Well we are continuing in our studying the book of Roman. And it has been a thrill just to get started on what we know is going to be a considerable study. And today we're gonna pick back up in Romans chapter 1, where we began, by looking at the last several weeks at introductory issues and at Paul's very first statements to the Christians in Rome. I thought it might be interesting in the background to our study today to talk about the impact of the book of Romans at significant points in the history of the church. It's important because when we think about the New Testament Canon, that is the set of books that make up the New Testament, or the 66 books that make up the Bible, we need to recognize that the Lord has inspired every single one of them. The Holy Spirit inspired every single word of scripture.
And as the scripture itself attests, men of old were moved by the Holy Spirit to write these very words. Now, the very fact that every single word is inspired and every word is fully inspired means that there are no extra words. There are no unneeded or unnecessary words, even where there is repetition in Scripture, that repetition is important for us. It's telling us something. But when we come to the book of Romans, we are reminded of that very important truth that when we come to the New Testament, it is very, very easy, once you start studying that text, to understand that we need every one of these books. Because without any one of these books, we would be left with a significant gap in our knowledge of the gospel and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
For instance, when I was teaching some years ago through the book of Hebrews, it was apparent to me that there is so much in this book that isn't found anywhere else. It's one of those books that helps to bring everything together that helps to synthesize our knowledge of biblical truth helps to bring it together so that we can understand it. And once you understand the book of Hebrews, you actually understand not only the other books of the New Testament in a new way, but of course you understand the Old Covenant and the Old Testament in a very profound and powerfully new way.
But the book of Romans, New Testament scholars always resist when people say it's a systematic theology right here at the center of the New Testament. The reason they resist that is because that really ignores the fact that it was written, first of all, as a letter. But I have to come back as a theologian, and I have to say yes, but it was a letter about theology. And this letter about theology helps us to understand so much about the gospel, about the church, about the Christian life, but most importantly about the gospel itself. And that's what we find when you look at Romans 1, and we really left off at verse seven. We were looking at these introductory issues and we were looking at what Paul said here at the end of verse 7: “Grace to you in peace from God, our father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Combining “shalom” and “karine” in this case, karis, which is grace. He was speaking in a way that would be very much identified with both the Gentile and the Jewish Christians in Rome.
I said that Romans has been important in the history of the church, and it has been at very strategic points. And you can look at the earliest church fathers, the earliest pastors and bishops and elders and theologians of the church. And you can quickly see how the book of Romans was essential to their understanding of what the gospel is. Then you go to the fourth century and really it is Augustine, the great Bishop of Hippo in Northern Africa, the greatest theologian of the early church. It was the book of Romans that helped him to understand how it was that God had determined to save a people, how he did it through the Lord Jesus Christ and how the church then ought to preach the gospel. Then you can fast forward to other eras, especially you think of the Reformation when it was the book of Romans that helped Martin Luther the great reformer of the 16th century to understand the doctrine of justification by faith, which we will shortly encounter in this very book.
And then at other points, the book of Romans has been similarly effective, similarly helpful. The German confessing church, that is the true church over against the Nazis, found great solace in the book of Romans. And we could continue on down. I think for most of us, the book of Romans is our first introduction, if we study it seriously, to some of the deeper things of the faith.
And we get there very quickly in verse eight of chapter one, Paul says this first, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” Now that's a nice statement. That is a pastoral statement. It's characteristic of Paul, that he would thank God for the Roman Christians. He's expressing his appreciation for the fact that they are a gift to the church. It is more than just a familiar greeting.
As you shall see in verse seven, he identified them as the beloved of God in Rome. These are the ones whom God loves, has loved through Jesus Christ. These are the ones who are the recipients of the gospel. And now Paul says, “I thank God for you,” Why? In verse eight, “because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”
Now there have been in different places in different times, secret congregations, secret groups of Christians. At The end of World War II, there were many Christian missionary agencies that picked up a new opening with, of course, the defeat of the empire of Japan. Different areas, especially in Polynesian and in the South Pacific, where missions could be picked up once again in the great heyday of Victorian missions. There were men like John Payton and others who had gone to the Hebrides, and very famous missionary accounts of how the gospel had been spread to those regions.
