Live By Faith.

I will take my stand at my watchpost
    and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
    and what I will answer concerning my complaint.

And the Lord answered me:

“Write the vision;
    make it plain on tablets,
    so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
    it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
    it will surely come; it will not delay.

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
    but the righteous shall live by his faith.

“Moreover, wine is a traitor,
    an arrogant man who is never at rest.
His greed is as wide as Sheol;
    like death he has never enough.
He gathers for himself all nations
    and collects as his own all peoples.” Habakkuk 2:1-5 ESV

Habakkuk has asked God two primary questions so far: “When?” and “Why?” In responding to Habakkuk’s first question, God simply told the prophet how He was going to deal with the violence and iniquity taking place in Judah: He would send the Babylonians. That news led Habakkuk to question why God would ever consider using a pagan nation to do His bidding, especially to punish His own people. And now, the indignant prophet tells God that he is going to sit and wait for God’s answer, like a guard standing in the watchtower on the battlements of a city wall. And Habakkuk is fully prepared to continue his dialogue with God if the answer if the answer he received is not to his liking. He seems to warn God that his response will be dictated by what God has to say to him.

And, as before, God answered Habakkuk. He tells the prophet that he will receive a vision and that he is to put it in writing on tablets. He is to write it clearly and legibly so that whoever reads it can run and tell others what he has seen. The vision will involve future events. In other words, it will be prophetic in nature, but it will all take place. Knowing Habakkuk’s tendency toward impatience, God tells him, “This vision is for a future time. It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled. If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed” (Habakkuk 2:3 NLT). It’s as good as done. And by having Habakkuk write the details concerning the vision in stone or clay tablets, God emphasizes the permanence and inescapable nature of what is to come.

The author of the book of Hebrews quotes from this verse in an attempt to encourage the believers in his day to remain faithful to the end and trust God for what He has promised to do.

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay” – Hebrews 10:35-37 ESV

God is always faithful to keep His word. What He says He will do, He will do. He keeps His promises. And the author of Hebrews goes on to say, quoting from verses four of Habakkuk chapter two: “but my righteous one shall live by faith” (Hebrews 10:38 ESV).

God now gives the prophet His vision of what is to come. He speaks of the unrighteous and the righteous, the faithful and the unfaithful – those who trust in themselves and those who place their trust in God.

“Look at the proud! They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked. But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.” – Habakkuk 3:4 NLT

The apostle Paul will also quote this verse on two different occasions, emphasizing the “righteous”.

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 for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17 ESV

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” – Galatians 3:11-12 ESV

Paul used the words of God given to Habakkuk the prophet to emphasize and promote the key to righteousness before God. It is based on faith in God and faithfulness to God. In Habakkuk’s day, the people of Judah had not been faithful to God. They had turned from Him time and time again. They, like their northern neighbors in Israel, had worshiped false gods and proven themselves to be unfaithful to the God who had chosen them and redeemed them out of slavery in Egypt. They had turned their back on the one who had given them the great king, David. The land in which they lived had been the result of God’s gracious provision for them. And yet, they had filled it with idols.

And, to provide Habakkuk with a symbol of unrighteousness run rampant, God tells him to look at Babylon. They are the epitome of arrogance and pride. They are puffed up by their military success and their many conquests. They trust more in themselves than they do in God. In fact, they don’t trust in Yahweh at all. They have their own gods whom they worship and give credit for their many victories in battle. And they use their growing wealth as proof of their gods’ divine blessings. The word in verse five should probably be “wealth” and not ”wine”. Most of the more reliable manuscripts contain “wealth” and it would make more sense given the context. The New Living Translation renders verse five this way:

Wealth is treacherous,
    and the arrogant are never at rest.
They open their mouths as wide as the grave,
    and like death, they are never satisfied.
In their greed they have gathered up many nations
    and swallowed many peoples.

