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“I am obligated to both Greeks and non-Greeks, both of the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power that brings salvation to everyone who believes: 1st to the Jew then to the gentile.
For the gospel of the righteousness of God revealed of righteousness that is by faith From First to Last as it is written: the righteous will live by faith.”

If you ask most people what it means to be a Christian, they will rarely, if ever, talk seriously about Jesus. They will cite things Christians do (or should do), not what they are supposed to be.
My experience is that sometimes even those who claim to be Christians do this, especially those who fall into the category of what I call cultural Christian. That is, those who believe because of their culture rather than as a conscious decision (I’m British therefore I am a Christian). Setting aside the fact this is a simply wrong understanding of what it must be a question, the problem is this: Believing that our faith is about what we do not what we are, puts our faith at risk. Our faith can be shaken if we are questions or challenged or if we look at the bad things Christians do and have done and the good things that those who are unbelievers do do. These kinds of challenges produce a very strong temptation to stay quiet.
One response to a challenge like this is that you should never judge an ideology by its abuses, but by the teaching and lives of its founder and its founding fathers. For us that means the life and teachings of Jesus and the apostles (including Paul), which we read about in the New Testament.
Today’s message is part of the core teaching of Paul as to why we should not be ashamed to be Christian.

Our confidence should rest in God.

The fear of what people think of me has always been a challenge. I want people to think well of me and the pressure to be the person that I think people will like has at times controlled me. In the past when I was asked to preach, the fear of what people will think of me has been quite disabling as I thought about what I will say, I’ll admit that on occasion, what this fear has threatened to impact the message far more than it should (which should be ‘not at all’). There have been times when I’ve tempered what I do and say because of my fear of what people will think. I have to say that nowadays as I’m getting older (or grumpier?) What people think of me is for less important than it would have been years ago. Either that, or, I’ve learned like Paul, to say “I am not ashamed of the gospel” (we’ll go with the second explanation shall we?).

That might sound shocking, but when we read the gospels, after Jesus was betrayed even the disciples became terribly afraid. On the night Jesus was arrested, Peter denied knowing him three times. Peter was a hot head, he called a spade a spade, he wasn’t bothered about what people thought, yet he was afraid, and his fear caused him to deny Christ. All the disciples were frightened, and they scattered and returned to the previous lives. They had walked with him for three years, they had watched and help people, drive demons out, even raise the dead. They had heard Him prophesy about these events. Yet their world collapsed around them and they’d come to the point where their memories of those events weren’t enough to overcome their fear.

We don’t have to be ashamed of the gospel of Christ, because as Christians, we have God’s spirit in us. He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world (1 John 4v4). 2 Timothy 1v7 says, “for God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self discipline.”

I believe that we, as Christians, sometimes fall foul of this more frequently than we care to admit. We worry about what others will think of us and we let that fear (and that is all that it is) stop us from doing those things, or from being the people we know God wants us to be. Often those who are not Christian, allow fear to be the thing that stops them making the decision to become a Christian. It is not that they don’t believe, or want to believe, the gospel, but they are afraid of what people at work, or neighbours, or spouse, or family, will think of them. Christianity is not a disease that you catch, it is a relationship with God that you enter.

I believe God is saying to someone today, “whatever it is you are ) not being a Christian has always been far easier than being one. The only people who call Christianity a crutch whenever questions. of, I can help you overcome your fear of man, your fear of what others will think of you, if only you would allow me to.”

God is all powerful

“It is the power of God”

The gospel is about power. Perhaps you have heard, or you may even have said yourself, that Christianity is just a crutch for the weak. Try saying that to Iranian Christians who spend years in Iranian jails because they are Christian and refuse to deny Christ. I recently heard of one who, due to pressure put on the Iranian government by Christians worldwide, was released, went out to visit some friends, and was found dead three days later. Murdered for his faith. In Middle Eastern countries, and China, and in Communist Russia, and many other countries it means almost certain imprisonment and in many cases torture and death to simply be a Christian. Even growing up in safe England, being a Christian meant I was bullied and ridiculed at school, and later at work, because of my faith. In fact for most of history wherever you are in the world (even in those nations which think they are Christian ones), not being a Christian has always been far easier than being one.
The only people who call Christianity a crutch were never Christians.

this story is told of a general in Frederick the greats army.On one occasion Frederick the Great invited some noble people to his royal table. Including his top ranking generals. One of them called Hans von Zieten declined the invitation because he wanted to go to communion at his church. Some time later at another banquet Frederick and his guests mocked the general for his religious scruples and made jokes about the Lord supper. In great peril of his life, the officer stood to his feet and said respectfully to the King “my lord there is a greater king than you are king to whom I have sworn allegiance even on to death I am a Christian man, and I cannot sit quietly as the Lord’s name is dishonoured and his character belittled”. The guests trembled in silence, knowing that Von Zieten might be executed. But to the surprise, Frederick grasped the hand of this courageous man, asked his forgiveness, and requested that he remain. He promised that he would never again allow such a travesty to be made of sacred things.

