Those who are righteous shall live. 1:16-17


In these two verses Paul establishes the theme of his letter, namely that a person who is set right with God possesses, as a natural consequence, the fullness of new life in Christ. Paul writes concerning the gospel, a news-report that both reveals and facilitates the righteousness reign of God - his setting all things right. God is even now vindicating the right and redressing the wrong; he is delivering, from the power of evil, all those who rest in faith on the faithfulness of Christ. Paul says he is not ashamed of this message, for, as he explains, it is the instrument God uses to save sinners.

The passage

v16a. As apostle to the Gentiles, Paul was obliged to preach to non-Jews. and for this reason he wanted to come to Rome to preach. This he is happy to do, for he is not ashamed of the gospel, rather, he is proud of it.

v16b. The gospel is God's means by which his power operates to establish his righteous reign, a reign in which he sets all things right - he saves broken humanity. The message does this via its content, namely, the account of the life and teachings of the person of Jesus Christ who, through his victory on the cross and in his empty tomb, is freely able to offer the results of his obedience to all who ask (all who rest on Jesus' faithfulness, his atoning work on the cross). The "every one" makes the point that the gospel is for both Jew and Gentile alike. The gospel is the means of salvation for both Jew and Gentile.

v17a.In the gospel, "the righteousness of God is being revealed." The righteous / justice word-grouping in the Bible often has an ethical sense, especially in the Old Testament; God is a "right" God. Yet, more importantly there is a dynamic sense to the word. God is not just a God who "is right", but he is a God who "does right." Our God is a God who keeps his promises, he is a covenant-keeping God, a faithful God, a righteous God. This is why the psalmist will sometimes parallel "salvation" with "righteousness"; the righteousness of God is expressed in the salvation of his people. So then, the God who is right, sets things right; he saves his people. The gospel both reveals (offers) and facilitates (realizes) God's righteous reign made possible in the faithful obedience of Christ (Gk. "out of faith / faithfulness"), the benefits of which we appropriate by faith (Gk. "to faith"). It is when we are set right before God, possessing an eternal right-standing in his presence, that the fullness of divine life is ours eternally, cf. Rom.5:17, 10:3, 1Cor.1:30, Phil.3:9.

17b. Paul supports his argument by quoting Habakkuk 2:4b: "he who is righteous on the basis of faith shall live.", rather than the NIV, "the righteous will live by faith". The original idea of this verse concerned the political survival of Israel through steadfast loyalty to God. Paul takes this idea and develops it. The person who is right in the sight of God is the person who rests in faith on the faithfulness of Christ. Such a person will "live", live in the sense of possess the fullness of God's promised blessings - the fullness of life for eternity.

The power of the gospel

When John Wesley grasped the full meaning of St. Paul's doctrine of justification by grace through faith in 1738, the fire of the "Great Awakening" was kindled. The occasion was a prayer meeting in Aldersgate Street in London, at which Martin Luther's "Preface to the Epistle to the Romans" was read. Wesley, like most other Anglican clergy at the time, had forgotten the substance of the gospel. He was a pietist, and so for Wesley, staying a believer and progressing in the Christian life was a matter of effort - obedience to the law of God. Wesley had forgotten that through faith in Christ he was totally acceptable to God, irrespective of his ongoing failings.

At that time, the English church was a dry and cold affair and so most of the revivalists left and formed Wesleyan congregations. Some of those who grasped the full meaning of the gospel and its power to effect salvation for the lost, remained in the Anglican church rather than leave it and join with their "Methodist" friends. They were called "Evangelicals" - believers loyal to the gospel of God's grace, and loyal to the "reformed catholic faith", ie., Anglicanism. They could remain committed to the Anglican church because they understood that the gospel itself is the power of God for the salvation of the lost, not institutional organization. This understanding of the gospel was to fire many other churches and has continued to do so up till today. For example, some years ago the Seventh Day Adventist church in Australia was shaken by a confrontation with the doctrine of justification by grace through faith.

Believers who understand the sovereign grace of God, need to stand up to those who feel duty bound to reinvent their church institution so as to "assist" Christ in building the kingdom. Believers who understand the doctrine of justification can point beyond form, structure, organization..... to the power of the gospel. God achieves the salvation of the lost through the faithful proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel announces that on the basis of Christ's faithful obedience it is now possible to stand right with God and so appropriate the fullness of his promised blessings - life eternal. This blessing is freely available to all who ask Jesus.


It is often argued that worship-form can hinder the gospel. Is this true? Discuss what does hinder the gospel.

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