Verses 16 – 17
Romans 1:16-17 (ESV)
The Righteous Shall Live by Faith
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.”
Our last study form Chapter 1 of Romans concentrates on the last two verse. Verse 16 within Christin circles is probably a very popular one. Pauls assertion that
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for Salvation to everyone who believes,”
It is a powerful declaration of the gospel message and contains much that can feed us spiritually.
Let’s look first at the concept of shame. In todays western society it seems that there is not much that shames us anymore. The reality is, that even in Pauls day, the debauchery and sinful ways of life were not to dissimilar to modern society and our studies in Romans will expose some of that as we move on.
But there was one way that is significant that was considered shameful and it relates directly to our faith.
The Romans had very little in their culture that was original, they stole the Greek gods that they worshiped, they renamed them but essentially they took the Greek mythology and adopted it into their culture. And they adopted the worst form of torture and execution that to that time had been dreamt up by man and that was crucifixion . It was the Medes and Persian before them that had developed this form of execution as a means of state execution and for none Roman citizens the Romans adopted it as their ultimate deterrent. It was considered a most shameful way to die and would cast a shadow over the surviving family members. Often victims were hung on the crosses naked after having been ridicule led and tortured beforehand. The very nature of the act of crucifixion was highly public. Whilst the height above the ground of the crosses may not have been as high as those we see on modern dramatisations of crucifixions there was clearly an act of lifting the victim up higher than the height of the onlookers. Also as we see in the case of Jesus the executions were undertaken in public places and in Jesus case on a hill just outside the city walls.
Maximum pain, maximum humiliation maximum exposure all added up to a most horrendous end for any victim.
In addition to this, for the Jew they would be mindful of Deuteronomy 21:22-23:
22 “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance. (ESV).
Not to sound too irreverent about it but it was a double whammy for a Jew to be crucified. There is an extra level of curse from God himself for anyone hung on a tree. The law of Moses is not explicit about what is meant by the term hang and in our western minds we might immediately think of execution by hanging or suicide, but to the first century Jew crucifixion fell into the definition of been hung on a tree!
The Church was relatively small still, the Romans still worshiped their multiplicity of Gods and Caesar worship was on the rise and politically, socially and morally to be a member of “The Way” would have put you on the fringes of society.
Bearing in mind the social/political context, Paul sweeps in with this amazing statement of faith:
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.
In other wringing Paul talks about the cross of Christ been a stumbling block to the Jew and a folly to gentiles in other words secular society struggles with the logic, the message and the wonder of the cross and its implications for us.
Paul was nailing his colour well and truly to the mast in this statement because it undermined Roman rule and it undermined the Temple system of the Jews who saw salvation only in the Law of Moses. Paul could easily and eventually was executed for his faith, but that end did not prevent him from proclaiming very publicly what the cross meant, who Jesus was and why salvation is by no other name than the name of Jesus.
Paul here is declaring also that the Good News of Jesus (the gospel) is the power fo God! Mediate on that a while. Jesus was crucified, he was beaten, he was ridiculed, and here Paul is saying this is the Power of God. Its not found in the Law, but it is found in the person of Jesus! And it is the power fo God for the biggest single problem that our planet faces. The earth faces many problems most of them of mankind’s making, but the worlds main problem, even though it is not recognised by many, is the need of salvation. The need to enter into a relationship with creator God. The need to have our sins forgiven on a personal basis, not as a nation, not as a body of people in church, not as a family, but you and I individually one by one personal, intimate, special.
And note how Paul clearly states here that it is for those who believe. Not those who do good works to try and earn brownie points with God. Believe that Jesus died and rose again, that Jesus is Lord and Saviour that Jesus is the answer and he will enter not your heart and transform you both supernaturally and through the renewing of your mind!
Why first to the Jew and then to the Gentile?
Well there is no doubt a deep theological reason in this phrase, but simply Paul is following the pattern established by God.
God set up the nation of Israel to be a light to the nations, their mission was to be established in the Holy Land and tell the rest of the world about their God so that the peoples of the world could get to know him. So first to the Jew then to the Gentile.
Jesus followed this pattern in that in the early part of His ministry he sent the disciples out to tell the people of the news that the Kingdom of God was upon them. But initially He instructed them only to tell the Jewish people. It was almost os if they were been given one last chance to fully understand and accept Gods purpose for them, that they might receive the Good News first. But they didn’t and so Jesus sent the disciple out to tell whoever would listen, see first the Jew then to the Gentile.
Next we see it in the early church history recorded in Acts. Almost exclusively in the early months of the church the converts, the followers were Jewish converts to the extent that it is regularly recorded in the book of Acts that they regularly attended Synagogue still. Eventually God made it clear to Peter that the Gospel message was for everyone and he did it in a most dramatic way. In Acts Chapter 10 (go look it up) Peter receives a vision regarding clean and unclean food. If I had a pound for every sermon I have heard on this passage which extols the message that this justifies the eating of any food stuff and not just restricting us to the Levitical laws, I would be a little bit richer than I am presently, but the real message of this vision is God telling Peter that he is to go to a gentile house and tell them about Him. This results in Cornelius and his household being converted and finally the acceptance that gentiles equally with Jews can receive salvation through faith and be baptised by the Holy Spirit. So you can see the pattern, first to the Jews then to the Gentiles. For everyone!
Finally this part of chapter 1 concludes with Paul making astounding statements of faith:
“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith”.
Righteousness is one of those more technical Christian terms that sometimes we can miss the point of a simple way of remembering what it means theologically is to think of it a “rightness”, being right with God. Gods righteousness stems for his very being he is righteous by definition all His acts, all his words are by definition righteous and we see that righteousness through revelation according to Paul here. But what does Paul mean by from faith for faith?
The writers of the Old Testament exercised faith, the writing of the Law was undertaken in faith the promises revealed fo the coming saviour right back in Genesis were statements of faith inspired by God, the prophets foretold many many details of the first coming of the messiah by faith and so the righteous act of Jesus’ death was revealed by faith in the OT to us believers for our faith. And simply put Pauls seals this with a quote from the OT that confirms that righteous people live by faith. Not by self righteousness that is simply hypocrisy but by having faith in God through Jesus our Lord and Saviour we were under His banner, we are part of his family, we are His children, we clothe ourselves in His righteousness.
Before we move onto the rest of Chapter 1 take some time to meditate on this, how it impacts on you as an individual, how it should impact on you if it doesn’t quite yet impact, how it will influence your decision making and the way that you act and live out your daily life. Think on it and pray over it ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and understanding. Be blessed.