For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
I do not recall exactly how the Daily Vacation Bible School teachers introduced this verse, but I am certain that I learned at least the initial phrase by rote. Whether that counted towards my certificate at the end of the two weeks or not, I do not know. The statement is simple and straight forward enough, although to my young mind I had some difficulty really comprehending what was meant.
I was in my mid-teens before I ever really understood what it meant to be “ashamed” of something. As I look back on my childhood I can now perceive that there were things for which I could have been mocked, but nobody did for some reason. As far as being a stylish dresser, I was not. I received a new pair of Levis in the fall just before school and another pair at Christmas time. By the end of a year I had not only out-grown them both, but I had completely worn them out as well. Summer vacation was tough on clothes in the Canyon. I bathed regularly; my mother saw to that, and I doubt that I really got ripe enough to trouble anybody on the bus to school. Therefore, I do not recall hearing anyone say to me (as I have heard some children say to an object of their ridicule), “You stink!” I look of the many pictures taken of me as a boy and I am impressed at how much fly-away hair I had. Oddly enough, I got a haircut just before school started in the fall and another one just before school pictures were taken, yet my hair was always in a flurry. It has always been extremely fine and over the years I have used various methods to keep it in place, most of which have been spectacularly ineffectual. Again, however, I do not recall anyone ever making fun of me because my hair was not as it could have been. My point in all of this is that as a child I could not have told anyone what it meant be “ashamed” of anything, much less the “gospel of Christ”.
Jesus was an icon for me, but I am afraid that I did not know much about him, notwithstanding my many years attending that little church. We sang a song during Bible school: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so”. I accepted that, but again, I was nearly an adult before I knew for myself that the Son of God had a vested interest in my personal welfare. I cannot remember a time when I did not believe in God, even though I do not think that I could have said much about what He was like. As to Jesus being His son, a babe born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, I understood the basic sentiments surrounding the celebration of Christmas, but I could not speak to the specific benefits that his birth brought into my life. If someone had asked me if I were a Christian or if I accepted Jesus as my personal Savior, I might have said “I guess”, simply because I could not have identified myself with any other group of believers.
With regard to the “Gospel”, that was a word that was as opaque to me as was the linguistic history that produced the word in the English language more than a thousand years ago. No doubt someone informed me that the Gospel was the “Good News of Jesus Christ”, but I do not remember anyone saying to me what the specific “news” was. No doubt someone said to me, “You are saved by the Gospel of Jesus Christ”. Certainly it would have been good news, indeed, if I had considered myself in any particular danger. I had no idea was sin was, and it would take some serious brushes with both civil and spiritual law before that notion became real to me. And, as I have said before, physical death was fundamentally meaningless to me.
During the past fifty years or so, I have learned something of Paul the Apostle, his life and teachings, and of the world in which he lived both as a Jew and as a Christian. I have vicariously travelled with him as he labored in his ministry, as he was driven out of one town and into another, fearlessly raising his voice to the inhabitants of the land that they should repent and come unto Christ, because there was no other way in which they could be happy. I been in prison with him, beaten with many stripes. I have been imperiled with him upon the waters of the great deep, watching him quietly encourage men who thought that they were going to perish in the waves. I have stood with him before Festus and Agrippa, Felix and Ananias, Roman procurators and proconsuls, and even in the judgment halls of Caesar, before some of the mightiest villains that ever have lived upon the earth. In nothing did he hesitate to teach and preach. He feared for nothing, neither torture nor death. When he has said that he was not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, I have believed him, for he had exemplified his confidence in the principles of eternal life from the time the angel appeared to him on the road to Damascus until he was beheaded in Rome. He had felt the power of God in his life, and he wished that all men might feel that power the same way in their lives. I am grateful to be one of those men who have learned something of that power, one who has learned something of mockery of sin and yet has been freed from the guilt and shame that invariably accompanies the unrepentant wicked.