This is one example of the sort of ridicule people have to endure, and some things which can happen if you stand strong. However, don’t always think it WILL happen this way, it might not. Standing strong might mean that you lose your reputation, or your freedom or even your life. But the power of God is so frequently not external, but internal.

When we come to the end of ourselves, there is a power available which surpasses any fear or apprehension. God says in the Bible: my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 9), this power of God is available to all Christians. They are able, through Christ, to tap straight into it when they need it.

Sin can be so powerful, it can completely immobilise us. Romans 7v16—20 says: “and if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer on myself to do it, but it is saying living in me. For I know that’s good itself does not dwell in me, that is, my sinful nature. Four I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not to do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”

We can identify with this can’t we? “I know what I want to do but I cannot do it, I do the wrong that I don’t want to do.”

Power isn’t about brute force, or about money. I am not powerful physically or financially, but I have experienced for myself the power of God in my life. Over my sins, the things I’ve done wrong.

When I was a child, it seemed like I was always getting into trouble. Sometimes I did something wrong and I knew that my Dad didn’t yet know about it. I also knew that he would find out about it. And I knew what that meant. The effect that had on me in those moments massive. I knew what was coming, yet I was powerless to do anything about it.

It’s like that with God. We’ve all done things wrong in our lives, and just like when I was a child, waiting for dad to come home and banish me, we are waiting for the consequences of our actions. We know in our guts the wrong things we have done deserve judgement and punishment. That knowledge affects us and impacts every area of our lives. Sin is, quite literally, holding us captive.

But you see there is good news, when Jesus Christ died on the cross he took the punishment we deserved and so defeated the power, the hold, that sin has on our lives. He quite literally, set us free.

Christians have tapped into the power of God.

It’s like God has written a cheque, with our name on it on it as a payee. The cheque is waiting for us to cash, but some people don’t believe that it’s there, or, they don’t believe that God has a big enough bank account to pay off all our debts. And so they refuse to cash the cheque. I want to say right here and now that gods account is inexhaustible. There is nothing that you can do that’s cannot be forgiven because of what Christ has done. Only Christ can actually phrase from a hold of that I was seeing as over us. All other ways are powerless.

If you want to be released from the power that is being held over you, the power that Paul talks about in the verse I read out earlier all you have to do is cash the cheque.

Salvation is for all

“for the salvation of everyone who believes”

We are back to the cracked record! Hear Paul specifically says salvation is for all people, and he says HOW.

Paul drills down on this point. Being a Christian is not about being a good person, it isn’t about going to church, it isn’t even about living a good life.

It is not about what you do it is about salvation from sin. I touched on this earlier, but the Bible says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3v23. The gospel is all about salvation from that scene.

In the old Testament, the people of God had a manual to follow. They called it the book of the law.

The problem was that this manual was so complicated that the people of God find it almost impossible to understand. And in their trying to understand they completely missed the point of it. God had to find another way. The only way that would work was if he himself came and showed us the way, and provided us the means to follow it. That is what Christ did. Christ came to earth to provide us with a way to show us how to walk it.

That way is available for everyone.

That way involves belief and not action it is not about giving, or doing good work, or going to church, or any of the other things that Christians think they have to do. All that is required for salvation is that you believe. If you don’t believe me, then believe the Bible. The acts of the apostles records about how Paul and Silas are in jail in Philippi. During the night there is an earthquake … I’ll read the story (read Acts 16v23—34):

“The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptised. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.”

Paul’s response to the question: “what must I to do to be saved?” Was, “believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.”

The same is true today. What must you do to be saved? You must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

This brings me onto a word especially for those of us who are Christians. We so often get wrapped up in our own particular version of Christianity that we forget this basic fact.

At his core, a Christian is someone who believes in and trusts in the name of the Lord Jesus we should not refuse to recognise Christians from some other denomination just because they happen to do things differently to us. I am not talking about core beliefs (for example it is hard to call yourself a Christian in you don’t believe, for example, in the resurrection – though I assure you I have met some who do exactly that!).

Read 1 Corinthians 1:12,13 but change out the words a little … “One of you says “I am an Anglican”; another, “I’m a Methodist”; another, “I am a Pentecostal”; still another, “I’m a Christian” (aside note – Paul isn’t saying this is good!). Is Christ divided, was the archbishop of Canterbury crucified for you? were you baptised into the name of John Wesley?

The core requirement for being a Christian is faith in Christ, his death on the cross, and his resurrection.

Conclusion

The gospel is not something to be ashamed of. Whether you are a Christian and worried about what others think of you, or you are wary of becoming a Christian because of the views of others, you do not have to be afraid.

The gospel is not a crutch, it is about power, and especially over the hold sin has in our lives.

The gospel is freedom from that hold.
The gospel is about salvation – from sin
The gospel is for all – no exclusions
The gospel is not rules and regulations – it is about believing in and having a relationship with Christ Jesus.

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