WEEKLY SERMON BLOG
“The Just Shall Live By Faith” --- Romans 1:16-17
In order to understand how God deals with sinful human beings, it is helpful to understand God’s relationship with David. For God’s relationship with David in a very real sense forms a paradigm of how He relates to those who are His people.
We read in the OT that David was the measure of a godly king, that all later kings were compared to; either favorably or unfavorably:
II Kings 16:2
II Kings 22:1-2
David is pictured as a model of faith, virtue, and fidelity to God. However, Second Samuel tells us about a point in David’s life when he committed the sin of adultery, and then attempted to conceal his sin by murdering the husband of the woman with whom he had the affair. So it raises the question, how can David be portrayed as a model of righteousness? It is true that the OT does say that David was faithful except for that one episode in his life (I Kings 15:5). So one might conclude that the point in the OT is that David being relatively more righteous than many others is what made him right in God’s eyes. However, Adam and the entire human race was condemned for one sin (Rom.5:12); therefore it is not possible to state Biblically that David’s relative obedience was the issue. Instead we find the answer in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul writes about David, as someone from the OT who demonstrated that righteousness never came through personal merit; but always came from an entirely different source:
This passage answers how it was just for God to forgive David, and yet condemn other sinners. The way David was made righteous, was through the imputation of God’s righteousness to him. The imputation was in response to his faith in God who declared him righteous by faith. This also involved David’s sins not being charged against him. They were not charged against him, because they had been imputed to someone else. For David, and all sinners, God bestows mercy, but only does so in a way that is in harmony with justice. As Paul observes in chapter three of Romans; the Gospel provides God with the way that He can extend mercy to sinners, and yet remain perfectly just (Rom.3:26).
In Romans 1:16-17, Paul gives us a short explanation about how the Gospel is the means by which sinners are saved by imputed righteousness.
I. The Power of God: (vs.16)
In this verse Paul writes, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” To be ashamed of the Gospel is a temptation that all generations of Christians face. This is because to the unbelievers the Gospel simply doesn’t make sense. Even in his own time, Paul observed that:
I Corinthians 1:18, 22-23
Unbelievers see the Gospel as foolishness, and thus see Christians as foolish for embracing it. Often a Christian will be tempted to hold back from boldly proclaiming their faith, out of concern for how others will respond to them if they do. In a very real sense, then a believer gives into shame concerning the Gospel. But Paul writes here that he felt no such shame even though the Gospel was viewed so negatively by many around him. It was not simply that Paul was a bolder individual by nature. It was not his personal boldness that enabled him to feel no shame about the Gospel. For Paul explains the reason that he felt no shame; it was specifically because he was thoroughly convinced it was the power of God to salvation for those who would embrace it. To the degree that one truly believes that the Gospel has the power to rescue individuals from eternal destruction, to that degree one will feel no shame about being associated with the Gospel.
What precisely is the Gospel? It is the entirety of who Jesus is, and all that He came to do. That is why Mark’s entire document of sixteen chapters is called the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Mk.1:1). Though certain things may represent the heart of the Gospel (such as Christ’s redemptive death for sin, and His life-giving resurrection), the entire Gospel is broader than merely those individual ideas.
How is the Gospel the power of God? First, Paul explains that it has the power to save individuals from sin and death and gain them eternal life and righteousness. This is a power beyond anything that human beings or our creations can do. The salvation of human souls is a miraculous work of God, and is accomplished through the Gospel. As a part of the power of the Gospel it has the capacity to change human hearts; from evil to righteous, from hard to soft, from vicious to kind, and from one that is rebellious to God to one that is obedient and submissive to Him.
Paul concludes the verse by noting that the Gospel is “for the Jew first and also for the Greek”. Paul’s point was that the Gospel is not for just for one segment of humanity, but for anyone who will choose to believe. In Paul’s time, some Jews concluded that the Gentiles were unworthy to receive the Gospel. In the ages since, there have been various ethnic or racial groups that have been seen as less desirable and thus unworthy to receive the Gospel. It is easy for people to allow their cultural prejudices to single out others who are undeserving. The reason people do this is because it is a way of telling ourselves that we are superior to others and therefore more worthy of God’s acceptance. But such an attitude is contrary to the truth, because we are all equal before God. We are not equal in the sense we are all just as good; we are equal in the sense that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious moral perfection (Rom.3:23). Therefore we all have in common that we are unworthy of God’s acceptance. And since all are unworthy, God’s gracious provision is the only hope that any of us have.
