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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:The good news is so good because the bad news is so bad
Text:Romans 1:16-20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 96:1,6,7,8

Psalm 53:1,2 (after the law)

Psalm 19:1,2

Hymn 81

Hymn 7

Scripture reading: Romans 1

Text:  Romans 1:16-20

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus,

The world surrounding us is hostile to the Christian faith.  It’s hardly surprising.  Tolerance is the anthem of our contemporary culture.  Our society is fine with spirituality and fine with God, so long as he is not intolerant, so long as he accepts everyone and loves everyone unconditionally.  The world is fine with God as long as he doesn’t make any demands for people to acknowledge sin, to repent, and change their ways.  The only thing our world will not tolerate is intolerance.  The only thing that must be judged is judgmentalness.  The only thing wrong is saying someone or something else is wrong. 

This is the world to which we’re called to bear witness.  This is the world in which we’ve been placed by God’s providential hand.  We’re all called to shine the light of God’s Word into this darkness. 

God’s Word gives us direction as we go about our calling.  God gives us the calling to always be ready to speak about the hope we have in Christ – that’s in 1 Peter 3:15.  But then he also tells us exactly how to pursue that calling.  His Word gives us concrete direction.  That’s what’s happening in our text.

We’re at the beginning of Romans.  After his introductory words, Paul wrote of how he wished to visit Rome.  He’d never been there before.  He may not have personally known the people to whom he was writing.  Yet he wished he could go there and bring the Word of God through preaching.  He says, “What I really want to do is preach to you!  But this letter will have to do.”  In that we can see the high value the apostle Paul put on preaching.  Preaching the gospel is the calling he had received, preaching to both Jews and Gentiles.  But why is the gospel so valuable?  Why is it so necessary?  Those are questions we need to consider today as well.  Why should we be passionate about sharing the gospel with every one we can? 

In this passage we’ll see how the good news is so good (and so worth sharing) because the bad news is so bad.  We’ll consider the revelation of:

  1. The righteousness of God
  2. The wrath of God 

In this passage and the one before it, one thought leads right into another.  Verse 15 says Paul was eager to preach the gospel in Rome.  Why?  Part of it is his obligation and calling by God.  But look at verse 16.  It starts speaking of a different reason.  Do you see what it is?  It’s because he isn’t ashamed of the gospel.  Why is he not ashamed of the gospel?  Because it’s the power of God for salvation.  Why is it the power of God for salvation?  Because in it the righteousness of God is revealed.  Do you see how one thought leads into another here?  It’s a logical progression. 

But now let’s back up and take a closer look at each of these components.  He says that he isn’t ashamed of the gospel.  What’s the gospel?  The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ.  Remember:  the word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news.’  It’s become popular to speak about “living the gospel” or “being the gospel” or something like that.  However, the gospel isn’t about what you do.  The gospel isn’t a message or news about something you have done or something you must do.  Rather, the gospel is about what God has done for you in Christ.  It’s a message about God’s grace.  The gospel is about his doing for you the very opposite of what you deserve.  You deserve the wages of sin:  eternal judgment and condemnation, but in Christ you receive the free gift of eternal life.

Paul isn’t ashamed of that good news.  When he says that, he’s affirming the opposite.  Think about it.  What’s the opposite of being ashamed?  It’s to rejoice and exult and delight in something.  Paul holds forth the gospel with the most positive attitude towards it that you can imagine.  He’s not “proud” of it.  How can someone be proud of the gospel when the gospel is not about you or your accomplishments?  He’s not proud, rather Paul delights in the good news of salvation.  He gets great joy from it.  He exults in it. 

That should give us reason to pause and consider too.  You might say, “I’m not ashamed of the gospel either.  I’m not ashamed to be a Christian, I’m not ashamed of Christ.”  That would be well and good.  But where does that leave you?  Can you affirm the opposite?  Can you say, “The gospel is my greatest joy and pleasure.  I love and treasure the gospel like nothing else.  Hearing the gospel and reflecting on it gives me delight.  There’s nothing I love more than coming to church and hearing the good news of what Christ has done for me.”  Can you say that, loved ones?  That was Paul’s confession and it should be ours too.

