Pastor’s Class Notes
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Romans 1:16-17 Introduction
As the “text” of Romans, verses 16-17 deserve our utmost scrutiny. Paul wanted Rome. He was going to Caesar’s town to say the real King was a Nazarene despised by Jews and crucified by Romans. Paul “believed in flying at the head when you are fighting with a serpent, and he knew that influence exerted in Rome would thrill through the Empire” (Maclaren).
Rome, at best, would be an icy atmosphere in which to share the Gospel. We all live in the midst of a spiritual ice age which presses upon us relentlessly. We can either let the ice bring down our temperature, or let it stimulate us to put more fuel on the fire and thereby melt the ice.
No one could have faulted Paul if he had been reluctant when confronting Rome. It was the hideous time of Nero. The city was a moral sewer. To shrink from going there would be normal, but Paul never even batted an eye. Undaunted and fearless, he says. . .
Romans 1:16a “I am not ashamed. . . .”
There are many sins among us, but maybe none so common as cowardice. It is often the one blot on an otherwise noble character. Many Christians overcome numbers of vices, but often cowardice lingers in us.
Being carnal, we have a tendency to be ashamed of the good and pure. Supporters of alcohol, abortion, etc., tend to be very vocal. They are unashamed, but often we find opponents very quiet.
There is a natural tendency in us to wish to appear no better than those around us. We do not want to be labeled “Holy Joe.”
Since Jesus knew this would be a problem for us, He repeatedly warned us not to be ashamed of Him and His Word. If we are ashamed of the Gospel, rest assured it is ashamed of us.
Peter was once ashamed of Jesus and denied Him, but when Jesus looked at him, Peter suddenly became ashamed of his shame. Later, after the power of God came upon him, this same Peter stood in the same city, Jerusalem, and spoke boldly about the same Jesus. Peter stood before the men of Israel and said they slew Jesus “by wicked hands” (AC 2:23) and reminded them, “whom ye crucified” (2:26). The same Spirit who transformed Peter can also turn more of us cowards into bold witnesses.
If any man ever had a right to be ashamed of the Gospel, it was Paul. Before the Gospel came, he was a prize specimen, an “A#1” exhibit of Judaism: a pure-bred Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee who was viewed as blameless with regard to the law (PH 3:5-6).
Paul deliberately renounced all his advantages, counting them as useless once Christ found him. He left a life of acclaim, respect, and success to embark upon a career of suffering and shame. The people he went to kill in Damascus had to sneak him out of town in a basket to protect him from the people who sent him there in the first place. He was stoned at Lystra, imprisoned at Philippi, chased out of Thessalonica, smuggled out of Berea, laughed at in Athens, and entered Rome as a prisoner.
Nevertheless, he said, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.” In fact he even went so far as to say that if you put all his previous honors on a platter and offered them to him, he would prefer a platter of dung (PH 3:8). And he was in jail when he wrote that!!
Romans 1:16b “. . .of the Gospel of Christ:”
“Gospel” means “glad tidings” or “good news.” In the church, however, it has taken on a technical meaning, as given in I Corinthians 15:3-8. The Gospel is not a statement of principles or ideas, but rather a record of facts. The Gospel technically is the following:
1. Jesus died for our sins, in our place, to bear our guilt.
2. He was buried–not a trivial detail; rather a fact that guarantees the fact of his death.
3. He rose again and was seen of witnesses–therefore, He is alive today and is God of very God.
This is the essence of our message for the world. These were the points Paul emphasized wherever he went. At Corinth he came “not with excellency of speech or of wisdom” (I Cor. 2:1) but “determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (2:2).
Alfred Cookman was a devout man. At his funeral, T. DeWitt Talmage said, “Strike a circle of three feet around the cross of Jesus, and you have all there was of Alfred Cookman.” It was said of Spurgeon’s sermons, all roads led to Jesus. He always found a way to say a good word for Christ. Billy Graham finds a way to exalt Jesus, whatever the forum. May God keep us near the Gospel. Let it be the theme of our Sunday School classes, our sermons, our songs, our lives. The Gospel is important. . .
Romans 1:16c “. . .for it is the power. . . .”
Paul knew what the Gospel could do. In every town of his ministry he had left behind a trail of converts. He had seen lives totally transformed. The Gospel had made many a man utterly unlike his former self. The Corinthian Church had members who had previously been adulterers, thieves, homosexuals, drunkards, and extortioners (see I Cor. 67:9-11).
The Gospel is most effectively presented not by argument, but rather by what it does. It changes men’s lives. It happens everyday: drunks give up their booze; wife-beaters become gentle; agnostics become believers; adulterers give up their women.
Where else is there a force which makes bad men good and weak men strong? Where is a viable substitute to the power of the Gospel? Self-help programs hold up a prize specimen occasionally and say, “Look at what we produced.” However, such examples are few and far between.
Counselors, rehabilitation centers, civic clubs, schools, and others do a good work. However, their results can not match those that come from the power of the Gospel. Southern Baptists alone average baptizing about 1000 people every day.
There is obviously power in the Gospel. Any teaching that flourishes as well as Christianity has for 1900 years must have some secrets to success. The Jews said its power was of the devil. Pagans who unsuccessfully opposed it said it was the power of fanaticism. Men in our culture say it is the power of manipulation and psychological trickery. Communism says its power is found in its being an opiate, a form of escapism. Paul said its power is . . .
Romans 1:16d “. . .of God. . . .”
The Gospel is the channel through which God Himself has chosen to display His power. This is His surest way of giving glory to Jesus. Every transformed life is a testimony Jesus truly is God’s Son. The key to success is Jesus, not Buddha, not Confucius, not Mohammed.
The Gospel did not emanate from man, but from God through His Son. The methods of anthropologists and students of world religions fail to analyze this point. This is where their diagnosis falls short.
Christianity is not like any other religion; it is the only one commissioned by God. You might ask, “How can you say such a thing?” Easily! We are the only ones who could use as our logo an empty tomb.
The power which lifted Jesus from the grave is available to change men today. The Gospel is no feeble thing. It is not merely a temporary surface job. It is a powerful force that changes men all the way to the core of their being. This is exactly what men must have.
Ask any reformer in any age, and he will quickly testify, human character is a hard thing to change. The human heart has been the aim and despair of all reformers. Their failure is rooted in the inability to lift men’s manhood. They learn the hard way, man’s sin nature is hard to influence. Men are difficult to change; other means of reform are therefore necessary.
American slave owners could not be convinced slavery was wrong. They released their slaves only when political pressure and a war forced them to. American women could not convince men to let them vote. They took to the streets and used physical clout to succeed. Carrie Nation could not convince men to quit drinking. She took an axe and destroyed saloons.
This is usually the pattern with reform movements. They begin in a small group as an innovative idea. The establishment rejects the idea, and the reformer resorts to physical means to change the establishment.
However, Jesus does not need to use physical force or coercion. The stumbling block of the reformer is the strength of the Redeemer. Reformers trip over human nature; Jesus transforms it. History teaches one sure lesson: for the changing of a man’s nature, something stronger than man’s power is essential. After twenty years of preaching, Paul was still convinced the Gospel was that power. It can also change your life today.