But World War II was a great interruption. And I remember years ago, reading of one island that the missionaries had targeted in order to go and share the gospel. And when they got there, they found Christians. Because these different island groups had missionized one another, evangelized one another, even during the war. And sometimes there are secret congregations. The rest of the world isn't even aware that they are there, but there could be no secrecy, no hiding for the church, this congregation in Rome. In the capital city of the empire, this was a congregation that was well known, perhaps well known to the secular authorities that may come later, but certainly known to those who love the gospel. And what is said of them in verse eight is that their faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world, their faith.
Now, this is a sense in which we would probably, in the English, want to change that to faithfulness because that's really what Paul is talking about there. It is their demonstration of the faith. It's not just for their faith as in the faith once for all delivered to the saints. It's more in the faith that is being demonstrated in their faithfulness, their in Rome being proclaimed throughout the whole world. Now here's another little incident here when you say the whole world, what is Paul talking about? Well, Paul is, as we discussed, a Roman citizen. And so when he mentions the whole world, he's really talking about what we would know now as the Roman world. And so far as the Romans were concerned that that was the world. And in terms of communication, in terms of transportation, in terms of links, that's where the world was. So virtually everywhere where the gospel had yet reached, the faith of the church at Rome was now being known. In verse nine. Paul goes on and says, “for God, whom I serve in my spirit, in the preaching of the gospel of his son is my witness as to how increasingly” or unceasingly, excuse me, “I make mention of you.”
So Paul wants the church at Rome to know that they have become an illustration point in Paul's teaching. They've become a point of Paul's pride and concern. When he talks about the furtherance of the gospel, he can tell churches all over the world, all over Asia Minor, all throughout the Roman Empire, there's a church in Rome now. The capital city has a church as well. You can go to Rome and there are Christians there. He's been speaking of them, using them as an illustration. Perhaps this illustration is rooted in some early form of persecution suffered by the church in Rome, perhaps their faith has already been tested and there may even have been some kind of controversy or pressure, a prejudice that was indicated against them. But they have become an issue for Paul, a teaching point, for him to make reference to them as he writes and ministers to others throughout the Christian world.
A couple of interesting things in verse nine. If you are reading a modern English translation, it is likely that you see a good many of italicized words in this. And in most of your modern translations, those italicized words indicate words that were necessarily supplied by the translator in order to achieve meaning. And you need these words, trust me, as you study the Greek and the Hebrew. And in this case, the Greek. You'll understand that every time you move from one language group to another, there's a loss of what is called implicit meaning. Implicit meaning is there because we know how a word is used beyond what the word actually means. And you know, children know this. Children have to learn their mother's implicit language. Right? Of course we do.
When she says “don't,” she doesn't just mean don't do anything. She means don't do “that.” And you know “that” is not in there. She doesn't have to use a whole sentence. She just knows it's there. Or if you say “there,” you know, somebody walks in with a bunch of bags and you say, “there,” they put 'em there. You don't have to say “it would be most convenient for me in my family. And for all within this domestic household, if you would place those items carefully in that place.” In other words, we all use a form of shorthand. Now in the Greek language that is particularly so. Because the verbs often have an implicit direct object. In other words, you're supposed to know that “this” is pointing to “that.” So as you look at verse nine, you'll see “for God whom I serve in my spirit in the” and then you'll see italicized text in the New American Standard, “preaching of the,” and then picking back up in the normal text “gospel of his Son.”
So if you just translated it directly, it would be “for God who I serve in my spirit, in the gospel of his Son.” But it is clear that Paul's talking about the proclamation of the gospel, the sharing, the transmission of the gospel. I just bring that up to remind us that when we study the Word carefully, you need to be aware that these italics mean something. And it's not emphasis.
Sometimes you'll hear, for instance, a first year seminary student do a public reading at the Bible or something and get to these words, and they raise their voice, as if this was an emphasis. You know, “for God who I serve in my spirit, in the preaching of the gospel of his son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you” might make for interesting preaching, but that's not what the italics are there for.
They're instead to tell us those words have been supplied necessarily. And that's a good issue of translation, and honesty. In other words, they're saying we had to put this in, in order to make the point clear. In verse 10, a continuation of the same sentence, where Paul said he makes “unceasing mention of the Romans, always in my prayers making requests, if perhaps now at last, by the will of God, I may succeed in coming to you.” Interesting. Paul here speaks not only of the fact that they have become an illustration for him, but of the fact that he wants to visit them. He's making prayers for them. One of the basic functions of Paul's apostolic ministry was prayer. He refers to this time and time again in almost every one of the introductory sections of every one of his letters; there is a statement about his unceasing, faithful, pastoral prayers for these churches.
