Date: October 9, 2016
Title: The Gospel, the Genitive, and the Prepositions
Scripture: Romans 1:16-17
16 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. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Reformation Month has come. October 31 2016 will be the 499th anniversary of the Reformation. It was the day when an Augustinian monk nailed his Ninety-Five theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. That monk was Martin Luther, the great protestant reformer. We are one of the few celebrating this momentous event in history and rightly so, because we call ourselves reformed. That’s why we as a church have dedicated this month in preaching the reformation truths that was recovered by the reformers.
Here I’ll be discussing about the article which according to brother Martin: “the article by which the church stands and falls.”, namely “Justification by Faith Alone”. And we will turn our attention to Romans 1:16-17. My aim is to answer why we need not be ashamed of the gospel, what is “the righteousness of God”, and what does “from faith for faith” means.
Martin Luther’s hatred of Romans 1:17
Martin Luther doesn’t always like verse 17. As a monk who’s struggling with his conscience and spirituality, verse 17 is the most frightening reality, because he knows that he is unrighteous and that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God. But to us, this is our hope and comfort. That’s why we will spent much of our time on verse 17.
The reason why we need not be ashamed of the gospel.
But before we go there, let’s answer the question “why we need not be ashamed of the gospel?” first. Let’s look at the preceding text where verse 17 was used to support. In verse 16, Paul said that he is 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. Verse 16b is the reason why Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel, take note of the conjunction “for”. Meaning, his confidence was based on God’s power. But what is “the power of God” being referred to here? Is it the power of God by which one is converted or regenerated from spiritual death to spiritual life? Or is it God’s power to bring to ultimate or final salvation those who will keep on believing? Both are true statements and can be supported by different passages of scriptures. But in verse 16, which is it? I would argue that it is the latter. It is God’s power to bring those who would continue in faith to final salvation. I say that because of the present participle “believes”. It is a present ongoing faith. Yes we are said to be saved when we are regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit through his word, but here it is a salvation that is promised to those who persevere in faith. Don’t get me wrong, those whom God regenerated are the same people who will continue believing and hence eventually be saved. However, what is being stressed here is the ongoing power of God for salvation to those who will keep believing. We don’t have to be ashamed of the gospel because the gospel is not a power that will just get you half way through, its power is as good as the continuing faith wrought by the Holy Spirit through the same gospel.
What is the “righteousness of God”?
We can now turn to verse 17 because verse 16b is being supported by it. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed..”, again take note of that little word “for”. Indeed it is the reason or grounds, but it is the one where Martin Luther got into trouble.the gospel is not a power that will just get you half way through, its power is as good as the continuing faith wrought by the Holy Spirit through the same gospel. For him, how can this be good news? Since I am unrighteous, and God is righteous, this is no gospel. No sinner can stand at the sight of a righteous and holy God. Brother Martin said this because at that time, he only had one category of “righteousness of God” in his mind, namely God’s attribute of righteousness. However, there are at least three ways scholars view the genitive “of God”.
So which is it? I assert that Paul intended it to be nuanced. Meaning it doesn’t have to be “either or”. They’re all in the mind of Paul when he said “righteousness of God” in verse 17. Here are at least 3 reasons why I believe that’s the case:
Therefore the gospel is God’s power for salvation, because it reveals that God is righteous and demands righteousness, that God is the source of righteousness, that God counts us righteous through our faith, and that God will vindicate his righteousness.
What does “from faith for faith” means?
This phrase, again is a matter of much debate. That’s where life and death hangs on: conjunctions, genitives and prepositions. Isn’t that amazing? Now we’re asking what Paul meant by the prepositions “from and for”. The greek ek denotes origin, and eis denotes direction, destination or goal. Those are the greek roots for the words exegesis and eisegesis. But here it is origin and goal. I take that to mean that from start to finish, the entirety of Christian life is of faith. Others interpreted it to be “from the faith (or faithfulness) of Christ to the faith of believers”. It’s more of causation and origin. I think it’s unlikely because of the parallelism Paul made with Habakkuk 2:4. From faith for faith is like saying “a life of faith”.
