A Gospel Proclaiming Church
As I think about the many responsibilities of the Christian Church, I can think of no task more important than the task of proclaiming the Gospel.
I am thankful that our churches are busy doing many important things. We are caring for the poor in our community. We are caring for one another. We have been working hard to improve our facilities. We are running excellent programs for adults and children alike. We engage in quality worship services on Sunday. And the Lord will bless us for our efforts in these areas.
None of these areas, however, represent the God-ordained means whereby God builds His Church. The New Testament reveals that whenever the Christian Church experienced significant growth it was because the Gospel was being faithfully preached.
Have you ever wondered why God leaves us here on earth, with all of its pain, sorrow, and sin, after we become Christians? Why doesn't He just zap us immediately to heaven and spare us from all this hardship? After all, we can worship God best in heaven. We can enjoy Christian fellowship, we can sing, and we can understand God's Word best when we are in heaven. And while we experience a measure of joy and peace on earth, in heaven, we gain everlasting joy and perfect peace.
In fact, there are only 2 things you can't do in heaven that you can do on earth: sin and share the gospel with non-Christians. Now which of these 2 things do you think Christ has left us here to do? Sharing the gospel must, therefore, be a priority for every Christian.
I suspect it is for this reason that Paul declares, in Romans 1, verse 15, that he is "eager to preach the gospel". Paul goes on explain his conviction in the next couple of verses, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation . . . For in it, the righteousness of God is revealed"(1:16,17).
As we seek to apply these verses, I would like us to consider 3 questions this morning.
The first question we should ask is: What is the gospel? We hear this term so often, yet I fear that the average Christian could scarcely explain the gospel if called upon.
The second question we should ask is: Why might someone be ashamed of the gospel?
And the third question: If we are unashamed of the gospel, what then, shall we do?
Answering the first question, theologian, R.C. Sproul, says that "the gospel is a reference to the content of the person and the work of Jesus Christ". Subsequently, the gospel call for faith concerns both what Jesus did and who Jesus is.
And who is Jesus? Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah. More than that, Jesus is a member of the Trinity--He is God's Son. Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John, "unless you believe that I am (God), you shall die in your sins"(Jn.8:24).
And what did Jesus do? Jesus gave Himself to be crucified for our sins that we might be reconciled to God (Rom.5:8-10), and, by the power of God, He rose again on the third day(1Cor.15:4).
Is that all? No, there is more. If all we needed was for Christ to die and rise again, He could have simply parachuted from heaven down to the cross.
This is where the Apostles' Creed falls short of giving us the gospel, "born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate". Pardon me, but the Creed leaves out a critical piece of the gospel message by passing over the life of Jesus. This missing piece is introduced in the very first chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans, verse 17. Paul writes, "in it"--that is, in the gospel--"the righteousness of God is revealed".
When Paul speaks of "the righteousness of God" he is not speaking so much about God's righteous character, as he is speaking about the righteousness of God made available to those who lack righteousness.
Let me explain. Because of the Fall, you and I have no ability to be righteous in the eyes of God. If you doubt this, pick up your Old Testament, read the Law, and ask yourself if you can follow every command.
You see, one of the purposes of giving us the Old Testament Law was to break us. The Law, though pure and just, did not make righteousness available to us (Gal.3:21). Instead, the Law revealed our unrighteousness and condemned us(Rom.4:15).
We need more than Divine pardon to get into heaven, we also need righteousness to stand in the presence of God. And Paul's message in Romans 1:17 is that Divine righteousness has been made available to us. The good news of the Gospel is that Christ's righteousness can be our righteousness.
Jesus, the Son of God, was born a man, under the law, and lived a life of perfect righteousness. Without this, the cross is not atoning, and without this, the Resurrection is not life giving. The basis of our salvation is not simply the subtraction of sin, but it includes the addition of righteousness. And this righteousness comes from Christ through faith. This, my friends, is the gospel.
This takes us to our second question: Why would anyone be ashamed of this gospel? I think there a few reasons why one might be tempted to be ashamed of the gospel. One reason is that the gospel message causes conflict and persecution.
In Mark's gospel, after Jesus instructs His disciples to preach the gospel(Mk.13:10), He warns them that they will be "hated . . . on account of (His) name"(Mk.13:13). And the apostle Paul, after telling Timothy to "not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord", invites Timothy to "join with (him) in suffering for the gospel"(2Tim.1:8).
Now I suspect that very few of us will ever know what it is like to physically suffer for the gospel, yet, in many countries--Indonesia, for example-- the killing of Christians has been the norm for many years.
But even with the fear of physical persecution removed, have we become timid with the proclamation of the gospel? Friends, are we ready to be scoffed at, to be called an old-fashioned fossil, for Christ's sake? If it were required, are we prepared to lose our good reputation with others for Christ's sake? If we are ridiculed for sharing the gospel, let us be comforted by Jesus who promises, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake"(Mt.5:10). But, as one pastor pointed out to me, make sure you are being persecuted for righteousness sake and not "jerkness" sake when you share the gospel.
A second reason someone might be ashamed of the gospel is because the message of the gospel is a simple one. Paul tells the Corinthians that "God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message to save those who believe"(1Cor.1:21). Because the gospel message is a simple one, Paul understands that the gospel will be a "stumbling block" for those looking to be impressed by "(worldly) wisdom" and "power"(1Cor.1:22).
A third reason for why one might be ashamed of the gospel is because the message of the gospel is exclusive and makes absolute claims. A common criticism against Christianity in 2002 is our claim to have the inside track on the truth regarding salvation. By contrast, the motto of our society is that "something is true if it is true for you", thus validating most world religions.
The Bible, however, says something different. Jesus says something different. Jesus says something exclusive and absolute when He says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me"(Jn.14:6).
And Jesus gives a warning to those who might be tempted to be ashamed of His exclusive, absolute, message, "whoever is ashamed of Me and My words . . . the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father"(Mk.8:38).
And now, to our final question: If we are unashamed of the gospel, what then, shall we do? For the answer, we scroll back to Romans 1:15. Following Paul's example, we should be eager to preach the gospel. It is not enough for us to be unashamed of the gospel if we are not eager to share it with others.
Unfortunately, I cannot make you eager to share the gospel. What I can do, however, is remind you of the blessedness of your salvation. I can remind you of the blessedness of having all your sins forgiven. I can remind you of the blessedness of having Christ's righteousness transferred to your account.
Beyond these motivations, I am motivated to share the gospel because of what I read in verse 16, "the gospel is the power of God unto salvation". What a relief it is to read that the success of my sharing the gospel does not depend on me, but on God.
We look everywhere for power, for a formula, for a technique, to grow our churches. But the Bible tells us that we have all the power we need accompanying the gospel. If we want our church to grow, we must be committed to sharing the gospel.
R.C. Sproul asks the question, "What would happen if every minister truly believed Romans 1:16, that "the gospel was the power of God unto salvation?" Sproul's answer is that we would experience a modern day Reformation.
Let me rephrase that question, "What would happen if every person here today truly believed Romans 1:16?". My answer is that we would see this church grow beyond our greatest expectations.
I implore you to believe Romans 1:16, and to look for, opportunities to share the gospel message with your friends, family, co-workers, and neighbours.
Our challenge is to be unashamed in the face of opposition. Our challenge is to trust in the power of the gospel. Our challenge is to be a gospel-proclaiming church. Amen.