Speech and salvation 2: Shut your mouth

From The Briefing:

This is the second post in a series about gospel speech. Read part 1 here.


“I’m not good enough!”

Maybe you think that you’re not qualified to speak the gospel to people because you’re not godly enough. If you feel this way, then you’re absolutely right and you’re absolutely wrong at the same time. You’re right that you’re not godly enough. And you’re wrong about the gospel.

Think about the great prophet Isaiah. When God revealed himself to Isaiah, it scared him out of his wits. Isaiah realized that he had a very serious speech problem:

[Isaiah] said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isa 6:5)

This very same speech problem confronts us at the start of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Romans is a letter about the way God reveals himself to us. God reveals his gospel (Rom 1:1), his son (Rom 1:3-4), his power (Rom 1:16), his salvation (Rom 1:16), and his righteousness (Rom 1:17). But when God reveals himself, he also reveals something about human speech. And what we learn about human speech is not good. Whenever human speech is mentioned in the opening chapters of Romans (apart from Paul’s own words), it’s always an unmitigated disaster.

In the very first chapter, Paul gives us a catalogue of general human miserableness and rebellion against God. Near the climax of this list, Paul describes us human beings as:

… gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, …
(Romans 1:29-30)

A short time later, Paul talks directly about our speech-organs—our mouths. Our mouths are diseased; they’re intimately involved in our rebellion against God:

… For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, …
“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” (Romans 3:9, 13-14)

Our mouths reveal what’s in our hearts, and it’s very bad. We know all too well the terrible power of our words; how our words can wound and break hearts and lives. This isn’t a minor issue. The God who reveals himself is holy and powerful, and he is angry with our speech.

Romans also talks about another kind of revelation from God, a revelation God gave to the nation of Israel many years before. This revelation is called the law. It’s a very good revelation, because it shows us how holy and powerful God is, and it tells us what this holy God expects of his people. But the law-revelation provokes another serious speech problem. The people who have the law think that they should preach the law. They think that God gave the law to them so they could teach everybody in the world how to work hard and live better and please God:

… and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—(Romans 2:19-20)

But in fact, preaching the law is crazy talk. Because anyone who thinks he’s qualified to preach God’s law has got the same problem as the people he’s preaching to. Paul goes on:

You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal?

You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?
You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?
You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. (Romans 2:21-23)

In fact, law-preaching creates an even bigger speech problem. Whenever somebody preaches the law and doesn’t keep it, they prove that God’s word doesn’t work. And that just makes the listeners scoff and slander God himself:

For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:24)

This all just goes to show that the law isn’t there to be promoted or preached or proclaimed. In fact, the law isn’t designed to make anybody talk at all. The law has the opposite purpose. The law is designed to stop us talking:

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

God’s law-revelation is intended to bring silence. And when I say ‘silence’, I’m not talking about quiet religious contemplation. I’m talking about the silence of a defendant in the dock, who has been utterly convicted by the weight of the charges against him, and who simply has nothing to say. The law is there to mortify us; to show us just how venomous and bitter our sin really is. The law makes us accountable to God. The law is there to render us speechless. Only then will we hear the gospel, the message of salvation, the death and resurrection of Jesus which makes us right before our holy creator and judge (Rom 3:21ff). The law testifies to the gospel. But it’s not the gospel.

When God reveals himself, the first thing you need to do is to shut your mouth and listen.


This is the second post in a series about gospel speech. (Read part 1 here.) In the next post, we’ll think about another objection: “I’m not gifted enough”.


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