John Piper also offered his interpretation of the text that I think is not that far from my own. 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 is indeed a good parallel:
“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”
See how grammatically it has the same structure with Romans 1:17a? So the key in understanding “from faith for faith” is how you interpret “from death to death” and “from life to life”. Here’s a quote from John Piper:
“The most natural interpretation seems to be: when Paul’s message and sufferings meet with death in the soul, that leads to the final death of the soul. And when his message and sufferings meet with spiritual life, that leads to final life. Death is unresponsive to the gospel and is confirmed in its deadness forever. Spiritual life is responsive to the gospel and is confirmed and preserved for eternal life. So here in Romans 1:17 it says, ‘The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.’ That is, when the revelation of the gift of righteousness meets with faith it leads to future faith. Faith is the initial window of the soul that lets the light of the revelation of righteousness in. And when the light of God’s gift of righteousness comes in by faith, it powerfully works to awaken and sustain and engender more and more faith for the years to come.”
It is not at all uncommon in the new testament that the command of faith is that of a persevering one. Saving faith is a living and abiding faith. And since the gospel is the power of God for final salvation, and faith cometh by hearing and hearing the gospel(the word of God) then this would mean that we should be utterly dependent on the gospel. Not only when we first believed it, but also with the rest of our lives. We can never outgrow the gospel. If we are to be finally saved, we need to live by, rest on, and get our strength from it.
The gift of the Father to the world(v.35)
The gift of Bread(35a) – Here is the first of the seven I AM’s of Jesus.
The greek verb to be, “ego eimi”, is a rare construct in the new testament, yet it appears in John’s gospel account every time Jesus says “I am.” It is the same verbal construction found in Exodus 3:14, in the greek Septuagint, where God declares of Himself: “I am who I am.
So when Christ says “I am the Bread of Life”, he is not merely using a metaphor to describe his work and purpose, but also to describe his nature, his deity. Therefore in that sense, the gift or offer of God(Father) to the world is God(Son) himself.
The nature of saving faith (35b-35c)
Take note of the parallelism between “coming to Jesus” in v. 35b and “believing in Jesus” in v. 35c. For the apostle John, these terms are interchangeable, both referring to a positive response to Jesus (see John 3:17-21). John’s use of ‘craving’ language denotes more than mental assent. It shows satisfaction in God himself, more specifically in Christ. Since coming to Christ for the satisfaction of our hunger and thirst is used interchangeably with believing, therefore it is oxymoron to say that you believe in Christ and at the same time he is not your soul’s satisfaction.
The world’s rejection of the gift of the Father(v.36)
• Their rejection through their motives (6:26)
• Their rejection through their self reliance (6:27-28)
• Their rejection through their hearts’ desires (6:31, 6:34)
It doesn’t take to be regenerated for us to desire the things that only God can provide, but it does so for us to desire God himself.
The gift of the Father to the Son (v.37)
God’s giving of the chosen ones to the Son
The first time I heard of the Gospel, it sounded like I’m very important to God. As if I’m intrinsically valuable and that he his even willing to send his Son to die for my own sake primarily. It never crossed my mind that it’s just secondary. It is just a means to an end, and not an end in of itself. I never thought that my salvation is but a tiny part of the emotional dynamics within the Trinity. The Father chose a gift, the Holy Spirit seals it, and the Son receives it, cleanse it, and will present it again to the Father. Oh how magnificent that is!
The giving of God grounds our coming to the Son.(v.37a – 37b)
• This implies that not all are given to Son because not all believed.
• But it also implies that no one who truly believes in Christ will be cast out because they are not chosen or given by the Father.
• If you are truly believing in Christ, you have been given first by the Father to the Son. (6:44-45, 6:65)
Christ receives and will keep the gift of the Father(v.37d-40)
Why would Christ not only will not cast out those who would truly believe but also kept them?
The answer to this question is our main point, and I would argue that this is the main point of Jesus’ ministry. Namely, the purpose of Christ in coming down from heaven. Jesus said in v.38 “for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent.” See also John 17:1-5, 5:30, 4:34
What is the will of the Father?
The Father’s will is that Christ will receive his own and keep them. Or another way to put it; those who are truly believing in Christ, will not only have eternal life now but also will be raised by him on the last day. And it’s all for the glory of God. See also John 3:16-17, 6:44-5, 17:9-26, Ephesians 1:11
One and the same
Those that were given by Father, those whom he draws, those who will come and believe, those who will be kept, and those who will be raised, are the same group. There are no dropouts! I won’t be surprised where Paul got his doctrine. See Romans 8:29-30
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Prison letter of Joy
The forms of the word “Joy” occur sixteen times in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The irony of course is that those sweet words were spoken while he was in prison (perhaps in Rome, about to face his trial and execution). In his litany of sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29, we can see that he had been imprisoned many times before and had already experienced the worst, but still, he was able to rejoice.