THE EFFICACY OF THE GOSPEL INSPIRES BOLDNESS IN PROCLAMATION
Are you ashamed of the gospel or do you boast in the gospel?
(overcomes our feelings of reluctance and inadequacy)
James Boice: [These verses] are the most important in the letter and perhaps in all literature. They are the theme of this epistle and the essence of Christianity.
Thomas Schreiner: The argument can be displayed as follows:
- Paul is eager to preach the gospel in Rome (15).
- Because (γάρ) he is not ashamed of the gospel (16a).
- He is not ashamed of the gospel because (γάρ) it is the power of God bringing salvation to all who believe (16b).
- The gospel is the saving power of God because (γάρ) the righteousness of God (i.e., his saving righteousness) is revealed in it by faith (17a).
- This understanding of the righteousness of God is supported by the OT (καθώς), which says that the righteous will live (i.e., enjoy eternal life) by faith (17b).
Thus even though verses 16–17 are grammatically subordinate to verse 15, the thematic centrality of verses 16–17 is evident, since the desire to preach is intertwined with what is preached. The centrality of verses 16–17 is apparent, since the reference to the εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion, gospel) in verse 16 forms a bridge with verses 1, 9, and 15, where Paul emphasizes that his apostolic calling is in service to the gospel. To say that the righteousness of God alone is the theme of the letter is insufficient. Verses 16–17 must be taken together, for the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel. I summarize the theme as follows: the gospel is the saving power of God in which the righteousness of God is revealed.
Timothy Keller: Paul is often fond of contrasting “mere” words with power (see, for instance, 1 Corinthians 4:20). Paul is saying that the gospel is not merely a concept or a philosophy. In the gospel, words and power come together. The message of the gospel is what God has done and will do for us. Paul says that the gospel is therefore a power. He doesn’t say it brings power or has power, but that it actually is power. The gospel message is actually the power of God in verbal, cognitive form. It lifts people up; it transforms and changes things.
Grant Osborne: Verses 16 and 17 summarize the thrust of the rest of Paul’s letter and give the reason behind Paul’s missionary zeal. Paul was ready, even eager (1:15) to preach at Rome. And he was not ashamed of the gospel, even though the gospel was held in contempt by those who did not believe; even though those who preached it could face humiliation and suffering. Paul was not intimidated by the intellect of Greece nor the power of Rome. When describing to the Corinthians the typical attitudes toward the gospel, Paul wrote, “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,” (1 Corinthians 1:23 NRSV). Paul was not ashamed, because he knew from experience that the gospel had the power to transform lives, so he was eager to take it to as many as would listen. This verse marks the beginning of Paul’s extended explanation of the gospel. Reading, understanding, and applying the gospel faithfully can also bring us to that point of being unashamed of what God has said and done.
John MacArthur: He is proud of the gospel. He is overjoyed at the privilege of proclamation. He is utterly and absolutely eager to preach Jesus Christ. And even though it is a stumbling block to the Jew, and foolishness to the Gentile, the gospel is still the power of God unto salvation to all that believe, and Paul is not hesitant to preach it.
He has been imprisoned in Philippi. He has been chased out of Thessalonica. He has been smuggled from Berea. He was laughed at in Athens. He was seen as a fool in Corinth. He was nothing but an irritant and sore spot in Jerusalem. He was stoned while in Galatia. And yet he will be eager to preach the gospel at Rome, also.
Thomas Constable: Verses 16-17 are the key verses in Romans because they state the theme of the revelation that follows. Paul’s message was the gospel. He felt no shame declaring it but was eager to proclaim it because it was a message that can deliver everyone who believes it from God’s wrath. It is a message of how a righteous God righteously makes people righteous. The theme of the gospel is the righteousness of God, and the theme of Romans is the gospel.
TWO REASONS WHY THE GOSPEL INSPIRES BOLDNESS IN PROCLAMATION
I. (:16) BECAUSE THE GOSPEL SAVES –
IT IS THE POWER OF GOD UNTO SALVATION TO EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES (BOTH JEW AND GENTILE)
“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.”
Thomas Schreiner: The hesitancy to “bear witness” to the gospel was rooted in fear of suffering harm. Paul’s boldness here points to his willingness to confess the gospel in public despite the response from opponents. These are not empty words in Paul’s case, since he has already endured much suffering (2 Cor. 11:23–27).