Paul was obviously a man of prayer. He speaks of prayer, of his unceasing prayer, of his constant prayer. He speaks of his prayer for the particulars. He will often say, “I'm praying this for you.” And he will say to a church, “I'm praying that you will receive this from the Lord.” But here he speaks of his unceasing prayers for them. “If perhaps now at last, by the will of God, I may succeed in coming to you.”
Now, one of the things we talked about in the introductory considerations of this book was that Paul's visit to Rome, a much promised visit and a much anticipated visit, had been delayed. And we looked back, you'll remember the book of Acts and we saw how Paul was delayed. First of all, by the necessity of going to Asia Minor. And it was in that return eventually to Jerusalem, first to Asia Minor, and then to Jerusalem, that Paul for instance, gave his farewell address to the Ephesian elders in Melitus. And you follow on through Paul is now writing to the Romans, we think from Corinth, as he is preparing to get to them, but he knows not exactly when he will arrive. But as we shall see, there was frustration obvious, more than implicit, explicit frustration on the part of the Romans that Paul had not yet arrived there.
And that's a major part of his concern in these verses. He says that he wants to come to them; verse 11, “For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you that you may be established.” Paul here speaks of his intense desire to visit with them. This isn't a light thing. It's not a small thing. It's a very major issue to the Apostle Paul. He wants to visit with the Romans. He wants to see this church for himself. He also wants to get to Rome. But as Paul, the Roman citizen knows, he may get to Rome the hard way. That is, his visit to Rome may come as he is a prisoner of Rome.
These things are outside of his hands. That's why he speaks to the sovereignty of God. That's why he made the reference in the earlier verse there, in verse 10, to the will of God as to whether or not he would succeed in arriving in Rome. But he speaks of his longing to be there in order that, in verse 11, he might impart some spiritual gift to them. In other words there could be something that Paul could bring to them as a gift. And Paul's apostolic ministry was involved in the bestowal of gifts upon the congregations he visited. To whom he wrote, the congregations of his pastoral concern and his pastoral heart, he wanted to give them a gift that “you may be established.”
Now that word established is very important. Paul uses it repeatedly. It's a common word, and it has to do with what we might consider being fortified. Or being strengthened. But it has an enduring aspect. In other words, this church would be established so that it would be even stronger, even more enduring, even more fortified in the years to come. And there's another, “so that,” and that's another characteristic of the Greek language. You can pile up these clauses that are considered what we would call instrumental. So that, for that, because of, and you see it here, that is in verse 12, “that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine.” So Paul says, look, I realize that as I aim so fervently and faithfully to come to you it is because I want to give you a gift. But it is also because I know that I will receive much in being with you.
And again, this speaks of Paul's pastoral personality, of his approach to the churches, of his apostolic ministry. You could call it “give and take” but for Paul it's richer than that. It's “give and give” for Paul. It is the fact that he will encourage the churches and the churches will encourage him. You find a very precious demonstration of this in his letter to the church at Philippi. The book of Philippians, as you read that, Paul speaks of his constant encouragement from this church. Paul was facing apostolic trials, facing persecution, facing all kinds of challenges. He wanted to encourage the churches. But at significant points the churches also encouraged him. Compare the letter that we have in the New Testament to the church at Philippi to the two letters that we have in the New Testament that Paul wrote to the Corinthian church.
And you'll see that at times Paul's ministry is almost at the breaking point of concern for a church, that leads even to frustration. And at other times it is a source of great blessing that helps to energize Paul for his ministry to the other churches. At this point in the book of Romans, it is not yet clear exactly how Paul relates to this church. Now it will become very clear shortly. It's clear right away. By the time you start, for instance, 1 Corinthians chapter one, Paul's writing that church in rebuke. In a very clear, open, undiluted rebuke. If you read the book of Philippians, it opens with tremendous encouragement, you have to get almost to the end of that book before you find Paul mentioning some pastoral issues with conflict in the church, and et cetera. They were minor issues in Paul's mind, over and against the total purpose of the letter.
He wrote the book of Galatians to confront a heresy. And, like with the subtlety of a baseball bat, he got that point across to the Galatian congregation. We are not at this point in the book of Romans yet sure, exactly, what Paul's purpose is. We're later going to see it's the massive exposition of the gospel. And let me go ahead and say at this point, that is most likely occasioned by the fact that this church at the western most extremity of where the Christian gospel has reached, further from Jerusalem than any other church that is mentioned at this time, this church made up of what we now know are largely Gentile converts to Christianity, is a church that probably needs more theological teaching and more doctrinal substance than any of the other churches mentioned.
