The gospel, which Paul teaches is 'the power of God', has a specific purpose: it is the power of God for salvation. This salvation proclaimed in the gospel is not universally applied - it is effective only for 'everyone who believes,' but it does have universal availability -  'first to the Jew, then to the Gentile' (Romans 1:16).

This salvation does not depend on racial or national identity. It does not depend on political allegiance. It does not depend on religious heritage. It does not depend on personal goodness. From God's perspective, none of these count. Paul makes very clear that both Jew and non-Jew do not have what it takes to be acquitted by God. Rather, the whole world is accountable to God and stands guilty before him (Romans 1:18 to 3:20). No one, not even one, is innocent in God's sight: no one is 'righteous', no one is 'good'.

We are not 'righteous', that is, we are not legally innocent before God, the Judge of all the earth. This is the simple but devastating truth that makes the gospel absolutely necessary. Our personal sin and guilt make it essential for some means of salvation that does not, in any way, depend on us. Left to ourselves, we are powerless to save ourselves. Left to ourselves, we are  forever guilty, forever condemned, forever banned from God's presence.

Into this universal situation of human disqualification and inescapable guilt comes the gospel, the good news, the power of God for salvation. It overcomes our personal disqualification and makes salvation available regardless of who I am and what I have done:

'For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed' (Romans 1:17).

These words explain why 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.

This gospel salvation stands in stark contrast to all the religious and spiritual ideas and aspirations of mankind, including the bulk of nominal Christianity.

Our human minds and hearts, our human ideas and philosophies, our human religious and cults all expect or teach that acceptance has to be in some way earned, merited, deserved. If you are 'good' you are rewarded, if you are 'bad' you are punished. That is what our human traditions and values have taught us. And that is what a superficial or incomplete reading of the Bible teaches us.

But Gospel 'righteousness' does not come from human merit: it comes from God.

Here in the gospel is a declaration of legal acquittal, a 'not guilty' verdict, which does not come because of our lack of guilt or from our possession of actual legal rightness. It is not a righteousness of man. It is not ours. It comes 'from God', it is 'of God'.

It is something that God provides: it is always his, never intrinsically ours.

It is not based on our own performance.

It is, as Martin Luther phrased it when he discovered its liberating meaning, an alien righteousness. Alien to us. Undeserved, unmerited, unearned, by us.

We have nothing to do with it. It is from God. It is his righteousness.

This is a massive truth, but, as we will see as we meditate further on Paul's letter to the Romans, there is an even grander dimension to it than what is immediately obvious in this verse.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2019