For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. ~ Romans 1:16
Good News. This is what gospel means. Only when persons understand the reason as to why it is good news will individuals begin to understand, and genuinely appreciate, the significance of the gospel.
The apostle declares that he is not ashamed of this good news—the gospel. That is, Paul is neither embarrassed nor apologetic about the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is not simply a statement but a declaration. One that is countercultural and unpopular, for many find the gospel to be either offensive or ridiculous.
Roman society, like ours, had all kinds of gods and conflicting philosophies. For the most part, one could get along if he played by society’s rule of religious inclusivity. So, religion was treated almost the way people complement each other’s tattoos today. However, exclusivity was considered arrogant and presumptuous then as it is today.
Yet, here is Paul, not willing to play society’s game of religious flattery. No, he was not belligerent towards those of different faiths, but neither was he willing to say that Jesus Christ was but a way to paradise or heaven. Although he was greatly outnumbered, he was not embarrassed of the gospel, and he boldly declared that it is the power of God for salvation.
In Acts, we read of Paul’s visit to Athens and how his spirit was troubled as he witnessed the abundant idolatry. We are told “that the city was full of idols” (17:16). Paul reasoned in the synagogue and conversed with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in the marketplace. Then, one day he stood in the midst of the Areopagus, and said,
Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: “To the unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. (Acts 17:22-23)
He proceeds to tell them of the God of Christianity, and how this God created the world and all humanity. Paul then begins addressing men’s idolatry and calls them to repent, as he tells of a fixed day when God “will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (vs. 31).
Note, Paul did not lambaste the people. The text implies that the apostle genuinely cared about these people; however, he was unwilling to put their idolatry or any of their false gods on par with Jesus Christ and the gospel. Furthermore, he noted that Jesus, exclusively, was raised from the dead.
Concerning idolatry, whether it is religious or ideological, Paul addresses it in his letter to the Romans. The apostle does not mince his words, as he explains that our idolatries are neither accidents nor “mistakes.” The atheist’s stance on there being “no proof” is an invalid argument. And Paul declares God’s wrath is revealed
against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. (Rom. 1:18-19)
How? In “the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (vs. 20). The psalmist writes, “The heavens declare the glory of God …There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard” (Ps. 19:1, 3). Furthermore, Paul states that even though Gentiles who do not have the law “show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience bears witness” (Rom. 2:15).
From the macro down to the very micro, creation reveals design, order, and complexity. And a general morality is revealed throughout the world, whether the society is democratic, communistic, Hindu, etc. With this said, elsewhere Paul does note that the conscience can be seared: “Through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Tim. 4:2). That is, a person’s conscience can become numb.
This issue of “suppressing the truth” must not be dismissed. If we were to probe honestly, each of us would see where we have done this in our own lives. Yet, we can see the suppression of truth all around us. The news media does this constantly. Certain people of a political party are verbally condemned for alleged behaviors, while explicit displays of the same behaviors in another party are dismissed.
In education and science, the theory of evolution is projected as “fact,” even though there is no evidence to support it. In fact, there are some prestigious individuals who have openly shared that they know evolution is not true, but they hold to it lest they would have to admit they have a Creator to whom they will give account to.
Another area you see the suppression of truth is in the philosophical realm, when people claim that truth is relative; that is, there are no absolutes. This becomes almost comical, as nearly everyone who professes this absurdity will go on to say how your views are wrong, or this action is unfair, etc. This profession of there being no absolutes (especially moral) is typically used to justify behaviors permitting individuals to do what they want, without having to feel the pangs of conscience.
Say what we will, but the fact of the matter is each of us has committed idolatry and suppressed the truth. As one theologian has said, our hearts are idol factories. Idols come in all shapes and forms. They can come as images of wood and stone, the saints of Catholicism, the Virgin Mary. Idols can be the traditions of churches or the pleasures of the flesh. An idol is anything that would replace God of His rightful place in our lives and worship. Even the garments of Evangelicalism can cover idolatry.
Why is God so angry with idolatry? Because it is a rejection of Him for what is false. Idolatry is a refusal to honor and serve God, it is an exchanging “the truth about God for a lie” and to worship and serve “the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25).
To put it another way, the Old Testament often uses the imagery of harlotry and infidelity when confronting idolatry:
Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. (Jer. 3:9)
Your lewdness and your whoring have brought this upon you, because you played the whore with the nations and defiled yourself with their idols. (Eze. 23:29-30)
My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore. (Hos. 4:12)
Let us make no mistake, idolatry is present in many churches today clothed with many expressions. In his book, Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer rightly notes that idolatry begins within the mind, simply thoughts that are unworthy and contrary to whom God is.
Idolatry, regardless how we might dress it or justify it, will never bring us to God and salvation. In fact, idolatry does just the opposite, leading persons away from the true God and deeper into deception and false security. But Paul says the gospel—the good news—is the power of God for salvation to anyone who believes!
~ from the book, The Pure Gospel: Undiluted and Unadulterated, by Geno Pyse, p. 9-17.