I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (verses 16-17)
Paul, the former Pharisee, who’d struggled earnestly to prove himself righteous before God, now simply rejoices in declaring a righteousness “that is by faith from first to last.” No more struggle to attain. Amen! Instead, there is a confident reliance on the “power of God” himself for salvation. What joy!
This is the basis of the Gospel, pure and simple – a righteousness that is by faith. Christ has died for us, taking our sin upon himself. We place faith in his finished work. We are forgiven and receive a righteousness from God that we could never, ever produce on our own.
This became one of the defining insights that the Reformer, Martin Luther, rediscovered in the scriptures, bringing renewal to the whole church. Luther had struggled long and hard to produce his own righteousness, engaging all the disciplines of life as a monk – fasting, praying, whipping his body (literally), going without sleep – all in an effort to subdue sin and grow righteousness.
But it didn’t work. Rather than finding peace with God, Luther found himself guilt-ridden and fearful. Much of it was provoked by his misunderstanding of this word “righteousness.”
“I hated that word, ‘the righteousness of God,’" he wrote, "by which I had been taught according to the custom and use of all teachers … (that) God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.” When he read Paul’s phrase “the righteous will live by faith” (verse 17), he understood it to mean that he was required to attain righteousness in his own strength in order that he might then go on to live the life of faith. The teaching seemed to him clear and straightforward and absolutely daunting.
But then came the breakthrough. It came through meditation on this very verse. “At last meditating day and night, by the mercy of God I … began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith … Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.”
This is the glorious good news of the Gospel of Jesus. Paul will unpack more of this wondrous insight over the next number of chapters. But here we have it in a nutshell: “The righteous will live by faith.” It’s no longer up to us to impossibly whip ourselves into shape. No. Instead we receive the gift that God himself offers, embracing it by faith. He declares us righteous in Jesus. We then live in that freedom and newness.
Father, thank you for the gift of your Son, given as a sacrifice of atonement. What wonder! Through faith, I receive the gift you offer – a righteousness that is by faith, from first to last.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, that you have paid the price. My sins are forgiven, fully and completely. I stand confidently in you, declared righteous by the Father, all because of you.
Praise your name, righteous Lord. Amen.
Give thanks: This is the wonder of the Gospel, that in Christ a righteousness from God has now been given. If you have never before consciously received this gift by faith for yourself, now is the time. If you have already received the gift, give thanks, remembering all day that “the righteous will live by faith.”