Are you ready for a mega-dose of good news? I hope so! Well, here it is: The entire foundation of our Christian life and the foundation of the Church – is GRACE. Literally speaking, grace means a free gift. The name of that free gift is Jesus Christ. Jesus lived His life perfectly for us as one of us, completely obeying the law of God and now His performance is credited to us. God’s free gift to us is not only the life, but also the death of Jesus Christ. Our sins are punishable by death and that punishment was endured by Jesus when He died on the cross. That is also a gift given to us – His death is also credited to us. It’s as if we suffered the punishment for our sins. Jesus’ resurrection is also a gift to us. In Him we have risen above the power and penalty of sin. In Christ we have conquered death. Then after His resurrection, the Lord Jesus poured out His Holy Spirit Who made all this real to us and continues to do so today. The free gift of God’s grace is that Jesus lived a life pleasing to God and He now empowers us to live a life pleasing to God after Him, or more accurately, in Him. Another way of saying it, is that Jesus lived His life for us, and now He lives His life through us by the power of His Spirit – and all of this is free. The great Baptist Preacher Charles Spurgeon put it best when he said, ‘You stand before God as if you were Christ, because Christ stood before God as if He were you.’
So now we are no longer subject to sin and the laws governing sin. We are no longer necessarily subject to the results of sin. Sickness can be healed; demons can be driven off; depression can be cured; relationships can be reconciled; offences can be forgiven. It’s not guaranteed because we are still broken, but it is all now possible. What Satan has sought to do since the fall can be undone, by the free gift of God’s grace – His empowering presence. It’s a gift in the beginning; it’s a gift in the end; it’s a gift all the way through. Not only is this grace radically free to us, it is radically different to the way things were. The difference between the way things were and the way things are now after the giving of that gift, produces in us gratitude that motivates us to live the lives that we are meant to live. Why is this truth so important for our relationship with God? Well, part of that answer comes when we see what happens in our lives and relationship without it.
Unless we know the truth of who we are in Christ; the foundation of His grace in our salvation and sanctification; what God has done and how we are supposed to live out that salvation, then any exhortations to holy living will result in works of the flesh, our feeble attempts to do in our own power and strength what only God can and has done. It is so important we understand that there is nothing that we can do to save ourselves or pay for our sins. The Bible says, “… there is none righteous, no, not one. For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:10,23-24). So since we could not come to God, God came to us. Let’s look some words of the Apostle Paul in the Amplified version of the Bible:
“…it is by free grace that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through your faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God; Not because of works [not the fulfilment of the Law’s demands], lest any man should boast. [It is not the result of what anyone can possibly do, so no one can pride himself in it or take glory to himself]. What you and I could not earn, God gave to us freely by His grace.” (Ephesians 2:8,9)
And in his letter to the Church in Rome, Paul wrote this:
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. (Romans 1:16-17)
Religion says the righteous will live by keeping the law. Paul says very clearly the righteous are not only saved by grace, through faith, but that is also how they must live each day. Now I am sure that you have heard ‘I’m not ashamed of the Gospel’sermons before. The most common way I have heard these verses preached is something like this: ‘If you’re afraid to go knock on doors and witness – if you’re afraid to preach on street corners – if you’re afraid to share your faith in Christ with every non-believer the Lord leads your way… then you’re ashamed of the Gospel … and you should not be ashamed of the Gospel because it’s the power of God unto salvation.’ What’s so amazing about that nonsense is firstly, it’s not what Paul is trying to say – but secondly, it undermines the very thing that Paul is trying to accomplish! Paul is saying: ‘What I’m about to tell you is going to free you from shame.’ So what do we do? We heap shame on ourselves and others with the very verse that’s supposed to free us from shame! Does that make sense to you? Religion is so powerful in its brain-fogged, spirit-deceived ways of doing things that it actually takes liberating Bible verses and turns them into oppression and heavy loads.
If you understand the Gospel of God’s amazing grace – like Paul did – you will never be ashamed of it, and let me go further and say that when that happens, you will never again experience shame about anything at all! If you know shame there is still a lot you can learn about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and when you do – when it comes to you not just in your mind, but by revelation from His Spirit to your spirit, then you are going to be free from all shame for all time. The Gospel delivers you from shame of every description. The key is found in verse 17. Paul says, he is not ashamed of the Gospel, because in the Gospel ‘a righteousness from God is revealed.’ When you look at your own righteousness, you’re ashamed, right? When you see how it measures up to God’s standards, you should be ashamed. Shame says: ‘you don’t measure up. There’s something wrong with you.’ Now if that could be taken completely away, you would never have any shame, would you? Well that is what the Gospel does! Paul says, ‘I’m freed from shame because a righteousness has been given to me from God. I don’t depend on my righteousness for how I feel about myself. I have a new standard by which to judge.’ So understand at the outset that if there’s any shame in your life, you still haven’t fully understood or embraced the Gospel.