R. Kent Hughes: Paul is not ashamed of this good news because it is the dynamic, unharnessable power of God to effect salvation and all its temporal and eternal beneﬁts for everyone who believes.
Frank Thielman: Rome was the seat of power and Greco-Roman culture in Paul’s world, and most people derived what power they had from their social connections with people higher up the social, political, or economic ladder. In such a context, the message of the early Christians, with its focus on one who had been crucified and on elements that were common to all humanity (3:21–26), might appear shameful. Paul is not ashamed of it, however, because (γάρ) through the gospel God has demonstrated his power to bring people “salvation” (σωτηρία).
Thomas Constable: Paul’s third basic attitude toward the gospel now comes out. Not only did he feel obligated (v. 14) and eager (v. 15) to proclaim it, but he also felt unashamed to do so. This is an example of the figure of speech called litotes, in which one sets forth a positive idea (I am proud of the gospel) by expressing its negative opposite (“I am not ashamed of the gospel“). The reason for using this figure of speech is to stress the positive idea. The reason for Paul’s proud confidence in the gospel was that the gospel message has tremendous power.
William Hendriksen: Are the Romans always boasting about their power, the force by which they have conquered the world? “The gospel I proclaim,” says Paul, as it were, “is superior by far. It has achieved and offers something far better, namely, everlasting salvation, and this not for the people of one particular nation – for example, Rome – but for everyone who exercises faith.”
A. Its Content = Good News (not mixed with any bad)
B. Its Extreme Power When Appropriated by Faith — we have what people need; it works
Charles Hodge: The faith of which the apostle here speaks includes a firm persuasion of the truth, and a reliance or trust on the object of faith. . . The exercise, or state of mind expressed by the word faith, as used in the Scriptures, is not mere assent, or mere trust, it is the intelligent perception, reception, and reliance on the truth, as revealed in the gospel.
Everett Harrison: Paul himself goes on to explain in what sense “power” is to be understood. The stress falls not on its mode of operation but on its intrinsic efficacy. It offers something not to be found anywhere else – a righteousness from God.
C. Its Goal – not just temporarily changing lives for the better, but saving a person’s life forever
D. Its Inclusiveness and Exclusiveness
Frank Thielman: This salvation is both universal in its reach and individual in its application.
John Toews: To the Jews first and also to the Greek explains everyone. And also indicates the fundamental equality of Jew and Gentile in the gospel. The word first denotes the historical reality that the Jews have precedence for the sake of God’s plan. The letter insists there is no distinction (3:22; 10:12) yet supports the continuing validity of the Jew first. The thrust, on the one hand, is not to claim superiority for the Jew, but to argue for the equality of Jews and Gentiles. But, on the other hand, discrimination in Rome against Jews and Jewish Christians requires a reminder that God called the Jews first, and that God is and will be faithful to them. The tension between the priority of the Jew in salvation history and the equality of all people in the gospel is an issue to which Paul will return in the letter (see chs. 3, 9-11).
John Murray: In this text there is no suggestion to the effect that the priority is merely that of time. The implication appears to be rather that the power of God unto salvation through faith has primary relevance to the Jew, and the analogy of Scripture would indicate that this peculiar relevance to the Jew arises from the fact that the Jew had been chosen by God to be the recipient of the promise of the gospel and that to him were committed the oracles of God. Salvation was of the Jews (John 4:22; cf. Acts 2:39; Rom. 3:1, 2; 9:4, 5). The lines of preparation for the full revelation of the gospel were laid in Israel and for that reason the gospel is pre-eminently the gospel for the Jew. . . This priority that belongs to the Jew dos not make the gospel less relevant to the Gentile.
II. (:17) BECAUSE THE GOSPEL REVEALS –
THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD THAT IS APPROPRIATED BY FAITH ALONE
“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith;
as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’”
Answers the question: How can sinful man find acceptance with a holy God?
John Murray: In line with the force of the term “revealed” in these Old Testament passages we shall have to give to the word here (vs. 17) a dynamic meaning. When the prophet spoke of the righteousness of God as being “revealed” he meant more than that it was to be disclosed to human apprehension. He means that it was to be revealed in action and operation; the righteousness of God was to be made manifest with saving effect. So, when the apostle says, the “righteousness of God is revealed”, he means that in the gospel the righteousness of God is actively and dynamically brought to bear upon man’s sinful situation; it is not merely that it is made known as to its character to human apprehension but that it is manifest in its saving efficacy. This is why the gospel is the power of God unto salvation – the righteousness of God is redemptively active in the sphere of human sin and ruin.
