The night before Jesus’ crucifixion, His disciples deserted Him. They fled and scattered. They fled into the darkness, hoping to escape capture. When Peter made his way to where Jesus was being tried, he repeatedly denied even knowing the Lord, let alone being one of His followers. Just a few weeks later, however, those same fearful disciples became bold witnesses. In the power of the Holy Spirit, they courageously preached, even in the face of threats and persecution. Many of them became martyrs because they refused to stop speaking the truth.
In the twenty centuries that have passed since Christ’s resurrection, there have always been people who have taken a stand for the truth and for God. Many of them have vanished into the mists of history, but there are others whose courage is still remembered today. In 1563 John Foxe published Acts and Monuments, which came to be known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Beginning with the first martyr Stephen, Foxe listed hundreds of people who gave their lives rather than give up their faith. Many were offered a chance to live if they recanted, but they refused.
As more than 450 years have passed since that book was first published, the number of faithful Christian witnesses has grown. In many nations today, simply being publicly identified as a Christian can be a death sentence.
Here in America, the immediate threat is far less severe, but it’s becoming increasingly distasteful to our culture for Christians to publicly embrace Christ and stand by basic biblical truths.
What gives people the courage to unashamedly proclaim the gospel in the midst of an unbelieving or hostile culture? We learn a three-part answer in the apostle Paul’s introduction to the book of Romans.
Many of us are familiar with his great declaration, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” But the verses surrounding these words give insight into the characteristics of one who could make such a statement. Three characteristics, in particular, can serve as a gauge for us determine if we are living unashamed.
“Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.” (Romans 1:13)
Paul was determined to preach the gospel in Rome. He had previously planned to go and had been deterred, but he had not given up.
I wonder if this level of intention and commitment describes the way you approach your ministry goals? Your dedication to not just talking about things of the Lord but actually sharing the gospel?
Sometimes we feel we have purpose because at some point we have desire. But if we’re easily distracted from our holy ambitions, we just have wishes, not purpose.
It’s entirely too easy to spend our days, weeks, and even years, full of activity but void of meaningful progress. The difference is usually in our purpose.
Do you have clear goals on when and how you will engage in sharing the gospel? Do you have a prayer list of unsaved people for whom you are praying? Do you just sort of hope opportunities come to you to share your faith, or do you proactively seek them out? If you are in ministry, is your ministry calendar filled with empty activities, or is it purposefully ordered for the cause of unashamedly sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and equipping Christians to do the same?
“I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.” (Romans 1:14–15)
Think of the last time that you engaged in an activity or pursuit with everything in you. That is the language Paul used regarding his readiness to preach the gospel: “as much as in me is, I am ready.”
Does this passion describe your love for Christ? Your desire to proclaim His message of grace and forgiveness through the cross? Half measures and halfhearted commitments are not worthy of greatness of the message we have been sent to proclaim.
The world is passionate for all sorts of agendas—some good and some shameful. When we know the love of Christ it compels us to a level of passion that overcomes any obstacle—self or trials. Notice this passion expressed also in 2 Corinthians 5:13–15: “For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.”
Paul’s expressed passion was not spoken in a moment of excitement. It was a thought-through realization that with a message as great as the gospel he owed a tremendous debt to the world to share it. But it also conveyed a readiness—both in preparation and intention—to share this message in any place and to any person with whom he could.
There is no such thing as successful casual Christianity. Standing for God and doing his work in a hostile world takes sacrifice, and that level of sacrifice takes a passionate heart for the Lord. When Paul recounted his time with the church at Ephesus, he said, “Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31). Paul poured his life into ministering to others. He refused to take the easy way out or silence his message.
The more passionate we are about the things of God, the less we will be ashamed to share the gospel. John Wesley said, “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.”
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)
To those who don’t know Christ or who have never seen the change effected in a new believer, the gospel message is ridiculous. Why would Christians not only believe this but boldly share it with others?
To Paul, the answer was simple—it is a message of power. Furthermore, God Himself gives the power to share it.
Louis Bauman told a story from his pastorate in Philadelphia in the late 1800s. A young woman in his church came and asked for prayer in seeking a new job. She told him that although the factory where she made umbrellas had a lot of orders to fill, they had been shut down because they could not get a reliable supply of electricity to operate the equipment. She said, “The trouble with the factory is they have more machinery than power.” I’m afraid that this woman’s statement could be said of many churches today. There are many programs and methods, but little dependence on the power of God.
We have the power of the gospel. Some in our day call for a new message, but no other message has the power to change lives. George Whitefield said, “Other men may preach the gospel better than I, but no man can preach a better gospel.”
The unashamed do not stand in their own strength, but in the power of God. He has given us all that we need to live and work victoriously for Him. We need not be embarrassed or intimidated to tell a lost man that he needs a Savior who has already died and risen for his sins. And we need not be fearful that the sufficiency of God’s power will fail us. It will not.
We who are children of God have His Spirit living within, and that gives us the strength to not be ashamed to tell others about Him. Jesus said, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
More than a Slogan
When Paul declared, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” he wasn’t just saying catchy words. He lived with a purpose, passion, and power that are the hallmarks of all who are unashamed of the gospel. Do they describe you?