The greed of the Babylonians was insatiable. They couldn’t get enough. They were never satisfied with their conquests or the plunder they provided. They were the ultimate consumers, swallowing up everyone and everything in their path. They lived by what they could see, take, and enjoy. They lived by sight and immediate gratification. But God tells Habakkuk that the righteous are to live by faith. Faith in what? In God. The people of Judah were to put their hope and confidence in the God of their ancestors. He had proven Himself faithful time and time again, and He would do so again. The righteous are those who place their faith in God, not money, military might, false gods, other nations, or any other earthly resource. God tells Habakkuk that “the righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4 ESV). The people of Judah would live through what was coming, but they would have to trust God with the results. They would survive the coming of the Babylonians and their deportment as slaves. The righteous would be those who kept trusting in the faithfulness of God – in spite of the circumstances that surrounded them.

Too often, our faith and our faithfulness is based on our circumstances, not on God and His faithfulness. We take a look at what is happening around us and to us, and begin to doubt our God. We question His faithfulness because we don’t like what is happening to us. We doubt His love because we can’t fathom how a loving God would allow us to experience what we are going through. But God would have us remember that the righteous live by faith. And Paul would have us remember that the righteous are those who endure because they know their God can be trusted.

God is trying to remind Habakkuk that his hope is to be in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is to trust in the God of David – the covenant keeping God who never fails to keep His promises and fulfill His commitment to His people. Just because the Babylonians were coming did not mean that God was done with Judah or turning His back on them. The book of Numbers gives us some powerful words of reminder concerning our God.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

God can be trusted. So, as His people, we are to put our trust in Him. The righteous belong to Him and rely upon Him. They do not circumstances dictate or determine their trust. They don’t let the presence of bad times diminish the goodness of their God. They accept the good and the bad as having come from the hand of a loving, faithful God who knows what He is doing and whose plan for them can always be trusted. Like Job, we need to be able to say, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10 NLT). God was going to do something great for the people of Judah. But first, they would have to experience something painful and inexplicable. Yet, they were to keep their faith in God. He was not done yet.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Now That Faith Has Come.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. – Galatians 3:23-29 ESV

Captive. Imprisoned. Under the authority of another. Incapable of setting yourself free and unable to escape from the wrath of God and His just condemnation. That was the former state of those to whom Paul wrote. At one time they had been unbelievers, enemies of God. Long before Jesus came and died, all mankind had been held captive by sin. God had provided the law through Moses to the people of Israel in order to make known to them His requirements for living in obedience to His righteous will. But as Paul has already made abundantly clear, the law was not intended to provide a means of justification for the Jews. It simply made clear to them God’s revealed will and exposed their complete inability to live up to it. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law” (Romans 2:12 ESV). The Gentiles we held captive by sin even though they did not have the law of God. But the Jews, while they had been given the law of God, found themselves in the same sad state. Paul explained why: “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Romans 2:13 ESV). Simply having knowledge of the law was not enough. It had to be obeyed – perfectly and completely. And the Jews had failed. All men were under God’s condemnation for their rebellion against Him. But through the law, He had given the Jews a description of what they would have to do in order to justify themselves before Him. The reality was, they couldn’t pull it off and God knew they couldn’t. He had a better, more perfect means of justification prepared. He would one day send His Son to take on human flesh, live a sinless life, and yet die a sinner’s death as a sacrifice and substitute for men. His death would satisfy God’s need as a holy, righteous judge to pronounce judgment and allow Him to pour out His wrath as a punishment on mankind’s sin.

Paul uses the statement, “Now before faith came…” He is referring to the coming of Christ and, more specifically, His death, burial and resurrection. Jesus provided a means by which men could be made right with God, but it was only available through faith in Him. Paul says, “the law was our guardian until Christ came.” The law functioned as a kind of tutor or teacher, educating the Jews as to God’s expectations for holy and acceptable living. It was intended to show them what God demanded of them and provide them with boundaries for life until “the coming of faith would be revealed.” But once Jesus came and accomplished His God-given task of dying on behalf of sinful men, the law took a backseat. Justification with God became a reality, not a pipe dream. Through faith in Jesus Christ as their sin substitute, men and women could be made right with God.

