(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 7/15/01 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Please turn in your Bibles to Romans 1:16 and 17:
Romans 1: (16) For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is [the] power of God to salvation to everyone believing, both to Jew first, and to Greek; (17) for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; even as it has been written, "But the just shall live by faith."
This is a familiar passage to us, because it is one of the cornerstone gospel passages. It tells us of the gospel's power and of the gospel's content. You've heard me many times connect this passage with Mark 16:15-16 and Romans 10:1-4. The reason I do this is to show the life-and-death importance of believing the gospel. Those who do not believe the gospel, whose content is pointed to in the passage we just read, are unregenerate. They are dead in their sins. And if they continue in that state until they die, they will burn in hell for all eternity. Let us pay very close attention to this passage.
Let's look at the first phrase, which is, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ." The first word we see in this phrase is "For." This word is used three times in the sentence. Whenever we see the word "For" in the way it's used in this passage, we need to realize that it's a connector to what came before it. So what came before the first "For"? Let's read the previous sentence, which starts with verse 14 and goes to verse 15:
Romans 1: (14) I am a debtor both to Greeks and to foreigners, both to wise, and to foolish, (15) so as far as [lies] in me, I am eager to preach the gospel to you in Rome also.
We went over this sentence last week. Right after saying this, Paul says, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ." What is the connection here? Well, we saw in the previous sentence that Paul was a debtor to preach the gospel to people from all walks of life, and he was eager to preach the gospel to the Romans. And we see in verse 16 that it is because he is not ashamed of the gospel. He is not embarrassed of the gospel or inclined to hide the gospel. And notice that Paul calls it the gospel of Christ. It's not ANY gospel. It is the gospel of Christ. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:2, "For I decided not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and Him having been crucified." It is the gospel of Christ's PERSON and Christ's WORK. It is the gospel of WHO Christ is and WHAT He did. So who is Christ, and what did He do? In its most simple form, Christ is the God-man mediator who came to establish a righteousness that ensures the salvation of those whom He represented. His PERSON is His divine nature and His human nature, which could be the only way that He could accomplish His WORK as mediator. His WORK was to live a perfectly righteous life so His righteousness would be imputed to His people and to die for the sins of His people that were imputed to Him. We will go into Christ's work in more detail shortly, the Lord willing.
So Paul states that He is not ashamed of this gospel, the good news, of the person and work of Christ. Why is he not ashamed? Why did Paul think it was necessary to preach the gospel to the Greeks and Barbarians and to the wise and the foolish? Why was Paul eager to preach the gospel in Rome? Look at the next phrase. It is BECAUSE the gospel is the power of God to salvation to everyone believing. Why would anyone be ashamed of something that one believes is the power of God to salvation? They wouldn't be, would they? Paul preached and was eager to continue preaching the gospel because he KNEW that this is the power of God to salvation! Now what does "the power of God to salvation" mean? It means that God has chosen to display His power to save His people through His gospel. It means that there is NO SALVATION apart from the gospel. Don't believe ANYBODY who tells you that they or others remained ignorant of the gospel after they were saved. This is a DENIAL of the gospel as the power of God to salvation. SALVATION and THE GOSPEL are INSEPARABLY CONNECTED. If you deny God's GOSPEL as a necessary part of salvation, you deny God's POWER. There are many people who claim to believe that God has total power over everything to do whatever He pleases whenever He pleases, yet they say that God does not always use the gospel in the salvation of His people. They say that this "limits God," because "God doesn't need anyone or anything, including the gospel, to accomplish His purposes." What they do not understand is that the sovereign, powerful God has chosen the gospel as the way in which his saving power is displayed. So saying that God doesn't need to use the gospel is like saying that God doesn't need to use the sun to light the earth. God has CHOSEN to use the gospel, just as God has CHOSEN to use the sun. And, even more importantly, God has CHOSEN to use the gospel because He is GLORIFIED by the gospel. Every one of His attributes is on display in the gospel. The gospel shows Him to be a just God and a Savior. Now just think about this: What do people who deny the necessity of the gospel really think of God's glory? They think that God regenerates a person and that person will STILL - AFTER REGENERATION - attribute some of his salvation to himself. That supposedly "regenerate" person will STILL believe that at least some part of his salvation is conditioned on himself. That person will STILL be trying to establish a righteousness of his own because he is ignorant of the righteousness that Christ established. That person will STILL believe that the work of Christ DOES NOT make the difference between salvation and damnation. That person will STILL spit in the face of God's only begotten Son and trample His blood underfoot - all AFTER regeneration. So what does this say about what they think of God's glory? They don't believe in even a SHRED of God's glory. They don't believe that God is glorified in the heart of a sinner when He regenerates them. This is blasphemy.