II. The Righteousness of God: (vs.17a)
In this portion of the verse, Paul wrote, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith”. Paul explains that the righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel of Christ. In our modern culture we tend to define righteousness in a relative sense; meaning we choose some standard of righteousness in our society and then determine whether or not something is ethically right or wrong based on how a person or thing compares to the standard we select. In our time in particular the object that is set as our standard changes frequently, and is by its nature subjectively chosen. However in Biblical culture righteousness is specifically tied to the judicial pronouncements that come from the Law of God. This means that something is right or wrong because the Law defines it as such.
Paul writes that the Gospel reveals God’s righteousness, not human righteousness. It does not reveal human righteousness, because in God’s sight there is no such thing. Instead, the Scriptures teach that every person is wicked and unable to please God with their attempts to be righteous:
This is contrary to every other religious system; because all of them are about enabling an individual to be good enough to be pleasing to God.
How does the Gospel reveal God’s righteousness? Paul explains that it does this “from faith to faith”. This short phrase means from one degree of faith to a deeper more significant degree of faith. Therefore the righteousness of God is revealed in an individual as their faith deepens and grows. What this means is more clearly understood when we compare what Paul says about the revelation of God’s righteousness, with what he says about the revelation of another of His attributes. In verse eighteen of this chapter, Paul writes, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men”. As the chapter continues we read that God’s wrath is revealed in the degeneration of the human race. God expresses His wrath against those who wish to be free of Him and His commandments by giving them precisely what they want. Apart from God and His commandments human beings naturally degenerate. This degeneration then is the visible manifestation that God’s wrath lies upon them. In the case of God’s righteousness it is imputed to the individual when they first trust in Christ. The change of heart that accompanies this imputation causes the individual to become more and more like God as one’s faith in Him and His Word deepens. Therefore the life change in the Christian is the visible manifestation that God’s righteousness has been imputed to them. But this is not a righteousness that flows from the individual; it is a righteousness that comes from God Himself and is received by faith in Christ according to the Gospel.
III. Faith in God: (vs.17b)
Paul concludes this verse by writing, “as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” As was his custom Paul quotes from the Old Testament. He did this because he wanted to show that the things he was teaching his readers were consistent with what the Word of God taught previously (and thus not some innovation on his part). The quotation is from Habakkuk 2:4. The context is that with the Babylonian invasion imminent, the people of Judah were still in rebellion and sin, with no concern for God or His ways. In contrast to this, those who would be seen as just in God’s sight would be those who lived by faith in light of the trustworthiness of God. Rather than drawing God to one’s self, the righteous person in God’s eyes is the one who draws close to God believing that in God he or she will find what they need to be made right.
Paul quotes this verse to reinforce the truth that faith in the Gospel, and in the God who gave it is the only means by which one is saved.
In the Bible, faith is understood to have three components. First is knowledge. Clearly one cannot believe in something unless one knows about it. Second is assent. That means the person is not only aware of the information; they have come to the conclusion that the information is factual and true. Lastly, is the element of trust. If one truly believes something to be true, they will act on that information. If one says they believe in God and it has no impact on their daily life, then the truth is they do not really believe. They may accept the premise as something true, but they have not committed themselves to that truth.
The idea of living by faith is that one is guided by what God says, above all other input. All peoples in all times have many different sources of information regarding how one should live. True Biblical faith in Christ and His Gospel results in the individual living according to what God has said in His Word above all other sources of information or guidance. Paul said the same thing in a different way in his second letter to the believers at Corinth:
II Corinthians 5:7
Therefore to live by faith is in contrast to living by sight, or according to the information that comes to us through our senses in our material realm of existence.
Paul’s stress here is that the individual sinner finds life only by walking in faith with God, and thus trusting in the truth of the Gospel through which God imputes His own righteousness to the individual. We are saved because God counts us righteous by faith; even though in practice we are still ungodly.
In meditating upon the truth of the Gospel, we must remind ourselves of just what we have received from God. We were totally unworthy of His acceptance, facing eternal death with no hope. But despite our unworthiness, God sent His Son to die for our sins, and His Son earned righteousness under God’s Law that could be imputed to us. Simply by believing in this wonderful news we stand before God sinless, and righteous. We receive eternal life and become God’s beloved children. This miraculous and wonderful reality should so inspire us that it should revolutionize our lives. We should be so filled with love and gratitude that we want to build our lives around the one who rescued us from ourselves. If we have little inclination to do this; then perhaps we have not really believed that the Gospel is true and should thus consider the actual state of our souls.
In the Bonds of Christ,
Pastor Michael Huard