Wal-Mart quite possibly is my favorite all-time store and it was the setting for two of my most memorable middle school stories.
The first story began with me scurrying into the Wal-Mart electronics section to play video games on an after-school visit to the shopping super center. This was a usual occurrence in my family as I would spend 20-30 minutes chilling there until my mom would finish her shopping and come get me. However, this day would be anything but usual…
Something happened to me that I had never experienced before nor experienced since. That afternoon, standing in the middle of Wal-Mart, with no forewarning whatsoever, I lost complete control of my bladder. Yes! I, a 14 year old boy, peed in my pants (and we’re not talking just a little bit…).
I was utterly ashamed at my inadequate ability to control myself and attempted to hide in the corner of the electronics section. I shuddered at the thought of my mom or others seeing me, but I knew I had no other choice but to call out to her for help. Luckily, my mom came to my rescue and led me out of the store as I walked tightly behind her.
I thought this was the worst possible shame I could ever experience, but soon I would find out that this was not the case.
The second story happened only a few short months later back in the very same Wal-Mart. This time I found myself standing in front of my second favorite section in the store – the baseball card aisle. I grew up absolutely loving collecting baseball cards, and I can still readily remember the joys of receiving packs of cards for my birthdays.
However, these satisfactions were not enough for me…
For a short period of time, I followed after the desires of the flesh and began stealing packs of baseball cards, pens, and small toys from shopping centers. After watching several boys from school show off their newest additions, I was sucked in to this new thrill.
This short-lived thrill lasted for about two or three weeks when my mom saw through my deception and caught me red-handed in my room one afternoon after a trip to Wal-Mart with several packs of cards that she did not buy for me. I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced a more shameful moment in my life. I was found out! I was a thief. I was a deceiver. I was a liar.
My mom immediately drove me back to Wal-Mart, made me pay for all of the cards (as well as give them all back), and made me apologize to the store manager. I can still remember the shame of that tearful apology as I had to explain what I had done. Much like my experience of shame for my inadequacy, I felt this time the shame of being fully exposed as a law-breaker.
By now (if you’re still reading and haven’t decided to click on to the next post…) you’re probably wondering how any of this has to do with Paul or Romans or the gospel!
Well, in Romans 1:16-17, Paul poignantly discusses the relationship between shame and the gospel: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’”
After reading verse 16, though, I immediately want to say, “But how could he not be greatly ashamed?!?!”
I mean, isn’t he aware of who he is and what he’s done? I was ashamed before a Wal-Mart manager for stealing a pack of baseball cards. Paul was responsible before God for the persecution, imprisonment, and most likely death of countless Christians.
If in fact, the gospel is the revelation of the righteousness of God, Paul should be completely and utterly ashamed of his inadequacies and unrighteousness before Him.
Ah! The beauty of the gospel of God is found in the midst of this seemingly insurmountable problem.
Paul explains that the reason why he is unashamed of the gospel is that it is the power of God resulting in salvation for everyone who believes. Even more explicitly, Paul says that this salvation is directly connected with the righteousness of God.
But as already observed, certainly this cannot simply refer to a righteousness that is obtained through the accomplishment of good deeds. Paul is well aware that he is a law-breaker and fails to meet God’s holy standards.
Therefore, the righteousness of God being revealed in the gospel necessarily refers to the righteousness of another, namely the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
The very reason why Paul can confidently stand unashamed of the gospel is that by faith, he has been accredited with a righteousness that is not his own!
The good news of the gospel is that God takes away the shame of our inadequacy and unrighteousness by providing us with a new righteousness that was purchased for us through the sacrificial death of Jesus.
I am not left in the shamefulness of my pee-stained pants or sin-soaked hands, but through my faith in Christ, I have obtained a righteous standing before God! Jesus Christ bore my shame on the cross that I myself might stand unashamed before the Father clothed in His perfect, spotless righteousness.
For this reason and this reason alone, I stand alongside Paul and proclaim, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for my salvation!