When I moved up to the Bay Area 10 years ago, I was really surprised by how little churches seemed to focus on missions and evangelism. I became a Christian at a church that was heavily invested in world missions and stressed the importance of sharing the gospel with as many people as possible. This church sent missionaries around the world, had short term mission trips filled every year, and they shared the gospel in their community. It was an immigrant Korean church and there were some rough edges to their style of evangelism. For example, they would go to the local Korean supermarket with bright red vests that said “Don’t go to Hell” but oddly, it worked in their context and we saw many people come to faith. In fact, my faith as a new Christian grew as a result of the evangelistic fervor of this church because for all the doubts that I personally had, I could not shake the fact that there was this large group of people who seemed to be genuinely living out their belief in God, even to the point of leaving the comforts of home to share the gospel in countries I’ve never even heard of. After seminary, I joined Acts Ministries, which Renewal is also a part of, largely because of its emphasis on missions and the opportunity to partner together to help fulfill the Great Commission. The idea that the book of Acts should be the normative expression of Christianity is something that resonated with me and I wanted to work alongside other leaders and churches that shared that same core spiritual DNA.
Unfortunately over the years, I think we have diluted what normal, biblical Christianity was meant to be. We now confuse our personal salvation as being the only purpose of the gospel but that is not what Jesus taught us. At the end of the gospel of Luke, after Jesus had been resurrected, He taught his disciples how the entire Old Testament from the Law to the Prophets and even the Psalms is fulfilled in Him. We read this in Luke 24:45-47.
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
Normative biblical, Christ centered Christianity must include the proclamation of the Gospel to all the nations beginning with where we are. We have no right to change what the totality of the Scriptures describe as being the normative pattern of the Christian life. Missions and evangelism is not some small part of the bible, it is the essence. Essentially what Jesus is saying is that the whole of Scripture, understood by the mind that has been opened by His Spirit, finds its fulfillment both in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ along with the mission of God that must flow out as a result of those life-changing events. When the prophet Habbakuk looks forward to the day when the knowledge of the glory of God will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, he’s talking about the day when millions of Christians will boldly proclaim what Christ has done wherever they go. And that is the very example that we see in the lives of the early Christians who turned the world upside down as they boldly proclaimed the message of the gospel. I want to look at one of those examples this morning in the book of Romans.
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
I think most of us would agree that one of the most difficult things to do as part of the Christian life is to share the gospel. As we go through the text, we want to look at three keys to proclaiming Christ boldly.
Living a life of joyful obedience
Resolving not to be ashamed of the gospel
Understanding God’s prerogative in salvation
1. The first key is living a life of joyful obedience. One of the mistakes that we have a tendency to make especially at our church is to over-emphasize our freedoms and downplay our responsibilities as Christians. And to be honest this has led to some irresponsibility on our part especially in the area of evangelism and missions. Many of us see evangelism and the preaching of the gospel as an option or extra credit on God’s grading scale. Paul sees it in a totally different light and he writes that he is under obligation to preach the Gospel to everyone. The world in Paul’s time was divided into simple categories, Greeks or non- Greeks, the wise and the foolish. Essentially what Paul is saying is that he has an obligation to preach the gospel to all of humanity. He understood his obligations and took ownership of them. In our day and age, many of us don’t like to feel obligated to anyone or anything. We want to do things on our own time and according to our own terms. We do things when we feel like it. This is contrary to living life as a bond-servant of Christ and living a life of sacrificial service to others. This is why Paul says “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” There are times when we will have to sacrifice our freedoms in order to win people to Christ. This is why missionaries sacrifice the comforts and luxury of America and make themselves slaves to other cultures. For those of us who live here in the Bay Area, we are under the same obligation to share the gospel with the people around us. But not only do we recognize our obligations but we should also note the attitude that we ought to have in regards to that obligation. In verse 15, we can see that Paul has an eagerness to fulfill his responsibilites. It’s not a heavy burden around his neck and it’s not something that he hates to do but he is eager to preach the gospel. Sometimes it is hard to see how you can be eager to fulfill an obligation until you throw love into the equation. For example, I have an obligation to be a good father, to provide for my family, and to lead them spiritually but I am also eager to fulfill those responsibilities because I love them. When we love people the way that God wants us to we will have the same eagerness to fulfill our obligations as Paul demonstrates to the Romans.
