Let Us Never Be Ashamed of the Gospel of Christ
The following sermon was preached by Pastor Nolting at Faith of New Ulm’s Mission Festival. Immanuel had a guest pastor this Sunday who does not write out his sermons.
Text: Romans 1:16-17
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
In Christ Jesus, our precious Lord and Savior, dear fellow redeemed:
Exactly five hundred years ago in 1507—when the views of the Christian Church dominated European society, and that church based in Rome declared all men sinful and that church was seen as the only source of salvation—a young German monk was ordained into the priesthood. Shortly thereafter he celebrated his first mass. The Roman Catholic Church taught at that time and still teaches today that in the mass a priest offers the body and blood of Christ to God as a sacrifice by which he and all those who participate can then merit God’s favor and forgiveness. This particular young monk, fearful as a sinner to address God directly, faltered in that mass and later reported that he wanted to run away from the altar lest he be judged by God. Such were the feelings of the young priest, Martin Luther. He feared God—indeed he came to hate God, because God in His law demanded a righteousness Luther knew he could not produce. Consequently, although a priest, he lived a life of quiet desperation and growing resentment against the God he served. It was not until Luther was led by the Spirit to consider the words of St. Paul found in our text, that he found relief. As Luther pondered these words that “the gospel of Christ” was indeed “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” and that “in it (that gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith,” the Spirit led him to discover that which opened the doors of heaven to his soul! The Spirit led Luther to understand that salvation was not and could never be a matter of his works, but rather was a gift of God’s grace—a gift of righteousness given by God and received by faith in Jesus Christ! From that moment Luther was truly reborn! With great joy and Spirit-inspired confidence he proclaimed the gospel message that “the just shall live (not by works, but rather) by faith!” When Luther later experienced the full wrath of Rome in the form of papal bulls and bans, he did not back down from the gospel in which he had now come to believe and rejoice. He, like Paul, was “not ashamed” of that gospel. He remained determined to proclaim it, for it alone held the keys to eternal life!
My dear friends, we live in a very different day. The views of the Christian Church no longer dominate society. The vast majority of people, including many Christians, do not live in fear of God and few seemingly are aware of their sinfulness. In fact, sin as a topic is seldom mentioned. Those who speak of sin are considered old-fashioned and told “judge not, lest you be judged!” (Mt. 7:1 KJV) The sad result is that the gospel is ignored—often deemed unnecessary and those sharing it are ridiculed. People assume they can rather easily through their own efforts gain God’s favor—if such favor is even necessary! The situation in our day, therefore, is serious! Satan is leading countless souls down the broad path to hell—souls lacking both faith in Christ and an awareness of the judgment to come. We cannot afford to remain silent! We must speak! LET US NEVER BE ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, and in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith!
Yes, let us always say with Paul: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and for the Greek.” While we may indeed live in a very different day than Martin Luther or the apostle Paul in terms of certain external factors, the basic spiritual situation facing all of humanity has not changed. There is a God, who created heaven and earth. Every human being is a special creation of God and, therefore, subject to Him. God’s law demands perfection. No human being is perfect. In fact, far from being perfect, every human being by nature unless converted is living in a state of sinful rebellion against God. A day of judgment is approaching, at which time all human beings will stand before their Creator God and give an account of their lives. Those whom God accepts will experience everlasting life in heaven (the realm of God), while those whom God rejects will experience everlasting torment in hell. These are the facts that face each and every one of us human beings—whether we are led to believe them or choose to reject them!
The question addressed to Paul by a trembling jailor in Philippi, therefore, remains the most important question that any human being can ask and which every human being must answer: “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30b) The Pharisees and philosophers of Paul’s day turned people for the answer to that question to themselves and their own works. The church of Luther’s day turned people for the answer to that question to themselves and their own works. Society today turns people for the answer to that question to themselves and their own works. This does not work—it never has and it never will! The answer is found in the gospel of Christ, for as Paul told that jailor: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household!” (Acts 16:31) Let us examine why this is the case.
