Sermon preached on Romans 1:16-17 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 4/15/2012 in Novato, CA.
Note: Audio not available for this sermon due to technical difficulties. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“For I Am Not Ashamed”
Paul made no apology for preaching the gospel. Well, actually he did if you know the different ways the word apology can be used. The most normal way we use that word is when someone expresses regret and sorrow. They say that they are sorry and apologize for their actions. Well, Paul makes no apology in that sense for his preaching of the gospel. And yet the other way the word “apology” can be used is as a defense or justification for your actions or beliefs. That’s where we get the word apologetics. A reasoned defense of something. And that is exactly what Paul is doing here, at least in a very brief way. Paul is telling us why he has no regrets for preaching the gospel. Paul is explaining why he is so passionate and bold about it. Paul is introducing this right here, and it something that he’ll be talking about for the most part in this letter. We just finished studying through the opening greetings of this letter. Now, these two verses introduce us to what Paul’s going to be talking about. They are thematic for this letter. He’s going to be telling us about the gospel. And he’s going to tell us about how that relates to our justification and our overall salvation.
You’ll notice in your outline for today the three basic points we’ll cover. We’ll start first thinking about the gospel in general. Second, we’ll think about the power of God. Third, we’ll think about the concept of righteousness in connection with the concept of faith. These three points will flush out Paul’s developing thought about the gospel and why he is not ashamed to be proclaiming it. And if it helps you organize this in your mind, realize that these three points are basically following the structure in these two verses. There are three main connecting words in the Greek that string these ideas together in these verses. They are translated with the word “for” in our pew bibles. Verse 16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.” That’s roughly where we’ll draw from for point one. Next in verse 16, “For it is the power of God to salvation”. That’s where we’ll go for point two. Then in verse 17, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.” So, there are these three keywords translated as “for” in these verses. The point is that Paul is developing this train of thought, and all the “for’s” are connecting up the different ideas. We’ll try to bring out that connection as we deal with each.
So, let’s begin with point one about the gospel. Again, it starts here with the word “for.” That connects us with the previous passage. In verse 15, Paul had just told them how eager he was to come and preach the gospel to them. Now he tells us why. Why is he eager to preach to them? “For he’s not ashamed of the gospel.” The gospel, of course, is the message that he’s going to be bringing to them. Remember, as an Apostle, he had been ordained by God for this very task. To be a witness to Christ and to communicate his message to the world.
Well, the word gospel means “good news.” And so his job was to communicate this good news. Let’s make sure we all know what this good news is. The gospel is simply the message that tells us about what Christ did and how that is relevant for us and for our salvation. You can state the gospel with more words or with less. One of the shortest summaries of the gospel is what Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:15. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” One of the most memorable summaries of the gospel of course is John 3:16, which is also a pretty succinct way of saying it. But basically in my own words, the gospel is that God sent his only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, down to this earth. Jesus being both God and man lived a perfect life of righteousness on earth. He then died on the cross to pay the penalty for the sins of his people, suffering God’s wrath on the cross. He rose again the third day and ascended up into heaven. He reigns on high now, and is coming again to bring a final day of judgment to some but a day of great blessing for others. The good news in all of this, is that we can find salvation from that final day of judgment and instead receive eternal blessed life by repenting and trusting in Christ by faith. We receive and believe that his life and death and resurrection has secured our salvation. That he lived the life we could not live, and paid the penalty for our sins which we could not pay. We receive this by faith, trusting in Christ and in this gospel.
And so Paul thought it important to communicate again to them the gospel. It’s something that unbelievers need to hear. And it something that believers need to keep hearing. And that’s why we preach this every week here at Trinity. This is not something we are going to apologize for. It is something we’ll defend. Something we’ll be bold and passionate about.
Well, Paul then goes on to tell us his reason why he is not ashamed of the gospel. This transitions then into the second point. Why is he not ashamed to preach the gospel? “For it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” I love that. This is God’s power. The gospel is God’s power. His power to accomplish something specific. Power to bring salvation. Salvation from sin and death. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 1:21. He says there that the world thinks the gospel is foolishness, but in God’s wisdom he uses the preaching of the gospel to save those who believe. Same idea there as in here. The gospel is God’s power to save. He uses it to bring salvation to people.
A similar reference of Paul is in 1 Thessalonians 1:5. There he says that when he preached the gospel to the Thessalonians it did not come only in word, but also in power and with the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. Now some have thought that Paul meant there that there were miraculous things going on when he preached. That’s possible. But probably more likely Paul was talking there about the same thing he’s talking about here. There’s power in the words. There’s power in the gospel. It’s is God’s power to bring salvation. This is how God chooses to save people. By the preached gospel. This should not surprise us though. Because the gospel is part of God’s Word. And we know God’s Word is living and powerful and sharper than any two edged sword, Hebrews 4:12. God’s Word is powerful. The gospel is powerful. Powerful to save.