Now back to the passage. TO WHOM is this power of God to salvation? It is "to everyone believing." This shows that the gospel, which is the power of God to salvation, is not some mystical thing. It's not some magic incantation that changes the heart. It shows that salvation involves BELIEF. The gospel is the power of God to those who BELIEVE it. Believe what? The GOSPEL, of course. And BELIEF requires KNOWLEDGE and UNDERSTANDING. You cannot believe what you do not know or understand. This also shows that the gospel is not the power of God to the reprobate. The reprobate will never believe, no matter how much the gospel is preached to them. In fact, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:16 that the preaching of the gospel is an odor of death unto death for them. But in that same verse, it says that the preaching of the gospel is an odor of life unto life in those who are believing. The GOSPEL is POWER. And God's POWER is shown by using the preaching of the gospel to save His people.
The next phrase shows who His people are made up of: both Jew and Greek. This means the world. Those of Jewish nationality are included, and those of non-Jewish nationality are included. This is the "world" that Jesus said God loved in John 3:16. This is the "world" for which Christ was the propitiation in 1 John 2:2. This is the "mystery" that Paul talks about in several places. Salvation is not just for those of Jewish nationality! If you lived in Jesus' day, this would be a shock to most people. Most Jews were expecting a Messiah who would come for them and them alone. When Jesus told Nicodemus that God so loved the WORLD, that WHOEVER believes in him, not just the Jews but the Gentiles as well, will not perish but have eternal life, this was a shocking statement! The Messiah, who was born a Jew under the Law, did not only come for those under the Law. The outsiders - the outcasts - were fellow partakers of God's salvation. But notice that Paul does say that it is to the Jew first. The Jews were given the gospel first. They had the Word of God in the Old Testament that was full of the gospel. The Messiah was to come as a descendant of King David, born as a Jew, living as a Jew, and preaching mostly to the Jews. Paul said in Romans 3:1-2 that the Jews had an advantage by having the oracles of God.
Now for the next phrase, which is the first part of verse 17:
Romans 1: (17) for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith;
Here we have another "for." The gospel is the power of God to salvation BECAUSE in the gospel the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD is revealed. Here we get to the key of the gospel and why Paul is not ashamed of it and why it is the power of God to salvation. It is the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD. The Gospel reveals, or shows, the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD. Now in the first sermon in the series on the gospel, we went into what this righteousness of God is, but I'm going to do it again, because it is so important. Let's go over to Romans 10:3:
Romans 10: (3) For being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to the righteousness of God.
Those who are ignorant of the righteousness of God - that is, those who don't know what the righteousness of God is - are seeking to establish their own righteousness and do not submit to the righteousness of God. They are lost. If there's no knowledge of the righteousness of God, there's no belief of the gospel. If there's no belief of the gospel, there's no salvation.
So let's again see what the righteousness of God is. Let's read Romans 3:20-21:
Romans 3: (20) Because by works of Law not one of all flesh will be justified before Him, for through Law [is] full knowledge of sin. (21) But now a righteousness of God has been revealed apart from Law, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
First, Paul says that no one will be justified by their works. Then we see that the righteousness of God is revealed apart from the law. This means that the righteousness of God has NOTHING TO DO with our law-keeping. It has NOTHING TO DO with our attempts at obedience and service.
So what does this righteousness have to do with? Well, let's read verses 22 through 26:
Romans 3: (22) even the righteousness of God through faith of Jesus Christ toward all and upon all those believing; for there is no difference, (23) for all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, (25) whom God set forth [as] a propitiation through faith in His blood, as a demonstration of His righteousness through the passing over of the sins that had taken place before, in the forbearance of God, (26) for a demonstration of His righteousness in the present time, for His being just and justifying the [one] that [is] of the faith of Jesus.
First, the righteousness of God is THROUGH the FAITH, or actually, the FAITHFULNESS, of Jesus Christ. The righteousness of God has to do with Christ's FAITHFULNESS. Faithfulness to do what? Verses 24 and 25 - "being JUSTIFIED freely by His grace through the REDEMPTION in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth [as] a PROPITIATION through faith in his blood." Jesus accomplished JUSTIFICATION, REDEMPTION and PROPITIATION. And look at the next words in verse 25: "for a showing forth of His RIGHTEOUSNESS." Justification, Redemption, and Propitiation show forth the righteousness of God.
Let's first talk about PROPITIATION. To propitiate means to appease or to pacify. Christ appeased or pacified God's wrath when the sins of His people were imputed to Jesus Christ, when Jesus Christ became sin for His people, and He incurred the judgment for that sin. There is no fellowship with God when there is sin. Why is that? It is because God is RIGHTEOUS. RIGHTEOUSNESS is the opposite of SIN. So in order for God to fellowship with sinners, the sin of those sinners MUST BE PUNISHED in a substitute who is a man who is totally without sin. The only one who qualifies for that is Jesus Christ. Christ took on the sins of His people, and God punished Christ for those sins, and God was pacified. God was at peace, not at war.
The next is REDEMPTION. To redeem means to pay the price for a possession so as to rescue or deliver that possession. Ransom is another word that is used. Christ's blood paid the price for His people's sins and bought them as his very own. What did His people do to make themselves into God's own possession? Absolutely nothing. It is CHRIST ALONE who paid the price. We had nothing to pay. Nothing that we ever did or were enabled to do would pay the price. It is only through the blood of Christ.