Many of whom, that is those other churches, have had multiple apostolic contacts. They've had multiple opportunities for ministry, including from the apostle Paul, but the church in Rome is desperately in need of this kind of teaching. But he wants to be encouraged. “We will be encouraged together,” he says, in verse 12, with you and me. I'll be encouraged. You'll be encouraged. Each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine. Now that's repetitive somewhat, but it follows the normal letter writing kind of tone that Paul has established.
In verse 13, “I do not want you to be unaware brethren that often I have planned to come to you and have been prevented so far that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.” Interesting here, Paul says, “I do not want you to be unaware.”
Now, some of you may have the King James and in the King James version, it says “I would not have you ignorant, brethren” or “I would not have you ignorant brethren.”
Some of you may remember the name of Miss Bertha Smith. One of the great prayer warriors of Southern Baptist life. She was one of the missionaries in the revival in China. She never married. She was a formidable figure. Let me just say that.
Miss Bertha was a prayer war. That was her ministry. She led prayer conferences all over the Southern Baptist Convention. She was well known; grown men would tremble in her sight. She was an incredible figure. But when she was asked one time why she did not marry, she mentioned Roma's 1:13. And she said, “I would not have you ignorant brethren.” She wouldn't have any of them. Well, it worked for Miss Bertha.
But that's not at all what the Apostle Paul's talking about here. He says, I don't want you to dwell in ignorance. I don't want you to be unaware. I don't want you to be in the dark. I want you to be fully aware of why I have not arrived to you. He says, “I plan to come to you and have been prevented so far that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.”
Now in verses 13 and 14, something very important comes to light. And that is that there was open speculation on the part of the Christians in Rome about Paul's reason for not yet arriving in Rome. Now we know this also from some background materials. It's implicit very much here in the text. In other words, Paul writes somewhat, you might say, defensively here. Not defensively as if he's in a position of weakness, but defensively in order to give a defense of the fact that he has not yet arrived there.
The Roman Christians evidently thought Paul should have dropped everything to come to Rome. Paul should have arrived in Rome much earlier. I mean, after all, all the roads do lead here, Paul. Rome is the capital. Why have you not arrived here? Why are you just out there in the provinces? There may even have been some speculation that went further than that. And in a more dangerous direction than that. It could be they were saying, well, you know, Paul, if he came here, he's going to face a lot of trouble. You know, it's one thing being a Christian in the provinces. It's another thing being a Christian here in Caesars city. It may be that they were speculating that he had some purpose for staying out in Asia Minor. Now, folks, you just have to understand that if you live in Rome, everything else is the boondocks, everything else.
If you're in Rome, you're living at the very center of the universe. Why would anyone not come here? If you want to influence the world, you're going to have to deal with Rome. If you're going to establish a major business, it's going to have to be in Rome. It's going to have to deal with Rome. Rome's going to be the primary client, the primary patron. If you want anything major done in the world, in the Roman world, you've got to come to Rome.
Paul writes saying, “I have longed to be with you. I have planned, “ he says in verse 13, “to come to you.” But in that parenthetical explanation, he says, I have been prevented so far. In other words, this was not Paul's choice not to be there. The delay was not Paul's volition. It was rather the interruption by the Holy Spirit. He has made that clear already, but he goes on writing more positively to say that he does want to come in order that he may obtain some fruit among you, that fruit meaning the fruit of the faith, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.
Now there, interestingly enough, is a reference to something we might have missed. Paul writes to this church in Rome as if it is primarily a Gentile church. There's a reference to it right there. But he also speaks, remember he is the great apostle to the Gentiles, he speaks of the gospel to the Gentiles right here. Look at verse 14: “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.” Now at different points. Paul talks about his indebtedness to both Jews and Greeks, or Jews and Gentiles. Later, he will speak of the gospel being for the Jew first and also for the Gentile or for the Greek. But here he speaks of two different classifications of Gentiles. There are the Greeks and there's everyone else. Well, you know enough ancient history to say, well, there really isn't any great Greek empire at this point.
