Changing Times, Changeless God: Unashamed
Pastor Russell Scoggins
Sermon Date: 9/8/2019
Bible Reference: Romans 1:1-17
1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. 6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. 9 God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.
11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.
14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
In a world that is ever changing, where are we as Christians supposed to find our foundation?
Do you know what Google Glass is? In 2013, Google came out with something called Google Glass. It’s essentially a computer in your glasses that displays information that only you can see. The world wasn’t ready for it, and it essentially flopped. But the idea isn’t dead. In fact it’s back. They’ve revamped Google Glass and they’re field testing it. I have no idea whether something like that will become as mainstream as the smartphone is… but let’s say it did. Let’s say, 50 years from now, 80% of America’s population is walking around with a wearable computer on their face. Could you imagine the day you walk into church and everybody is wearing something like that? The entire service—the liturgy, the songs, the prayers—will be broadcast so that each individual has it right in front of them on their wearable computer. Would you be able to stomach a change like that? Some of us are sitting here doing the math….. Okay 50 years from now…. YEP, I’ll be in glory—phew, good thing. Don’t want to have to deal with something like that. When that day finally comes, I’ll be an elderly gentlemen. Your millennial pastor will probably be the one saying, “All this newfangled technology gives me a headache. Just put the service up front on a screen for me please.” All the young guys will roll their eyes at me.
Change can scare us, and nothing is immune from change. The church changes. Our lives change. The world changes. Oh my goodness the world changes.
This past week I was sitting with Bill Ryder (member at New Hope). He and I were just chatting and reflecting and this very topic came up—the topic of change. And I asked him, “Did you ever imagine there would be a day where just about everyone is walking around with a computer in their pocket?” No, of course not, that’s crazy. In the 1970s/1980s computers became more available to the public—they were expensive, they were massive. And now, less than 50 years later 80% of Americans have a computer in their pocket in the form of a smartphone. That’s crazy. In the early 1900s cars became more available to the public. Now, about 100s year later, depending on who you ask, we are on the brink of autonomous vehicles being widespread—cars that drive themselves. That’s crazy. In 1914, there was 1 landline telephone for every 10 individuals in America. In 1945, there was one landline telephone for every 5 individuals in America. Less than 100 years later kids have no clue what a landline telephone is. Less than 100 years later, your pastor doesn't even have a landline… he never has, and he doesn’t plan to. Less than 100 years later, people won’t even pick up their phones—if it’s important, there’s better ways to contact someone. That’s crazy.
Change—it’s crazy. It can feel overwhelming. So in a world that is ever changing, where are we as Christians supposed to find our foundation? Welcome to the book of Romans where Paul beautifully lays out God’s unchanging plan of salvation. Let’s start out this sermon series with a summary of the book of Romans that applies to this sermon series: Your God does not change. He will not change. The way your God goes about bringing salvation to you personally does not change. It will not change.
Sometimes we think that we are the only people to live in a time period where things are rapidly changing—that’s just plain not true. God’s people in the first century were having to deal with just as much—maybe even more change than we have to deal with in our world today. God’s people had to deal with changes in the world: shifting world and local powers, new ideologies and philosophies that were contradictory to their Christian beliefs, cultural changes… the list of changes to navigate was probably about as extensive as the list of changes we have to deal with.
And my goodness, if you want to talk about changes in worship… nobody in any time period has had to deal with more worship changes than God’s children in the first century. Walking into a church were everyone is broadcasting the service on their Google glasses would have been minuscule in comparison to some of the things that changed in the first century. For thousands of years God’s people had worshiped by going to the temple. They would bring animal sacrifices to pay for their sin. But now, suddenly, after Christ’s death and resurrection, animal sacrifices were a thing of the past. They were suddenly useless. Not only that, but the preaching of God’s Word had largely taken place in one geographical area—the land of Israel. Up to this point, the preaching of God’s Word had been somewhat exclusive…. But now suddenly, the message of God’s Word was being taken to the ends of the earth—to people of every nation. That was a difficult change for a lot of people to process.
In a life that was ever changing and ever more difficult to navigate, how comforting would it have been to hear Paul’s opening words in Romans: “1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” There is one thing that has not, and will not change: the gospel. The world around you may change, but the true and pure message of the gospel has never changed. The way in which we worship may change over time and across cultures, but the gospel that God promised beforehand through his prophets will never change.
