For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. For in it is the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith”. Romans 1:16-17
Why might someone be “ashamed of the gospel”? On the surface, the gospel seems like a very strange message. It is about a Jewish carpenter and teacher who was put to death on a cross by Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Judea in AD 26-36. The message says that this man Jesus was raised from the dead and is now Lord – the kurios (Greek). This title was used of God in the Greek Bible and was applied to the emperor by some Romans. Paul himself wrote that this message seemed foolish to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23) and was a stumbling block to Jews. A crucified Messiah seemed to be a contradiction in terms to the Jews. A crucified “Jew” seemed like foolishness to the Romans, who despised Jews in general. Paul had no confidence in his rhetorical skills to overcome the human objections to the message, but he knew the power of the Spirit to change the lives of people as they heard the good news about Jesus’ death and resurrection. People are saved by faith, but faith is not the cause of “salvation”. The cause of salvation is the grace of God, and the “power of God” working through the message.
The “righteousness of God” was the core of Paul’s message. Martin Luther came to better understand God’s grace as he studied this verse in the original Greek rather than the Latin translation. It forever changed his view of God. God’s righteousness can be understood in several ways. First, God always does what is right and can be said to have righteousness as one of his attributes (Dt. 32:4 and Psalm 119:142). Second, since God always does what is right, his actions or activities are sometimes identified as his righteousness (Is. 45:8; 46:13; 51:5-6, 8; 56:1). Third, God’s righteousness is as a gift from him to us, justifying us in his sight. “Justification” is a courtroom term signifying that a judge declares a person to be “right” or “just”. Augustine wrote, “The righteousness of God is that righteousness which he imparts in order to make men righteous” (Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 16). In the gospel, God reveals his righteousness (his nature, his activities, and his gift of right status) by faith. In the course of Paul’s letter to the Romans he will explain how God is able to declare sinners to be righteous because of Jesus’ work on the cross. “From faith to faith” emphasizes that the entire process of being declared righteous comes to us from start to finish by faith.
For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9