Question: "What does it mean to not be ashamed of the Gospel (Romans 1:16)?"
Answer: In Romans 1, Paul addresses the Gentile believers at Rome and begins by explaining his mission, which was to preach the gospel to everyone. He concludes his explanation by saying, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:16–17; cf. Habakkuk 2:4).
The word translated “ashamed” means “disgraced” or “personally humiliated.” A person “ashamed” in this way is like someone singled out for misplacing his confidence—he trusted in something, and that something let him down. The word can refer to being dishonored because of forming the wrong alliances. So, when Paul says that he is not ashamed of the gospel, he is saying his confidence in the gospel is not misplaced. There is no disgrace in declaring it. Paul had given his life to proclaiming the truths that Jesus Himself had revealed to him (Acts 9:3–6; 2 Corinthians 12:2–4). He explained to the Romans why he did not believe that he had wrongly identified with Jesus and why proclaiming Jesus’ message was his life’s work.
The application can extend to us as well. Just as Paul placed his confidence in the gospel of Christ, so can we. We can proclaim with boldness the truths that God has revealed in His Word, with no fear that our confidence is misplaced. “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame” (Romans 10:11; cf. Isaiah 28:16). We can rest in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit who inspired the writing of Scripture never changes (2 Peter 1:21; Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). What was true thousands of years ago is still true. The offer of salvation that was presented to people of the first century is still open to us (Acts 2:39; John 17:20).
To live unashamed of the gospel means we proclaim it, but it also means we apply it to our lives and show we believe it. Paul’s life choices supported his message. He did not preach one thing and live another. We are “ashamed of the gospel” when we allow sin in our lives to go unchecked (Matthew 3:8). When we indulge in worldliness and carnal desires or blatantly disobey scriptural standards, we indicate that we lack confidence in our own message (1 Corinthians 3:3; 1 Peter 2:11). When we “walk in the counsel of the ungodly, stand in the path of sinners, and sit in the seat of scoffers” (Psalm 1:1), we are being ashamed of the gospel. We are not allowing its truth to penetrate our lives so that others see its changing power. To live unashamed of the gospel means that we, like Paul, allow it to dominate our lives to the extent that everyone within our sphere of influence can see that we have “been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).