In fact, the Greek city states have disappeared. Athens has lost its glory. It's no longer the center of the world. So what's this about the Greek and the barbarian? Well, it has to do with the language. And that language, the Greek language, and Greek philosophy, and Greek thought as being the foundation of what will become Roman thought. And remember that at this point the Latin language is at its earliest stages. It has not yet achieved even parity with the Greek language among the educated classes. That will not come for another 300 or 400 years. At that point, Latin became the major language of the Western world, leaving the Greek language as a matter of mostly antiquarium concern. But at this point, Greek is the language of wisdom. Greek is the language of philosophy, of literature, of knowledge. If you have culture and you're educated, you are familiar with the Greek language.
And when he is speaking of the Greeks, he's not speaking of those who have Greek surnames. He's not speaking of people who are even from Greece. He's not speaking of those identified with Greek culture. He's speaking of those who are adept at the Greek language. They're the sophisticated ones. They're the ones, by the way, who could read Paul's letters written in Greek. But he speaks here of an obligation, both to the Greeks and to barbarians.
Now that's an interesting word. And you know, these days, when we think of barbarians, we tend to think of what, I don't know, Conan, or something like that. I've not seen the movie, but I know the title. You know, in other words, the barbarian was an unsophisticated, violent person. And the barbarians were largely unsophisticated. And they were often violent.
But they got their name, not because they acted barbarically, that came later, but because their language was considered so rudimentary and crude that to the Greeks, it just sounded like “bar bar, bar, bar, bar,” like lots of gutturals. And then, so they just said, all right, bar bar, you're a barbarian. And so when the Greeks talked about barbarians, that was the ultimate put down. If you are a barbarian, you are a knuckle-dragging ignoramus from the provinces. You were people from the Hills. You were the cousins who were the bumpkins. You were unlettered, unsophisticated, and you couldn't even speak a decently language. Much less read any language.
But the barbarians were on the outskirts of the Roman empire. At least at this point, they came into what we might call the in-skirts in the fourth century. But at this point, they're on the outskirts. And the barbarians were seen as, well, let's put it this way: If you were a Roman citizen, you saw the world divided between Rome and everything else. And what differentiated Rome from everything else was that Rome was the culture, was the literature, was the language, was the inheritance of Greek, and of Greek philosophy and Greek culture. But everything else is darkness, ignorance, and backwards. Paul here writes that he is under an obligation, that is a gospel obligation, both the Greeks and the barbarians.
Now you have read that one a little carefully. Paul's saying here, yeah, I can't wait to get to Rome in order to see all you sophisticated people. I can't wait to get to Rome. I know you're there at the center of the capital city of the empire. I'm really driven by a gospel fervency, a divine commission, to get to you. But I also want to tell you that I am under obligation, not only to you, but also to the barbarians. Also to those you would consider backwards or even foolish. Look at verse 14: “I am under obligation, both the Greeks and the barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.”
Now don't read this carelessly. This doesn't mean that Paul says I'm going to be reaching out to people of all different IQ levels. I'll be ministering to the mensa society, of the super eggheads, and I'll also be dealing with people who can barely count with their toes and their fingers. No, that’s not what he's talking about. He’s not talking about intelligence. He is talking about language and culture. Because foolishness is what Imperial Rome, or what we might better call Greco Roman culture saw everything else. Foolishness. Come to 1 Corinthians chapter one. We will encounter that again.
So in verse 15: “For my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also, who are in Rome.” He's preached everywhere else. He preached in the hinterlands, an Asia Minor. He's been preaching it in some of what we would now know as increasingly Western Europe. He has reached as far as what is now known as Greece, he has been in places like Corinth and other major Greek cities. He had even been to Athens as in Acts chapter 17. So Paul had been preaching to the sophisticated and to the unsophisticated, to the cultured and the uncultured, to the Greek and to the barbarian, to the Jew and to the Gentile. Paul has been preaching the ministry of the gospel to all, his ministry has been the gospel for all. And now when he comes to verse 16, he says “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”
Now what's Paul doing here? I'm not ashamed, he says, of the gospel. I'm not ashamed of the gospel. I'm not ashamed of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I'm not ashamed of this message of salvation. I'm not ashamed of the gospel. Why does Paul say that? Does it come as somewhat of a surprise that he would make a statement that is more in the negative than in the positive? You know, in other words, he doesn't say I'm proud of the gospel. He says, I'm not ashamed of the gospel.
