Shame and the Gospel

I think it was my freshman year in college when I was asked to go out to preach the gospel. I walked around my campus with a very enthusiastic brother, approaching people and being rejected as soon as they heard we wanted to talk about Jesus. The more we were scoffed at, the happier he seemed to be. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I disliked being approached myself, how I could tell when someone I didn’t know had marked me out to ask for money or a signature on a petition. If only, I thought, it wasn’t so impolite. 

Several years later, a good friend of mine asked me about God. It was late at night, and our conversation had drifted toward the Big Topics of being. He knew that I was a Christian, and admitted that he didn’t know much about the Bible, about Christ, but he wanted to learn. At the time, shadowed as I was by profound doubt, I said something noncommittal and the moment passed. It never returned. The techniques or particulars of preaching weren’t the problem. I was ashamed of the gospel.

The Power of God

A believer from an early age, I had reached a point in my life where the gospel’s power was, for me, mainly doctrinal. It felt theoretical. What a difference from what Paul presents as Romans 1 continues:

 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, both to Jew first and to Greek. For the righteousness of God is revealed in it out of faith to faith, as it is written, “But the righteous shall have life and live by faith.”
Romans 1:16-17

Paul was ready to preach, unashamed; not only fully convinced of but living out the good news. What he speaks of first is righteousness.


While I was ashamed of the gospel, Martin Luther felt a very different emotion. The remarkable phrase “righteousness of God” in verse 17 was at the heart of Martin Luther’s struggle with the theology he received, and helped precipitate the Protestant Reformation. Understanding this as the righteousness of God in condemnation upon sinful man, Luther “hated that word,” and “raged with a fierce and troubled conscience” until he began to see the matter of justification by faith. Looking back, Luther said:

Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me…. And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word “righteousness of God.”1

What joy to be righteous in Christ before God! This is a living truth in God’s word that must be recovered not only doctrinally, but experientially. The Recovery Version footnote on righteousness brings out the wonderful implications of this word:

Here God’s righteousness is the power of God’s salvation. God’s righteousness, which is solid and steadfast, is the foundation of His throne (Psa. 89:14) and the base on which His kingdom is built (Rom. 14:17). Legally, both love and grace can fluctuate, but righteousness cannot. It is even more so with God’s righteousness. It is God’s righteousness, not ours, that is revealed in the gospel of God. Hence, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.
Romans 1:17, note 1

Have Life and Live

Since the time I chose not to answer my friend’s question, the Lord has been healing me, casting out my fear and doubt and filling me with faith. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to a young man named Muhammad who was born in a Muslim country and had wondered his whole life about Christianity. He knew a God of righteousness: a righteousness that was completely removed from him. It was with real joy that I told him that a Christian approaches God boldly, based on the righteousness of Christ. He said, simply and sincerely, “I want that confidence.”

This gospel is powerful! However, it doesn’t end with righteousness. If it did, Paul could have ended his letter in chapter 5. Instead, he goes on to present a “much more” salvation.2 The note on have life points us to the way God constitutes sinners not only righteous, but members of the Body of Christ:

The righteousness of God justifies us that we may have God’s life (5:18) and live by it. In this way this life will sanctify and transform us thoroughly. This book covers mainly our being justified (1:1–5:11; 9:1–11:36), our having life (5:12–8:39), and our living properly by this life (12:1–16:27). Since this verse also stresses these three points, it may be considered an abstract of the entire book.
Romans 1:17, note 3

This is an awesome presentation of the thought of God revealed in Romans. The gospel is God’s righteousness revealed out of and to faith so that we may have God’s life for His expression. This is good news worth preaching unashamed!



  1. pp. 2-3, The Protestant Reformation, ed. by Hans J. Hillebrand, Harper & Row, 1968.
  2. Romans 5:10.

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