Out of Tune

May 8, 2023 | Dr. Brad H. McLean

Romans 1:14-17

Long before authoring The Robe and other novels, Lloyd Douglas was a university student living in a boarding house. An elderly man whom Douglas had befriended lived downstairs. Every morning, Douglas would come to the man’s door and ask, “Well, what’s the good news?” In response to his daily query, the man would pick up his tuning fork, hit it on the side of his wheelchair and say, “That’s middle C! It was middle C yesterday. It will be middle C tomorrow. It will be middle C a thousand years from now. The tenor upstairs sings flat, the piano across the hall is out of tune, but, my friend, that is middle C!” The man had discovered one thing upon which he could depend, one constant reality in his life, one “still point in a turning world.”[1] 

The Lost Are Out of Tune with God 

We live in a world and culture that are out of tune. Thankfully, Christians can rely on the constant reality that Jesus is Lord. Jesus was Lord yesterday. Jesus is Lord today. And, Jesus will still be Lord tomorrow. Through the writing of the Apostle John, Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega…who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8, NASB).[2] What a wonderful truth we have from our Lord reminding us of His constancy. When considering the constancy of Jesus—that He has not changed, and He will not change—we see more clearly how the world in which we live is in constant change and confusion. Our culture is one that calls good evil and evil good. In response to our culture, God says, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!...Therefore, as a tongue of fire consumes stubble, and dry grass collapses in the flame, so their root will become like rot, and their blossom blow away like dust; for they have rejected the Law of the LORD of armies, and discarded the word of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 5:20, 24). Since God is good and gracious, He warns us that humans will pervert what is right and good, and will, therefore, always be out of tune with Him.

Our Knowledge Requires Action

However, simply knowing this truth isn’t enough. God imparted this information to us for a reason. Therefore, we have a responsibility to act upon this knowledge. The redeemed people of God, through the power of the shed blood of Jesus the Christ, must determine to live in obedience to Christ so that the Way of God is clearly revealed. Believer, in our lifetime, God is giving us the opportunity to shine like lights in the world among a dark, crooked, and perverse generation (Philippians 2:15). And the only way we will be able to shine like lights in the world, is to stand unashamedly firm on the Gospel of Christ! The Apostle Paul writes, “I am not ashamed of the gospel” (Romans 1:16). Fellow Believers, in our culture today, we cannot be ashamed of the Gospel. On the contrary, as a follower of Christ, we are under obligation to boldly and openly live out the Gospel.

Christians are Under Obligation to God

In Romans 1:14, Apostle Paul writes, “I am under obligation….” The word obligation in the original language is the term used for a debt. It has a much stronger meaning than you might realize. As blood-bought children of God, the debt God paid redeemed us from the slave market of sin. “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14). Before God redeemed us, we lived out of tune with Him. In fact, we lived in direct rebellion against God and in harmony with the world, calling evil good and good evil. But now, as confessors of Christ, we are obligated to live no longer in harmony with an out-of-tune world. Instead, we must live in harmony with the Word of God. And because God redeemed us by paying our sin debt, we are in debt for the rest of our lives to the obedience of God.

Christians Are Under Obligation to the Lost

According to verse 14, Christians are also in debt to those for whom Christ died. “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish” (Romans 1:14, NASB 1995). What is the Holy Spirit teaching us through the life of Paul? As a blood-bought child of God, Paul was indebted to others to share the same redemption that God had given to him. The Greeks were some of the most highly educated and sophisticated people of Paul’s day. They were steeped in Hellenistic culture and thrived on learning philosophy. The barbarians were the exact opposite; they were the uncultured and uncouth. Whether to Greek or barbarian, we followers of Christ are in debt to take the Gospel to an unsaved world. No matter how loudly our world claims that men can be women and women can be men, we are in debt to them to stand firm on the Gospel. No matter how loudly our world claims that an unborn child is a just a clump of cells, we are in debt to them stand firm on the Gospel. No matter how loudly our world claims that evil is good and good is evil, we are in debt to them to stand firm on the Gospel. As the redeemed church of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are indebted to boldly tell the truth to those who are living a lie. 

Christians Must Be Eager to Preach the Truth

Paul writes, “I am eager to preach the gospel…” (Romans 1:15). No matter in Rome or Corinth or Jerusalem, the Apostle was compelled to preach the Gospel. Why? Because “the Gospel is the great equalizer, because every human being is equally lost without it and equally saved by it.”[3] The same holds true for our lives. You may answer, “I’m not a preacher.” That’s ok, you’re still in debt to the unsaved to allow Jesus to shine His light through your life. Every Christian is in debt to the Gospel and should not be ashamed to share the Gospel. That’s why God had Paul write, “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” To be ashamed is to be embarrassed to be associated with someone or something. For Paul to say this, it indicates that some believers were embarrassed to be associated with Christ. Certainly, in his day and in ours, there are so-called believers who are ashamed of the Gospel message—the message that God the Father would send God the Son to horribly die upon a cross for the forgiveness of sin, and that Jesus was placed in a tomb and raised to eternal life by the power of God three days later. In Mark 8:38, Jesus makes a chilling statement about those who are ashamed to be identified with Him, as He proclaims, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). To be ashamed of Jesus is to be so proud that you want nothing to do with Him.

