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From Faith to Faith


Or, The Business of Righteousness
Romans 1:16-17
September 26, 2021
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins



Introduction

God is in the righteousness business. What I mean is that He is engaged in an activity for a particular end. His business is not to make money, but to remake mankind. He isn’t open for business only on certain days of the week, M-F, or Sunday, but His work goes on around the clock. God is in the business of revealing His righteousness as men receive it by faith and as they embody it by faith. It’s a gift business, start to finish, all the way through. It is good news.

Romans 1:16-17 provide the thesis statement of the letter. These two verses fit in the flow of his greeting, and in fact are subordinate to the last assertion Paul made in verse 15. There are four “for”s following his comment that he is eager to preach the gospel among them: 1) for he’s not ashamed of the gospel, 2) for the gospel is God’s power, 3) for in the gospel God’s righteousness is revealed, and then 4) for God’s wrath is revealed (verse 18). Verse 18 changes the subject, even though it is still offering additional explanation on the previous.

Although grammatically verses 16-17 contain subordinate clauses, thematically they contain the superlative climax. This is the center of the evangel, and of the epistle.

Paul writes to the Romans because he sees them as part of his calling as the apostle to the Gentiles. Even more, he writes to them to establish a relationship so that perhaps they could be his base of mission to take Christ into Spain and West from there. And, in all this, he writes to them about the gospel of God, the gospel of righteousness, so that they would have a gospel base for Christian living. Here is the obedience of faith, here is blessing, here is bold hope. He had such obedient and blessed boldness, and it came from the gospel.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation for 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, “The just shall live by faith.”

Here is a three step explanation of his eagerness to preach the gospel.

Eager BECAUSE he’s not ashamed of the gospel.

This is a well-known statement for many Christians, but that familiarity masks how odd it sounds, at least without some assumptions and context. Paul was eager to come to Rome, eager to encourage and be encouraged by the Christians in Rome, eager to preach the gospel in Rome. Who said anything about him being ashamed? Ashamed about what? Ashamed in what way?

When Paul writes about not being ashamed he isn’t referring to some guilt or moral stain. He’s speaking about not being ashamed as not being fearful. There are a number of synonyms that help us understand. He’s not hesitant to speak about it, not feeling the need to keep it quiet. He wasn’t reluctant to make it public.

And the reason that someone might be reluctant to talk about it is that you anticipate that it might not be appreciated by those you tell. In Paul’s case, he had experience. He had experience on both sides of the stick.

Before he believed in the gospel, when his name was still Saul, Paul was persecuting people who believed this message. He was putting them to death, and doing so in the name of God. He was making martyrs of the gospel of righteousness in, what he thought was, the service of righteousness. He also knew Jesus’ teaching about how men would naturally receive the news: they would insult the believers, hate them, treat them with contempt. As Paul was in Corinth when he wrote to the Romans, he knew that the word of the cross was scandalous to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. As any timeline of Paul’s life shows, before writing to the Romans he had already been imprisoned, laughed at, stoned and left for dead. He was not imaging things.

Being ashamed is not necessarily all or nothing. There are more than two categories: sons of spinelessness or sons of thunder. It’s a spectrum. Nor is everyone who is bold doing so for Jesus’ name, nor is everyone who is quiet abandoning the faith. But, consider.

How tempting is it to keep our faith private? It is a personal relationship with Jesus that matters, right? And if our neighbors will let us believe that we want to believe as long as we keep our heads down and our eyes and mouths shut, or if we promise to only speak softly and suggestively, why cause offense? How much modification can you do before realizing that you’re protecting you?

In our great nation we have been given a lot of Christian blessings, whether or not they are currently credited to Christianity. And a number of preachers, and whole movements of churches and Christians, have not been quiet per se, but they’ve been “sensitive” to how silly some of the claims of Christianity sound. So instead of speaking softly, they soup up the gospel, as in, they help it with good ol’ American marketing techniques, howing only the good angles in the best light. How much modification can you do before realizing that you’re promoting a variation of the gospel (though, as Paul told the Galatians, there really isn’t a different gospel, Galatians 1:6-9)?

Paul was determined to speak in public no matter the hell he got. The next “for” explains why he was so bold.

Not ashamed BECAUSE the power of God is in the gospel.

In the second half of verse 16 Paul makes his assertion about why he’s so confidently non-quiet. It’s due to the effectiveness and the extent of the gospel.

The gospel is the power of God to salvation. The gospel is not the door into power, the gospel is the power that opens the door. The gospel effects the end, it does not merely make the end possible. The gospel isn’t an argument for going in a different direction, the gospel is the push. The gospel is potent, and because it is the power of God, it is omni-potent.

We would be more reasonably reluctant if all we had was an offer, like the arborists going to door to door in your neighborhood offering estimates about what could be done and how much they could do it for. The power is still yours, the homeowner, the customer, even if they have the chainsaws.