In the Gospel we discover a righteousness from God – a goodness and an acceptability from God that is not dependent upon our performance. It is dependent upon the performance of Jesus Christ. It is a righteousness that is by faith from first to last. You start off with the gift of God – you end with the gift of God. The righteous shall live (not just get born again) by grace. We are meant to live each and every day by the good news which says: ‘You don’t measure up, but God has made you measure up through this incredible free gift!’ Romans 1:16 says, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” The power of God is a free gift of His grace to every single believer. It is part and parcel of the Gospel. You don’t have to get saved and then do something to get the power of God. The Gospel IS the power of God for those who do one thing: believe.
There has been a line of teaching around for many years now which says that God is ready to pour out His end-times power, and if we just pray harder and clean up our lives more and become holy enough, then God will ‘award’ it to us. If we ‘pay the price,’ we will ‘qualify for God’s higher purposes.’ That is to say, God’s power is available to those who are ‘spiritually affluent’ enough to ‘buy’ it. First of all, that kind of teaching is totally inconsistent with the Bible. It flies in the face of the entire New Testament, especially Romans 1:16 which we are considering here. Secondly, it is totally inconsistent with our own experience. Some of the most powerful ministers of God in this world have, at the very peak of their effective ministry, been caught in adultery or some other moral failure. Now we may jump in and say they must have been evil all the time; they must have been operating under a different spirit to the Spirit of God; they must not have even been Christians.
Why do we deduce that? Simple really – we think such nonsense because we have believed the lie which says God can’t use unholy people and He only pours His anointing and power into ‘clean’ vessels. In spite of all the evidence from Church history and in the Bible; in spite of the clear message of the New Testament and the experience of thousands, so many in the Church believe that the power of God is waiting for us to clean up our act and get holy! In case you have any doubts, look at what Paul said:
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” (Romans 11:33-36)
That is to say, God will not ‘sell’ you anything and He will not ‘buy’ anything from you. He gives freely and He invites us to give back to Him freely.” I am not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.” All who believe have the power of God in the Gospel; not some who qualify or work the hardest, but ALL who believe! Many people cannot understand how God would give spiritual power to morally defective people. This is a real problem for some people. It certainly is a pastoral problem, because it can get very messy – but it’s not a logical problem; it’s not a theological problem; it’s not a spiritual problem; it’s not a Biblical problem! I would suggest it’s only a problem to those who don’t understand the Gospel … who don’t understand that IT’S ALL FREE and WE ARE ALL UNHOLY. It’s free for anyone who wants to believe it and act on it! It doesn’t depend on whether you’re good or not. We are quite happy to accept that God loves us whether we are good or not – but why do we stumble on the next bit – that God also gives His gifts and power to us whether we are good or not! That’s the only possible conclusion you can draw from the Bible and from the evidence all around us throughout history! It’s allfree! That’s just the way God is – and we need to deal with it.
In one of the greatest parables Jesus told, the Prodigal Son, the Father gives his son everything when he returns, even though he has just proven himself to be incompetent in every respect. Why? Because that’s Who God is and that’s what God does! There isn’t any other reason and you and I are stuck with the way God is. So rather than asking why God would act so differently to us, we should just get on with life and believe what He says, act on it and what the transformation which follows! When we stop worrying about our righteousness and feeling bad because we’re not good enough, or feeling good because we’re not bad enough – then we will share the Gospel with everything that moves! We won’t be ashamed of the Gospel. When we believe that spiritual power is a gift of God which does not depend on our prayer or our righteousness or our holiness or our personal performance in any way, then we are going to experience the presence and power of God in an unprecedented way! God wants to free us all from the bondage of works! Most of us don’t even know we are under that bondage.
Jesus said that the truth will set us free (John 8:32). Well, the opposite is true too … if you do not possess the truth then you will not be free; you will be in bondage like so many millions of Christians. We are not under a contract with God; we are under a covenant – the new covenant. God says, “I’ve given everything to you freely – now believe into it – act upon it and it will become your experience. But you can’t buy anything from Me – I already gave it ALL to you in the Gospel – I gave it all to you in Jesus Christ and it is completely free.” Everything we receive from God – from salvation to sanctification – comes to us by grace and through faith.
O.K. Let’s get back to the text. “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” What are we saved from? Our sins? Do you think Jesus saved you from your sins? Well let’s think this through: Jesus saved us from our sins, so let me list a few. When you were still an unbeliever, were you a drunk? Did you do drugs? Did you lie? Did you steal? Did you cheat? Were you immoral or dishonest in some way? Were you selfish and refused to honour God? Hopefully everyone can identify with that list at one point or another. Now most people also agree that those sins were separating you from the experience of God and His kingdom. So now let me ask you this: If you had stopped all those sins – would you have been propelled into the presence of God? No? So it wasn’t your sins that were the problem. Well that was easy, wasn’t it? Your behaviour doesn’t condemn you any more than changing your behaviour sends you to heaven.
