Romans 1:16-17


Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2002


To conclude his introductions, and to introduce the content of the next eleven and a half chapters, Paul gives us a summary statement of the Gospel:

'I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.

This statement teaches us:

[1] The gospel is the power of God for salvation. In these words Paul explains why he is not ashamed of the gospel. The Greek word for 'power' is dunamis, from which we get the English word 'dynamite'. Explosive power. Awesome power. Incredible power. God's good news, God's good message, is God's power. Paul is not here just using enthusiastic language to describe the gospel; rather, he is affirming the intrinsic and necessary character of the gospel. A weak or wishy-washy 'gospel' could not save us. Only a gospel in-built with the dynamic power of God has the ability to save sinful humans from the just judgment of God. As we will see shortly, we are utterly incapable of saving ourselves. Salvation is not within our own power; we simply do not have what it takes to save ourselves. It takes God's power, that is, the gospel, to save us. We do not and can not rescue ourselves from sin, death and judgment. Nor can we rescue ourselves from the darkness of our ignorance of God.

For further study and meditation:

[2] The gospel is the power of God for salvation . This dynamic power which is the gospel has a specific purpose, an end result into which it is directed and towards which all of its great energy is committed: salvation. Concerning this word 'salvation' we must throw aside our minimal perceptions, and be prepared to embrace a far more comprehensive understanding of its significance. As we will learn as we study this letter, salvation is not merely an escape ticket from hell. Nor is it something that is purely initial, relevant only at the point of our conversion. It is, rather, something that impacts the whole of our life, invading and changing our expectations and perceptions in multiple directions and dimensions, impacting our present relationship with God, with others, and with our own innermost being.

[3] The gospel is the power of God for salvation of everyone who believes. Salvation is not universal: it is for 'everyone who believes'. At this point Paul does not specify precisely what it is, or who it is, that one must believe, nor does he define what he means by 'believes'. All of that will come later. His point here is that it is the act of believing that causes one to be the recipient of salvation. Let us notice here, however, the primacy of believing. The believing comes before the salvation, so at this point we can say this much: that the faith that saves is not faith in salvation. The focus of belief is not salvation: salvation is given to those who believe. This is an important point. We do indeed believe that we are saved, but that faith comes after we are saved; it is not that believing that causes us to be saved. We must also be careful that we do not give intrinsic saving power to our faith: Christian faith is never faith in faith. It has a unique and specific object, and it is from that unique object that true biblical faith gains its value and effectiveness.

For further study: read John's Gospel and first letter, and write out every verse which mentions believing. When you have done this go through them all and carefully identify (underline if you wish) the recurring specific focus, or object, of faith.

[4] First for the Jew, then for the Gentile. These words teach us that, while salvation is not universal, it is has universal availability. No one race or nation is the favoured recipient. Yes, it is for the Jew, but it is also for the Gentile. It is 'first' for the Jew of necessity, for it is the Jewish nation to whom God gave his written and historical revelation, whom he chose, indeed, whom he created, to be the nation into which the Saviour of the world would be born. Above all the people of the earth the Jewish nation had been prepared by God to receive him and to prepare the world for his coming. Out of all the races of the earth that God could have chosen, Jesus was foretold in the Jewish scriptures, he was born a Jew, lived as a Jew, preached to the Jews, and put into place the saving work of God before the eyes of the Jews. Of necessity, the gospel came first to the Jews. It could be no other way. That was God's choice when he chose Abraham to be the ancestor of his incarnate Son.

But it is not only for the Jew. It is also 'for the Gentile' - those who were not the 'chosen people', those who have not had access to God's written and historic self-revelation, those who have had no knowledge of all the ritual and ceremonial laws which were perceived to identify people as the people of God. Gospel salvation is for these also: it is for everyone who believes, irrespective of national or religious heritage.

[5] For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed. Paul now explains why the gospel salvation is for everyone who believes, both Jew and Gentile. It is because the basis of this salvation is not a righteousness that we have to provide for and by ourselves, but a righteousness which is from God. Gospel salvation does not require us to stand in the law court of God dependant on our own religious merit for acquittal and acceptance: rather the gospel reveals a declaration of legal acquittal and acceptance that comes not from our own merit but from God. Paul will expand this righteousness from God at length later in the letter, but let us note here that this gospel salvation stands in stark contrast to all the religious and spiritual ideas and aspirations of mankind, including the bulk of nominal Christianity.

