16 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. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (ESV)
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. 17 For in it God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith. (HCSB)
Thomas Schreiner wrote in Baker Exegetical Commentary, “Virtually all scholars acknowledge that these verses are decisive for the interpretation of Romans” (p. 58). We need to consider the context of Paul’s words, especially since verse 16 begins with the word “for,” which ties it as an explanation of the previous statement. In the previous verses Paul said that he was thankful for the Christians in Rome and noted his desire to visit them. Because Paul is a debtor to all people, wise and foolish, Greeks and barbarians. Paul has been called to preach to the Gentiles. So he is eager to go to Rome and preach the gospel (vs. 15).
Not Ashamed of the Gospel
Paul declares that he is not ashamed of the gospel. But he is not ashamed of the gospel not because he is some ridiculous optimist marching cheerfully into danger. Rather, he is not ashamed because this gospel is God’s power for salvation. This announcement of Jesus as Israel’s messiah, king over all, ruler over land and sea, who raised from the dead (this good news) is God’s power for salvation. This is the way salvation is going to come to the world — through Jesus.
Now it is important to understand what Paul means when he says that he is not ashamed. He is not talking about a personal emotional feeling where he declaring that he is not bashful or timid to talk to people about Jesus. That is not the point. Rather, in the scriptures we see that God’s people feel shame when their enemies are triumphing. Notice a few passages that reveal this.
In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame! In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me! (Psalm 71:1-2; ESV)
And my tongue will talk of your righteousness all the day long, for they have been put to shame and disappointed who sought to do me hurt. (Psalm 71:24)
Notice how “the righteousness of God” and “shame” are tied together throughout the psalm. This concept makes much more sense of Paul’s teaching and how “shame” and “God’s power” are tied together. “The gospel, and the power it carries, enables Paul to share the position of the psalmist, celebrating God’s righteousness and so remaining unashamed in the face of enemies and gainsayers” (Wright, p. 424). When God keeps his word and conquers the enemies, then God’s people are not put to shame. God is being faithful to his promises. We will return to this point in verse 17.
Salvation is often oversimplified to a discussion about forgiveness of sins. While forgiveness of sins is certainly included in salvation, there is more to salvation than this. Salvation includes the idea of deliverance from enemies, as we have already noted, and includes the restoration promises of all that sin has marred or destroyed. Salvation includes the ideas of justification, reconciliation, sanctification, and redemption.
This salvation is offered to everyone who believes. There is a responsibility on our part to act on the hearing the good news about Jesus. God saves through the gospel and the gospel alone. Salvation only comes through Jesus and it is available to all who believe.
This gospel which brings salvation has been given to the Jews first, but also to the Gentiles. The Jews received the first opportunity to hear the good news about Jesus and the power of God. It was Jesus’ mission to go to the Jews first, to the lost sheep of Israel. But this message was not exclusive to the Jews. Equality of the gospel to all people is an important theme in Romans.
God’s Righteousness Revealed
God’s righteousness is revealed in the gospel. It is important to understand that Paul is talking about God’s righteousness. The NIV makes a terrible translation mistake here. 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” (NIV). This is not “a righteousness” nor it is a righteousness that comes from God. Nothing in the context suggests that we are talking about righteousness coming from God. Rather, this is God’s righteousness (HCSB). We will be able to understand this better later, but this must be our view of the text otherwise Romans 3:21-26 and Romans 9-11 will be problematic and not make sense. We will examine those problems when we come to those passages in our study. The point is that the gospel reveals God’s righteousness.
What is meant by the righteousness of God? Righteousness includes the idea of God doing what is right, what is just, what is fair, and what is morally upright. Justice, fairness, and uprightness are built into the idea of righteousness. The gospel shows that God is just, fair, and right. Notice that the Old Testament speaks about God’s righteousness in relation to bringing salvation to his people. Also observe that the author is talking about God’s righteousness, not righteousness that comes from God in these Old Testament quotes.
Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The LORD has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. (Psalm 98:1-2; ESV)
“Listen to me, you stubborn of heart, you who are far from righteousness: I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory.” (Isaiah 46:12-13; ESV)
Thus says the LORD: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. (Isaiah 56:1; ESV)
In Isaiah 56 God says that his salvation was coming soon and his deliverance (as synonym for salvation) will be revealed. Notice that Paul is speaking to the fulfillment of these prophetic messages. Paul declares that God’s righteousness has now been revealed through Jesus (the gospel message) which gives salvation to all who believe.
Faith To Faith
Paul continues by teaching that in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. What does Paul mean that God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith? Paul uses Habakkuk to prove his point. To understand Paul’s teaching “from faith to faith” we will need to understand the context of Paul’s quotation. We do not have time in this lesson to do a full tour of Habakkuk. If you have been part of the Wednesday class you will have a significant advantage because we have studied Habakkuk in conjunction with Romans. A quick summary will have to suffice. In chapter one of Habakkuk, the prophet begins with a complaint that the nation of Judah is extremely wicked. Justice is not executed but is perverted. Habakkuk wants to know how long this is going to continue. God responds in chapter 1 by declaring that Habakkuk is correct in observing the wickedness of the nation. Therefore God is going to use the Babylonians as an instrument of judgment against the people. Habakkuk responds that this is not fair or just. While the people of Judah are evil, the Babylonians are worse. They worship their idols and do not look to God at all. How can God use the more wicked Babylonians as an instrument of judgment on Judah? The concern goes even deeper because God had made many promises to the nation. God promised to bring the Messiah through them. How is God going to be faithful to his covenant if he brings the Babylonians against Judah and takes them captive? God answers in chapter 2 that the people are wicked, but “the righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).
What did God just tell Habakkuk? God said that he will be faithful to his word. This is God’s righteousness. God will do what is right, what is just, and what is fair. God is telling Habakkuk to trust (have faith) that God will keep his word. Habakkuk will show his trust in God by remaining faithful to God, acting faithfully. We see this reflect in the rest of the book of Habakkuk. The rest of chapter 2 is God telling about how he is will judge the Babylonians. Chapter 3 is Habakkuk’s prayer of trust, relying upon God to deliver them and how he will be faithful to God.
Take this message and plug it into the message that Paul is teaching in Romans 1:17. God has revealed his righteousness and faithfulness in the gospel because in the gospel people have the salvation and reconciliation that had been promised from the beginning. God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith in that God has been faithful to his word (the first “faith” in the sentence). We are called upon to put our trust (faith) in God by being faithful (the second “faith” in the sentence) to God’s commands. Proof is the statement made in Habakkuk, “The righteous live by faith.” Faith and faithfulness are inseparable. The proclaiming of the gospel is the revealing of God’s righteousness to the world.
- The gospel is God’s power. Paul didn’t say that God’s power is IN the gospel. That shifts our minds back to thinking of the gospel as the Bible. But that is not how Paul is using the word. God’s power is Jesus as Messiah and Savior of the world. This news about who Jesus is and what he has done is God’s power for salvation.
- God’s salvation is available to everyone person who will believe. No one is excluded. There is not a class of individuals who cannot receive salvation. It does not matter what you have done, you can receive salvation. Jesus was not the Savior of the Jews only, but the Savior of the world.
- Salvation is not simply mental assent or thinking in your heart that there is a God. Paul explains how salvation comes. God has been faithful to his promise to save the world. God has kept his word and will continue to keep his words. But the righteous live by faith. Will we trust God? Will we put all of our faith in him? Will we be faithful to God as he has been faithful to us and his promises?