The Power of God for Salvation
“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.”- Romans 1:16
Rome was the commercial, political, and cultural center of the first-century world, so Paul’s desire to preach the gospel there makes perfect sense (Rom. 1:15). All roads led to Rome, so proclaiming the good news there and building up the church would have universal ramifications. To reach the ends of the earth, making Christ known in Rome was essential.
We should not miss the connection between the Apostle’s eagerness to minister in Rome and his declaration that he is “not ashamed of the gospel” (v. 16). The news of a crucified Messiah was not “seeker sensitive” in the first century. Crucifixion was the worst way to die, and the simple message “believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” lacked the philosophical intricacies that occupied the most renowned secular thinkers (Acts 16:31). Many found the resurrection downright laughable (17:32). If anything should have caused shame, it was the foolish notion that an unknown Jewish teacher in the backwater region of Palestine is the path to eternal life. But that is to look at things according to the ways of the world. Paul’s view was changed when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus (9:1–31). Having experienced the power of God in the crucified and risen Christ, he had no reason to be ashamed of the gospel message even in the city of Rome, where a vast number of residents would be “cultured despisers” of that message. The Apostle needed confidence to do ministry in that city, and he had this fearlessness because he was convinced of the truth of what the world deemed foolish. Today, the church must be convinced afresh of the truth and power of the gospel. If we are not, we will water it down in the hopes of making God more acceptable to those who despise Him, and spiritual disaster will follow.
Today’s passage also introduces the relevance of the gospel for all of humanity generally and for the Jew particularly, two themes that will occupy Paul throughout the rest of the epistle. God’s gospel is no respecter of persons—“it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). Jew and Gentile alike enter the kingdom in the same way—by faith alone (Rom. 3:21–5:21)—and they grow in faith and persevere in the same way—by the Holy Spirit according to God’s sovereign election unto salvation (6:1–9:18). Still, the gospel is for “the Jew first” (1:16). “Salvation is from the Jews,” and to them God entrusted His oracles (John 4:22; Rom. 3:2). By grace alone, the physical descendants of Abraham have a special place in the Lord’s plan, and we must never forget that.
The gospel is not a message to be ashamed of even if the world finds it foolish. It is God’s power unto salvation, and our attempts to make the gospel more palatable to fallen people prevent them from seeing it in all its power and glory. Though there might be foolish and irresponsible ways of presenting the gospel when we measure ourselves by Scripture, the message itself is God’s wisdom and power, and we must never change it to be accepted by sinners.
Passages for Further Study
1 Corinthians 1:18–31
1 Peter 2:4–8