Five times in these verses Paul uses the word, “faith.” The entire redemption plan of God, including man’s salvation, justification and sanctification, is according to faith, not works. It is by faith that we move from enemies to sons and daughters of God. It is by faith that our sins are transferred to Christ and we receive His righteousness. It is by faith that we inherit the riches of eternal life. It is by faith that our sins are forgiven. It is by faith that we receive the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. It is by faith that we become heirs of the promises of God.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV). Here in his letter to the Galatians, Paul says something very similar: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27 ESV). We have received the Spirit of God and through His empowering presence we are now capable of “putting on” Christ. In other words, we now have the capacity to become like Him, to take on His character. And as Paul emphasizes, this applies to Jews, Gentiles, slaves, free men, males and females, and every other individual who places their faith in Jesus Christ. They become Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. In other words, not according to the law. We don’t have to try and earn our right standing before God, it is provided for us by faith in the work of Christ.

Faith has come. Jesus has accomplished the will of His Father and provided a means by which men can be saved. And now that faith has come, we are to live by faith. There is no going back to religious rule-keeping. Those who have been made righteous by God through faith in Christ are to live by faith. Now that faith has come, faith is to be our sole means of living. As Paul stated earlier in this same letter, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV). We are saved by faith. We are to live by faith. We are to do all by faith. We are to be a people of faith. “So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Galatians 3:9 ESV).

And yet, as people of faith, we can find ourselves living by sight rather than by faith. We can easily fall back into the trap of thinking our right standing before God is somehow up to us. While we can easily accept the concept of salvation by faith, we find it hard to understand that even our sanctification is a byproduct of faith. This doesn’t mean we play no role. It simply says that even any works of righteousness we do in this life are totally dependent upon our ongoing faith in Christ and His Spirit’s work within us. Which is why Paul said the life he lived after coming to faith in Christ, he lived by faith in Christ. Now that faith has come, faith is all we need.




The Footsteps of Faith.

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,  and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. – Romans 4:9-12 ESV

The “blessing” Paul refers to is the one mentioned in the previous two verses, where he quoted directly from Psalm 32:1-2: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” This blessing includes the forgiveness of sin because of the atonement or payment for those sins by another, leaving the one forgiven with no guilt or further remnants of that sin. Paul says that remarkable blessing is not just reserved for the Jews, those he refers to as “the circumcised.” Because the blessing is available to all through faith, just as Abraham’s righteous standing was made possible by his faith. Paul makes it clear that the point at which God declared Abraham righteous was long before he had been given the command by God to institute the right of circumcision among his people. “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised” (Romans 4:11 ESV). In other words, Abraham’s right standing before God had nothing to do with circumcision. But circumcision had everything to do with his right standing before God. It was to be a symbol of his unique relationship with God that was based on his faith in God. Being circumcised did not make anyone right with God, any more than being baptized makes someone right with God. Both were intended to be outward signs of something that had taken place inwardly. The Jews had turned circumcision into the source of their righteousness, when God had intended it as the sign of their righteousness. Circumcision for God without faith in God was worthless. It meant nothing. Paul stated this truth earlier when he wrote: “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God” (Romans 2:29 ESV). Over in the book of Jeremiah, God prophetically declared, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh…all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart” (Jeremiah 9:25, 26 ESV).

Paul tells us that God declared Abraham righteous prior to the covenant of circumcision because He intended Abraham to be the father of all who believe “without being circumcised.” The righteousness God was looking for was to based on faith, not works; belief, not obedience to a command. It was not a righteousness that could be earned. It was not a standard to be lived up to. It was to be “a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.” In plain language, it was to be a work of God, not man. It was to provided by God, not man. So that no man could boast or brag.

