Romans 1:16-17

Jacobus Erasmus, 14 August 2018

In Romans 1:16-17, Paul writes:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith'. (ESV)

There are several interesting things to note about the above passage. First, the gospel seemed absurd to many. The phrase 'I am not ashamed of the gospel' implies that Paul knew that many in Rome viewed the gospel as absurd. How could a carpenter from Galilee who suffered a disgraceful death be the saviour of the world? In his earlier letter to Corinth, Paul says, 'we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles' (1 Corinthians 1:23 ESV). It took great courage to preach the gospel in the first century, and Paul exhibits such courage powerfully.

Second, contrary to the naysayers, the gospel is the power of God. The Romans understood power well, especially economic power. Yet Paul counters those, who dismiss the gospel as absurd, with the claim that the gospel is the power of God. Unlike worldly power, this power of God has a specific purpose, namely, to rescue or save mankind.

Third, salvation is for everyone who believes. Not only does Paul make the surprising claim that the gospel is the power of God for salvation, but his claim about who salvation is for is just as startling. Salvation, according to Paul, is for everyone who believes. Salvation is not only for those who do good works, or are of a certain nationality, or have good intentions. Rather, every person who believes receives powerful salvation.

Finally, for Paul, belief or faith is the human response to the gospel. In Romans, Paul does not use the term 'faith' to refer to a creed, or a set of beliefs, or an attitude. Rather, he always uses the term to refer to the human response of trust and commitment to the gospel. Commenting on the above passage, the scholar James R. Edwards writes,

For Paul ... Faith is always and only the human response to the gospel. Apart from the work of the cross there can be no faith. Faith is the response which God's unmerited grace evokes from an individual, and it can best be defined as trust, belief, and commitment (Romans, 1992:42).

Thus, Jesus Christ and his work are the power of God to save from eternal death everyone who believes in, trusts, and commits to Christ.