I would submit to you that I think the reason for that is implicit in what Paul's already written. And that is the charge of the Roman church that he has not yet come to Rome to preach the gospel. Why Paul, is it? Is there some fear in Paul to come? Is it because there is some lack of boldness in Paul? Is this a strategic decision on Paul's part? Paul wants to be very clear. I'm not ashamed of the gospel. When I get to Rome, it's this gospel I'm going to preach. I can't wait to get to you. And when I get to you, I'm going to preach the gospel just as I preached it in every city from Damascus and Jerusalem, all the way to Thessalonica, Philippi, the cities of Asia Minor, Corinth, and all the rest.
This is the heart of where Paul begins his exposition of the gospel itself. He says, first of all, that's the very center of my ministry. It's the center of my message. That's what I'm going to preach. That's what I'm all about. That's my passion. That's my heart. When I arrive in Rome, I'm going to preach the gospel. And there's another instrumental phrase that comes right after that, “for it is the power of God for salvation.”
There isn't any other salvation. There isn't any other power. Paul says, when I get to Rome, I'm going to preach the same gospel I have preached everywhere else. The very heart of my ministry, he says, it's the gospel. When I come to you, I'm not going to be about politics. I'm not going to be about culture. I'm not going to be about education. I'm not going to be about all those things. I am going to be about the gospel.
The one thing the church must always get right before it can get anything else right is the gospel. The gospel is the absolute fundamental, the absolute foundation. If we do not get the gospel right we cannot possibly get anything else right. That's why Paul spends so much time here in the book of Romans setting out what the gospel is and what the gospel is not. He wants the church in Rome to understand the gospel, to embrace the gospel, to teach and to preach the gospel, and to guard the gospel.
He says, I'm not ashamed of it. And in the Greco Roman rhetorical tradition, that's not a defensive statement. That is a very bold statement. In that culture, that was a way of saying, I want to draw a line, a very bold and dramatic line, a bright red line, right here to say, I am going to preach this gospel. In it there is no shame. There is nothing to be ashamed of. It's the gospel I'm going to preach, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
In that phrase, to everyone who believes, it has a double meaning. Number one, everyone who believes is transformed by this gospel. Everyone, that's everyone in Paul's preaching. Everyone, or anyone who comes to Christ by faith, will be saved. Whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. That's the everyone. It's unconditional. It doesn't say Jew, Greek lettered, unlettered, wise, foolish, according to the culture of the day. Everyone who believes, believes this gospel.
But that's the second commonality here. Everyone who is saved is saved by this gospel. There's no other way of salvation. There's no other gospel that saves. Everyone who is saved comes to God through Christ by this gospel, the gospel Paul preaches. But he preaches it with a sense of priority. And the priority is to the Jew first and also to the Greek. There have been some who suggested that this is just a chronological reference, just an historical fact. Paul's just saying, look, the gospel was preached first to the Jews before it was preached to the Gentiles. It was Jesus, a Jew in the flesh, who shared the gospel, first of all, with his apostles, his disciples, who became the apostles of the church. And they proclaimed the faith first to the Jews of Jerusalem before going on to Samaria and Judea and the uttermost parts of the world.
But that's not what Paul's really dealing with here. He's really dealing with an intentional priority. In other words, the gospel was intended to be preached to the Jews first. And then through the Jews to the rest of the world, Paul is a Jew. It's by no accident, it's by the providence and sovereignty of God.
This is one of the things we need to remember is that the gospel was preached first to the Jewish people, not just as a historical accident, but by God's sovereign plan. It will be preached first to the children of Christ’s own people, to the sons of Abraham. It will be preached first of all to those who were his own. And that's why in the prologue to the Gospel of John, you have that statement that says “he came into his own and his own received him not, but to all who received him to them gave you power to become the sons of God.”
So in other words, there was a pattern of the gospel being preached first to the Jews, and then an increasing pattern of Jewish rejection of the gospel that led to an opening, we know from the book of Acts, to the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles.
Paul's doing a little church history here, but he's also doing a little theology lesson, a little doctrinal correction. To say that we are indebted to the Jewish people for the preaching of the gospel. And there is a priority to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Then in verse 17, he says “For in it,” that is in the gospel, “the righteousness of God has revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, the righteous man shall live by faith.” There's justification by faith, and there is more than we can handle on this Sunday morning. And so this is where we will pick it up the next time as we are studying here in the book of Romans. But we're going to go back just a little bit to put all this into context, and to look at verse 17, not so much as it points forward, but as it concludes a part of an argument here: “For, in it,” that is in the gospel, “the righteousness of God is revealed from fed faith to faith.”