Back in the book of Jeremiah, we read the words of God as He pleads with His people to return to Him. “Plow up the hard ground of your hearts! Do not waste your good seed among thorns. O people of Judah and Jerusalem, surrender your pride and power. Change your hearts before the Lord, or my anger will burn like an unquenchable fire because of all your sins” (Jeremiah 4:3-4 NLT). The people of Judah were guilty of unbelief. They had failed to trust God and believe His promises concerning them. They had gone after other gods. They had made alliances with other nations. They had broken His commands and lived in the false security of their status as God’s chosen people. But what God was calling them to do was impossible for them. They would not be able to surrender their pride and power. They would not have what it was going to take to change their hearts. And God’s punishment was going to come. The would experience His wrath against their sin and rebellion. But God would not annihilate them. He would preserve them. And while He would allow them to fall to their enemies and experience 70 years in captivity, He would also restore them to their land and reestablish them as a people. Why? Because He had made a promise to Abraham. God had told Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3 ESV). He had also promised, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7 ESV). But in the book of Galatians Paul makes a clarifying interpretation to these passages. “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16 ESV). In other words, God’s promise to bless the nations through Abraham was going to be fulfilled through one of his descendants – specifically, Jesus. God made His promise to Abraham long before He gave the law to the people of Israel. And so Paul concludes: “The agreement God made with Abraham could not be canceled 430 years later when God gave the law to Moses. God would be breaking his promise. For if the inheritance could be received by keeping the law, then it would not be the result of accepting God’s promise. But God graciously gave it to Abraham as a promise” (Galatians 3:17-18 NLT).

Our righteousness is made possible by faith in the promise of God, just as it was for Abraham. I am not made right with God by trying to live up to God’s standards. I am made right with Him when I recognize my complete inability to meet His criteria for righteousness and place my faith in His plan for my salvation: His Son’s death, burial and resurrection. He died to pay the penalty for my sins. He rose again to prove that His sacrifice was acceptable to God. He took on my sin and gave me His righteousness. All men are made right with God through faith in His Son. And when we place our faith in God’s plan of salvation, we walk in the footsteps of faith laid down by Abraham all those years ago. The righteous shall live by faith.

The Knowledge of Sin.

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. – Romans 3:19-20 ESV

Paul continues his polemic on the relationship between the Jews and the law by saying, “the law speaks to those who are under the law.” In other words, the law was given to the Jews by God and it told them exactly what God’s righteous expectations of them were. No arguments. No questions. No quibbling. No excuses. But in revealing His righteous standards to the Jews, God was not inferring that everyone else was exempt from His law. In fact, Paul makes it clear that God gave His law to the Jews “to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God” (Romans 3:19 NLT). The Jews were given the privilege and responsibility of knowing God’s law. But they would prove incapable of living up to it. They could not claim ignorance, only incompetence. They would find themselves completely incapable of keeping the law. “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (Romans 3:20 NLT).

A little later in his letter, Paul will clarify God’s purpose behind the giving of the law. Paul states, “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” (Romans 7:7 ESV). The law said, “you shall not…”, but Paul’s sin nature said, “why not?” The law revealed the righteous requirement of God, but indwelling sin took advantage of it. Paul describes it in vivid terms. “But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power” (Romans 7:8 NLT). Paul goes on to say that the law is good and holy. It is spiritual. It was given by God to men and is, therefore, righteous. Paul describes the conundrum in which man finds himself. “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:14-15 ESV). The Jews wanted to keep the law, but couldn’t. They tried, but they failed. All so that God might expose man’s complete incapability when it comes to earning a right standing before Him based on human effort. “For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20 ESV). Paul expounds on this thought in his letter to the church in Galatia. “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law” (Galatians 2:16 NLT). A little later on in that same letter, Paul states, “If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3:21-22 NLT). But the law had a purpose. God had a perfectly good, completely righteous reason for having given it. “Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed. Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith” (Galatians 3:23-24 NLT).

The law was designed to show us the kind of righteousness God was looking for. But in revealing the righteousness of God, the law also revealed the sinfulness of man. It exposed our inherent weakness. Even on our best day and given our best efforts, we could not live up to God’s holy standard. The law showed us our sin and revealed to us our need for a Savior. Augustine wrote, “The law orders, that we, after attempting to do what is ordered, and so feeling our weakness under the law, may learn to implore the help of grace.” The law was intended to drive the people of Israel to God, recognizing their desperate need for His grace, mercy, forgiveness and strength to live the lives He had called them to. The sacrificial system He provided was a constant demonstration of their sinfulness and their need for atonement. There was never a time when they could stop making sacrifices, because there was never a time when they ever stopped sinning. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared. But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:1-4 NLT). Then in verse 10, he points out the plan of God – the gospel. “For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.” The law revealed the righteous expectations of God and, in doing so, it exposed our sin and our need for a Savior. No one can save themselves. Self-righteousness is deceptive and ineffective. But the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

If You Point Your Finger, You Missed the Point.

