Dr. Wilber Alexander
Clinical Professor of Family Medicine, Loma Linda University
Summary: We are called to determine not to know anything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. So whether men and women will listen or not, they will know that there has been an unashamed witness among them.
Embarrassed. Norman Rockwell is famous for his intimate sketches of the common folk of America. Many of his masterpieces have been featured on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.
One such cover by Rockwell is a scene in a countrystore in Anytown, USA. In the picture you see the usual store furnishings: the counter, cash register, and shelving. Also pictured are many items carried by enterprising store owners: canned goods, personal effects, and hardware items. There are tables and a soda fountain at the entrance of the store. And seated at one of the tables, close to the plate glass window, is a little old lady with eyeglasses. Her gray hair is neatly tucked under a ribboned hat and her shoulders are draped with a knit shawl. A small boy at her side, obviously a grandson dressed in his Sunday best, has a paper napkin tucked into his stiff shirt collar. You can feel great silence within the picture.
Several unshaven men dressed in soiled and ragged work clothes are staring wide-eyed and a bit sheepishly in the direction of the lady and boy. There, in the presence of those in the store and open to the gaze of those passing by, this saintly soul and little one sit with bowed heads and folded hands saying grace before they eat their sandwiches.
The letter response to this picture was amazing. Some people made sarcastic comments, but many wrote to express their admiration for this ?old-fashioned? Christian witness. Their letters also confessed pangs of conscience for being ?ashamed to fly the colors of Christianity within their own circle of influence.?
The temptation to be ashamed. The temptation to be ashamed of Christianity is common to Christians today. By ?ashamed? I mean the hesitancy to be labeled as spiritual, the timidity in standing for principle in the face of possible ridicule, the apologetic attitude toward Christian belief, and the reluctance to speak with conviction of the power of Christ.
We are tempted to be ashamed in several ways. Living at a time when intellectualism is a recognized status symbol, some Christians are tempted to fear that the simple gospel, the old, old story, does not have that virility of thought that will commend it to inquiring minds. This tempts us to try to put the gospel into an esoteric fabric to try to make it intellectually respectable.
Because not many people the world sees as great are found within the ranks of Christianity, because Christianity has always moved up from the lower social strata and appeals mainly to the common man, Christians are afraid that the simple gospel just belongs to simple people, and no serious effort is made to reach the elite who help make up the ?all? who have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rm 3:23).
Even with the passing of years, the offense of the cross has not ceased. Fear of what other people think of Christians, a natural sensitivity to ridicule, dampens the spirit and tempts the witness of some to silence. These fearful ones feel that they dare not become zealous or enthusiastic or get ?off center? a bit, because they might be labeled as fanatics. So they are tempted to live a quiet, ethical existence and never witness to what is going on inside.
False humility tempts others to be ashamed of the gospel. Many feel that they have no talent or personality for witnessing. If they do witness, it would only look like a proud parade of piety. And we are tempted to discredit our own experience and think we are unworthy to witness for Christ. We have all of these temptations in common, and there are more. There are also specific reasons why your own witness is not more spontaneous, more evident, and more consistent.
Ashamed of Jesus. The temptation to be ashamed, apologetic, or reluctant raises some serious questions for serious Christians. Can we continue to be embarrassed or silent in a world that is going over the ?dizzy edge of disaster? while it so openly disregards Christ and His words? Can we be ashamed when it is so apparent that man, with all of his brilliant attainments, has not yet discovered a way to govern the selfish human heart?
As Christians, can we afford to be ashamed while we hold the knowledge of the only way humanity can be rescued for eternity? Can we ever be ashamed when we know how much God counts on our personal witness in reaching the lost?
As we think of the degree of ashamedness that tends to weaken our Christian witness, will you thoughtfully note these words of Jesus: ?For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels? (Mk 8:38 RSV).
At this crisis time in earth’s history, God is calling all professing Christians into a fellowship of the unashamed. This fellowship began in dead earnest on the day of Pentecost, ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven as Victor over sin and death. It began on the day He poured out His Holy Spirit in fullness on His disciples. When those men and women walked down the stairs of the upper room and moved out into Judea and Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world, they knew they had the greatest thing on earth, and they could not wait to share it!