This gospel message we have here in God’s Word is the same gospel he promised to Adam and Eve right after they fell into sin. It’s the same gospel he promised for thousands of years through his prophets. It’s the gospel of free salvation through the work of Jesus Christ. That unchanging gospel of our God is what we get to speak about for the next several weeks as we get ready for Reformation.
I’m not going to go through all the verses today, but I wanted to make sure to have a good chunk of them in front of you so that as we go through the first half of Romans, we might be able to get a sense for the flow of it. If you’re looking at the verses in your service folder, let’s just quickly go through the flow of them. We talked about those opening verses (1-4). Paul states who he is, he states what authority he has to speak about the following matters. He tells his readers that he is about to pass along to them the unchanging gospel of the unchanging all powerful God of the universe. Then he states what the gospel is about—it’s about Christ. Verses 5-6, Paul brings in this word we’re going to see again: Gentile. I briefly spoke about that. That was a big worship change for the Jews. For a long time God’s Word had been confined to the people of Israel, but now, as instructed by God, it was his task, and the task of all Christ’s disciples to take this message to the Gentiles—to those who weren’t Jews. Now that Jesus had come, the primary focus of God’s people was to be taking this message of salvation into all the world. Verses 7-13, Paul is still in his opening comments. He tells the Romans he has been hearing good reports about their strong faith, and that he has desired to come and see them for a long time but he hasn’t been able to. He wants to come see them so that they might encourage one another in the faith… but he hasn’t been able to. Verses 14-15, Paul says it again: he has been tasked with preaching this message of salvation to ALL people. Not just to the Jews, but to all people.
And now we get to verses 16-17. We’ll slow down here. This is Paul’s opening WOW statement for the book of Romans. It’s what he’s going to talk about for the next several chapters in some way, shape, or form. We’ll let it be our opening WOW statement for this Romans sermon series. “16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
Let’s tackle verse 17 first then close with verse 16. In the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed. Martin Luther had an “AHA” moment. For hundreds of years the church had made God’s Word confusing. By making God’s Word confusing, you make salvation confusing. Luther could smell that something was off. So he studied and studied and studied. Then one day things began to click for him. Luther didn’t know what a light bulb was because it hadn’t been invented yet, but light bulbs started flashing for him… God’s Word started to make sense. Righteousness—that is to say, being right with God (being on good terms with a holy and perfect God)—has nothing to do with us as sinful humans. Us being on good terms with God—us being righteous—has everything to do with God. We do not make ourselves righteous. We do not earn God’s favor. We do not earn eternal life. It comes to us through faith—the faith that the Holy Spirit creates in our hearts. That is the most comforting realization there is in this life. We’ll leave it there for today because this topic will come back up.
Verse 16, Paul says that this message of salvation is for everyone. Regardless of race or nationality, this message of salvation in Christ is for everyone. And because of that, he is not ashamed of it. Here’s the thought I want to leave you with today. You have permission to be unapologetically unashamed of the gospel. Thinking about change once again. In the last few decades, our culture has changed how it feels about God’s Word. Previously, God’s Word was widely accepted as a good thing. But now, it is widely hated. More and more often, people shame those who trust in God’s Word. Don’t listen. Don’t get lost in the shouting match. Don’t let your American disposition to protect your rights draw you into our cultures shouting match. Simply live unashamed. Love others unashamed.
Our changing culture yells at Christians for being exclusive. Looking at Paul’s words here, I’m not seeing it. This message is for everyone. It brings salvation to all who believe it. Whether you’re Jewish or otherwise. Whether you’re American or non-American. Regardless of your socioeconomic status, regardless of whatever lifestyle you’re stuck in, regardless of whatever sin you’re struggling with, regardless of your views, regardless of your background, this message is for you, it is for all, and it has the power of salvation. I get what our culture is trying to say by calling Christians exclusive, but the fact is, this is the most inclusive message there is. It has always been, and will always be an inclusive message. This gospel message about Jesus Christ is the power of God that brings salvation to all who believe it. There is no fine print.
So go ahead. Live unashamed. Love unashamed. Everything around you has and will continue to change, but one thing will not: the message of salvation found in God’s Word. That is our foundation. That is where we find our power and motivation to love everyone we come in contact with. It is in this message that we find the power to live unashamed. Amen? Amen.