Paul goes on to say why it was for him and why it should be for us too:  because it’s the power of God unto salvation.  The gospel is the means by which people are saved.  Saved from what?  That’s always an important question.  What does the gospel save us from?  The answer is ultimately the wrath of God upon sin in the present and into eternity.  Paul expands on that later in verses 18-20 and we’ll get to that in a few minutes.  But for now, consider that the gospel not only saves us from something, it also saves us to something.  Through the gospel of Christ, we are saved to a state of blessedness.  In that state we experience fellowship with God, we’re brought into his family.  In that state of blessedness, we know the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  In that state of blessedness to which we’re saved, we know that we have everlasting life – we’ll dwell with God forever in perfect harmony and peace.  The gospel is like God’s arm that makes all this happen.

And the Holy Spirit says it is such for all who believe, to the Jew first, and then to the Greek, to non-Jews.  The salvation described here is not for everyone.  It’s not for every single person on the face of this earth.  It’s only for those who believe, for those who have faith.  It doesn’t matter what your ethnic background is, what does matter is faith.  Let’s be clear about what faith is in this context.  Here in Romans, faith is resting and trusting in Christ’s finished work on our behalf.  This is in the context of justification, of being declared right with God only account of what Christ has done.  And in that context, the work of faith is receptive and passive.  In other words, faith here is receiving what someone else has done for you.  So we can’t begin to think there is anything here about human works or about the fruits of faith or about the works of faith in sanctification (living the Christian life).  All of those things are out of view here.  The focus is on faith relying firmly and only on Christ.  How can you be saved?  By trusting solely in what Christ has done for you.  By resting in Christ alone and all his merits and all his sacrifice offered for you.  That’s the message we need to believe for ourselves.  You need to believe it.  That’s also the message we need to pass on to those around us who are dead in sin and lost.  At its heart the gospel is not about a lifestyle; the good news is not do more and try harder.  The gospel is a message about what someone else has done for you.  That message just needs to be accepted as often as you hear it. 

Why is the gospel the power of God unto salvation?  That question gets answered in verse 17.  Look at what it says there.  Why is the gospel the power of God unto salvation?  Because in it the righteousness of God is revealed.  What is the righteousness of God here?  This term has an Old Testament background.  It’s often used to refer to salvation.  This is a righteousness that comes from God.  This is a righteousness that benefits us before God.  This righteousness means our right standing with God because of everything Christ has done for us, both in his life and in his death.

And all of that is from faith for faith, which means by faith from first to last.  Paul appeals to Habakkuk 2:4 to support that:  “the righteous will live by faith.”  This is saying you can only be right with God through faith.  I’m sure you’ve heard of the ‘solas’ of the Reformation.  There’s sola gratia, by grace alone.  There’s sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone.  There’s solo Christo, in Christ alone.  Well, verse 17 is telling us that salvation is sola fide, by faith alone.  The only way to receive Christ’s benefits is through trusting his work for you.  You can’t add to that or take away from it.  When you try to add your own works to faith in what Christ has done for your salvation, you automatically nullify Christ’s work.  If you think to yourself, “Well, part of it depends on me and my obedience, my measuring up,” if you think that, you’re either in serious danger of losing Christ or you’ve already lost him.  Denying or minimizing sola fide is dangerous in the extreme.  Your salvation is at stake with this.  Sola fide – by faith alone, brothers and sisters!  That’s one of the great biblical truths being taught here in this passage.                        

But now why is that good news so good?  Paul begins to answer that in verses 18 to 20.  Here he describes the sinful human condition apart from Christ.  What’s really happening when someone doesn’t believe the gospel message?

The crucial thing is right at the front of verse 18:  look with me at those five words:  “for the wrath of God.”  Those five words are some of the most offensive in the entire Bible – they’re offensive to unbelievers and to false Christians.   These words speak of a God who doesn’t look like Santa Claus.  Instead, these words tell us God is holy and just and he has an utter revulsion for sin and sinners.  God’s wrath is the response of his justice to human sinfulness.  Because of the deceitfulness of sin, it’s so difficult for us to get a handle on how God regards sin.  Even on our best days, we have mixed feelings and ideas about sin.  Because of the remnants of our sinful nature, we’re still inclined to coddle our sins, and sometimes even to love them.  But God takes a much different view.  He is holy, his character and being define what is good and perfect.  The world and everything in it, including us, belong to him.  Every living creature owes obedience to God.  And when those creatures fail, God doesn’t turn a blind eye.  His honour has been attacked.  His will has been undermined.  God’s justice requires that he punishes sin, that he expresses his wrath towards sin and sinners.     

