16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes, first for the Jew, and also for the Greek.
I’m not ashamed –
For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him shall the Son of man also be ashamed when he shall come in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. Mark 8:38
In Paul’s time, there were many reasons to be ashamed of the gospel. At least in civilized Roman society. This was a religion that had its origin in the contemptible and uncivilized land of Israel; the founder of this religion was a Jew and on top of that one from Galilee. The central figure in this religion died as a rebel against Rome on the cross. And besides, most of his followers came from the lowest circles in society. Anyone who would explain the content of his faith at this time had to speak about the belief in a crucified Savior who brought God’s mercy to humanity, with the requirement of a total life renewal, and a life of self-denial. This religion was spread without the persuasiveness of eloquence or poetry and was not recommended by philosophers. It knew no beautiful temples and no brilliant rituals, and colorful priestly robes could not be seen.
The apostle Paul himself had many reasons to be ashamed of the gospel. How could he, as a Jew and rabbi who was highly regarded by the teacher of his time, join a religion that considered Judaism a mere preparation? How could he now come up with a doctrine in which the study and application of the letter of the law were rejected? How could he say to the Corinthian congregation that his proclamation could not be accompanied by the excellence of words or wisdom? Did he not have “persuasive words of wisdom”?
In our time it is the same. We are ashamed of the gospel because faith in a personal God is seen as a psychological defect, and morally rejected because it assigns authority to outdated commandments and institutions – so totally contrary to the spirit of our time. We are ashamed of the gospel because it claims the truth, at a time when that is considered to be both impossible and indecent. Christians are those people who think that they own the truth and that others should follow their moral views. And what kind of moral views! Christians still discriminate against unbelievers, against women without political rights, against people with a different sexual orientation and so on. Moreover, they believe in a book in which genocide is ordered, the theft of land is a divine prescription and where it is said that a son who rebels must be stoned.
In this way, the message of the gospel in the time of Paul finds itself, just as much as in our time, in a struggle with contemporary culture. The gospel claims to be a message in which the limitations of our world are shown. The gospel points to another, unknown, yet living reality that stamps all other truth claims with a question mark. It does not set itself besides all other truths, nor does it compete with other religions for the preference of the religious consumer. In this sense, it comes completely from above, without any respect for the sensitivities of priests, sages, and philosophers.
a power of God –
Now Paul says that he is not ashamed, but he even does the opposite. He praises the gospel. It is a power of God, he says. The gospel is stronger than the world. It is certainly true that the message of the cross in the eyes of the world is a foolishness. That is the way they must see it. It’s just a bunch of words. But it is not because of an idea that these words are interesting, or because they make a good life possible, or that it is, taken together, a fascinating philosophy of life. When Paul says that the message of the resurrection – because that resurrection is precisely what it is about – is a power of God, he means to say that the object of that message precedes the meaning of the words. In the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed, but not as an idea, but as something that works, changes people, and determines world history. God makes himself known in this gospel, not as a force of nature or as an attractive idea, and certainly does not coexist with other forces in life. But He is not to be discovered in any spectacular wonder in the world that is visible to all eyes. The miracle of the gospel happens in the power of the Spirit and can only be recognized by the human spirit. That is why it is not relative or dependent on our understanding. It is sufficient by itself, it is unconditional and true in itself. The gospel describes the decisive turning point in the relationship between God and man. When Paul proclaims the gospel, it is this divine decision that he presents to the conscience of his listeners, and he invites them not to process, understand and absorb this message, but to accept it. That is to say, to submit to that message with all of life and whole thinking.
to salvation –
This message also gives us a clear diagnosis of the misery in which man is trapped. We are further from God than we think, and the consequences of that distance reach beyond what we can imagine. We assume that the principle of our existence lies in our freedom to dispose of ourselves. We act in freedom, we think in freedom, we determine our destiny in life, and ultimately we are the ones who decide good and evil. There is no heaven above us that lives with us, shows the way, clarifies our final destination; there is only the earth. On the other hand, there is the gospel that says that we are imprisoned and limited by the fact that we are creatures. Our sin is also our debt. Our death is also our fate. The world in which we live is surrounded and threatened by the chaos of death and meaninglessness. Surrounded by all these denials of the ultimate sense of our existence, some may want to ask the question if there is a God? And others tried to answer that question in the affirmative and construct a religious life that brings reconciliation with the prevailing senselessness and the fatal journey of death. However, when the gospel comes, this religious hubris will have to disappear. After all, the gospel provides a final and definitive insight.