So Jesus didn’t save you from your behaviour or your sins in the way you might think He did. The ultimate problem is not your sins – in fact, it isn’t anything you do. Your ultimate problem lies somewhere else. Let me explain this from a different angle. Now that you’re saved, have you stopped sinning? No. Are you still going to heaven even though you keep on sinning? Yes, you are. Wow! Isn’t that radical? So if we are not saved from our sins – what arewe saved from? Well, read on into verse 18 and you’ll have your answer. “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” And in Romans 2:5: “… because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.”
What are you saved from? You are saved from God! You are saved from God’s holy wrath against the wickedness you were born into, because you were born into a fallen humanity. So your problem is not your sin, your problem is you were born! Everyone who is born into that fallen family of mankind is born under the judgement of God. Now that doesn’t mean God has a mean streak. It just means that a holy God must judge sin. There are certain things that just can’t happen at the same time. You can’t go up and down at the same time. You can’t say ‘yes’ and mean yes, and say ‘no’ and mean no, at the same time. God is holy, and He can’t be anything but holy, 100% of the time! His holiness means that His unbending, pure, moral perfection must burn against all imperfection of every kind. That’s just the way God is. Anything that falls short of His holiness and perfection – comes under His judgement, His purging and His wrath. So we are saved first and foremost from God’s wrath.
Now you may be thinking, “Well His wrath is still against sin, so sin is still our problem isn’t it?” How much sin do you need to get rid of before it’s no longer a problem? 100%! Any chance of that happening? No. So your problem still isn’t sin. Your problem is the judgement of God on all sin – any sin – every sin! The problem is: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and the righteousness of God. The solution to that problem is the atoning death of Jesus and God’s gift of salvation to us. Paul sums it up powerfully further on in his letter to the Romans. Commencing in chapter three, verse 19 we read:
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of (our unrighteousness) our sin …
So the Gospel tells us something about our righteousness – that is, we don’t have any – that’s clear.
… But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God (not from you)comes through faith (not by works)in Jesus Christ to all (not some)who believe (not work for).There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him (Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his (holiness) justice.” (Romans 3:19-25)
According to this passage, there is a revelation in the law of God that all of us, every last human being on earth, has fallen short of God’s righteousness. We have all failed the test. What’s more, we failed the test before we were even born! Now I love the law of God. Not just in principle, I really love the law of God because it puts me out of my moral misery! I don’t have to worry about trying to be a little bit better. I don’t have to work on cleaning up a few of my sins to earn God’s favour. I don’t have to do more and try harder in the hope that one day I’ll measure up. I’m dead before I start! All have fallen short. Mother Theresa fell short. Billy Graham fell short. John the Baptist fell short. The Apostle Paul fell short. They ALL fell short! Every human being bar One has fallen short! You were born under God’s judgement. Face the truth and thank Him!
The law is so merciful, because it puts tortured men and women out of their misery. Isn’t that good news? The Bible says even the things that we do well are as filthy rags in God’s eyes (Isaiah 64:6). We don’t just need forgiveness for the things we do wrong – we need forgiveness for the things we think we do right! Thank the Lord for the law of God! Read the Ten Commandments, listen to Jesus summing them up when He says: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbour as yourself.When are you ever going to get good enough to do that? Never! The law demands 100% perfection and we can’t give it, and never will be able to this side of heaven! So we have to look somewhere other than our performance for our attitude towards ourselves and others. We need to look totally away from ourselves and the law – and what do we see when we look in the other direction?
Let’s look at verse 21 and following of Romans 3 again – it’s so beautiful – it’s so clear:
“But now a righteousness from God, (apart from me) apart from law, (looking away from the law and my performance in relation to the law) has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith (not by doing but by believing) in Jesus Christ to all (not the ones we think qualify but to all)who believe. There is no difference, (we’re all dead) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (all fall short of the standard) and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. (God presented Him as payment for everything we came up short on – Jesus scored all A’s on His report card and then put our name on the top of that report). He (God) did this to demonstrate His justice (so God could be holy and justify those children whom He loved)…“
You see the problem of our sin is not our problem – it’s God’s problem. How is He going to get those precious children, whom He created, back into a right relationship with Himself, while they are still sinning, without compromising His holiness? Well, I really wish I could tell you now, but that is another full sermon and the next step in our journey into the glory, the wonder, the power and the reality of God’s Amazing Grace and the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Until then, I encourage you to revisit this sermon. Pray through every paragraph and ask God to speak to you – first and foremost for your sake and for your relationship with Him. But secondly, ask God to show you how you can be a channel of blessing for someone else in your circle of influence who desperately needs to know this Gospel and the One Who embodies it. Amen.