For I am not ashamed of the Gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith…For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.
Roman 1:16, 18-22
In his sermon, “Where Do We Go from Here?” Martin Luther King observed: “The prescription for the cure rests with the accurate diagnosis of the disease.” Now, more than a generation later, we are in need of an accurate diagnosis of what has gone so seriously wrong in the country we love. We must get to the cause of today’s explosive racial, class and sexual hatred; the loss of truth and moral distinction; the breakdown of trust in our institutions; the cheapening of human life; and dysfunction in politics. Something has gone tragically wrong that increased spending, new social programs, and more education cannot remedy. Diagnosis precedes the cure.
Thankfully, the accurate diagnosis of what has gone wrong, along with remedy, is offered in today’s scripture. Here the master diagnostician, the apostle Paul, examines the mortal sickness infecting ancient Rome, and America, and points to the cure: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul writes to the Roman Christians from the trendy and affluent seaport city of Corinth. Paul can see all around him why Corinth was looked upon as the most immoral city of the Empire (See Archibald Robertson and Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on First Corinthians). Yet Paul has seen in Corinth that the Gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.” Paul is confident that the power of the Gospel to transform lives and cultures will work in Rome, and by extension, the United States.
Paul diagnoses the problem as people “who suppress the truth.” They willingly repress what they know to be true: “for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.” They will not acknowledge God or give Him thanks, so that “they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.” They have become like the prophet Isaiah’s diagnosis of what had gone wrong in Jerusalem: “Ah, you who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20). This means that evildoers are justified and praised, while the virtuous and God-fearing are condemned.
Paul has only bothered to diagnose the problem so that he might prescribe the cure: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.” Looked at within the contest of Romans, the power of the Gospel for salvation works for saving individuals as well as saving a culture or nation. It is a power that could “save” ancient Corinth, Rome, and America. The great apostle of Christ sees no other remedy.
Later in Romans Paul speaks of the urgent need for Christians to “confess” their faith if they are to be “saved” from the decadence and destruction surrounding them: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your hearts that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Paul has in mind being saved not only from eternal judgment, but saved from the corruption of a pagan Corinth. Rome, or anywhere.
Over a generation ago Martin Luther King wondered for America: “Where Do We Go from Here?” The apostle Paul shows us the way to go! Let us like Paul, not be ashamed of the Gospel, for “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.” Let us boldly release the power of God for salvation as we confess ‘Jesus as Lord’ to the world!
A fellow traveler