With Dale Ratzlaff
We pick up our study in Romans 1:13-17:
I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 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. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH” (Rom 1:13-17).
Paul was a man who was on a mission, a mission assigned to him by none other than the risen Lord. When Ananias hesitated to go to see Paul, The Lord said,
Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake (Acts 9:15,16).
Therefore, Paul never had to wonder what God’s will was for him. He set out to accomplish his mission and never veered from it. However, knowing God’s moral will for life direction is not the same as understanding timing and specific direction. As Proverbs 16:9 says,
“The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” Paul wanted the Christians in Rome to know he was not neglecting them in his ministry. He adds that he had “been prevented so far”.
In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church we find a similar statement:
“For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan hindered us” (1 Thess. 2:18).
We do not know for sure what prevented Paul from his earlier planned trip to Rome, nor do we need to know. One thing we do know. Paul was focused on his mission of the gospel to Greeks (probably the same as the wise) to the barbarians (probably the same as the foolish). Not only does he want to preach the gospel of God’s grace in Christ, but he wants results—fruit as visible evidence of the power of the gospel.
We now come to the two theme verses for this letter to Romans.
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.
Why was Paul not ashamed of the gospel? He tells us:
- It is the power of God for salvation. At this point Paul does not go into detail, all that will come later in this powerful letter. Here, however, note what is not mentioned regarding the gospel: no personal works, no law keeping—nothing but the “power of God” resulting in “salvation”. We call this the “simple gospel”.
- It is for everyone who believes. Paul is in agreement with John, the only requirement for salvation is belief in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died for the sins of the world, was buried and rose victorious for our justification. Yes, it is not reserved for a small group, it is for “everyone” who believes.
- To the Jew first and also to the Greek. The church in Rome was comprised of both Jewish Christians and gentile Christians. This will become evident throughout this letter. Paul will address one group and then the other. This fact is necessary to a correct interpretation of the book.
Verse 16, quoted above, tells us that the theme of this letter is “the gospel”. Now, verse 17 will give us the outline for the presentation of the gospel. It is loaded.
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH” (Rom 1:17).
- First we note that the “righteousness” of the gospel is the very “righteousness of God”. It is not our righteousness, nor is it the “righteousness of the law”. Paul will expand upon this truth when we get to chapter three.
- Next, this “righteousness of God” is “revealed”. It is not “worked up” but comes as a revelation from God.
- It is “revealed from faith to faith”. This means that it is by faith from beginning to end. The application of this will be discovered in the two-fold meaning of the next phrase.
“As it is written, but the righteous shall live by faith”—a quote from Habakkuk 2:4. Actually, this verse can be accurately translated two ways. If you have a literal study Bible, look in the margin for the alternate reading
- He who is righteous by faith shall live. This becomes the subject matter for the first five chapters of Romans. Paul goes into great detail how we can achieve the “righteousness of God”. He will show this by using many different concepts: justification, redemption, propitiation and substitution. Further, for his Jewish readers Paul will prove the new covenant gospel from the Old Testament Scriptures using Abraham and David as examples.
- The righteous shall live by faith. This becomes the subject matter for chapters six through eight. Here Paul brings in the concept of representation into his presentation of how we live out the righteousness that we received by faith. He will show that Christians never leave the concept or need of faith. First we are declared righteous by faith; next, we live out that righteousness by faith.
If we are really Christians then we also have a commission from the risen Lord.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Mt. 28:19-20).
Just how and when and the details we may not all know, nor will they be the same for each one of us. However, it would serve us well to meditate on the verse. Can we find our place, our work, our motivation here? It would be easy for me to lay a guilt trip on you as well as on myself. Perhaps each of us would have to admit that we have not done as much as we should in the “gospel commission”. However, I believe that the motivation to share the gospel comes not from massive self-discipline, but from the “power of the gospel” itself. When we actually believe down deep inside with an abiding trust in God that the message of the Gospel will bring eternal salvation to everyone who believes, then, like Paul we will be not be ashamed of the gospel for we know it will bring the eternal life of salvation to everyone who believes. This will make us eager to share the gospel with others.
Nothing is more rewarding than to see “fruit”—changed lives—in people with whom we shared the gospel. You may not see changed lives immediately. But keep distributing the gospel seed and watering it with prayer. Our job is not necessarily to measure results, but to keep proclaiming the gospel. We plant the seed, we nurture the seed by prayer, God provides the harvest.
Lord Jesus, I believe the gospel, thanks for counting me “righteous by faith”. Now help me live out that righteousness by faith.
In Jesus name.