Lots of people feel a sense of embarrassment or shame for being a Christian. How much of that comes from the actual content of what followers of Jesus believe, and the fact we don’t know how to talk about the gospel?
A study on Romans 1:1-7 for young adults from the Society of Salt and Light, in Christchurch.
A quick introduction to the week’s bible passages and theme, which aims to engage people in the big picture of God’s story, and the challenge of living faith in light of that.
At my high school by far the worst day of the year for any male was right after getting a new haircut. There was something about a fresh angular buzz cut that made already awkward and dorky teenage boys look ten times more awkward and dorky. And the dread of getting on the school bus and walking through the school gates was terrifying. Instantly you would be overwhelmed by a pimply chorus of “nice haircut”, chanted in that semi-retarded sounding way that only dorky teenage boys can. In that moment you would do almost anything to be one of the crowd, to just fit in. If only your hair would never grow again.
Sometimes, as Christians it can feel like we’re constantly walking around with a new haircut. We just sort of stick out. Some of us may even try to wear wigs to cover it up, but at some stage people see us getting changed after swimming and KAPOW! – the wigs off, we’re found out for what we believe, and someone is flicking us on the butt-cheeks with a wet towel calling us “goody goody God nuts”. Welcome to Shame-town.
Well in recent times in the Western world at least, any religious belief – and especially Christianity – has been seen as being a pretty odd thing to go along with. And being in a culture where it can feel as if we’re a few lonely Christians amongst many who aren’t has meant lots of us struggle with our personal identity as a Christian, and confidence in what it is we actually claim to believe. But what is it that we’re ashamed of exactly?
The opening verses of Paul’s letter to the Romans is a bit like a jar of theological golden syrup – it’s thick, intense, and full of flavour. And in his opening gambit Paul sort of explains the heart of our gospel of good news at twitter sized lightening speed. So what is this “good news” we’re supposed to live out and share with the world? How much do our confidence issues as Christians come from what the gospel actually is – or is it more that we just don’t really know what this “good news” is in the first place? And could having a better grasp on this gospel be the first step towards dealing with those feelings of Christian shame and embarrassment in a world that thinks Christians are slightly mad?
For the Scholars
Discussion questions focusing on exploring the bible passage.
1. If someone asked you ‘what is the gospel?’ what would you say?
READ Romans 1:1-7
2. Letters in the ancient world usually started with the sender’s name, then the name of the person they were writing to, and then a greeting – something like: ‘Spanky; to Matt. Chur bro.’ How is the start of this letter to the Romans like that? How is it different? Why do you think he is doing it this way?
3. How does Paul describe himself in verse 1?
4. How does Paul describe the gospel in verse 2, verse 3, and verse 4? (you could break into three groups and each summarise one verse)
5. The word ‘gospel’ and the term ‘Son of God’ (not to mention the title ‘Lord’) had connections with the authority and power of the Roman Emperor (the ruler of the known world at that time). ‘Son of God’, ‘seed/descendant of David’ and ‘Christ’ (and ‘Lord’ again) all had connections with the expected Jewish King. What do you think people would have thought of Paul using this sort of language to describe someone that got executed for being a failed revolutionary? (imagine he brought it up at a party)
6. How does Paul describe what faith in this gospel does for people who accept it (including the Roman Christians, and us)? (there are elements of this in verses 5, 6 and 7)
7. From the picture of the gospel and what it does for people, what can you see that might be a cause of shame or embarrassment at a party or public discussion in our time and culture?
8. What are some of the things about the gospel and its effects as we see them here that are reasons to not be ashamed?
FOR THE DREAMERS
Discussion questions focusing on mulling over the theme.
1. What’s something you’ve felt shame or embarrassment about following Jesus and what you believe? What is it about that particular thing that brought on that sense of shame? How much was that sense to do with what your non-Christian friends or society thought?
2. Often the things we can feel most ashamed of regarding Christianity has more to do with social or cultural factors (like cheesy music with high pitched out of tune lead singers, or flag dancing) than the message of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ itself. If someone at a party asked you what exactly is the gospel that followers of Jesus believe, what would you say? Would you feel confident in your response, or unsure?
3. Do you think so many Christians struggle to openly share their faith with other people is because they’re ashamed of what they believe, or because they suffer from “imposters syndrome” and feel like they don’t really know enough about what they believe? For those of us who have been Christians for over 3 years – why do we still feel so uninformed of what we believe? (Watch the video “Crucified with Christ” with NT Wright as a way of going deeper on this)
4. Our bible passage, which is Paul’s introduction to the whole letter to the Church in Rome, offers a tweet sized overview of what Paul sees as being at the heart of the Gospel. How does he describe the gospel in verse 2, verse 3, and verse 4? (you could break into three groups and each summarise one verse)
5. The 3 verses above focus on 3 aspects of our faith that could be areas of shame – (v2) the bible, (v3) Jesus’ humanity and (v4) his divine nature and resurrection. Which of these three aspects do you struggle with most? Which of them do you think people outside of faith most struggle with?
6. In the Bible Jesus makes some pretty bold claims about “no-one coming to the Father except through him”. In a world full of many perspectives, religions and beliefs – followers of Jesus can be thought of as arrogant to claim they follow and worship the one true saviour of the world. Is this an objection you’ve encountered with people before, and what do you say?
FOR THE REALISTS
Possibilities for on topic testimonials, sharing and story telling.
Transformers: Ask someone outside your group from your church to talk for 5 minutes to share how they tell other people what they believe as a Christian, and then how the gospel has made a difference in the way they live their lives. Remember to give them at least a few days warning so they can prepare well.
FOR THE ACTIVISTS
Activities and adventures beyond the couch.
First Impressions: Sometimes as followers of Jesus we mightn’t get how people outside our faith feel about religion in general and Christianity specifically. As a group come up with a list of words to do with Christianity (eg Christian, Church, Jesus, Cross, Crusades, God, Priest etc). Ask your people over the coming week to find 15 minutes with a friend who they haven’t talked about faith with before to ask them what they think or feel when each word is spoken. Feel free to ask them friendly but deeper questions to get their full picture of why they’re saying what they’re saying.
Remember to be nice, and don’t feel obliged to correct them about their “feelings” either.
When you come back together as a group share what you heard about each word. Think about what impact those peoples impressions of faith might have on sharing the gospel with them. Are we still to blame at all for those impressions – or are they unfair stereotypes?