope to the vilest, most desperate of men, as well as to the most respectable person? How can we be ashamed of anything so gloriously universal.
Salvation Revealed to Sinners
The sixth reason why Paul was not ashamed of the gospel is that God has revealed this way of salvation to us. The gospel would be wonderful even if God had not revealed it. But, of course, if he had not revealed it, we would not know of it and would be living with the same dreary outlook on life as the unsaved. But the gospel is revealed. Now we not only know about the Good News but are also enabled to proclaim God’s revelation.
And there is this, too: When Paul says that the gospel of God “is revealed,” he is saying that it is only by revelation that we can know it. It is not something we could ever have figured out for ourselves. How could we have invented such a thing? When human beings invent religion they either invent something that makes them self-righteous, imagining that they can save themselves by their own good works or wisdom—or they invent something that excuses their behavior so they can commit the evil they desire. In other words, they become either legalists or antinomians. The gospel produces neither. It does not produce legalists, because salvation is by the accomplishment of Christ, not the accomplishments of human beings.
Christians must always sing: “Nothing in my hand I bring, / Simply to thy cross I cling.” But at the same time, simply because they have been saved by the Lord Jesus Christ and have his Spirit within them, Christians inevitably strive for and actually achieve a level of practical righteousness of which the world cannot even dream.
A Righteousness from God
The seventh reason why Paul was not ashamed of the gospel is the one we considered most fully in the previous chapter, namely, that it concerns a righteousness from God, which is what we need. In ourselves we are not the least bit righteous. On the contrary, we are corrupted by sin and are in rebellion against God. To be saved from wrath we need a righteousness that is of God’s own nature, a righteousness that comes from God and fully satisfies God’s demands. This is what we have! It is why Paul can begin his exposition of the Good News in chapter 3 by declaring, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify” (v. 21). (As previously mentioned, this verse is a repetition of the thesis presented first in Romans 1:17.)
By Faith from First to Last
The eighth and final reason why the apostle Paul was not ashamed of the gospel is that the means by which this glorious gift becomes ours is faith, which means that salvation is accessible to “everyone who believes.”
What does Paul mean when he writes, ek pisteōs eis pistin (literally, “from faith to faith”)? Does he mean, as the New International Version seems to imply, “by faith entirely” (that is, “by faith from first to last”)? Does he mean “from the faith of the Old Testament to the faith of the New Testament” or, which may be almost the same thing, “from the faith of the Jew to the faith of the Gentile”? Does he mean “from weak faith to stronger faith,” the view apparently of John Calvin? In my opinion, the quotation from Habakkuk throws light on how the words ek pistẽs are to be taken. They mean “by faith”; that is, they concern “a righteousness that is by faith.” If this is so, if this is how the first “faith” should be taken, then, the meaning of the phrase is that the righteousness that is by faith (the first “faith”) is revealed to the perceiving faith of the believer (the second “faith”). This means that the gospel is revealed to you and is for you—if you will have it.
 Boice, J. M. (1991–). Romans: Justification by Faith (Vol. 1, pp. 111–118). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.