What can a single Bible verse do? Besides being useful for church kids to memorize? Besides wall décor in Christian homes? The truth is, though small, a Bible verse can be the same kind of small as a lit match that sets a forest ablaze. One such Bible verse was Romans 1:17 (“a righteousness that is by faith”) which sparked a fire in Martin Luther. His discovery went on to spearhead the tectonic shift known as the Protestant Reformation.
A few years ago, I was speaking with a former professor of mine, Kenny Boles of Ozark Christian College. Now retired, this beloved teacher was reflecting on what started him down the path of a lifetime of teaching the Bible. Boles is gifted with a brilliant mind. When looking at colleges, he was planning to head to a university to pursue a successful career, but he found himself considering going to—what was at the time—a tiny, “one-horse” Bible college called Ozark Bible College.
For Kenny Boles, the spark wasn’t Romans 1:17 but rather the verse before it: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). Go ahead and let people say he was wasting his intellectual giftedness going to a no-name Bible college. People wouldn’t get why he was sidestepping what could have been a successful, high-paying career, and that was okay. He determined he would not be ashamed of the gospel.
If you’re a Christian, choosing what you will not be ashamed of may be the most consequential decision you make this century. It is the fork in the road that will determine the trajectory of your life and legacy.
What are our choices for what we choose not to be ashamed of? The further and faster post-Christian our culture travels, the more in-focus our two main choices become:
- I am not ashamed to defy Jesus.
- I am not ashamed to follow Jesus.
Not Ashamed to Defy Jesus
More and more people are unashamed to defy the teachings of Jesus. They defy him publicly and proudly.
Joshua Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, has since renounced Christianity and is now offering a paid course on faith deconstruction. Progressive pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber called for purity rings from people upset with a purity culture-upbringing, melted them, and fashioned them into a golden statue of female genitalia. One loud way of coming out as an ex-Christian is the “Blasphemy Challenge”: posting a video on YouTube of yourself blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Instead of being sheepish about having aborted your child, you can “shout your abortion” by joining the network of individuals who proudly post stories of getting an abortion.
Exhibit A for unashamed defiance toward Jesus and his Word is the way “pride” has gone from being considered a “deadly sin” to being a party-like celebration of sexual actions that the Bible calls sin.
Jeremiah 6:15 describes our cultural moment well:
“Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush.”
Ours is a culture which defies God and his moral standards so proudly that they have turned this defiance itself into something we are supposed to applaud.
Meanwhile, we are increasingly encouraged to view our Christian faith as something to be ashamed of. We are conditioned by our culture to see Christianity as intellectually unsophisticated and morally repressive. A progressive, cynical Christianity is treated as enlightened. All the while, those of us who believe the Bible is true and authoritative are uninvited from the conversation.
Not Ashamed to Follow Jesus
Yet, in a culture increasingly unashamed to defy Jesus, the Bible persistently calls us to defy our culture by following Jesus. We are called to follow Jesus whatever stands in our way, from mockery to martyrdom. And we aren’t to follow sheepishly or apologetically. We are to follow unashamedly. Consider these Bible verses:
- So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. (2 Tim. 1:8)
- If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:16)
- And so Jesus also suffered outside the city to make people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. (Heb. 13:12-13)
Jesus anticipated the dilemma we would face between choosing the shame that comes from following him and the shame that comes from rejecting him. He was convinced that the shame of rejecting him was eternally worse:
“If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38)
The Person with All the Power
You might not yet be aware of it, but there’s somebody who holds a scary amount of power over you. Who is it? It depends.
This all-powerful person is whoever can make you most ashamed when you disobey him. That’s the kind of power that carves the canyon through which your life’s trajectory will flow.
You get to choose whom you will give that power to. Will you be most ashamed to offend the culture around you? Ashamed to get raised eyebrows from intellectual elites? Ashamed to get raised fists from woke warriors?
Or will you be more ashamed to disobey Jesus? Devastated at the thought of betraying him for thirty pieces of social credit or cultural likability? Nauseous at the prospect of abandoning him for a seat at the table of his mockers?
Whoever makes you most ashamed when you disobey him is your king.
According to the gospel, Jesus is king (Mark 1:15). To be unashamed of the gospel is to choose him as king. He’s the one you’re afraid to embarrass. He’s the one whose approval you thirst for.
Yet we inhabit a realm where cultural elites function as kings. Our cultural royalty have the power to share their earthly kingdoms in their splendor with those they favor. Conversely, they enjoy the power to cancel those who disobey their rules and fall from their grace. For many people, approval or disapproval from cultural elites is their idea of heaven and hell.
So, it’s time to choose between rival kings. It’s time to decide between competing gospels. Which king will have the power to make you ashamed to disobey him?
Life can get complicated and loyalties can get muddled. So, the wisest choice is to make your decision now. Will you resolve to never be ashamed of following Jesus? To never apologize for making him king? May you join Paul and all the faithful who have gone before us in declaring,
I am not ashamed of the gospel.