But the gospel is not offering estimates of the problems in your life with suggestions for what you could do about it. In one sense the gospel is an invitation, but the gospel overcomes (the inevitable) resistance to the offer. You don’t need a better life plan, you need salvation.

As the letter to the Romans continues, we need salvation from God’s wrath, from our willful ignorance, from our self-harming sin, from our rebellion, from death. Left to yourself, you would never want or accept the gospel. So those with the gospel can only expect a positive response by God’s power. The gospel is a gift that comes with power included so that the elect would open it and accept it and love the Giver.

The gift includes faith for the called, as faith is both the instrument of receiving salvation and the new view on life.

Salvation is for all the ones believing. It’s a substantival participle, perhaps one of my most favorite grammatical categories. It turns a behavior into a characterization. We are believers, we are the ones who keep on believing.

And in God’s purposes the believing ones come to the Jew first and also to the Greek. It turns out, this is a big deal. It will be worth an entire three-chapter section later in the letter (9-11). There are hints along the way, including at the beginning of chapter 3. There are blessings that belong to the Jews, and those blessings are gifts, and those gifts, rightly received, pointed to the gift of Jesus Christ and righteousness not through the law. Many Jews rejected their Messiah, but, this was part of God’s plan, not the end of the plot. To say that Paul went into synagogues first when he went to a new town is not a sufficient explanation for how the Jew/Gentile distinction and unity fills this letter.

Power BECAUSE the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel.

Verse 17 is not just addition, it is additional explanation. It is not just about the gospel, it is about God’s power to salvation in the gospel. God’s power is demonstrated as God’s righteousness is brought about.

As the gift of Jesus brings the gift of preaching brings the gift of believing (Romans 10:14-15) we are seeing the business of God to reveal His own righteousness into human life and history. In His saving work the righteousness of God is revealed. The revelation is the verb form of apocalypse, unveiling, showing. The gift is being unwrapped, the gift is being set forth for all to see.

Righteousness is a key word in Romans, even though other words are used more frequently. It’s dikaiosune, “right, righteous, just.” It initially caused Martin Luther fits.

Luther had always seen “the righteousness of God” (or “the justice of God”) as an attribute of the sovereign Lord by which He judged sinners–not as an attribute sinners could possess. He described the breakthrough, his “tower experience,” and how his unrelenting study of the historical-grammatical context of that passage brought light to the dark ages:

I greatly longed to understand Paul’s epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “the justice of God,” because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by his faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that of righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the “justice of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.

Reformations of life, of churches, of cultures, come through God’s business of making His righteousness known.

The righteousness of God being revealed is not only that we are learning a doctrinal point about one of His attributes. We are seeing one of His attributes in action, we are seeing Him share His righteousness with us, from faith to faith.

I may end up titling not just this sermon with “From Faith to Faith,” but the entire study in Romans. Not just doing the work of evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5), I think my work as a shepherd is all about this.

The phrase could be translated, and understood, in a number of ways. Ekeis. It means all by faith. Faith all the time. Faith is necessary for new life, faith is the way of living that life.

As it relates to the righteousness of God, we are declared righteous by God through faith alone, not our works. Then, by faith, God begins a transforming work of working righteousness into us and through us, until He eventually glorifies us with a share in Christlike righteousness. According to the law, we have a forensic righteousness, and as we live, we recognize a transformative righteousness. By faith our status is changed, our walk is changed, our future is secured. He reckons us just, He begins to make real His character in us. Righteousness is in the books in heaven, righteousness is worked out in history on earth, and righteousness is guaranteed again for our resurrection in heaven.

The great emphasis of sola fide as contrasted with any works is certainly hope-filling, burden-lifting, soul-changing. And also, justification by faith alone is not the only part of the gospel. He makes us alive into faith, and then He feeds our faith to (more, stronger) faith for living.

Paul quotes the Bible (in the Bible) to show that this is God’s business.

As it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)

Habakkuk is quoted by Paul to the Galatians and in Hebrews. The word order makes an emphasis. It is less “the righteous by faith” live, and more the righteous “live by faith.” Both are true, but faith ins’t finished when it opens the gate.

Conclusion

Couldn’t we say that the reason Paul wasn’t ashamed of the gospel is because he actually believed it? He lived and preached and ministered from faith to faith, and so that others would also live from faith to faith.

In Christ we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). God is in the business of recreating men in righteousness from faith to faith. What a gift.


Charge

Christian, you have been given new life, you live in a different realm and you live on a different basis. You live by faith. Living by faith is not a hobby or side-hustle, it is your life calling. It is God’s business to make it your life calling. So, keep living by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave Himself for you.

Benediction:

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4–5, ESV)