Series on Romans, I The Gospel Paul Proclaimed, C Committed, Text: 1:16 and 17, Title: Gospel Righteousness

Introduction

Rarely is the intent and the content of a New Testament book so perfectly condensed into two verses as in the passage we have before us. Before Paul launches into the extended and complex argument of his letter, he tells us what it is about in verses 16 and 17,  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.” It is about the gospel as an agent of bringing to men the promise of eternal life. It is God’s power of which the apostle speaks, but it is mediated through the good news of the gospel and it is for everyone who will believe regardless of their background or status. Thus, Paul was unashamed and spent his life, literally, spreading the good news. He also reflects here on the content of the gospel. It is about righteousness, God’s righteousness. As we shall see it is God’s story not ours.

I Unashamed of the Gospel

Paul tells us he is not ashamed of the gospel in verse 16, 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. The Greek word translated ashamed comes from a root which means to mar, disfigure or dishonor. In the passive tense, here in this text, it means to be dishonored or to be ashamed before someone. Recently a member of the U.S. house of Representatives was censured because of misappropriation of funds. He had to stand in the House and be reprimanded. Many thought his punishment should have been more severe, but the question remains; was he ashamed? He did not appear to be, even though he deserved rigorous punishment, and his crimes would have sent lesser men to prison for a long time. What Paul faced as an ambassador for Christ was a thousand times more humiliating and he was not ashamed either, but for good reason. He had a clear conscience. What Paul faced was the opposition of a whole empire. He says in I Corinthians 1:21-23,  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. The Jews would consider him a traitor and the Greeks or Gentiles would consider him a fool. He didn’t care because as he says in Corinthians and also here in verse 16, the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. Remember that Jesus said that if anyone was ashamed of Him, He would be ashamed of them when He came back in glory. Paul’s testimony of being unashamed continued through his life as he states to Timothy in one of his last letters in II Timothy 1:8-12,  So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. If Paul is not ashamed because the gospel is power unto salvation, we must ask where that power resides. It is found of course in God, specifically the Holy Spirit of God. Paul calls the gospel power because the gospel is God’s appointed means to exercise his irresistible grace toward us and in us. The more you understand the gospel, the less ashamed you are and the more willing to take a stand. I hasten to add that this does not mean  that you should indiscriminately and inappropriately accost people with the gospel. Being unashamed is being ready to give answer of the hope you have when the right occasion arises. There is an old story of a Scottish pastor whom visited the mill where one of the outstanding members of his congregation worked. He said to the foreman “I suppose John is one of your best weavers.” The foreman replied, “No, He isn’t, for he stands talking about his religion when he should be weaving.  He would be a fine weaver but he has yet to learn  that in the weaving shed his religion ought to come out of his fingers and not out of his mouth.Thee is a long list of martyrs for the truth like Paul who understood what they believed and held fast in death. So let us look more closely at the gospel itself.

II Understanding the Gospel

It is manifestly true that most people think the gospel is about them and for them. It is not. Unfortunately generations of preachers have so obfuscated and caricatured the gospel that multitudes do think it is about them. Friends, the gospel is about God and for God. Our blessedness is the byproduct of a cosmic plan in which God’s desires and goals are fulfilled. If the chief end of man is to glorify God, then the chief end of the gospel is the same and our salvation is only instrumental to the true and ultimate purpose. This will become more clear as we look at the way Paul describes the gospel here in verse 17, 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.”

A Righteousness Revealed

Paul first says, In the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed. If you ask most Christians to define the substance of the gospel they will tell you that we are sinners and Christ died for our sins. This is inadequate but it is not their fault because they have never been taught correctly. Multitudes of preachers claim to be preaching the gospel but they are only preaching part of it. This in turn yields a inadequately prepared congregation. Their focus is only, exclusively, in what God has done for them. It is not surprising in a world where man is considered the measure of all things and where my interest is in what it can do for me. This is manifested in the church hopping, church shopping mentality of many. It’s always, what can I get out of it and does it make me happy. But the gospel is not about us, it’s about God. The centerpiece of the gospel is the manifestation of God’s righteousness. It is indeed manifested for us, but in a way that glorifies God. Christ did come to save you, but more importantly and above all, he came to glorify the Father. Christ dying for my sins is only half of a gospel. Christ providing a righteousness which pleases the Father and is then graciously offered to us for a covering is the other half. We are all saved by an alien righteousness. It is not our own. God must be glorified. He is only glorified by a perfect righteousness. Though he gave it to Adam at his creation, Adam lost that original righteousness. Consequently the Lord must provide a righteousness which will glorify Him. This after all is the whole reason for our existence. God provided that righteousness in Jesus Christ, His only Son. This is what the gospel is about.

B Righteousness Received

The second part of verse 17 explains how that righteousness of which we have been speaking becomes our possession, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” The original Greek says, “by faith to faith.” The New International paraphrases this as by faith from first to last. Now it is vital that we accept the scriptural truth that no one is righteous in and of himself, and no one can become righteous by his own actions as Paul says in Romans 3:9-11, What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. Consequently the righteousness must be a gift and that is exactly what Paul says in Romans 5:15 and 16, But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. Since the needed righteousness is a gift it can be received only by faith and is given to whoever believes; it is by faith to faith. The quotation from the Old Testament book of Habakuk is a little obscure in its precise meaning, but clear in its intent. The righteous or just shall live by faith means simply that all those who are identified as truly righteous in the Bible are people who were living by faith. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is a witness to this fact. By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice. By faith Noah and family survived the flood. By faith Abraham went out not knowing where God was leading him. By faith Moses chose to suffer affliction with the people of God over the treasures of Egypt. A brief look at any of these people will tell you that they wee far from perfect. They were not always outwardly practically righteous. But in God’s sight they were righteous because they were covered with His righteousness which was given to them through Christ, even in the Old Testament times, He being the lamb slain from the foundation of the world. If one does not receive the righteousness as a free gift of grace, he cannot possess it, and it comes to us in the good news of the gospel. In fact it is the good news of the gospel. So Nicholas Count Zinzendorf wrote, “Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness My beauty are, my glorious dress; ’Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, With joy shall I lift up my head. Bold shall I stand in Thy great day, For who aught to my charge shall lay? Fully absolved through these I am, From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.” There is the gospel.