(We are continuing a series of articles commenting on Paul’s epistle to the Romans. We pray that you will be blessed by these articles. Editor)
The Gospel Defined
Romans 1:16, 17
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. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
“Not Ashamed”—There is no reason why any man should be ashamed of the gospel; nevertheless, many men have been and are ashamed of it. Many people are so ashamed of it that they could not think of lowering themselves so much as to make a profession of it; and many who do make a profession of it are ashamed to let it be known. What is the cause of all this shame? It is that they do not know what the gospel is. No man who really knows what the gospel is, will be ashamed of it, or of any part of it.
Desire for Power—There is nothing that men desire so much as power. It is a desire that God himself has planted in man. Unfortunately, the devil has deceived most of mankind, so that they seek for power in the wrong way. They think that it can be found in the possession of wealth or political position, and so they rush to secure those things. But these do not supply the power for which God has created the desire. This is shown by the fact that they do not satisfy.
No man was ever yet satisfied with the power that he obtained by wealth or position. However much they have, they desire more. No man finds in them just what he thought he would; and so he grasps after more, thinking that he will find his heart’s desire farther on; but all in vain. Christ is “the desire of all nations” (Haggai 2:7), the only Source of complete satisfaction, because he is the embodiment of all the real power there is in the universe, the power of God. “Christ the power of God.” (l Corinthians 1:24)
Power and Knowledge—It is commonly said that knowledge is power. That depends. If we take the statement of the poet, that “the proper study of mankind is man,” then certainly knowledge is anything but power. Man is nothing but weakness and sin. All men know that they are sinners, that they do things that are not right, but that knowledge gives them no power to change their course. You may tell a man all his faults, and if you tell him nothing more, you have weakened rather that strengthened him.
But he who with the apostle Paul determines to know nothing “save Jesus Christ and him crucified,” has knowledge that is power. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) To know Christ is to know the power of his endless life. It is for lack of this knowledge that men are destroyed. (Hosea 4:6) But since Christ is the power of God, it is quite correct to say that power is the one thing that men need; and the only real power, the power of God, is revealed in the gospel.
The Glory of Power—All men honor power. Wherever power is manifested, there will always be found men to admire. There is no one who does not admire and applaud power in some form. Powerful muscles are admired and boasted of, whether they be those of man or of beast. A mighty engine that moves vast weights with ease always attracts attention, and men honor the one who constructed it. The man of wealth, whose money can command the service of thousands, always has admirers, no matter how his money is obtained. The man of noble birth and position, or the monarch of a great nation, has multitudes of followers who applaud his power. Men desire to be connected with such an one, because they derive a certain dignity from the connection, although the power is not transferable.
But all the power of earth is frail and but for a moment, while the power of God is eternal. The gospel is the power, and if men would but recognize it for what it is, there would not be any who would be ashamed of it. Paul said, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 6:14) The reason for this was that the cross is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18) The power of God, in whatever form manifested, is glory, and not for shame.
Christ not Ashamed—Concerning Christ we read, “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” (Hebrews 2:11) “God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:16) Surely if the Lord is not ashamed to be called the brother of poor, weak, sinful mortals, man has no reason to be ashamed of him. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” (1 John 3:1) Ashamed of the gospel of Christ! Could there possibly be a worse case of the exaltation of self above God? For to be ashamed of the gospel of Christ, which is the power of God, is an evidence that the man who feels thus ashamed really thinks himself superior to God, and that it is a lowering of his dignity to be associated with the Lord.
“Ashamed of Jesus! sooner far
Let evening blush to own a star;
He sheds the beams of light divine
O’er this benighted soul of mine.
“Ashamed of Jesus! just as soon
Let midnight be ashamed of noon;
‘Twas midnight with my soul till he,
Bright Morning Star, bade darkness flee.”
Saved by Faith—The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes. “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8) “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” (Mark 16:16) “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” (John 1:12) “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” (Romans 10:10) “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” (John 6:29) Faith works!