And yet it’s important to clarify this. As powerful as the gospel is to save, we shouldn’t think that it’s like some magic spell or incantation. It’s not like the mere bare proclamation of the gospel has some effect to save all who hear it. No, Paul’s so very clear here and in this entire letter. Verse 16 says that this power to save is to everyone who believes. Faith is a requirement here. Faith in receiving this message as true is needed for this power to be realized in someone’s life. In other words, the gospel’s power to save does not have a saving effect in someone who hears the gospel but doesn’t believe it. Now this is not to take away from the fact that we learn elsewhere that faith is a gift of God. That no one can truly believe without the Spirit enlivening their hearts. But that’s a point for a different day. Here the point is that God’s power to save comes in the gospel, but only to those who believe in the gospel. This explains why some people hear the gospel and don’t experience this power. Faith is needed to experience this power.
On the other hand, if someone does believe in the gospel, they do in fact benefit from this power to save. That’s why it says that this power is for everyone who believes. If you have truly trusted in the gospel, then you don’t need to do doubt that you’ve experienced this saving power. If you have this faith, then you have this salvation. And this is regardless of any worldly distinctions. We get that here in the last part of the verse. This is a salvation for the Jew first, and also to the Greek. This salvation came through the line of the Jews, as it was promised all the way back to Father Abraham, and again through Moses, and to King David, then via the Jewish prophets. And yet this is not only a salvation for Jews. It’s salvation for Jews and Gentiles. For any and all who believe. This of course means that Jews need to believe if they are going to be saved. And we Gentiles need to believe if we are going to be saved. But the point is that no cultural or social barriers exist for this gospel. You don’t have to speak a certain language, or be from a certain country. The gospel is for every tongue, tribe, and nation. For all who believe, they have experienced this mighty power of God to save through the preaching of the gospel.
Referring back to 1 Thessalonians again — this explains why Paul was so excited when he preached to the Thessalonians, because it did come in power. He saw that power by the conviction that the Thessalonians had that the gospel was true. Paul saw that as a work of the Spirit as he preached. It excited him. And it excites us! That’s powerful. When you see people turn and believe and be saved – that’s God’s power being demonstrated.
I think then it would be fitting to pause and consider the alternative view point here. You see, the thrust of Paul’s point here is that he’s not ashamed to preach like this, because of the power. But contrast this with the world’s idea on power. What ideas are out there in the rest of the world back then and today that claim such power. Power to bring some kind of salvation to people. Broadly speaking, there are lots of claims to such power. It’s these alternative claims to power that the gospel stands in contrast to. In contrast to these other claims to power, Paul stands confident and unashamed that the gospel is the real divine power that we need.
So think about some of these alternative power schemes proposed by different groups in the world. Some claim that we need to have the power of eastern meditation, or the power of breath, or even the power of candles. Some think we can find our needed power in social justice, power to change the world. Some want to find our power in efforts to address the social and moral problems of the day. Some think we can find power if we could just get Israel back to its former borders. Some find power in psychotherapy. Some think their power comes from the size of their nation’s armies. Some put their hope in the power of modern medicine. For some, they think the power of salvation is found in the 12 step program. Some try to find their power in community service. Some think that such power comes in the power of positive thinking. Lots of self-help tapes and speaker will tell you that. Dare I even say that some think their power to be saved comes from the bare, outward, acts of religion. Going to church, putting money in the plate, even outwardly receiving the sacraments. But even those things too, are of no use, if you haven’t inwardly come to know the power talked about here in verse 16. The power that comes to those who believe in the gospel.
Don’t get me wrong. Some of the things I just mentioned have some value in themselves. Some of those things have no value in themselves. But if anyone makes them their religion, then they’ve missed the real power God has. If anyone makes them their gospel, then they’ve missed the real gospel God has. If anyone makes them their way to find or bring salvation, then they’ve missed the real salvation God has. No, we affirm today that the gospel that the apostles proclaimed, that is the power of God to save to everyone who believes. That’s the power we really need to embrace. The world will try to make those other things attractive. But we need to realize that when we talk about finding Biblical “power,” the gospel really is that. The gospel really is powerful. It is God’s power. Believe that. Recognize it. Trust it. Our salvation is not in any of those other things of the world. It is in Christ and the gospel.
Paul then turns to further describe in what way we are saved by the power of the gospel. How is the gospel powerful to save? How does it save those who believe? Verse 17. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.” This then is our third point. To see how Paul explains how the gospel powerfully saves us with this discussion of righteousness and faith. Let me start then by making this assertion. What we have in verse 17 is the connection of the gospel with our justification. In the Greek language, the words righteousness, justice, and justification all come from the same root word. So, for example, in our pew Bibles in verse 17 we see both the word “righteousness” and the word “just”. These come from the same root word in the Greek. They are intimately related. And what’s being introduced then in verse 17 is the concept of how our justification is tied up with the gospel. And how that relates to our faith. Namely it’s faith in the gospel that results in us being justified – right before God. That’s put in very basic terms here. It’s really only in summary form. It’s what Paul will talk about in great detail in this letter. But there’s a snapshot of it here.
