In the first chapter of Paul’s amazing letter to the church at Rome, he mentions the phrase, “I am” three times, each with an important significance. The statements escalate to a crescendo in verses 16 and 17, in which we have the theme of the entire epistle: The one way to tap into God’s plan of salvation is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul charts the course to salvation through a series of “I am” statements, as follows:
1. I am debtor. People must know that they need something, that they are lost. They must come to experience a sense of obligation. Maintaining the status quo is not an option. Paul said, “I am debtor both to Greeks and to Barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish,” (1:14). God’s plan of salvation does not begin with hearing the gospel. It begins with a realization that one needs to hear the gospel. A willingness to listen. A desire to learn. A recognition that all is not right in one’s life. And understanding that we are somehow desperately indebted.
I have long believed that one of the main reasons we do not have more success reaching the lost in the current culture of America is that so many people do not really get the fact that they are lost. They don’t really believe that they need God, or that they need the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. They have so much, materially. They typically have far more than they need in terms of money, and by worldly standards they are rich. The problem with being rich is that it tends to blind our eyes to our own spiritual poverty, and teaches us to trust in our own riches. And a person who trusts in his own riches can never be saved. Truly, “it is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven,” (Mt. 19:23). In his own eyes, he is not indebted to anyone. He is doing quite fine, thank you. Why should he bother to learn about and conform his life to Jesus Christ? The first step of salvation is recognizing that we are indebted.
2. I am ready. But recognizing that we need to change our life is only the beginning. Then there must come a process of correction, repentance, education, preparation. I must not only want to live for Jesus Christ, I must prepare to do so. In the words of our Lord, I must “count the cost,” (Lk. 14:28). I must, in essence, get ready.
There is always a temptation to skimp on the preparation stage. When we see the need to do something, we want to launch right into it. The tendency is to jump in unprepared. There is an old story about two woodsmen about to spend the day chopping wood. One of them spent the first hour sharpening his tools, and the other launched immediately into the work. Which one, at the end of the day, do you think had chopped the most wood? Preparation comes in the form of education, and a thorough study of God’s word. It involves taking up “the whole armor of God,” (Eph. 6:13) before jumping in to the fray.
Our eternal salvation depends upon our readiness here on earth. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you, for I go to prepare a place for you,” (Jn. 14:2). Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people. We are not going to get there accidentally, or by surprise. Like Paul, we are going to have to get ready.
3. I am not ashamed. When we have seen the power of the gospel in our own lives, and what it has done with the lives of so many others, we are not ashamed to share it. We come to understand that it is not merely one among many ways to be saved, it is “the power of God unto salvation,” (1:16). The gospel is like a precious treasure found in a field, about which, upon obtaining, we can’t wait to tell others.
Jesus said, “Everyone therefore who shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven,” (Mt. 10: 32–33). “For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in his own glory, and the glory of the Father, and of the holy angels,” (Lk. 9:26).
God’s plan for man’s righteousness involves our recognition that we are a debtor to Jesus Christ, our faithful readiness and our refusal to be ashamed of the gospel. These are the “I am’s” which Paul confidently proclaimed, and shared with us as a guide for our own salvation. Let’s ponder each one carefully, and apply them as needed in our own lives.
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.