Now, this is something new, at least in the book of Romans, thus far, this mention of the righteousness of God. Now, if you were a Jewish Christian, you would be completely unsurprised by Paul's reference to the righteousness of God in this way. Because the big issue in the Jewish mind was righteousness. That was the fundamental issue. How could one be made right with God? The sacrificial system was a way of pointing to that righteousness, but there was clearly a misunderstanding. There was an effort of human righteousness. The law was intended, as Paul said, to be our tutor, to teach us of our sinfulness. It was never capable of leading human beings to achieve a righteousness that would be acceptable to God. Paul will, in later chapters, even in later verses of this chapter, make the universality of our sin so clear as the background to that assessment.
So what is the righteousness of God here? Now I said it wouldn't surprise the Jewish people because the way that the Jewish mind first understood the gospel was very clearly, as demonstrated in the book of Hebrews, in the fact that Christ is our righteousness. Our righteousness, as Paul said, is as filthy rags. There's no righteousness in us. We are incapable of achieving that righteousness that will be acceptable to God, but Christ achieved that righteousness being the sinless one who died in our place, as the God-man in his perfect obedience, his active and his passive obedience in the cross, his resurrection from the dead. His righteousness is then imputed to us. And thus we are righteous. The Jewish mind would understand that as the first and foremost issue in our salvation It wasn't clear that the Romans understood the gospel in the same way.
As we will continue through our study through the book of Romans, you're going to see at critical junctures in the text, for instance, in Romans 3, and in Romans 5, and in Romans 8, that Paul will be involved in some pretty pointed correction, that's more than implicit in the text, of perhaps how the Romans had come to understand the gospel. But right up front here, he hints to them with this issue of the righteousness of God, that the righteousness of God is what is demonstrated in the gospel itself. Now this phrase, the righteousness of God, in 1:17, again, has a double meaning.
How many times have we already seen in different verses just between one and 17 in this chapter that there's often a double meaning. And it is because Paul is using some of the most loaded vocabulary in the Christian language.
The righteousness of God means two things. And it does almost everywhere you encounter it in the New Testament. It means, first of all, God's own righteousness. That is his own attribute. This is his characteristic, the truth about him, that he is absolutely righteous.
Now, let me ask you a question. How is God righteous? Is it that God measures up to an external standard? Is there some kind of standard out there in the universe of righteousness, some kind of stacked pole and God perfectly matches that? No, there's nothing outside him. You can't measure God by any other standard. He is the standard. So what is righteousness? It's who God is. That's the only way we know what righteousness is. Our concept of righteousness must be derived from the character of God. We cannot come to understand the character of God from our arbitrary idea of righteousness.
Now, let me just put in a little footnote here, pastorally. This is the only fundamental answer we have. And it is a fully adequate answer we have. When someone says, how could God do that? Or how could God allow that to happen? The question of theodicy. And they say, well, you know, a righteous God could not do that. Or a just God could not allow that to happen. What is a person who makes that judgment doing? They have in their mind an idea of righteousness. And they're saying, God fails to live up to that standard. Therefore, he is not righteous. Well, that's backwards. Where do we come up with such a standard? I hear this all the time. You can come across this virtually every single day if you read the right things. Where people say, well, you know, we have to have a God that will live up to our standards.
Well our standards have to match God's. We have to go the right direction. This is the self-revealed God, the creator of the universe. Now, where do we think we come up with an idea of justice or righteousness or mercy or grace or holiness? And then we're going to see if God measures up to that? It's an idol of our own mind. There's not some kind of cosmic bank of realities, like righteousness, that we draw off from and say, let's see if God measures up to it.
Righteousness in the Hebrew sense is absolute alignment with God. It is God's absolute alignment with his own character. That means he is fully righteous. And our righteousness would have to be as righteous as is his, if we were going to be acceptable in his sight. And of course that's an impossibility.
So the second meaning as in verse 17 of the phrase, the righteousness of God, is about the righteousness that God gives those who come to Christ in faith. So the first meaning is always God's own righteousness, his own personal possession, that absolute righteousness. And then the second meaning throughout the entire New Testament, where you see this phrase, the righteousness of God, it refers to that righteousness which is made ours, declared to be ours imputed to us, that is the righteousness of Christ that becomes the believers by faith.