For further study:

Have a careful look at a number of world religions and pseudo-Christian cults, asking the question: In this belief system, what is the basis on which we are accepted by this system's 'god' or 'gods', and on which we are 'saved' (or whatever the ultimate goal is in that system)? I have not personally checked out every belief system, but all that I have checked invariably place my ultimate destiny in my own hands, not in God's. When Paul states that 'in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed' he is flying in the face of all the religions of men and he is flying in the face of the automatic inclination of the human heart. In our sinfulness, in our pride, we do not want to be dependant on God, even when we are taking salvation from him. We want to cling to our independence even here at our point of destitution. We want to stand in his presence offering to him our own pitiful handful of 'righteousness'. But Paul says 'No!' Gospel salvation reveals a righteousness from God: a righteousness which includes no merit of our own, a righteousness which is sheer gift. As such it could never come from our own thoughts and ideas, for our ideas always give our own actions saving significance. It could only be God's idea, and it had to be 'revealed'.

For discussion:

How does the fact that gospel salvation reveals a 'righteousness from God' eliminate the distinction between Jew and Gentile? How should it affect their relationship to God and to each other? What does it say about the significance of the Jew's possession of and adherence to God's Law? These are questions that Paul answers as his letter proceeds.

[6] A righteousness that is by faith from first to last.' Paul teaches that both at its inception and in its continuance our right standing with God has nothing to do with our performance or ability or achievement. It is initiated by faith, and it finishes by faith. It has its origin in faith, and it is brought to its ultimate goal by faith. It comes from faith and it generates faith. The Greek is literally 'out of faith, into faith'. These two Greek prepositions lead some commentators to understand the first 'faith? to be speaking of God's faithfulness, and the second to be speaking of our faith. While this is not inaccurate grammatically or theologically, it is not a necessary interpretation of this verse. The understanding that best fits the context here, and the broader context of the letter, is that gospel righteousness, which is from God, is God's gift to those who believe (in a genuine Biblical way) in Jesus Christ. The result of possessing this gospel righteousness generates in the believer complete confidence (= trust = faith) that he/she will never be rejected by God, because he/she trusts (has faith) not in him/herself, but in Christ whose righteousness is perpetually credited to him/her. Thus faith is the operating principle in the believer's relationship with God from beginning to end, and all points in between. Not at any point does the believer ever again relate to God on the basis of his/her own righteousness. [Note that I have run ahead of Paul in this paragraph and identified the object of faith as Jesus Christ.]

For personal meditation:

How do you view your standing in the presence of God today? Is faith your operating principle? Are you relating to God on the basis of the righteousness that comes from him? Or are you relating to him on the shaky basis of your own righteousness or lack thereof? If you are unsure of your acceptance with him at any moment, then your operating principle is not faith.

[7] Just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.' 'The righteous' means those who are in the right with God, those who have received his declaration of legal acquittal. How can anyone exist (live) in the presence of God? No one can, as Paul is about to tell us in a lengthy statement. Except 'by faith' - literally, 'out of faith'. As Paul will make unquestionably clear later on, death holds us all captive and enslaved. That is the penalty or wages of sin. No one is qualified to live with God. But here Paul, quoting from Habakkuk 2:4, says that there are some who do live, who do stand in the presence of the holy God, and survive his judgment. They are those who relate to him with true faith, and out of that true faith, because of that true faith, indeed, in a very real way, as part of that faith, God calls them 'the righteous.' [There will be much more about this when we study chapters 3 and 4.]

For discussion: Many Christians today talk about 'living by faith'. What do they mean by this? How is it different from what Paul is speaking of here?

This summary of the gospel is followed by Paul's statement that the wrath of God is being revealed against human sinfulness, which is followed by a lengthy statement concerning this depravity. These verses (along with those in the following chapters) express conclusively why such a powerful gospel is essential, and why the righteousness revealed in the gospel can never be something we contribute to our salvation, but is always and only the gift of God in and through Jesus Christ our Lord.