A. The Source of the Gospel = comes to us by Divine Revelation
B. The Connection between Righteousness, Life, and Faith
- God’s righteousness
a. Comes to us from God; we won’t find it within ourselves
b. Perfect righteousness (Illustration of a surgeon rejecting a contaminated scalpel – the amount of contamination does not matter)
c. Greater than the Righteousness of the Pharisees (Matt. 5:20)
this is a God-righteousness; different from unrighteousness and different from any human righteousness
d. Exactly what we need
Douglas Moo: “righteousness of God” — Three interpretations are popular.
(1) “God’s righteousness”—an attribute of God. “Righteousness” can refer to God’s justice, but as Luther discovered long ago, it is hardly good news to disobedient sinners to learn about God’s justice. Thus it is more likely, if an attribute of God is in view, that the reference is to God’s faithfulness.
(2) “Righteousness from God”—a status given to people by God. This interpretation was championed by the Reformers and is the traditional view among Protestant theologians. When God “justifies” (the Gk. verb is dikaioo, cognate to the word for “righteousness”) the sinner, God gives that person a new legal standing before him—his or her “righteousness.”
(3) “Righteousness done by God”—an action of “putting in the right” being done by God. This view, held by a growing number of scholars, gives a dynamic sense to “righteousness.” It is God’s intervention to set right what has gone wrong with his creation.
The context does not point clearly in one direction. The verb “reveal,” which has a dynamic sense (come into being, manifest; see 1:18) favors the third view. But the fact that this righteousness, as Paul goes on to say, is based on faith, favors the second view. . .
For Paul, as in the OT, “righteousness of God” is a relational concept. Bringing together the aspects of activity and status, we can define it as the act by which God brings people into right relationship with himself.
- Spiritual Life
- Genuine Faith (unmixed with anything else)
Don’t wait to try to understand completely; take advantage and respond to what you know
Thomas Schreiner: Saving faith, however, includes more than mental assent. It also involves commitment and reliance on God such as Abraham had in staking his whole future on God’s promises (Rom. 4:18–22). . . It is likely, then, that ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν is emphatic in nature, highlighting the centrality and exclusivity of faith.
Everett Harrison: Perhaps what it conveys is the necessity of issuing a reminder to the believer that justifying faith is only the beginning of Christian life. The same attitude must govern him in his continuing experience as a child of God.
Thomas Constable: The idea seems to be that faith is the method whereby we receive salvation, whatever aspect of salvation may be in view, and whomever we may be. The NIV interpretation is probably correct: “by faith from first to last.”
- “Faith is the starting point, and faith the goal.” [Lightfoot]
- “… man (if righteous [right before God] at all) is righteous by faith; he also lives by faith.” [Barrett]
Frank Thielman: Faith in God’s provision of Christ’s atoning death as the means for dealing with human sin brings righteousness to the believer, and this righteousness allows the believer to live.
John Witmer: In response to faith this righteousness is imputed by God in justification and imparted progressively in regeneration and sanctification, culminating in glorification when standing and state become identical.
C. This Connection is Consistent with the OT Teaching
“The just by faith shall live”
Thomas Schreiner: At this juncture we need to consider whether Paul’s use of the verse accords with the original context of Habakkuk. Yahweh threatens to punish sinful Judah because the nation has failed to keep God’s Torah (1:4). Such a judgment is a test of faith for the remnant. Will they still believe God’s promises, which include a future judgment of Babylon (chap. 2) and a future new exodus for Israel (chap. 3)? The many allusions to the exodus in Hab. 3 indicate the promise of a new exodus, a new deliverance for the people of God. Hence Habakkuk functions as a paradigm for the people of God. He will continue to trust the Lord even if the fig tree doesn’t blossom and vines are lacking fruit (Hab. 3:17–18). He will continue to trust in and rejoice in God’s promise of future salvation in the midst of the impending judgment. The canonical context of the book assists us in interpreting 2:4. Like Abraham, the people of God are summoned to trust in Yahweh when circumstances conspire against such trust. Thus the fundamental call of Habakkuk is to trust in the Lord (cf. G. Davies 1990: 44). This is not to deny that faithfulness flows from faith, for the former always proceeds from the latter. Faith is the foundation and faithfulness is the superstructure. It follows that Paul reads Habakkuk in both its historical and canonical context and doesn’t distort its message. A right relationship with God is obtained by faith, not by keeping the law.