Time would fail to tell of those “who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises,… out of weakness were made strong,” etc. (Hebrews 11:33, 34) Men may say, “I can not see how it is possible for one to be made righteous simply by believing.” It makes no difference what you can see; you are not saved by sight, but by faith. You do not need to see how it is done, because it is the Lord who does the work of saving. Christ dwells in the heart by faith (Ephesians 3:17), and because he is our righteousness, “he also is become my salvation.” (Isaiah 12:2) We shall have salvation by faith illustrated more fully as we proceed in our study, because the book of Romans is devoted wholly to this one thing.
“To the Jew First”—When Peter, at the request of Cornelius, the Roman centurion, and the command of the Lord, went to Caesarea to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, his first words when he heard the story of Cornelius were, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” (Acts 10:34, 35)
This was the first time Peter had ever perceived that truth, but it was not the first time that that thing was true. It had been a truth as long as God had existed. God never chose anybody to the exclusion of anybody else. The wisdom that comes from above is “without partiality.” (James 3:17) It is true that the Jews, as a nation, were wonderfully favored by the Lord: but they lost all their privileges simply because they assumed that God loved them better than he did anybody else, and were exclusive. All through their history God was trying to make them see that what he offered them was for the whole world, and that they were to pass on to others the light and privileges which they shared.
The cases of Naaman, the Syrian, and of the Ninevites to whom Jonah was sent, are among the many instances by which God sought to show the Jews that he was no respecter of persons.
Then why was the gospel preached “to the Jew first”? Simply because the Jews were nearest. Christ was crucified at Jerusalem. It was from there that he commissioned his disciples to preach the gospel. At his ascension he said, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) It was most natural that they should begin to preach the gospel in the place and to the people nearest them. This is the secret of all missionary work. He who does not labor in the gospel in his home, will not do any gospel work although he goes to a foreign country.
The Righteousness of God—The Lord says: “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished. Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law.” (Isaiah 51:6, 7) “My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness.” (Psalm 119:172)
The righteousness of God, therefore, is his law. Let this not be forgotten. The term “the righteousness of God” occurs frequently in the book of Romans, and much confusion has resulted from giving it arbitrary and varying definitions. If we accept the definition given in the Bible, and do not abandon it in any instance, it will simplify matters very much. The righteousness of God is his perfect law.
Righteousness and Life—But the Ten Commandments, whether engraved on tables of stone or written in a book, are only the statement of the righteousness of God. Righteousness means right doing. It is active. The righteousness of God is God’s right doing, his way. And since all his ways are right, it follows that the righteousness of God is nothing less than the life of God. The written law is not action, but is only a description of the action. It is a picture of the character of God.
The very life and character of God are seen in Jesus Christ, in whose heart was the law of God. There can be no righteousness without action. And as there is none good but God, it follows that there is no righteousness except in the life of God. Righteousness and the life of God are one and the same thing.
Righteousness in the Gospel—“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed.” (Romans 1:17) Wherein? In the gospel! Bear in mind that the righteousness of God is his perfect law, a statement of which is found in the Ten Commandments. There is no such thing as a conflict between the law and the gospel. Indeed, there are not in reality two such things as the law and the gospel. The true law of God is the gospel; for the law is the life of God, which was in Christ (John 14:10), and we are “saved by his life.” (Romans 5:10) The gospel reveals the righteous law of God, because the gospel has the law in itself. There can be no gospel without law. Whoever ignores or rejects the law of God, has no knowledge whatever of the gospel.
The First View—Jesus said that the Holy Spirit should convince the world of sin and of righteousness. (John 16:8) This is the revelation of the righteousness of God in the gospel. “Where no law is, there is no transgression.” (Romans 4:15) Sin cannot be known except by the law. (Romans 7:7) Therefore it follows that the Spirit convicts of sin by making known the law of God. The first view of the righteousness of God has the effect of making a man feel his sinfulness, just as we feel our littleness when gazing upon a lofty mountain. And as the grandeur of the great mountains grows upon us, so God’s righteousness which is “like the great mountains” (Psalm 36:6) appears greater the more we look at it. Therefore he who looks continually at the righteousness of God, must continually acknowledge his own sinfulness.