2. The second key is resolving not to be ashamed of the Gospel. Now the very fact that Paul writes this, tells us that there are things about the Gospel that will bring us shame in the eyes of the world. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. It was the case in Paul’s day and it is the same case today. All throughout time and across every culture, the Gospel has remained a foolish message. There are elements of the Gospel that will be offensive to every society and culture. The very notion of God becoming Man, dying on the cross for our sin, being resurrected on the third day, ascending into heaven, and then promising to return is a crazy message. Before I received Christ into my life, I thought Christians were the most unrealistic, the most anti-intellectual group of people on the planet. In the face of science and reason, who in the world could believe such nonsense? This is the cultural bias that I brought into my views of the Gospel and from our cultural perspective, it is far easier to believe that we will simply vanish into non-existence or become a part of some collective conscience in the universe. The message of the Gospel stands completely contrary to this worldview and for that reason, we have to make a resolution not be ashamed of the Gospel. Out of all of the excuses not to share your faith publicly, there is one excuse that stands out as being the most offensive in the eyes of God and that is finding yourself guilty of being ashamed of your relationship with Christ.
but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
In Matthew 10:33, Jesus states clearly that those who deny Me before men, I will deny them before my Father who is in heaven. To say the least these are strong words and seem to be lacking in the grace that we associate with Jesus. The reason that this sin is so serious and why Jesus gives such a strong warning is the fact that we end up reversing our roles when we do this. In reality, Christ should have been ashamed of us, but he bore our shame and declared his love for us loudly on the cross. Romans 10:11 reminds us that “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
It is not hard to see why it’s difficult to share the gosple because most people naturally have an aversion towards anything that brings shame. Growing up, I was raised by my grandmother who I dearly loved but there was a problem because she had a hunchback. She used to walk me to school every day but kids in elementary school can be cruel and so it wasn’t long before you got questions, “what is wrong with your grandmother”, “what is wrong with her back” and I would see kids laughing at her as we walked to school. So the day came when I told my grandmother that she could walk me a certain distance to school where people couldn’t see her and then I would walk the rest of the way by myself. As a little kid, I didn’t feel all that bad about this request because I had to protect myself and so the day came and we got to the designated spot and we said our good-byes and she looked really sad and I felt horrible inside because I knew that I was ashamed of her but eventually I learned to live it with it. Looking back after my grandmother passed away, I wished that I could have taken back those opportunities to walk with her and not cared so much about what others thought. I wish I would have been proud of my relationship with her because in the end she meant more to me than any of those little punks on the playground. Hindsight is 20/20 but the lesson that we can all learn from this is the fact that sometimes we all need to endure temporary shame in order to live for what we believe in. This is one of the most important underlying principles of living boldly. We need to learn how to despise shame. A quote from Piper: "Shame, I despise you. I will not yield to you. I will not give to you any satisfaction. You may do with me whatever you please - in the short run - but I will not obey you or follow you or give in to you. I despise you, shame, and will not let you rule me." That is the type of resolution that we need to have over shame. Yet so many people get surprised when they are rejected, and ostracized, and laughed at when they share their faith but if you know from the outset that temporary shame is the price that you need to pay to get to the end result then we can prepare to endure the shame of the cross. And apart from Christ, there is probably no one who endured more shame for the Gospel than the apostle Paul who was beaten, tortured, and called insane for his faith and it’s these words of resolution out of Romans that gives us the fortitude to live boldly for Christ. I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL!!