Now we aren't given it as if it's something we have earned or deserved. That would be the antithesis of the gospel. It's declared to be ours by God the Father, the Holy Judge, who imputes that it declares his own son's righteousness to be ours. That's the only righteousness that will save, that’s the only righteousness that will suffice. That's Paul's concern here, writing to the Romans. Maybe they don't quite understand the righteousness of God and thus, they do not fully understand the work of Christ is related to that righteousness.
Paul's going to set them straight and verse 17, he throws them in the deep end of the theological pool. After his greeting, after his apostolic blessing, after his explanation of why he has not yet arrived there, after he says he is not ashamed of the gospel, he kicks them in the deep end of the pool and says “for in the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith as it is written. But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
When we pick up next time, we're going to be talking about justification by faith, how it's rooted here in this very text, how Paul is going to explicate and expound this in all the verses that continue. But right now, look at this one clause in verse 17: “the righteousness of God is revealed,” how? “From faith to faith.”
Now you could read that and say, well, now, that sounds like interesting theological poetry, “from faith to faith.” You could put that to music. It could become a hymn. What is he talking about here? He makes it very clear. These things are understood only by those who are regenerated. These things are understood only by those who are redeemed. You can only understand the gospel in this sense from the inside, not from the outside.
It only makes sense to those who have come to Christ by faith in terms of the fullness of the gospel and how it works. When we share the gospel, we speak of these things. We explain the work of Christ. We explain the absolutely insurmountable problem of our sin. We speak about the holiness of God. We speak about God's provision in Jesus Christ. We speak about the necessity of believing in Christ and coming to Christ by faith. And we speak of the promises of our salvation.
But, you know, it's only when regeneration has taken place, when Christ has come into the heart and has transformed life, that full understanding begins to come of all of these things. And that full understanding is expressed from faith to faith. It is on the basis of faith we are drawn to the gospel. It's in the power of faith that we are kept in the gospel. It is the faith that is God's gift. These things are revealed “from faith to faith, just as it is written, but the righteous man shall live by faith.” Quoting Habakkuk 2:4. Faith, it's where it begins and ends with Paul. He speaks of the faith, of the content of the faith, of the demonstration of the faith, and of the essence of the faith in this doctrine we know this as justification by faith.
We have seen 17 verses in the opening chapter in the book of Romans. Every one of these verses is laden with incredible meaning and with great depth. One of my favorite scholars of the book of Romans suggests that Paul, if he had not been so miraculously and marvelously claimed by the gospel, would've been remembered in Jewish history as a legal prosecutor. That is as the persecutor of the church. Not only that, it appeared that Paul was an innovator in terms of using new prosecutorial tools in order to persecute the church. He had a legal mind. He talks like an attorney. He makes his case like an attorney. He's doing that right here.
But of course he was gloriously saved by the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. He met Christ on the Damascus road. And now he's using all those tools that God put in him, as he was trained by Gamaliel, the great teacher of the law, he's using all these tools to make an argument and like an attorney, getting ready to set up his entire case in these verses. Paul has been speaking to the church in Rome saying, I'm gonna give you an advanced word of what I'm going to do when I come to you.
But because I have been delayed in coming to you, I'm going to send you this letter. And of course it is a massive letter. And he says, I'm going to tell you that it's going to be about faith. It's going to be about the righteousness of God. And after greeting them in such a wonderfully apostolic way, speaking to them, both as Jews and his Greeks, telling them of his desire to be with them in explaining his delay. And then going on to say, when he does arrive with him, it's going to be to impart a gift, even as he hopes to receive a gift. He says, folks, it all comes down to the gospel. And I want to nail this down before I come to you. Paul is saying, I want you to have all of this clearly understood and embraced, caught, and confessed before I come to visit with you.
It's just too important to wait until I can arrive to you. The gospel, in terms of this content, the faith once for all delivered to the saints, is going to precede Paul to Rome. But when Paul arrives in Rome, literally in Caesar's custody, the church will have received all of this and will already have been taught.
In all likelihood, Paul never would have had the opportunity to preach as freely as might have been the case, had he not been Caesar's prisoner. But remember, when you do come to the end of the book of Acts, we are told that Paul, even in Caesar's custody, was able to preach the gospel and was preaching in the churches. But they had already received this gospel. And when he came to them as the Apostle, he was able to apply this gospel to them.
Our Father, we are so thankful for this Word, how fresh and alive it is as it speaks to us and how it challenges us even today. Father, as we follow through this book, verse by verse and word by word, may you apply it to our hearts. That we would be more Christlike, more faithful, and every day more a demonstration of the faith. For it is in the name and in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.