The power of the witness of one person in that first fellowship led to the conversion of Paul. This proud Pharisee was not able to forget the witness of the unashamed Stephen, and after Damascus Gate, he too joined the Fellowship of the Unashamed, becoming its most powerful witness. When we read of Paul’s witness, we cannot help wondering what made him so bold, so unashamed.
In the book of Romans, you will find three short verses in chapter one that are the essence of his witness: ?I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish: so I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek? (Rm 1:14-16 RSV).
1?I am under obligation.? From the time his eyes opened in the house on Strait Street, Paul began to live on the ?red? side of life’s ledger. He knew he was a great debtor. The lift of this great obligation to God brought dignity and meaning to his life. He no longer saw mankind. This was too general. He no longer saw just the chosen ones of Israel. This was too narrow. He saw individual people of all social, educational, religious, and financial levels—people desperately needing to know they had a Friend and a Savior in Jesus Christ.
2?I am eager—I am ready.? There is a note of continual spontaneity here that speaks of Paul’s willingness to witness. This Jew plans to go to Rome, the seat of imperial power, with all of its odds and ends of humanity, degraded, depraved, brutal, and shameless, and he is certain that his witness can conquer for Christ.
3?I am not ashamed of the Gospel.? There is a wonderful boldness in these words. They are spoken by an insignificant Jew whose heart is full of faith in Jesus Christ as the world’s only Savior.
Paul was not an impressive person and, by his own admission, he was not an orator. His fellow Jews considered him an apostate and despised him. He had been persecuted, driven out of city after city, stoned, and left for dead. Yet he spoke for Christ and was eager to speak again.
The gospel Paul preached was abhorred by both Jewish and Greek cultures. How could it fare any better in Rome? In spite of all the opposition, ridicule, and persecution, Paul says ?I am not ashamed of the Gospel ....?
In the book of Romans Paul speaks of the universality of sin, the terrific burden of guilt, the foreboding outlook of penalty, the impossibility of man to rescue himself or to live a righteous life, the incarnation, life, and death of the Lord as a sacrifice for sin, the hand of faith grasping the offered help, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in believing souls, the admission of man into a life of peace, victory, and sonship, and the saint’s place in the Father’s love from which nothing can separate.
To Paul, this gospel was not just a philosophical system. It had the power of divine love in it. It held eternal truth. In his witness he lifted the apparent weakness of the cross above all the power of the divine world. The God-Man, the embodiment of divine power hanging helplessly there on the cross, suffering, dying in agony—the thought was all so strange, so touching, so conquering.
Paul believed wholeheartedly that wherever the gospel found believing hearts, it became a power to remove all obstacles to man’s redemption. He never ceased to marvel at this gospel power that worked in the lives of those to whom it had been preached. Converts multiplied. Men of all walks of life found freedom and peace. He was convinced that nothing and no one else, was able to save. There was more.
4?I am not ashamed . . . for I know whom I have believed. . .?(2Tm 1:12). Paul knew the power of the uplifted Son of God in his own life. And because he was thoroughly convinced of the truth of the gospel of the cross and had personally experienced its blessing and power, he could witness unashamed.
Christians Anonymous. These words from Scripture are bold and searching, probing into silences, compromises, evasions, ashamedness—into all attempts to be ?Christians Anonymous.? The Bible is calling today for each Christian to join the Fellowship of the Unashamed. We are called to:
? A personal salvation that is certain of God’s power, so that we have something personal to share with conviction.
? A growing experience in the things of God. John says ??that which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands concerning the word of life, these truths we proclaim? (1J 1:1-4).
? A surrender to the working and infilling of God’s Holy Spirit.
? A genuine concern for every man, woman, and child who is without Christ.
? A commitment to witness for Christ wherever we are—in word and deed— flooding the world with the message.
We are called again to determine not to know anything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. So whether men and women will listen or not, they will know that there has been an unashamed witness among them.