My Charge to the Graduating Class of 2012, Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando

One of the things I dislike most about parenting at my stage in life, is seeing some of my children go off to college.  I realize it marks the end of a special season, and I miss them a lot.

I have a similar feeling tonight as we say good-bye to our graduates.   We have come to love them.  I will miss them a lot.  But of course, we also feel joy in their achievement.  We are proud of them.   We are excited for them as they prepare to serve Christ all over our the world.

A final charge
So graduates, now that you have your diplomas in hand, I give you this final, brief charge.  It comes from Romans 1.16,17—where Paul wrote–16 “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”[1] (NIV)


Why this charge?
Why the urgency of this charge?  Because surely, at some point you will probably be tempted to underestimate the gospel and, in Paul’s words, be ashamed—to move away from it, to minimize it, to let other things become central in your thinking so that it is crowded out.

I believe that the reason Paul told the Romans he was not ashamed at this point in his life, is because there were times in his life when he wrestled with this.   There’s no sense in saying you are not ashamed of something, unless you’ve been tempted to feel ashamed at one time or another.

Think of his life and ministry.  He had been imprisoned for the gospel in Philippi (Acts 16.23-4),  chased out of Thessalonica (Acts 17.10),  smuggled out of Berea (Acts 17.14),  laughed at in Athens (Acts 17.32),  called a fool in Corinth (1 Cor. 1.18,23),  and stoned in Galatia (Acts 14.19).  Do you think there weren’t times when he wondered—“what on earth am I doing this for” and he was tempted to shrink back?

Paul knew that these Roman Christians, living in the heart of the empire, might be tempted to be ashamed of it as well.

Rome valued other things.  The great imperial city was the seat of political power and pagan religion.  It despised the idea of a crucified and risen messiah.  It celebrated military might and worshipped its emperors.   Christians in Rome might easily be intimated in this atmosphere.  Surely they felt the pull and pressure of “when in Rome….do and think like the Romans.”

Many of us will be living and doing ministry in modern Rome. The cultural milieu is post-Christian.  The values of our empire will press in.  And like these early Christians, we too will probably be tempted with this.  We’ll hear voices telling us to minimize or “get beyond the gospel.”  Even some in the church are telling us to “re-vision” or “revise” the gospel.

Without meaning to, we will at times drift from the gospel.  With all the competing messages out there vying for our attention, we may marginalize it.  The countless number of new books, blogs, YouTube videos, and messages coming to us from all the social media portals—these can easily dominate our minds.

Or we might become captivated with “the next thing” in ministry—the latest theological thing, the latest counseling fad, the latest church growth technique.

We will be lured by the gospels that are prominent in our culture—the gospel of technology (that it is technology that will really save us), or the gospel of science, or the gospel of education, or the gospel of this politics or that politics, or the gospel of self-help or moralism, or of some other religion.  We are so  seduced by the voices that are celebrated in our culture.

I think this has always been the case for Christians.  But here, Paul says that he is not ashamed.   Why not?

Why Paul would not underestimate the gospel
Why would he not succumb at this point in his life and underestimate it?   I think the answer is clear throughout his letter to the Romans.   He will not underestimate the gospel because he knows what the gospel is.

1          He knows that the gospel is the best news on the planet—that God had come to this world in Jesus Christ.  In Christ’s righteous life, atoning death, and bodily resurrection, and in his kingdom, something fabulously new has begun.

2          Second, he will not underestimate the gospel because he knows it is a message of salvation.  Salvation means deliverance or rescue. Christ rescues us from what Malcolm Muggeridge once called “the dark little dungeon of our own ego.” He delivers us from the darkness and lostness of our futile ways of thinking.  He rescues us from God’s just wrath and condemnation which comes to people who defy his rule.

3          Third, he will not underestimate the gospel because the gospel shows us how to be saved.  It tells us that we cannot hope to stand in the presence of a holy God on our own.  We desperately need the righteousness of another.  In the gospel “a righteousness from God is revealed.”  God in his grace offers a right standing with him through Christ that comes by faith. By trusting in the righteous one who died for sinners, who paid the price of our justification with his own blood, God counts us as righteous in His sight. Not for anything we have done, but by the merits of Christ.   Our sins can be forgiven!  Our guilt can be taken away through Christ!

4          Fourth, Paul will not underestimate the gospel because he knows it has life-changing power—“it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”  It is a message that raises people from spiritual death. Paul knows this from experience. He knows the gospel’s regenerating, life-changing power. He also understands that the power of God accompanies the telling and the preaching of the gospel. It is through the gospel that God overcomes our deadness and spiritual inability.

5          Fifth, Paul will not underestimate the gospel because he knows that it is a message of reconciliation and redemption.   It not only tells us how to be reconciled to our maker (Romans 5), it also informs us that God’s redemptive work in Christ will renew creation itself (Romans 8).  It’s not simply good news about regenerated souls, but of a future regenerated universe.

What other message announces anything like this?  What other message comes with the power of God for salvation? No corporate mission statement or political platform comes anywhere near to the importance, the relevance, and the stunning expansiveness of the gospel message.

May I remind you that Reformed Theological Seminary would not be there if not for the life-changing power of the gospel in the lives of its founders?   For that matter, I would not be here were it not for the work of the gospel in my own family.  This church would not be here, your church would not be here, countless schools, hospitals and ministries would never have been birthed were it not for the truth and the power of the gospel.

Instead of underestimating the gospel…..
So when you are tempted to minimize it, to shrink back from proclaiming it, or to be ashamed—remember what the gospel is!!!!

As you pastor, or counsel, or lead, or serve in missions, or work as a scholar, as you teach, or translate the Bible into a language that does not have the Scripture, as you serve Christ in para-church ministry, in film-making or in the marketplace,  TREASURE THIS GOSPEL.

Treasure it. Go deep in it. Explore its riches. Live it out in your ministries. Embody it in your  leadership teams and congregations.  Guard it with your life, and entrust it to others. All the while abiding in the Lord of the gospel and in his strength.

So that’s it! That’s my final word to you. Hold on to it. Let it ring in your ears. And NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL.

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. 1996 (electronic ed.) (Ro 1:16–17). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.