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man – you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself – that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. – Romans 2:1-5 ESV

Paul was writing to the church in Rome and, like many of the churches in those days, it was made up of converted Gentiles and Jews. Chapter one seemed to be addressed to the former pagans or Gentiles. He wrote that he wished to come visit them so that he might “reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles” (Romans 1:13 ESV). He made it clear to them that, like all men, prior to their conversion, they had been without excuse. They had been given the natural or general revelation of God in His creation. He had made His “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20 ESV) clearly perceived to all men. Yet, like all men, they had rejected God’s revelation of Himself and had chosen to worship the creation rather than the Creator. And it had been the gospel that had revealed to them God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes. They had discovered that the kind of righteousness God requires was available only through faith in His Son. They had once been under God’s wrath for their dishonor and disregard of Him. They had been given up by God to reap the consequences of their darkened hearts and foolish choices. And the city of Rome was still filled with tens of thousands of people living according to “the lie.”

But now, Paul turns his attention to another group within the church. We might just describe them as the self-righteous religious snobs – those who were quick to consider themselves as better than the pagans Paul had described. More than likely, Paul was speaking directly to the Jews who had accepted Christ as their Savior and Messiah. When they heard Paul describe those whom God had given up, they more than likely excluded themselves from that list. They considered themselves God’s chosen people. They were descendants of Abraham, the recipients of the covenant and promises of God. But Paul makes it clear that, they too, are without excuse. In fact, to a certain degree, the Jews were even more culpable because they had been given special revelation from God. He had revealed Himself to Abraham. He had given His covenant promises to Abraham. He had rescued them out of captivity in Egypt. He had given them the law through Moses. He had provided for them the sacrificial system as a means of receiving forgiveness for their sins and to allow them to maintain a right relationship with Him. He had given them the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple in Jerusalem as places where His holy presence would dwell and they could meet with Him. And yet, throughout their history, the Jews had continually sinned against Him. They had known, without a shadow of a doubt, that God existed and they were fully aware of His divine expectations on them, but they had been incapable of keeping God’s law or of remaining faithful to Him.

In spite of all of this, the Jews of Paul’s day had become self-righteous and prideful because of their unique relationship with God. Their attitude had become like that of the Pharisee in the parable that Jesus had told. “The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector!’” (Luke 18:11 NLT). Because they were descendants of Abraham, they somehow thought of themselves as better than the rest of humanity. But Paul warns them, “in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (Romans 2:1 ESV). They stood just as guilty as the pagans. They could not point their fingers and claim to be exempt from the list of sins listed in Romans 1:29-31. They could not afford to consider themselves as somehow better than the rest

We can’t forget the fact that this entire letter is ultimately about the gospel, “the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16 ESV). It is about “the righteousness of God … revealed from faith for faith” (Romans 1:17 ESV). Paul’s whole point in these opening chapters of his letter is to prove that no one stands before God as righteous. They are all without excuse, whether they are Gentiles or Jews. In fact, a little later on in his letter, Paul writes, “Well then, should we conclude that we Jews are better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin. As the Scriptures say, ‘No one is righteous – not even one’” (Romans 3:9-10 ESV). Righteousness is not man-made, it is God-given. It is based on faith, not works. It has nothing to do with human merit, but on God’s mercy and grace. Paul wanted the Jews to know that they had been recipients of God’s kindness, forbearance and patience. The fact that they still existed as a people had to do with God’s covenant promises, not their faithfulness or righteousness. He had continually rescued them from their own self-destructive tendencies in order that He might fulfill His promise to send the Messiah as a descendant of David. And when Jesus had showed up on the scene as the Messiah, He had called the people of Israel to repentance. And Paul says that God’s kindness, in the form of the Messiah was meant to lead them to repentance. Yet Paul has to tell them, “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath” (Romans 2:5 ESV). Why? Because the Jews were failing to recognize their own sinfulness and their need for a Savior. In pointing their finger at the sins of the pagans, they were missing the whole point. No one is righteous, no, not one.

