In its day, Rome was a proud city and empire, home of the elite, the statesmen, philosophers, artisans.
The Roman empire had no great love for the Jews, and little respect for their “capital” city, Jerusalem. To the Roman, a Jew was a commoner at best, and a slave at worst.
From this nation of troublemakers and their oddball religion had sprung something new – a fable about some low-income carpenter/prophet whom the Romans executed using their basest form of punishment, a prophet who has supposedly been resurrected from the dead.
Now, a Jewish tent-maker with some set of credentials in this tedious religion is going to go to the high-society Romans to preach this bizarre message to them? It is laughable!
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. – Romans 1:16, ESV
Paul has alluded numerous times to his desire, or his need to go to Rome. It is almost as though some believed he was afraid to go to Rome, so Paul felt the need to repeatedly emphasize, or state his desire to do so. Or it may be that Paul is being told that he dare not go to Rome because it would be terribly dangerous for him to do so.
Paul is neither afraid, nor ashamed to take the gospel anywhere. The gospel is the most powerful thing available to humanity. Neither is Paul ashamed of the gospel’s simplicity in such a culture-center of the world.
The Gospel is Power
I want you to notice that it is the gospel that is the power. Paul is the preacher. He is the instrument by which the gospel is spread, but the power is not dependent upon Paul. Neither is it dependent upon you when you share the gospel.
The gospel is not the presentation of an idea, but the operation of a power! When you or I teach the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is not the mere speaking of words. It is an event. Something occurs. Power is loosed.
The Gospel is Positive
Take note of the positive way in which Paul speaks of the gospel. There is a world of difference between saying, “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” and saying “only for those who believe is the gospel God’s power for salvation.”
When we are careless, we can turn even faith into a legalistic requirement, as though it is something demanded of men and women. I hear this subtlety creep into conversations in which people discuss the “conditions” of salvation.
I encourage you to resist the urge to see faith as a “requirement” for salvation. Viewing it that way makes faith something of an achievement. We then begin looking at God and looking at humanity to determine what each can contribute to this salvation process.
Instead, approach faith as something within the individual that allows the power of the gospel to bear its fruit. It is a subtle difference, but I believe it is a significant one.
The gospel is preached, and the gospel is the power. Our faith is merely evidence that the gospel has loosed its power within us. It is not our faith that activates the gospel, or that gives the gospel its power, but rather it is the power of the gospel that makes it possible for us to believe.
The Gospel is Revealing
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ – Romans 1:17, ESV
To fully grasp what is being said here, we need to understand what the term “righteousness” meant to the first-century mind and the Hebrew (and largely also Gentile) culture. Consider this quote from W.R. Smith’s book, The Prophets of Israel.
“The ideas of right and wrong among the Hebrews are forensic ideas; that is, the Hebrew always thinks of the right and the wrong as if they were to be settled before a judge. Righteousness is, to the Hebrew, not so much a moral quality as a legal status. The word righteous means simply, ‘in the right,’ and the word wicked means, ‘in the wrong.'”
To say “God is righteous” is not to make a moral statement about God, but rather a legal one, and by extension, those men and women who are “righteous” are legally in the right as far as God is concerned. In the gospel, this righteousness of God is revealed in that we are informed how to be in the right where God is concerned.
In making his righteousness statement to the Romans, Paul is drawing on the phrase “The righteous by faith shall live,” from Habakkuk 2:4, quoted below.
Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith. – Habakkuk 2:4, ESV
Paul uses that idea from Habakkuk to expand on the rather confusing phrase “from faith to faith.”
That could mean:
- From our faith to their faith (Romans 10:17). Because of our faith, we teach the word, and others are led to have faith.
- From a message of faith to trusting faith (Romans 3:22). By means of the gospel, people are led to believe.
- From a beginning faith to a mature faith.
- Or a faith that is both the beginning and the culmination.
In the Talmud, we find Habakkuk 2:4 quoted alongside Amos 5:4 which gives us, “The righteous by faith shall live” quoted right next to “Seek me and you shall live.” Life and salvation, to the Hebrew mind, were practically synonymous terms.
I do not believe Paul is saying here that the righteous man or woman will spend their entire life in faith (the righteous, will live by faith), but rather that it is faith that declares a man or a woman as righteous, thus resulting in life. (the righteous by faith, will live). Both may be true, but I take the latter to be Paul’s meaning in this context.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. – Hebrews 11:6, ESV
The righteousness of God is revealed in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. Our faith in that gospel declares us to be righteous – in the right. Those declared righteous by that faith will live, just at those who seek God in faith will live. The gospel is power to those of us who believe, and in that power, we live!
What possible cause for shame could we find in such a reality as that?