The Holy Spirit says this wrath is revealed from heaven against the godlessness and wickedness of men.  It’s revealed in the preaching of the Law of God – the law is designed to expose human sinfulness.  It’s revealed against godlessness – that’s speaking not so much about atheism or agnosticism as it is about wrong belief or idolatry.  People don’t worship the true God alone and worship him as he has revealed himself in Scripture.  Instead, they conjure up their own gods that they find comfortable and to their liking.  Some of these gods are not automatically recognizable as gods -- think: money, sex, food, substances, power -- but look carefully and the worship is there.  If it looks like a god, and people treat it like a god, guess what?  It’s a god and that’s idolatry. 

Wickedness is the other thing God is revealing his wrath against and that’s just the breaking of every law God has made.  Human beings choose to set up their own standards and they ignore God’s.  They get worked up over the killing of sharks, seals, dogs, or horses, but couldn’t care less about unborn children.  That’s just one example -- there are many more out there.  And this flagrant rebellion against God and his law is being noticed in heaven.  It’s the occasion for the revelation of God’s wrath. 

What makes the situation worse is the fact that people sin against what they know.  Some people think unbelievers are just unbelievers because they have a lack of knowledge.  They just haven’t been told.  And if we would only tell and explain it really well, then they would for sure believe the gospel.   But that’s not what the Holy Spirit says here in Romans 1:18.  He says unbelievers suppress the truth by their unrighteousness.  Note well:  they have truth about God.  Important things about God have been revealed to them clearly.  What are those things?  Ever since creation, people have been able to see clearly qualities of God such as his eternal power and divine nature.  These qualities of God are objectively there in nature to be seen.  In the created world, God reveals his existence, his power, his majesty, his transcendence, his creative abilities, and so on.  These qualities are invisible – they can’t be seen with your physical eyes.  But they can be seen with the mind.  People can and do perceive them nonetheless.  In their heart of hearts, they know these things about God.  They know he is far more powerful than they are.  Deep down they know the truth that God is a just judge.  As it says further in chapter 1, they know his righteous decree that people who disobey him deserve death.  Unbelievers know these truths about God!  All of them know it because it has been revealed.  In theology, we speak here about the sense of divinity or the seed of religion.  All men know there is a God who is there and who will judge them for their wickedness.

But what do they do with that truth?  God says they suppress it.  They push it down.  They won’t acknowledge it, they won’t speak of it, they try not to think of it.  It’s like the person who plugs his ears and says, “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you,” when you know full well they still can.  That’s what the unbeliever does.  Deep in their hearts they’ve heard and they know the truth.  That doesn’t mean they know all the details of the Christian faith.  That doesn’t mean they know much about God.  It certainly doesn’t mean they know Christ or the gospel.  But what it does mean is that deep inside God has not left himself without a witness to accuse them.  There’s not only what’s inside, there’s also what’s outside. We sang Psalm 19 and there all creation gives testimony to God’s power and majesty.  God has given all people some degree of revelation about himself.

The design and the result of that is they are without excuse.  Literally, our text says they are without an apologetic.  Apologetics refers to the defense of the Christian faith.  Apologetics is about giving a reason for the hope you have.  It’s not about apologizing, but about providing a solid case for why you believe what you do.  Christians have such a case to make.  The Bible gives us such a case.  It gives us many solid reasons why we should believe and put our trust in Christ.  For example, Paul in Acts 17 says that it’s in God that we live and move and have our being.  In Colossians 1 he says that in Christ all things hold together and in Colossians 2, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ.  If the Christian faith is not true, then nothing is true.  The biblical case for the truth of Christianity is simply Psalm 36:9.  Psalm 36:9 says that in God’s light we see light.  Christianity is true because of the impossibility of the contrary.  We have an apologetic.  We have solid grounds for believing what we do.                     

Not so with unbelievers.  Unbelievers have no excuse for their belief.  They have no sensible reason to continue in their unbelief. Like Psalm 14 and 53 say, it’s foolish to say there is no God or to live as if the true God is not there.  Unbelief is nonsensical.  Unbelief is absurd, and irrational.  If you know God is there and he’s a holy and just judge, if you know you’re deserving of death whenever you sin, why do you keep on doing it?  Why would you want to offend him and receive his eternal wrath in hell?  What sense does it make?  You see, that’s the nature of sin.  Sin is utter and complete foolishness when seen in the light of God in Scripture.  When you sin, you’re not only acting immorally, you’re also acting stupidly.  That’s why Proverbs portrays sin and sinners with such powerful images.  In Proverbs 7, the foolish young man who gets seduced by the adulteress is compared to an ox going to the slaughter.  He just stupidly goes to the person with the knife who’s going to slit his jugular.  In Proverbs 26:11, “As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.”  Dogs eating their own barf is disgusting – but that’s what people are like when they keep going back to sin.  And think of the line from Isaiah 53, “All we like sheep have gone astray...”  When God calls people ‘sheep’ in the Bible, that’s not a compliment, that’s a reality check.  Sheep are stupid animals.  They have no sense.  All of that supports what the Holy Spirit is saying in Romans 1.  Sin is utterly foolish and sinners are entirely without a sensible reason for what they do.  They know better, but yet they choose to do it anyway. 

Loved ones, that’s my story and that’s yours too.  We’re all in this tangled affair with sin as we live in this age.  Christ redeems us from the curse of sin.  He has set us free from the wrath of God against sin, but yet we still have the ongoing struggle.  In that struggle, we need to continue to look to Christ.  Fix our eyes on Christ and trust his power.  As we do that, he’ll continue his work of renewal in our lives. 

Part of that work of renewal is then to go and be his instruments to share the good news with others.  But in order for that good news to be seen as good, we also have to speak of the bad news.  We have to expose the problem of human sinfulness.  When we have the opportunity to engage with unbelievers, we seek to take what’s being suppressed and bring it to the surface.  Someone once compared the situation with unbelievers to a jack-in-the-box.  For those who don’t know, a jack-in-the-box is a kind of toy where there’s a clown named “Jack.”  Jack gets stuffed into a box and then the lid is closed over him.  The unbeliever is like that.  He has stuffed the truth down and suppressed it.  What he needs is someone to come along and turn the crank so the truth can appear.  The crank gets turned and turned, and then finally, at God’s appointed time, the truth comes to the surface, it gets acknowledged.  The problem can be spoken of openly and honestly and the solution found in Christ and the gospel.

The question then is:  how do we turn the crank, so to speak?  How can we be God’s instruments to draw out the truth being suppressed in wickedness?  It’s not complicated.  The answer is: simply speak the truth of God’s Word in love.  Speak of the fact that the unbeliever is a sinner in need of salvation.  But be sure to include yourself in that.  Never make it sound as if you’re a notch above because you’re a Christian.  We’re only believers because of God’s grace and we can never take the credit for ourselves.  Humility will often go a long way in our conversations with unbelievers.  Being able to acknowledge your own sins and weaknesses will open doors and make you more approachable for future conversations.  But never be soft on sin.  Don’t be afraid to mention hell and God’s eternal wrath.  Don’t ever be afraid to talk about the need for repentance.  Those things are the truth and the truth needs to be spoken.  The unbeliever already knows those things.  He or she just needs to hear it said out loud.

Because that bad news is so bad, the good news is so unbelievably good.  We deserve nothing but eternal punishment.  But God in his grace has given us an eternity of good in Christ.  Unbelievers may find it ridiculous.  They’ll likely mock the idea of a holy and just God.  They’ll probably find the truth about God to be intolerable.  That’s to be expected.  The amazing thing is that there still are people who believe the gospel.  The miraculous thing is that we have a congregation of people here who claim Christ as their Saviour.  God has done for us what we could never do for ourselves.  He’s given us a Saviour and with his Spirit he’s given us faith in that Saviour.  So we live and will live eternally.  Loved ones:  don’t ever be ashamed of this gospel of your salvation.  Hold it forth to whomever you can.  Share the hope you have in whatever place God puts you and do it all for his glory and for the love of your neighbour.  AMEN.


O God our faithful Father and eternal Lord,

We pray that you would use all of us for the cause of the gospel.  Please help us to have a heart of love for the lost around us.  Please give us eyes to see the lost and to engage them.  Help us to bring out the truth they suppress about you so they would openly acknowledge their need for the gospel.  We ask that you would use us to win our neighbours for Christ.  

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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