16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. 17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
In the text, the beloved apostle gives three reasons why he is not ashamed of the gospel. Firstly, the gospel is God’s power that brings salvation. God’s power in the gospel offers Christ’s perfect righteousness as a gift (v. 17). Secondly, the gospel is for everyone (“everyone who believes,” “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek [or, non-Jewish people]) regardless of a person’s ethnic, societal and educational status. Thirdly, God’s power in the gospel is freely offered (“everyone who believes,” “from faith to faith,” “the just shall live by faith”).
How Can We Receive God’s Power?
How can we receive God’s power then? Paul’s third reason why he is not ashamed of the gospel answers the question. We can receive God’s power by believing the gospel. God’s saving power is universally offered to the world in the gospel. Does it mean that every single person in the world will be saved? Absolutely no! After saying that the gospel is for everyone, the apostle quickly introduces a language of qualification: “God’s saving power is for everyone who believes the gospel!” Therefore, the apostle does not teach universalism that every human being will be ultimately saved in the end. The sole condition for receiving the benefit of the gospel is to believe it.
What Is the Meaning of “Believing the Gospel”?
To believe in the gospel means to put full trust in the God who initiated the redemptive work for humanity by sending His Son Jesus Christ (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9) and finished it by raising Him from the dead (Rom 4:24-25) and setting Him on “the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). The Lord Jesus Christ is the only single person who can perfectly please God the Father: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17; see also, Matt 17:5; 2 Pet 1:17). Also, He is the only person who can perfectly meet God’s standard: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom 10:4). Believing in the gospel is to acknowledge that we are powerless, ungodly, sinners, and enemies against God apart from His grace so that we cannot do anything please God or save ourselves (Rom 5:6-10) and to embrace God’s love demonstrated in Christ’s death for us (Rom 5:8).
Three Aspects of Biblical Faith
Then how do you know that you have the right kind of faith? The Bible presents three aspects of biblical, saving faith. First, a true believer intellectually assents to the content of the gospel: “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you [or, to which you were committed]” (Rom 6:17). Second, genuine faith produces proper emotional responses. What do (or did) you feel when you hear(d) that God is angry with sinners? (Rom 1:18ff) What do you feel when you hear that God’s wrath is appeased in Christ and now you “have peace with God”? (Rom 5:1)—hope, joy, and peace (Rom 5:2-5). Third, a genuine believer knows that he is totally given or committed to the Lord Jesus Christ. He knows who his Lord is (Rom 10:9, 13). He knows that he no longer a slave of sin but a slave of righteousness (Rom 6:17-18). On this basis, Paul urges Christians, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom 12:1). When the apostle saw Gentile sinners turning into his spiritual brothers and sisters by believing in the gospel, he viewed them as sacrificial offerings absolutely set apart for God (Rom 15:16-17).
Here we must understand that humans are responsible to believe the person and works of Jesus Christ, and, at the same time, that believing is not something we do in the sense of works. Believing is always a response, receiving the free gift of God. John Calvin calls faith “a kind of vessel” with which we “come empty and with the mouth of our soul open to seek God’s grace.” Douglas Moo also says, “‘Believing’… while a genuinely human activity, possesses no ‘merit’ or worth for which God is somehow bound to reward us; for salvation is, from first to last, God’s work.” The emphatic phrase “from faith to faith” in Romans 1:17 excludes any possibility for us to work for our salvation. Also, the apostle emphasizes that the theme of justification by faith is not a new idea. He quotes Habakkuk 2:4: “even as the righteous shall live by faith.” How many religious people are still attempting to earn God’s favor to no avail? Any kind of effort to make oneself deserve to receive God’s favor is a prideful self-deception.
- What are the three reasons Paul was not ashamed of the gospel? (Rom 1:16-17)
- How can we receive God’s power? Does Paul teach universalism?
- What does it mean when you say that you believe the gospel?
- What are three aspects of genuine, saving faith? How does this truth help to examine your faith?
- Can faith be considered as a meritorious work? Explain why it can or cannot be meritorious for salvation.