Consider the problem of sin. No one with eyes to see and ears to hear can deny the presence of sin in this world. Look at the genocide going on in the Sudan, the suicide-bombers in Iraq, the repression of the military dictators in Burma, and the prison-camps in North Korea. Listen to the reports on drug-dealing, school shootings, child pornography, and domestic violence here in the United States. We are surrounded by sin on every side, but that is not all. Evaluate your own thoughts, words, and actions in view of God’s holiness and on the basis of the demand of God’s law for perfection. God’s does not measure sinfulness on a scale of one to ten. No, He speaks of absolutely no sin versus any sin. Consider the words of the apostle James: “Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all!(James 2:10); and just as the prophet Ezekiel says: “The soul who sins shall die!” (Ezekiel 18:20a) The consequence of sin—any sin—is death, something no one ultimately can deny!
There is only one solution for sin, and that solution is not found in human beings themselves or in their works, for as Paul went on to explain to the Roman Christians of his day: “By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His (that is, in “God’s”) sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). Jesus Christ alone has the power to deal with this world’s sin—including our sin. He alone was able to counter and then defeat sin’s master—Satan. He alone was able to live a life free of sin—perfect in every way, and then by grace exchange His righteousness for our sinfulness. He alone was able to pay the penalty the sin of this world deserved, for He alone could offer the blood of God in sacrifice on Calvary’s cross. This radical plan of God is the power unto salvation, for when Jesus died and then arose again God declared a world of sinners justified—righteous in His sight…freed from sin…and freed from the penalty of sin: death. These blessings become ours and any human beings when the Spirit of God leads us and anyone else to believe. It does not matter who you are. Paul spoke of “Jews” and “Greeks” (non-Jews). Luther could speak of Jews and Germans, or Germans and Turks. Today, we are privileged to be involved through a mission program in Africa and Asia, Canada, and throughout our United States. The gospel message is powerful, for it has addressed the sin-problem of every nation and every race. The gospel proclaims Jesus Christ as this world’s Savior through whom we become right with God and by whom we gain the promise of life everlasting! Yes, LET US NEVER BE ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes…
…and in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith! It was these words, in particular, that came to mean so much to Martin Luther. While the law of God demands a righteousness human beings cannot produce, the gospel of God gives human beings a righteousness that will stand up under the inspection of God on the final day of judgment, for it is the righteousness of Jesus Christ Himself! Paul explains the situation later in this epistle when he writes: “Through one Man’s righteous act (that man being Jesus Christ) the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life…(and) by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18b, 19b). Paul explains that even as Abraham believed in God’s gospel promises and “it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3b), so this is true for everyone who is led by the Spirit to place their trust in Jesus. By faith then the justified and righteous sinner is brought into the family of God—declared to be both a child of God and an heir of heaven (cf. Galatians 3:26-29).
That gift of righteousness, Paul then says, “is revealed from faith to faith.” The exact meaning of that phrase is debated by students of the Bible. Some suggest that Paul is simply saying that our salvation is gained by faith—from beginning to end! While that is certainly a Scriptural thought, I do not believe that is what Paul is saying. The phrase literally means “is revealed out of faith into faith.” God’s plan for your salvation is to give you the gift of righteousness through your faith in Christ. Your faith was worked by the Spirit of God at some time in the past either through the sacrament of baptism or through the preaching of the gospel word. God has chosen us, His children, to play an important role in His kingdom’s expansion. Even as your parents and mine brought us to baptism…even as someone shared with you the gospel word, even so God would have you and me share the word with others. “From…(or) out of” the faith of others, therefore, came the actions which the Spirit of God then used to bring faith into our hearts. As we are then by faith motivated to share His gospel with others, the Spirit is working to place faith in those other hearts.
Paul tells us later in Romans: “if you confess with you mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (10:9-10). He then tells us in 2 Corinthians 5 that “we are ambassadors for Christ” (v. 20). We are to implore others to know and believe the fact that God has reconciled the world to Himself through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We are privileged to share a message of hope and certain salvation—a message that has touched our hearts as we come to grieve over our sins, but rejoice in the gift of God’s forgiveness and the righteousness which is ours by faith.
Dear friends, today is your Mission Festival. The offering you will shortly give will support the work of gospel outreach, but more important than your offering is your heart and your voice. God urges us out of love for Him and concern for others to take every opportunity to share His gospel word. It is, after all, the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes. In it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith! As we are led to recognize the opportunities we have to share the gospel and indeed do that very thing, the Spirit of God will use those confessions to work faith within the hearts of others. Then rather than walking down the broad road to destruction, those individuals rescued by the Spirit—those just individuals shall live by faith! LET US NEVER BE ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting