Growing up in a Christian community in the 90s meant I had some cheezy Christian shirts. One of them was a little illustration of a bunch of different fish going one direction, and then a Christian fish going the other way. It said “Go against the flow.” I think it was supposed to help me remember that, even though it might not be popular to trust God and His Word, it was still worth it. Nevertheless, something about the way it was framed caused me to understand the verse, Romans 1:16, which I memorized as a girl, with a certain unhelpful lens. The verse says “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation of everyone who believes.” I reinterpreted it with a “Look at me. I am going to stand firm, even if others don’t…” mentality. That “us/them” thinking and the resulting self-centered focus completely misses the point. It isn’t about me—it’s about God. The verse is actually saying that I have been given the gift of good news—an incredible foundation of hope, love and meaning for life—and I can have the tremendous privilege of sharing that good news with others, so they too can have that hope.
The Apostle Paul is “eager” (v.15) to share the good news broadly with people from all different backgrounds and experiences. He knows that the good news of Jesus transforms people. He wants to invite people into the hope and freedom that is NOT found in being religious and is NOT found in rejecting God and going our own way, but is found in receiving God’s gift of righteousness and life by faith, and then walking with Him by faith.
I believe that nothing in the world can offer peace, love and hope in the midst of a struggling world like Jesus does. That I see him, know him, see myself the way he does, and love people with the love he has shown me, is absolutely the most important thing about me. I am not ashamed of him, and look forward to spending the rest of my life journey continuing to follow him and live for him.
Yet it can still feel hard to identify as a Christian.
So what do we tend to be “ashamed” of that feels tied to the trappings of Christianity in this culture? And is that the same thing as being ashamed of the gospel itself? I believe the answer is a clear no. I do, however, need to make sure that the gospel I am proclaiming is the good news that the Bible is actually about—centered on Jesus, not my preferences or my comfort. I must avoid the painfully common us/them thinking that leads to arrogance, hate and judgmentalism, and instead live as a follower of Jesus, filled with love and humility, rooted in truth and walking in grace. If I do, I indeed will often feel like I don’t fit very well in the dominant culture. The good news of Jesus is for all people and cultures, so it will challenge tendencies in every culture.
Principle-based living and the hard work of nuance.
When I look closely at Jesus’ life, I see that he both loved and challenged every pocket of society, from the deeply religious to the social outcast to the Roman soldiers to the zealots who wanted to overthrow Rome. He was not ashamed of truth, and he determined to live out the will of the Father (Jn. 6:38), even when it meant upsetting the elite of his day. He did not jump on bandwagons or seek out power and prestige, but preached the Word and acted with compassion. He did not just pick what seemed best for him and his reputation, but chose the way of service and sacrifice.
So my standard cannot be to avoid what is uncomfortable. Neither can it be to choose what feels right in my own mind. God’s Word is clear that a gospel-centered life will always include love, not selfishness, as a motivating and animating principle (Colossians 3:14).
We have all heard the proverbial phrase “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” This is the challenge for true followers of Jesus today. We are called to reject the cultural trappings of arrogance and hatred, politics and nationalism, and “look-down-at-others” judgmentalism. When popular expressions of Christianity feel like they are marinated in these cultural attitudes, let’s do the hard work to instead marinate ourselves in God’s Word. Let us not reject Jesus, but rather get to know him, and make him Lord and King in our hearts and lives. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel…”
[I originally shared this post at https://davischristianfaculty.wordpress.com/, but I wanted to share it here as well.]