Formations 01.09.2022: Good News

Romans 1:1-17

“Gospel” comes from Old English god spell, “good news.”

That second word, spell, is related to the word spiel. A spiel is a speech, often a sales pitch intended to persuade. The word carries a certain connotation. We’ll listen to news, especially good news, but calling something a spiel implies we’d be wise to take it with a grain of salt.

For a lot of people today, the gospel doesn’t sound like good news.

The church in America has a problem: most Americans have heard of Jesus. They might not know much about him, but they know he loved others. They know he wasn’t prejudiced against people who were different. That he had some pointed things to say about the rich and powerful. That he hung out with sinners and made them feel welcome.

When people see churches that aren’t interested in any of those things, we shouldn’t be surprised if they tune out the message they hear. It’s not good news; at best, it’s just a good spiel.

So it makes sense that some Christians might feel a little awkward telling others about their faith in Jesus. They don’t want to be lumped in with Christians who pay lip service to Jesus but whose true loyalties lie somewhere else.

To be honest, though, even the pure, unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ comes across as weak, even irrational, to most people. It’s all well and good to talk about a Jesus who forswears earthly power, who silently accepts the mockery of the privileged, who didn’t lift a finger to save himself but rather went to his death like a sheep to the slaughter. But when we hear him say, “Go and do likewise”? No wonder Paul insisted he wasn’t ashamed of the gospel (Rom 1:16). Plenty of people would have been!

So Paul begins his letter to the Romans with a passionate defense of the gospel message and his own role as an apostle to the Gentiles. Far from being a mark of shame, he writes, the gospel is “the power of God for salvation.” It changes lives, in this world and the next.

Good news, indeed.

Discussion

• When have you felt awkward or self-conscious about your Christian faith?
• What does this passage tell us about the gospel: its content, its imperatives, and its power?
• What does it mean that the gospel reveals God’s righteousness?
• In what sense is this revelation “through faith for faith” (v. 17)?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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