Skip to content

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”.


Comments at The Briefing.

Published inThe Briefing

Publications by Lionel Windsor:

  • Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on Ephesians

Recent blog posts

  • The Shambles, York, UKBuilt together (Ephesians 2:20–22)
    Is every church on its own? How are Christian believers connected with other believers with whom we don’t meet regularly: in our region, nation, and world?
  • “Do not weep for me, weep for yourselves…” (Luke 23:28)
    Why do Christians lament? Sometimes we lament out of sympathy, but sometimes we weep for ourselves. This is the kind of lament that Jesus calls for here.
  • Busts in Vatican Museum, RomeNo second-class Christians (Ephesians 2:19)
    Even if we don’t say it out loud, we can often act as if there are different classes of Christians. But the gospel teaches us there are no second-class Christians.
  • Photo by Larm Rmah on UnsplashChrist the missionary (Ephesians 2:17–18)
    Christ is a missionary. Christ does stranger evangelism. Christ preaches to the choir. Christ crosses cultures. Christ brings peace. So says the Apostle Paul. What does he mean?
  • Fragment of the Berlin WallChrist the wall breaker (Ephesians 2:14–16)
    In this broken and rebellious world, our healthy boundaries often become hostile walls. But the cross of Christ breaks down walls and brings reconciliation.
  • Photo by John Tyson on UnsplashThe blood that brings us close (Ephesians 2:11–13)
    Despite our best desires and efforts, we humans are not very good at living up close with others. This has become devastatingly obvious in the recent Christchurch shootings. Yet in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul talks about a conflict that really was healed. This passage is about a real closeness that all believers in Christ must remember: a closeness that is fundamental to our identity.
  • Photo by foundinbklyn on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)Good works and salvation: What’s the connection? (Ephesians 2:8–10)
    A joke letter from an Australian church offering its financial donors priority access to heaven raises questions for all of us. Do our good deeds give us access to heaven? Or are our good deeds irrelevant? Where do our good deeds fit when it comes to salvation?
  • Security Threat. Photo by Andrew Neel on UnsplashA question of security (Ephesians 2:6–7)
    As I write this, New Zealand is shocked and grieving. My own nation Australia is shocked and grieving too, along with them. But news stories about terror attacks and shootings in our world are far too common, aren’t they? And whenever we hear of them, they bring to mind all sorts of questions. One of them is the question of security. As we grieve for the victims, we also think a little about ourselves. We wonder whether some day we too might be in the wrong place at the wrong time when a seemingly random attack happens. It’s unsettling. It’s not just a matter of national security; it’s also a matter of our own personal security. Paul is talking in Ephesians 2:6–7 about a security that belongs to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ. It’s not a guarantee of perfect national security or job security or financial security or security in relationships and health. Nor is it a guarantee that we will always feel perfectly secure. But it is still a real security, more unshakeable and deep-rooted than any other kind of security could be. So what is this security, and where does it come from?
  • Walking past a telephone booth in OxfordThis love (Ephesians 2:4–5)
    “God loves you”: if I say just those three words, you may not hear what I want you to hear. This is because of a communication problem that arises whenever Christians try to talk about biblical concept of God’s “love”. When we say “love” we mean one thing—something wonderful and life-changing. But the word means quite different things to many English speakers. For example, the word “love” often means “strong desire”. So if I say “God loves you” then it might sound like I’m saying “God has strong feelings for you”. Another, increasingly common, understanding of “love” is the idea of “unconditional approval”. In this view, the way to “love” somebody is to affirm and approve of everything they do. So if I don’t approve of your actions and actively affirm everything you do, then by definition I’m not “loving” you (in fact, by definition I’m “hating” you). On this common definition of “love”, if I say “God loves you” then it might sound like I’m saying “God affirms everything about you and your actions”. But that’s not what the Bible means by God’s “love” either. Given this communication problem, how can I best explain the idea of God’s “love”? Well, it’s not actually that hard. The best way is to see how the word works when the Bible uses it. In Ephesians 2:4–5, Paul uses the word “love”. But he doesn’t just say “God loves you”. He explains and spells out what that love means. And he helps us to see what God’s love really means, and how amazing it is.
  • Entering a tomb in PompeiiWe too: the offenders (Ephesians 2:3)
    Judgmentalism. It’s a bigger problem than we think. Judgmentalism is certainly a danger for God’s people. That’s because God’s people have God’s word. God’s word helps God’s people to see how wonderful God is, and how terrible humanity is in comparison. But Ephesians 2:3 contains two highly significant, emphatic words: “we too”. We too, says Paul, were the offenders. We, too, were the disobedient. These words aren’t talking about all those horrible people “out there”. They’re talking about God’s people. And it’s something we, too, need to hear. These words tell us something incredibly important—something that we ignore at our peril.

On this site

All content copyright Lionel Windsor