3. The third and final key to living boldly is understanding the prerogative of God in salvation. One of the major reasons why people are reluctant to share the Gospel is because they have had little visible success in bringing people to faith. I feel like that has been the story of my Christian life. I can’t seem to close the deal on people’s salvation and to be honest it can be discouraging. The first year that we went to OTR, I felt like everyone was bringing someone to Christ except for me and I’m supposed to be the pastor. I even saw some of our new Christians bringing people to faith and I began to wonder, “What is wrong with me? Do I have bad breath? Is it my personality?” Ultimately, this line of thinking will lead to a diminishing of boldness in your life because if salvation is a product of who you are and how well you present the Gospel, you are going to die every time someone rejects your offer of salvation. But if salvation is based on the prerogative of God, it is then and only then that we can we retain our zeal to share the Gospel. Our job is a simple one and it is to present the facts of the Gospel in love and then leave the results to God. Paul reminds us that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation first for the Jew and then for the Gentile. It is his prerogative who gets saved first and who gets saved second or last. You may think it is unfair that God chose to save the Jews first and left us second and gave us the scraps. Actually, it’s not a bad deal because Romans 2:9 tells us that Jews will be judged more harshly for their rejection of the Gospel because of their privileged position. But regardless, and Paul presents to us the liberating truth that our salvation is not in our hands It is a salvation that we cannot earn for ourselves and so we point others to a righteousness that can only come from the hands of God. Our job is merely to point people to the source of their righteousness. We see in the life of Paul, varying degrees of success in his ministry. They were places many were saved, there were other places where few were saved but this varying degree of success never led to a diminishing of boldness because the understanding of his role and God’s role in the process of salvation. As we think about evangelism, one of the most comforting verses that we can find as we feel the pains of rejection are the word of Christ in Luke 10:16 – “the one who rejects you, rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me, rejects the One who sent Me.” I think it’s good that we feel the pains of rejection when we are unable to share the Gospel to the point of salvation as long as we focus it into the right place. Some people use this verse to cover the pain of rejection. Their line of reasoning is that I shouldn’t feel bad because they are not rejecting me but they are rejecting Christ. But instead of using this verse as some sort of anesthetic to mask our pain, we can use it as a portal to feel the sorrow that Christ must experience as people reject the salvation that He gave his life for. And used properly, this pain can propel us to share the Gospel more boldly.
Some years ago, I realized what was taking the place of the proclamation of the gospel in places like the Bay Area. Social justice or what people refer to as the social gospel has become the replacement for the clear articulation of the message of Christ and though I saw the tides coming, I didn’t realize how strong those waves were. Instead of social justice being an essential outworking of the gospel, they are now pitted against one another. Christianity is becoming increasingly divided into two camps, those who care for matters of justice and those who care for salvation, those who are mainly concerned about alleviating people’s present suffering versus a concern for people to be delivered from their eternal suffering. Admittedly 20-30 years ago, the church was far more focused on saving souls while virtually ignoring people’s physical needs. But in today’s Christianity, I fear that the pendulum has swung the other way, where we address social injustice but fail to see the spiritual roots of these problems. So we are passionate about justice but lukewarm about evangelism, failing to recognize that evangelism and justice are inseparably linked because God cares about individuals from the number of hairs on their head to the eternal fate of their souls. From the perspective of a loving God, there is no separation between the physical needs of his children and their spiritual needs. He cares for us through and through. But somehow we have made that distinction for God and have decided that our need for daily bread outweighs our need for daily forgiveness.
Andy Crouch writes this about the imbalance that we see in today’s church:
Meeting the physical needs of the poor wins attention and affirmation from a watching world. Naming the spiritual poverty of a world enthralled to false gods provokes defensiveness and derision from those who do not even believe there is a god. Disaster relief and economic development seem like achievable goals that bring people together; religious claims to know the one true God seem like divisive mysteries that drive people apart. Our secular neighbors care, many like never before, about relieving human need— and more of them than ever before are indifferent or hostile to the idea that Jesus is the way, the truth, the life and the one who meets the deepest human need.
In short, justice is cool, but proclaiming the gospel is not. Justice without the gospel is not an innocuous common good. Justice unchecked can become an enemy of God. History, especially history in the twentieth century has taught us that lesson over and over again. The reason why this happens is that secular ideas of justice plays to human heart which in its natural state becomes emboldened by the applause of men and shrinks away in cowardice at the prospect of shame. And what Jesus teaches us repeatedly is to avoid the applause of men at all costs and face shame boldly. You see religious hypocrites and those who act justly for man’s approval are actually made of the same ilk. They are the same person wrapped up in different clothes. That’s the irony.
As Christians we do some things in common with the world but we do them for uncommon purposes.
Can you share your food with the hungry so that you can point them to the bread of life?
Can you provide clean water to the thirsty in order to lead them to the wells of living water?
Can you fight for the oppressed so that you have the opportunity to show them the only one that can truly set them free?
Justice is an important manifestation of the Gospel because it deals with man’s horizontal relationship with one another. Jesus came to bring peace among men. Yet for the Christian, we understand that true peace among man cannot occur until man’s vertical relationship with God is reconciled through the Gospel of Jesu Christ. More than ever we need to be reminded that the gospel needs to shared boldly even while we serve the world compassionately.