That is why the word of the gospel comes into our world as folly. It speaks of God as He is and then really intends to speak of Himself – in the eyes of the world the arrogance par excellence! This is the pretense: speaking of God as He is real and true – outside and above all of our images of God and religious representations. It speaks of that creator who became our savior. It gives us the announcement of the forgiveness of our sins and of the ultimate triumph of life in Christ above death. We can not argue that and reduce it to a philosophy. Here we reach the limit of what we can know. We can only recognize and accept it. That is what the power of God does in the gospel, making it possible for a person to acknowledge and accept it.
That is why the true content of the gospel is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In that resurrection, Paul said in the fourth verse, Jesus Christ is confirmed: “as God’s Son in power.” This intervention of God in creation is not the exception to the rule, but the limitation of the reality of our rules. That which goes against all natural expectation is ultimately its foundation. The miracle of the resurrection is no more or less than the miracle of creation itself. In the resurrection, God pronounces His verdict upon death that is its secret principle. The prison of our existence is now open, the guilt we carry is being discarded. Our death is no longer a fate, but a station on the way to eternity. The impossible appears to be the basis of the possible.
to everyone who believes
This gospel requires faith; faith is the form of recognition and the acceptance of this truth. Only for the believer can this gospel be a “power of God to salvation”. Jesus was declared to be God’s Son by the resurrection, but that is “in accordance with the Spirit of holiness.” This message, that does not come from the world, cannot be accepted by a spirit that is from this world. Thus Paul writes to the congregation of Corinth: “And we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is of God, that we may know the things that have been given to us by God (1 Corinthians 2:12). ” Only idols can be directly known and understood. The power of God in the message – only words! – of the gospel contradicts everything that is taken for granted in the world and considered to be “natural”. Here is a message that does not negotiate, which cannot be partially accepted, which does not entail arguments to recommend itself to the listener. No persuasive words of wisdom, no excellence of words. What Paul proclaims – proclaims! that is, submit, recommend, exposit – is nothing less than “what God has prepared for those who love Him.” No compromise is possible. But that is not a reason for fear. This gospel does not come with violence, like the “good message” of the birth of the emperor.
The gospel can only be believed. That is, one can decide with the will to accept it, but not conclude with the intellect that it is true. It can not be based on a truth that is different from the message itself. The gospel is the foundation of all truth. This belief consists of a deep respect for God’s infinity; in the recognition of the impossible message of the resurrection, in the confirmation of the divine judgment of my sins, and in the acceptance of the way to salvation that God has pointed out in it. Who believes? He who answers the faithfulness of God with his own faithfulness, that is, God’s faithfulness is answered by faith. What does he believe? That the gospel is the power of God to salvation. How does he believe? In constantly choosing faith against the annoyance and shame that is evoked by the gospel in the world. Ultimately, it is not about inner experience, or a deep sense of sublimity, or the power of conviction, or the change of the inner mood. These are accompanying matters. The power of faith manifests itself primarily as the denial of idols, the rejection of the naturalness of evil, of the necessity of death, of the unfreedom of our existence. Faith is never just piety. Faith is never a supplement nor an addition to our human possibilities. In the strict sense, Barth says somewhere, we can not believe. And yet faith is commanded to us, and it is the necessary condition of receiving salvation.
first for the Jew, and also for the Greek.
Does it make any difference whether you come from a religious community as a Jew, or from an unbelieving community like a heathen? Does it make any difference whether you are a religious or an a-religious person? Certainly, whoever has been baptized and can be counted as a member of a church community may be the first to be called upon to make the choice for Christ. In the church, all are on the edge of this other world and hear the gospel. Yet that does not give them a preference. For both, the gospel must be heard, and both Jew and Greek have the responsibility to accept it, to believe it.