The Second, Deeper View—Jesus Christ is the righteousness of God. And “God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:17) God does not reveal his righteousness in the gospel in order to cause us to cower before him because of our unrighteousness, but that we may take it and live by it. We are unrighteous, and God wishes us to realize it, in order that we may be willing to receive his perfect righteousness. It is a revelation of love; for his righteousness is his law, and his law is love. (1 John 5:3)
So “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just [righteous] to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) If when the preaching of the gospel reveals to us the law of God, we reject it and find fault with it because it condemns our course, we are simply saying that we do not desire that God should put his own righteousness upon us.
Living by Faith—“As it is written, The just shall live by faith.” Christ is “our life.” (Colossians 3:4) We are “saved by his life.” (Romans 5:10) It is by faith that we receive Christ Jesus, for he dwells in our hearts by faith. (Ephesians 3:17) Dwelling in our hearts, he is life, for out of the heart are the issues of life. (Proverbs 4:23)
Now the word comes, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him; rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith.” (Colossians 2:6, 7) As we receive him by faith, and we walk in him as we have received him, we shall “walk by faith, and not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)
“From Faith to Faith”—This seemingly difficult expression, which has been the subject of so much controversy, is very simple when we allow the Scripture to explain itself. In the gospel “the righteousness of God” is “revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” Note that “from faith to faith” is said to be parallel with “the just shall live by faith.” Just means righteous.
The reader has noticed that some versions have “righteous” in 1 John 1:9 where the KJV has “just.” Both are the same. God’s life is righteousness; he desires that our lives shall be righteousness also, and therefore he offers to us his own life. This life becomes ours by faith. That is, just as we live naturally by breathing, so we are to live spiritually by faith, and our whole life is to be spiritual. Faith is the breath of life to the Christian. So just as we naturally live from breath to breath, we are to live spiritually from faith to faith.
We can live but one breath at a time; so we cannot live spiritually except by present faith. If we live a life of conscious dependence upon God, his righteousness will be ours, for we shall breathe it in continually. Faith gives us strength, for those who have exercised it “out of weakness were made strong.” (Hebrews 11:34)
So of those who accept the revelation of God’s righteousness “from faith to faith,” it is said, “They go from strength to strength; every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.” (Psalm 84:7)
Let us not forget that it is from the very words of the Bible that one is to learn. All the real help that any teacher can be to any one in the study of the Bible is to show him how to fix his mind more clearly upon the exact words of the sacred text. Therefore, first of all, read the text over many times. Do not do this hastily, but carefully, paying particular attention to every statement. Do not waste one moment in speculating as to the possible meaning of the text. There is nothing worse than guessing the meaning of a text of Scripture, unless it is the acceptance of somebody else’s guess. Nobody can know any more of the Bible than the Bible itself tells; and the Bible is just as ready to tell its story to one person as to another.
Question the text closely—Probe it again and again, always in a reverent, prayerful spirit, to make it reveal itself. Do not be discouraged if you do not at once see all that there is in the text. Remember that it is the word of God, and that it is infinite in its depth, and that you can never exhaust it. When you come across a difficult statement, go back and consider it in connection with what precedes. Do not think that you can ever get at the full meaning of any text apart from its connection. By constant application to the words of the text, in order to be sure that you know exactly what it says, you will soon have them constantly in your mind; and it is then that you will begin to reap some of the rich fruits of Bible study; for at unexpected times new light will flash from them, and through them from other scriptures as you read.
(To be continued)
(This article was taken from a series of articles printed in The Signs of the Times from October, 1895 through September, 1896. Some editing has been done for this publication. Editor)