We see this in the language of God’s righteousness. The righteousness of God it says is revealed in this saving work of the gospel. What does this refer to? Well, it seems best to understand this “righteousness of God” as something the believer receives from God. The believer has a righteousness from God. From God, through Christ, in the gospel. In other words, this gets at the idea of imputation. Our sin is imputed to Christ on the cross. He bears the penalty for that. Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us by faith, and so Christ’s righteousness is accredited to our account. The gospel tells us that by faith we can be declared righteous then before God. A righteousness that’s not of ourselves, it is the gift of God. A righteousness that comes from Christ and from his obedience.
This understanding of that phrase “the righteousness of God” or “from God” is confirmed by the quote Paul makes from the Old Testament. He quotes Habakkuk 2:4 that the just person, or the righteous person, shall live by faith. Paul gives a proof text for his assertion here by pointing to Habakkuk. The righteous live by faith. It’s not simply that the righteous will also be faithful. Rather, it’s that someone is accounted righteous through their faith. Faith in God and his promises. Faith in Christ and the gospel. Paul shows that this which is so clear in the New Testament, was already present in substance in the old.
Now, to be fair, this short verse 17 doesn’t spell this all out in great detail. It’s all very compactly stated here. But this is like a thematic introduction for what Paul will be talking about. You use the rest of the letter to see how explains this. That helps us to understand all this connection of righteousness and faith, and how it relates to Christ and the gospel. So, for example, in Romans 2, he’ll describe that God’s righteous judgment is right to condemn all humans, apart from Christ, to hell according to the terms of his law. In Romans 3 he establishes how no human is righteous on their own. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Then in Romans 4 he explains how someone could be declared righteous nonetheless, not by works of the law, but by faith. He uses even the example of Abraham in the Old Testament to show that. That fits with his quote here from Habakkuk. Then in Romans 5 he especially brings out the imputation concept. How Christ’s righteousness is credited to our account. We see then God is righteous to declare us righteous in our justification. Because through faith in Christ and the gospel, our sins our imputed to Christ, and his righteousness is imputed to him. Justice is satisfied, so we are declared right before God, and God is so very right to make that declaration. God is glorified in this all! I could go on further in Romans, but even just these opening chapters that I just mentioned flush this out pretty well. The letter goes on to develop and flush these principles out further. We’ll see that as we study this letter.
Of course, verse 17 rightly emphasizes the faith aspect. Just like verse 16 mentioned that the gospel power is to save those who believe. Faith again is highlighted and emphasized in verse 17. It’s mentioned first in Paul’s assertion in the first half of the verse. The righteousness of God from faith to faith. Then in the Habakkuk quote, faith is again mentioned as the way a righteous person lives. They live by faith. That first phrase of faith in verse 17, “from faith to faith” is especially rich. It’s one people have struggled to fully appreciate the significance of it. Is it saying that from start to finish our justification involves faith? Is it talking about the degrees of our faith? Is it another way to say “faith alone.” These and other suggestions have been made. Maybe there is something of the majesty of this phrase that is either lost in translation or something our minds just begin to understand. But in all the suggestions, they all seem to get at the greatness of faith here. That there is something emphatic about our faith in all of this. And it seems that it’s in contrast to the idea of righteousness. The human default thinking when it comes to righteousness is not faith. The human default thinking is that if you are to be righteous, then you have to live an ethical life. We default to analyzing someone’s righteousness by their actions. But Paul’s point in this letter, is that’s where we fall short. And that’s why we need a different kind of righteousness. A righteousness that comes through faith. Faith in Christ. Faith in what Christ did for us. And what Christ did for us, we explain in the gospel. But if we have faith in that, then we have the righteousness described here. We are declared right before God. We are justified. We are those who have experienced the salvation of God.
So, hopefully now the pieces are starting to fall into place from these two verses. Hopefully you are beginning to see the train of thought Paul has been giving us. He so eagerly wants to preach the gospel to the Romans, because he’s not ashamed of this gospel. But he’s not ashamed of this gospel because it’s God’s powerful means to bring salvation to people through faith. And it’s powerful to save because it brings people into contact with the work of Christ. His work which satisfies our debt of sin through the atonement of the cross. And his work of righteousness which lived the way we should have lived. As we are connected to this work of Christ by faith, we are united to him, and we receive this salvation. God then justly declares us righteous; right before God. A righteousness by faith.
This is what excites Paul. This is what he is passionate about and can’t wait to preach to the Romans in person. This is what he writes about. This is what everyone needs to hear. And we all ought to respond in faith and experience the power of it! For us who have responded in faith, you have indeed experienced the power of it. And any here today who have not turned and believed, then that is my call for you today.
So then, brothers and sisters, let us too not be ashamed of this gospel. Let us not be ashamed to tell others about it. Let us not have to feel funny or embarrassed when we try to explain it to others like we have to make some excuse for it. It is powerful to save to everyone who believes. Not everyone will believe. But let that not make us lose boldness. Let us be bold because we ourselves have known its power. Praise God that! Amen.
Copyright (c) 2012 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.