The Power of God.

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 for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17 ESV

Paul was eager to preach the gospel to the people in Rome. That is why he wanted to make the long, arduous journey there. He was grateful to God for those who had already become followers of Jesus and commended them for their faith. But he knew that there were many more who had not yet hear the good news regarding God’s gift of salvation through His Son. And Paul was anything but ashamed of that message. He proclaimed it anywhere and everywhere he could to anyone who would listen, whether they were Jews, Greeks or even barbarians. Because he knew that the gospel had the power to change lives. It was the one and only way for sinful men to be made right with a holy God. For Paul, the gospel – the message regarding God’s sending of His Son in the form of a man to live a sinless life and die a substitutionary death on the cross as payment for the sins of men – was powerful and life-changing. He knew from personal experience. He had been radically changed by his side-of-the-road encounter with the resurrected Christ. And that same power was available to any and all who would believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior. In other words, they had to give up trying to earn a right standing with God in their own strength or according to their own merit.

Paul wasn’t ashamed of the gospel because he knew it worked. He knew it was of God. In fact, it had been God’s plan from the very beginning. His sending of Jesus to earth was not some kind of plan B that He was forced to quickly come up with in response to man’s inability to keep the Law. He had planned all along to send a Savior, and it had to be His very own Son so that He could meet the stringent requirements of a sinless sacrifice. Peter tells us, “God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but he has now revealed him to you in these last days” (1 Peter 1:20 NLT). Paul goes as far as to say, “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes” (Ephesians 1:4 NLT). The gospel is not only the plan A of God, it is the very power of God that leads to man’s salvation. “For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith”, Paul states (Romans 1:17 ESV). Because of what Jesus did on the cross, man has access to a righteousness he could have never achieved on his own. The law could only reveal God’s holy standard, but it couldn’t help man achieve or live up to it. And Jesus told His followers, “But I warn you – unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” (Matthew 5:20 NLT). As shocking as this statement must have been to those who heard it, Jesus was simply telling them that the righteousness God required could never be man-made. It was going to have to be the result of the power of God as revealed in the gospel.

Man’s salvation is based solely on faith. It begins and ends on faith. It is our initial faith in Christ that leads to our growing faith in the power of the gospel to not only save us, but transform us into His image. The righteous, Paul says, live by faith. Our righteousness is based on faith. Later in this letter, Paul states, “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are” (Romans 3:22 NLT). He reiterates this same thought in his letter to the church in Corinth. “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT). The gospel, the good news regarding salvation in Christ, reveals the righteousness of God – the very means by which sinful men and women can be justified or made right with God. It is through His Son’s death. And it is confirmed by God’s power that raised Him from the dead. It would not have been enough for the death of Jesus to forgive us our sins and leave us in a sinless state. Sinlessness is not the same as righteousness. Once our sins had been paid for and forgiven, we still needed to be declared righteous. But in order to do this, God had to impute or transfer to our account the righteousness of Christ. So our spiritual account went from having a negative balance to a zero balance, but then God added to our account the invaluable righteousness of Christ.

The reason so many of us find ourselves “ashamed” of the gospel is because it sounds so far-fetched, even to us. After all the idea of God sending His own Son to take on human flesh, live a sinless life and die as our sacrifice on a cross doesn’t exactly come across as logical or sensible. It can also come across as offensive to those with whom we share it. Telling someone that they are a sinner, completely unrighteous and incapable of pleasing God in any way can be a bit off-putting to say the least. But Paul was unashamed of the gospel because he knew it was the only way. It was the power of God made practical and personal, providing mankind with a fail-proof means by which they could be restored to a right relationship with God. The righteous, those who have been made right with God through Christ, were saved by faith and live their lives based on faith – in the power of God.