Now let's talk about JUSTIFICATION. Let's read verse 26. "For the showing forth of His righteousness in the present time" - there's the mention of the righteousness of God again. How does God show forth His righteousness? Let's read on: "for His being just and justifying the one that is of the faith of Jesus." Here he talks about JUSTIFICATION. But if you notice, he doesn't just talk about justification of His people. He talks about His own JUSTICE. God is a JUST God. This means that He is faithful to faithful to BLESS those who are righteous and CURSE those who are wicked. His justice demands that all who are not righteous MUST be punished. Now to JUSTIFY someone means to declare that the person is RIGHTEOUS, NOT GUILTY. But we read further up in chapter 3 that there's NO ONE who is righteous! We read that no one will be justified by his best efforts to keep the law! So how can it be true that God declares some to be RIGHTEOUS who have no RIGHTEOUSNESS in themselves? It can only be through the perfect righteousness of a substitute! And that substitute is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ lived a perfect life. He obeyed the law perfectly for his entire life.
So how does God declare US to be righteous, when it is only Jesus Christ who lived a perfect life? The answer is in Chapter 4. Paul first shows that Abraham could not have been justified by his works. He says that justification is not by works; instead, God JUSTIFIES the UNGODLY. And how does God justify the ungodly? The Holy Spirit through Paul goes to the Psalms for the answer. Look at verses 6-8:
Romans 4: (6) Even as also David says of the blessedness of the man to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: (7) "Blessed [are those] whose lawlessnesses are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; (8) blessed [the] man to whom [the] Lord will in no way charge sin."
What does it mean that God COUNTS righteousness apart from works? It means that God justifies the ungodly based on a righteousness that is COUNTED to him. Another word for this is IMPUTED. It means LEGALLY CHARGED TO THE ACCOUNT OF. Jesus Christ lived a perfect life and was perfectly obedient, even unto death. This righteousness of Christ is IMPUTED to or COUNTED to or CHARGED to God's people. Even though God's people are not righteous in their own character and conduct, they are COUNTED righteous because the righteousness of Christ is IMPUTED to them.
Let's look at Romans 10:4 for a minute. Remember when we read verse 3 to show that those who do not know about the righteousness of God are lost? The Holy Spirit then goes on to define what the righteousness of God IS in this verse:
Romans 10: (4) For Christ [is] the end of Law for righteousness to everyone that believes.
This means that righteousness does not come through our law-keeping but through the righteousness of Christ!
We can see how God remains JUST to JUSTIFY those who are not righteous in and of themselves. Look at Isaiah 45:21:
Isaiah 45: (21) Declare and bring near; yea, let them consult together. Who has revealed this of old; [who] has told it from then? Is it not I, Jehovah? And there [is] no God other than Me; a just God and a Savior; [there is] none except Me.
How is God both a JUST God AND a Savior? Because the sins of God's people were imputed to Christ, and Christ bore the punishment that our sins deserved, and because the righteousness of Christ is imputed to God's people, and God declares His people righteous. Two imputations - sin imputed to Christ, and righteousness imputed to God's people. As Paul said in our text in Romans 1, the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel. The gospel means "good news." What is this good news that reveals the righteousness of God? It is the good news that God saves His people based on these two imputations! When the sins of God's people were imputed to Christ, Christ endured the wrath of God for those sins and paid the price in full. When the righteousness of Christ is imputed to His people, God declares His people not guilty. This is good news! This is the righteousness of God that is revealed in the gospel!
Back to Romans 1:17. The second part of the phrase is "from faith to faith." Paul says that this is how the righteousness of God is revealed. What does "from faith to faith" mean? This has had many different interpretations. I've read at least ten explanations of these words, and most are heretical. Some of them say this is talking about the Old Testament faith and the New Testament faith, as if they were different. Some say that this is talking about a progressive faith from knowing very little about the righteousness of God to knowing very much of the righteousness of God. But the explanation that fits the quotation at the end of the sentence is this: the righteousness of God is revealed to believers from the beginning to the end of faith. At the beginning of faith, believers believe in the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel. In the middle of faith, believers believe in the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel. At the end of faith, believers believe in the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel. The whole of a believer's life is one of faith in the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel. And this leads right into Paul's quote from Habakkuk 2:4, which is, "the just shall live by faith," or, as Habakkuk says, "the just shall live by his faith." The just, or those believers who have been justified, live unto God by their faith in the person and work of Christ, which reveals the righteousness of God. Their life is from beginning to end by faith. Thus, "from faith to faith" means the same thing as "a believer always lives by faith." It fits together perfectly, and it is consistent with what God says about belief of the gospel.
Today, we have again gone over the gospel as the power of God unto salvation and as that which reveals the righteousness of God to believers. We have again seen that the gospel is a specific and vital message and that no one is saved without it. May we never be ashamed of this glorious gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone. Amen.