Romans 1:16-17 – The Power of the Gospel
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, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”
“For I am not ashamed…”
Israel’s shame came from exile. Her pride could only be restored through reconciliation with God. Paul’s declaration that he was not ashamed of the gospel comes from Isaiah 28 – the most quoted passage in the New Testament. This extended quotation forms the basis for the New Testament doctrines of judgement, resurrection, and the restoration of Israel.
Therefore, hear the word of the LORD, O scoffers, Who rule this people who are in Jerusalem, Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, And with Sheol we have made a pact. The overwhelming scourge will not reach us when it passes by, For we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception.” Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed. “I will make justice the measuring line And righteousness the level; Then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies And the waters will overflow the secret place. “Your covenant with death will be canceled, And your pact with Sheol will not stand; When the overwhelming scourge passes through, Then you become its trampling place.Isaiah 28:14–18
Paul quotes from this text again in Romans 9:33. Those who could not accept the foolishness of the Cross would stumble, but Paul affirmed that he was not ashamed.
“…of the gospel…”
The “good news” of Jesus meant everything to Paul. It was what transformed him into the person he needed to be. Without the gospel, he would still be the miserable man described in Romans 7, but the gospel taught him that there is no condemnation in Christ. The chief of sinners was able to find grace.
“…for it is the power of God…”
The power of God is what raised Jesus (Romans 1:4). And it is the power of God that raises us (Romans 6:3ff). The Holy Spirit that raised Jesus also quickens the members of the body of Christ (Romans 8:11).
In 2 Timothy 1, Paul explains that the gospel is the power of God for resurrection.
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher.2 Timothy 1:8–11
It is this death-abolishing and live-giving gospel that Paul wasn’t ashamed of. It was this gospel that was able to overcome the covenant they made with death and Hades.
Salvation (or deliverance) is a term rooted in the Exodus tradition as well. After witnessing Pharaoh and his armies being destroyed in the sea, Moses and the people cried out to God for revealing His salvation (Exodus 15:2). The salvation here is the salvation of all Israel (Romans 1:25-26). It is the salvation foreseen by all the prophets. It is the salvation brought by Jesus.
“…to everyone who believes…”
This salvation is offered to those who put their full trust in God. Even unbelieving Israel would be grafted in again if they would put their faith in God instead of themselves (Romans 11:23).
“to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
Jesus came to confirm the promises made to the fathers, but the Gentiles were included in the very first promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12. It was necessary, because of the covenant, for God to extend mercy to the Jewish people first before revealing it to the Gentiles.
For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “THEREFORE I WILL GIVE PRAISE TO YOU AMONG THE GENTILES, AND I WILL SING TO YOUR NAME.” Again he says, “REJOICE, O GENTILES, WITH HIS PEOPLE.”Romans 15:8–10
“For in it the righteousness of God…”
Romans is not about the righteousness of man; it is about God’s righteousness. In Romans, Paul makes it plain that all have sinned and come short of God’s glory so that God can show mercy to all. We are not saved by our righteousness, but by God’s. The promises made to Abraham were not contingent upon Abram’s obedience of works for he was justified by faith apart from works.
In Genesis 15, for example, God makes a covenant with Abraham in which God uses contemporary legal proceedings to cut a deal with Abraham. In the creation of the covenant, it is God who passes between the animals, indicating that the fulfillment of the covenant is based upon His faithfulness. This is further seen in passages like Deuteronomy 9:4-5 where God says that it is because of his faithfulness to the promises made to Abraham that they were allowed to enter the land and not their own righteousness.
“…is revealed from faith to faith…”
That is, “from the faithfulness of God to the faithfulness of man.”
“…as it is written, ‘BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.’”
This is a quotation from Habakkuk 2:4 which is a text about the judgement and punishment of Judah for shedding innocent blood and oppressing the poor. God used the Chaldeans to punish Judah. So, once again, Paul is using passages from a Second Exodus context to set the stage for his defense of the gospel in Romans. He saw God used his ministry to restore Judah and Israel and to be a shining light for the Gentiles. If we fail to interpret Paul through the lens of a Second Exodus, we will miss out on many crucial points Paul makes throughout the book.