To not be “ashamed of the gospel” means that we know what the gospel is. One way I remind myself of the gospel I believe is to spell it out: G-O-S-P-E-L. I try to define it by using each of the letters of “gospel.” Here’s one way it might look. I assume that God is the author and prime reality of the gospel so I don’t use the “G” to refer to God – that’s too easy! J But you can use it if you like. (Makes for a good sermon or educational exercise.)
G – Good News
The gospel is the announcement of what God has done to set right what is wrong in the cosmos through Jesus Christ. It belongs on the front page of the newspaper, not the religion or op-ed section.
O – Openness
The gospel is good news for all (“Jew” and “Greek” in our text) – that pretty much covers everybody. Openness is best illustrated by Jesus hanging on the cross his arms spread as wide as possible to embrace the world. While we might not be able to open up quite as much as Jesus, through the good news we find it possible to open up a bit more than heretofore, especially to those who are different from or threaten us in some way.
S – Sin and Salvation
The gospel is about “salvation” (v.16). But since we can’t understand salvation without understanding sin, we need a double “S” – sin and salvation. And it’s crucial to note that it is sin (in the singular) not sins (in the plural). For the latter are but the symptoms of the former. Sin (in the singular) is an alien power that has us in its grip from which we cannot extricate ourselves. Sin is best spelled s-I-n. The imperial “I” is the heart of sin. Our hearts “curved in on themselves” (according to Luther). The good news is that the imperial “I” has been slain, its grip fallen slack, and our hearts may again unfold into their proper shape – toward love of God and others. In the words of Charles Wesley’s great hymn “And Can It Be”:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
fast bound in sin and nature's night;
thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
my chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
P – Passion
“What our age lacks is not reflection, but passion.” (Soren Kierkegaard)
Paul lacks no passion here. But we often do. The gospel is a power for change (v.16). When we are caught up in the gospel we have passion for it. When we use or try to control the gospel we become pragmatists. We grow a passion that does not rise to the level of the real thing – a passion for what works. And we inhabit a little kingdom of our own making that at the end of the day is but a cruel parody of God’s kingdom, his gospel.
E – Evangelism
To proclaim the gospel is to announce that in Jesus Christ God has set all things right. Evangelism, this gospel announcement, is fundamentally about idolatry – who or what we serve and live for – not morality – what we do. The good news of the gospel is not that my life is a mess and Jesus can clean me up and straighten me out. The good news is that Jesus is Lord and he has laid claim to my loyalty and love.
L – Love
Oily word in our society. Doesn’t mean much till we say what we mean by it. This story about Moses Mendelssohn, a well-known philosopher of the German Enlightenment, says “love” for me. A love that reflects the love of the triune God for us wayward creatures. A love worthy of the name!
In 1762, the 33-year old philosopher visited Hamburg. There he met a 24-year old blonde, blue-eyed girl named Fromet Gugenheim, the daughter of a merchant. According to the story handed down in the family, he was much taken with her; and she, of course, knew of his reputation— her father, who was eager for the match, had seen to that. However, when she laid eyes for the first time on his stunted, misshapen figure, she burst into tears. Afterward, Mendelssohn sat down with her alone. “Is it my hump?” he asked. She nodded. “Let me tell you a story, then,” Mendelssohn said. “When a Jewish child is born, proclamation is made in heaven of the name of the person that he or she is to marry. When I was born, my future wife was also named, but at the same time it was said that she herself would be humpbacked. ‘O God,’ I said, ‘a deformed girl will become embittered and unhappy. Dear Lord, let me have the hump, and make her fair and beautiful.’”
Good News, Openness, the victory of Salvation over Sin, Passion, Evangelism, Love – that’s how I spell “Gospel.” But that’s not really how it’s spelled. It’s really spelled J-E-S-U-S C-H-R-I-S-T. He is all that the Gospel is in person.
Late in his life, the great theologian Karl Barth was asked what was the most profound theological thought he’d ever had. This wise and learned man, author of more than ten thousand pages of profound theology, thought for but a moment and answered, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
Karl Barth understood. He knew the power of gospel of the victory of Jesus over all that opposes or hinders God’s way and will for his world. Do we?