“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.” (Romans 1:16)
Be Shamed, But Not Ashamed
Last week I focused on the first words of Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.” I tried to make plain that there is a difference between being shamed for the gospel and being ashamed of the gospel. If you are a faithful Christian, you will be shamed for the gospel. That is, you will be the target of shaming behavior. But there is a very good reason why you do not have to be ashamed when that happens.
I compared Paul’s reason with Jesus’s reason for not being ashamed when they were shamed for the gospel. Hebrews 12:2 says, “For the joy that was set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame.” The shaming behavior against Jesus was as ugly and cruel and demeaning as it gets. But instead of letting the shame eat him up, or make him ashamed, or turn him into someone as weak and ugly as his shamers, he fixed his heart on the joy set before him.
In other words, the assured triumph of his death and resurrection to save sinners and vindicate his righteousness and bring him home to God kept him from being ashamed or disobedient. When he was tempted to feel ashamed, he focused his mind on the joy set before him. He endured short-term pain because of long-term gain.
And Paul was like that. He said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” — I am not ashamed of the message and the reality of Christ crucified for sinners and raised with power and saving all who trust in him. Why not? Because “[the gospel] is the power of God for [or unto] salvation to everyone who believes.” This is the same way that Jesus overcame feelings of shame when he was shamed for the gospel. Jesus looked to the joyful triumph of his cross and resurrection. Paul looked to the joyful triumph of the gospel in eternal salvation.
We do not avoid feelings of shame by altering the gospel to make it popular and inoffensive (see 1 Corinthians 1:18). We avoid feelings of shame by remembering that the gospel is going to be vindicated in the end. We remind ourselves that the gospel alone brings forgiven sinners to final, everlasting joy. Nothing in the world can do this except the gospel of Jesus Christ. Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam — they do not have a Savior who can solve the problem of separation from a holy God through sin, and offer sinners hope by grace and not works. Only one message saves sinners and brings them safely into the presence of God: the gospel of Jesus Christ. It alone is the power of God unto salvation.
Therefore, Paul would say — Jesus himself would say — suffer, yes. Be misunderstood, yes. Be shamed, yes. But do not be ashamed. Because the message of God’s saving work in Christ is the only final triumphant message in the world. Short-term pain. Long-term gain. For the joy set before you, for the salvation that only the gospel can gain, take up your cross, follow Jesus, and despise the shame.
The Gospel Is the Power of God unto Salvation
Today, I want to dwell on the words, “for it [the gospel] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” And I will take up only one question: What is this salvation that the gospel so powerfully brings about? We will see in answering this how our faith relates to the gospel in bringing about our salvation.
There are other crucial questions, especially the question of how the gospel becomes the power to save. But that is the point of verse 17, which we will plan to take up on August 9. “The gospel . . . is the power of God [unto] salvation . . . for [= because] in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith” — that’s why the gospel is the power of God to salvation.
So, the question today is: What is this salvation that the gospel so powerfully brings about? “The gospel is the power of God for [unto] salvation.” Does this mean, “The gospel is the power of God to win converts”? Now, I do think that is true, but I don’t think that is what this statement means.
The reason I think it is true that the gospel converts people — brings them to faith and repentance — is because Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” And 1 Peter 1:23–25 says, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. . . . And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” So, it is true that we are born of God and converted by means of hearing the powerful word of God, the gospel.
And it’s true that this conversion is called “salvation” in the New Testament. For example, Ephesians 2:8–9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” So, conversion to Christ by faith is called “being saved.” If you are a believer in Christ this morning, you “have been saved.” The book of Romans should be precious beyond words to you, because, like no other book in the Bible, it unfolds for you what has already happened in God’s saving you — your election, your predestination, your calling, your justification, your sanctification, and the obedience of faith. These are all part of the salvation that is already true of you through faith.
The Final Triumph of the Gospel
But what is the salvation that Paul has in mind in Romans 1:16 when he says, “For [the gospel] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”? I think he has in mind not primarily the first event of conversion, but primarily the final triumph of the gospel in bringing believers to eternal safety and joy in the presence of a holy and glorious God. There are four reasons why I think this is what he means. Looking at these reasons is the best way to unpack the meaning of the verse.
1. The power of the gospel is what frees us from being ashamed of the gospel.
The first reason is that the power of the gospel to bring about salvation is what frees us from being ashamed of the gospel. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation.” But if this meant only that the gospel has the power to make converts, why would that solve the shame problem? Lots of religions make converts. Lots of different religious and secular movements win people over to their faith. When Paul said that the gospel has such a powerful effect that you don’t have to be ashamed of it, did he simply mean that it does what other religions do: win converts? I don’t think so.
Jesus triumphed over shame by looking at the future joy that was set before him as he died. I think this is what Paul, as well, has in mind in Romans 1:16. You don’t have to be ashamed of the gospel because it doesn’t just make converts; it saves those converts utterly. It brings them to final safety and ever-increasing joy in the presence of a glorious and holy God forever and ever. This is what makes us bold with the gospel — not that it can make converts; any religion can do that — but that it is the only truth in the world that can really save people forever and bring them to everlasting joy with God.