Christians Cannot Be Ashamed of the Gospel

To the Romans, Paul actually makes a statement opposite of his true convictions. There is no shame in his heart toward the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no shame in his conviction that the salvation of all who believe comes through a carpenter from Nazareth who was crucified on a cross, placed in a tomb, and three days later raised out of that tomb to eternal life by the power of God. Paul well understands that to a lost world the cross of Christ is foolishness. “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). Foolishness means something is silly, absurd, stupid, or nonsensical. The world shames believers over the simplicity of the Gospel. Believers are shamed because of intellectual reasons. The Greco-Roman world was a world of advanced thinking and technology. Their architecture and sophisticated road building spoke to their intellectual capabilities. Imagine the ridicule that new Believers might endure because their faith and hope was placed in Jesus Christ, a Jewish carpenter, a man from Galilee with no formal education, and a man who claims to be God and raise people from the dead. Rome had the best of everything. They had their own gods and temples for worship. They were a conquering empire. Why believe a man from Jerusalem who was crucified on a cross?   

The World Seeks to Shame Christians

Christians are being shamed by the intellectual elite for having faith in Christ. Christians are being shamed for believing that God created male and female. Christians are being shamed for taking a biblical stance that marriage is to be between one man and one woman. Christians are being shamed for believing that an unborn child is not a clump of cells but an actual human being. But the lost world is foolish. God made the Gospel so simple that a young child could understand and believe, and yet He also made the Gospel so complexly in-depth that the most intelligent cannot exhaust its truth. There are six billion people on the planet today. Each person got to this earth the same way. Each person was born through a woman because only women can give birth to other humans. If everyone is born physically through the same process, why is it so difficult to believe that we are all born again spiritually through one, and only one, process? Believer, you owe a debt to the Gospel to stand firm in a culture that wants to shame you. They want to shame you because you have repented of your sin and believed on Christ as Lord and Savior. They want to shame you because you believe that He is the only One who lived a sinless life, died a substitutionary death on the cross, and rose from the dead. They also want to shame you because you believe that Jesus Christ is now seated at the right hand of God the Father, and that when He returns, He will do so as the conquering King.

Why Christians Are Not Ashamed of the Gospel 

The Gospel is the Power of God

In Romans 1:16, Paul goes on to say, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God.”  The Gospel is God’s chosen avenue of salvation. The sinless life, substitutionary death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ demonstrates God’s power. The power of God is an inherent power—something that resides within Him and Him alone. God chose the cross of Jesus to be the dividing point in history. That single moment in history universally divides people. From that moment in time, people are either perishing or being saved. “The Gospel is not advice to people, suggesting how to change their life. It is power! It lifts them up.”[4] It lifts the unbeliever from an eternity of separation from God in a place called Hell. It lifts them up to a life in Christ that, for an eternity, will be lived in Heaven with Jesus. If that is the hope you have today, then you have been saved by the power of God.

The Gospel Is the Power of God unto Salvation

Now, notice the directed power of God. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation…” (emphasis mine). His power is revealed through the Gospel for your salvation. Salvation is rescue or deliverance from what is naturally deserved, which is the wrath of God. Friend, you are a sinner and have sinned against a righteous and holy God. Because of your sin, you deserve judgement. You deserve to be judged against a righteous God. But the power of God revealed through the Gospel saves us from His judgement. The ultimate judgement of God results in “spiritual death extended into tormented eternal separation from Him.”[5] That is the justice we all deserve. But God shows His power through the Gospel in that through it, we are saved from His justice and shown His grace. Sin is a spiritual problem, and only God can fix the problem. And He has, through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

Only to Those Who Believe

Knowledge of the Gospel is not enough to save. Notice that Paul makes a clear delineation by stating that salvation “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16). The powerful Gospel of God is not the possession of the unbeliever.[6] Rather, it is the possession of the one who believes in Jesus as Lord. The Gospel does not have racial or ethnic barriers. God’s salvation is available to all who believe. We read in Romans 10:13 that “EVERYONE WHO CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” Going back to our opening illustration, Jesus is Middle C, and the world is out of tune with Him. Jesus becomes Lord and Savior to you when you believe. It is then that you are saved.

A Call to Action

Have you believed? Has the power of God changed your eternity because you have believed on Jesus for the forgiveness of your sin? And, if you are saved, are you living your life as one unashamedly indebted to the Gospel, redeemed from the slave-market of sin?          


[1] Craig Larson Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching (Baker Books; Grand Rapids), p. 21.

[2] All Scripture is taken from the 2020 New American Standard Bible (Lockman; Anaheim) unless otherwise noted.

[3] John MacArthur Romans 1-8 (BMH; Winona Lake), p. 47.

[4] Leon Morris The Epistle to the Romans (IVP; Leicester), p. 67.

[5] John MacArthur Romans 1-8 (BMH; Winona Lake), p. 54.

[6] Leon Morris The Epistle to the Romans (IVP; Leicester), p. 68.