Pastor’s Class Notes
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Romans 1:17a “For therein is the righteousness of God
“Therein” refers to the Gospel of which Paul is not ashamed (v. 16). In the Gospel–Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection–we see revealed “the righteousness of God.” How do we see it revealed there?
First, we see God dealing with sin. If God did not deal with sin, He would be inconsistent. By nature He has to be anti-sin. At the cross we see God requiring just payment for sin.
We see there an innocent man suffering, bearing pain because of sin. We see God dealing justly with sin. The cross graphically teaches that God punishes sin. This is an undeniable aspect of God’s righteousness.
Unfortunately, this is as far as many get in their definition of righteousness. That was the position of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. When they described God as righteous, they essentially meant He is angry at sin. If sinners did not appease the righteousness of God (through enough good works and the sacraments) there was everlasting damnation as a consequence.
For a long time this was all Martin Luther could see, and he hated it, but then came the revelation: Righteousness is not only something God has; it is also something He gives away. This is the other aspect of God’s righteousness revealed in the Gospel.
God had every right to smite and doom the human race. He could have done it and been just, but chose instead to act toward us in such a way that all His claims against the sinner have been satisfied upon a Substitute, His Son. Man’s guilt is taken away because borne by Another.
Man cannot be saved without righteousness, but man on his own neither has righteousness nor can he produce righteousness. “There is none righteous, no, not one (RM 3:20).” “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). “Filthy rags” referred to the dressings women used during their menstrual cycle. Even our best deeds can no more buy salvation than could a rag used to absorb a menstrual flow.
Man needs righteousness, but only God has it. In love He offers it to man as a gift based upon Christ’s redeeming work. The righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel and therein offered to us. At the cross God not only dealt with sin but also with sinners. “(God) hath made (Jesus) to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Jesus Himself paid the debt we owe so that we could receive the righteousness of God. Jesus Himself becomes our righteousness (I Cor. 1:30). Once He is accepted, the sinner possesses righteousness. The same righteousness which results in condemnation when rejected is the same righteousness which saves when accepted. To have righteousness, one must have Jesus. Therefore, we raise the question, “How can one receive Jesus?”
Romans 1:17b “. . .from faith to faith;”
“From” here means “out of”; it denotes “source.” The medium whereby righteousness comes is faith. The source of new life in Christ is faith. “To” faith means the new life carries us on to more and more faith. The new life begins with faith and leads on to deeper faith. It is received by faith and continually depends upon faith. Every moment we live by faith.
Faith is a oneness based on total acceptance and absolute trust. It is a total surrender and yieldedness. Faith means staking your all on God, placing your total confidence in the Lord, and depending on nothing else.
All reliance upon our own merit must be unravelled. No man can put on the robes of Christ’s righteousness till he has taken off trust in his own righteousness. Christ will not be a partner in our salvation. He will not allow it to be said He divided the work of salvation with us.
We are saved solely because of Jesus, and our success in the Christian life is wholly dependent on Jesus’ power. A believer’s life begins and thrives on faith. Baptists tend to jump from justification by faith to sanctification by works, but to live before God means always standing before Him and saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
We live by learning to lean more and more upon God. Prince Bismarck said, “sever my connection with God, and I am the man to pack up my trunks tomorrow, and go back to my country residence.” He knew he could not occupy his difficult position unless he could depend upon God. We need to live all of life leaning on and trusting in the Lord.
Stevenson said, “I believe in God, and if I woke up in Hell, I would still believe in Him.” This is a good sentiment, but not enough. We need to believe He is, and then to rely upon His power and promises.
When Ralph Erskine lay upon his death-bed, one of the bystanders said, “I hope, sir, you have some blinks of sunshine to cheer you in the valley.” The answer was: “I had rather have one promise of my God than all the blinks of sunshine that ever shone.”
However dark and dreary the way, walk by faith. Lean on Him. Trust His Word. Believe His promises. Cling to Him as if there is nothing else to cling to, for there isn’t. Whatever your burden, take it to Him. Our smallest cares are often the ones with which we need the most help. It has been beautifully said, “while God is great in great things, He is greatest in little things.” Take to Him your ounces of troubles as well as the pounds and tons. Learn to live by faith; it is all we have, for . . . .
Romans 1:17c “. . .As it is written, the just shall live by
This was not a new idea. It was first written in Habakkuk 2:4, and Paul quoted it here (the phrase also occurs in GL 3:11 and HB 10:38). Any phrase repeated four times in Scripture is of utmost importance and indeed worthy of our investigation.
Unfortunately, the phrase has lost its cutting edge due to being often quoted. It is like a well-worn coin. Re-wording it may help restore its essence. It is also helpful to replace the word “just” with its more appropriate rendering, “righteous.”
“He who through faith is righteous is the one who shall live.”
“He who is righteous by faith is the one who shall live.”
We lost our position with God in the Garden of Eden through unbelief, the lack of faith. When we return to trust once again, God receives us back into fellowship with Himself.
The Garden, and all its goodness, were given by grace, not merit. God walked with Adam due to grace, not merit. The Lord still walks with man this way.
“The just shall live by faith”–this phrase altered the course of history. It has had as profound an effect upon our history as has the Magna Carta or the Declaration of Independence. Carlyle once said, “The moment in which Luther defied the wrath of the Diet of Worms was the greatest moment in the history of men.” When this phrase awoke in the mind of Luther, it was as though the window shades of Europe were suddenly thrown open, and the sunshine flooded in. Again God said, “Let there be light!” and there was light.
Before understanding this verse, Luther had always assumed God gloated over his misery. His whole life had been an agony. He felt salvation was attained through works, fasting, penance, fear, sacraments. He thought of God as One who delighted in the continuous torments of His subjects. He had a distorted concept of God’s righteousness.
He was often heard in the monastery galleries, the walls echoing his dismal moanings. His body wasted to a skeleton, and he was on occasions found in a swoon on the monastery floor and picked up for dead. He later confessed, “I hated God and was angry with Him.” When Luther finally grasped the meaning of our text, he said, “Then I felt born again like a new man; I entered through the open doors into the very Paradise of God!”
Lost man, how do you intend to be right with God? The Scriptures plainly teach your goodness cannot save you. What alternative do you offer for being right with God? On what ground can you rightfully excuse your unbelief? Would you rather perish than believe? You can live only through faith in Christ.