2. “Salvation” is future-oriented elsewhere in Paul and the New Testament.
The second reason I think “salvation” in verse 16 refers to the final triumph of the gospel in bringing believers to eternal safety and joy in the presence of a holy and glorious God is that the phrase “for salvation” or “unto salvation” has this future-oriented meaning elsewhere in Paul and other New Testament writers.
For example, in 2 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul says, “God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved [or for salvation], through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” Now here, salvation is not just what happens at conversion, which leads to sanctification, but salvation is what comes later “through sanctification” and is in the future. In other words, salvation is the future triumph that brings the saint into God’s presence with everlasting joy.
Or again, in 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul speaks to Christians who are already converted and saved, but need fresh repentance for their sins: “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Here again “to salvation” refers not to conversion, but to the final, future state of safety and joy in the presence of God (see also 2 Timothy 3:15).
Similarly, Hebrews 9:28 says, “Christ . . . will appear a second time . . . to save [or for salvation to] those who are eagerly waiting for him.” This final, complete salvation happens at the second coming. First Peter 1:5 says, “[Believers] are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” This salvation is “ready to be revealed in the last time.” It is not conversion. It is the last great work of God to rescue us and bring us to safety and joy in his presence forever.
In Romans 5:9–10, Paul talks about this future salvation as rescue from the final wrath of God: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood [that’s the present reality of salvation!], much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son [here again is the present reality of salvation!], much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” In other words, the full experience of salvation, in Paul’s thinking, is still future. Romans 13:11, “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”
So, when Paul says in Romans 1:16 that “[the gospel] is the power of God for salvation,” I take him to mean that the gospel is the only message in the world that powerfully can bring a person not just to conversion, but to everlasting safety and joy in the presence of a holy and glorious God.
3. Ongoing belief is the condition for this salvation.
The third reason I think “salvation” in Romans 1:16 is the final triumph of the gospel in bringing believers to eternal safety and joy in the presence of a holy and glorious God is that ongoing belief is the condition for this salvation. Notice that verse 16 does not say, “The gospel is the power of God to bring about faith and salvation.” It says, “The gospel . . . is the power of God for [unto] salvation to everyone who is believing [present tense in Greek, signifying continuous action].” In other words, Paul’s point here is not that the power of the gospel creates faith, but that, for those who have faith, the gospel brings about salvation. So, the point is not that the gospel is the power for conversion to faith. The point is that the gospel is the power to bring about future salvation through a life of faith.
The tense of the verb “believe” here is crucial. It signifies ongoing action, not just the first act of faith when you were converted: “The gospel . . . is the power of God for salvation to everyone who is believing” — who goes on believing. It’s the same as 1 Corinthians 15:1–2, where Paul says, “I preached to you [the gospel], which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.” Faith that does not persevere is a vain and empty faith — what James calls dead faith (James 2:17, 26).
So, the point of Romans 1:16 is that you don’t have to be ashamed of the gospel, because it is the only truth in the world which, if you go on banking on it day after day, will triumph over every obstacle and bring you to eternal safety and joy in the presence of a holy and glorious God.
4. Paul says the gospel is for believers, not just unbelievers.
The last reason I think this is what “salvation” means in verse 16 is that the verse is given as the reason Paul wants to preach the gospel to believers (not just unbelievers). We’ve seen this, but look again. In verse 15 Paul says, “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” He is eager to preach the gospel to “you” — you believers, not just unbelievers. Then he gives the reason: “for I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to all such believers.”
So, I conclude that the reason Paul is not ashamed of the gospel is that it is the only truth in all the world that will not let you down when you give your life to it in faith. It will bring you all the way through temptation and persecution and death and judgment into eternal safety and ever-increasing joy in the presence of a holy and glorious God. All the other “gospels” in the world that win so many converts will fail you in the end. Only one saves from the final wrath of God and leads to fullness of joy in his presence and pleasures at his right hand forever. Therefore, there is no need to be ashamed of it, no matter what others say or do. And oh, how eager we should be to speak this gospel to believer and unbeliever alike.
Do You Feed on the Gospel Day by Day?
I close with one huge implication of what I have said. Do you feed your faith day by day with the promises of this triumphant gospel? Do you, as a believer, go to the gospel day by day and savor its power in verses like Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” The gospel is the good news that God gave us his Son, so as to obtain for us everything that would be good for us.
Therefore, the gospel is the power that gives us victory over temptation to despair and to pride and to greed and to lust. The gospel alone can triumph over every obstacle and bring us to eternal joy. Whatever it costs, stand in it, hold it fast, believe on it, feed on it, savor it, count it more precious than silver or gold. The gospel will save you. And it alone.
I love to tell the story; for those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it, like the rest.
And when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song,
’twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long.
I love to tell the story,
’twill be my theme in glory
To tell the old, old story
Of Jesus and his love.