“The Righteousness of God Is Revealed” (Romans 1:8-17)

Midweek Lenten Vespers
Wednesday, March 30, 2011

“The Righteousness of God Is Revealed” (Romans 1:8-17)

When I decided to do a whole series of sermons based on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, for all of our services this Lent and on through Easter Day, I thought about what to use as a title for this series–something short, catchy, concise, something that could serve as an overarching theme connecting all the sermons. And the theme I came up with was “Readings in Romans: Righteousness Revealed.”

But lest you think this took a lot of ingenuity or originality to arrive at such a title–no, it wasn’t like that. I didn’t have to look very far to come up with a theme, because St. Paul himself tells us his theme, right in the first chapter. He announces it, the theme passage for the whole epistle, in Romans 1:16-17, as follows: “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.’”

Thus our sermon tonight, as we look at this text: “The Righteousness of God Is Revealed.”

The righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel, that’s the point that Paul is making. Here in chapter 1 Paul is telling the Romans, a church he had not yet visited, that he wants to come to them, so he can preach the gospel there, too, in the world’s most important city, just as he has been preaching it for many years now in the eastern Mediterranean. Paul wants to get to Rome so he can preach the gospel there, to build up the Roman Christians in their faith, and their faith in turn will be an encouragement to him.

Paul was all about preaching the gospel. He was eager to do so. Paul was excited about the gospel. It meant everything to him, and he was convinced that it was the most important thing in the world for everyone else, too. And I would echo Paul. The gospel is the most important thing in my life, and I know it’s the one thing you need most of all, also. If you can’t get excited about the gospel, either you don’t understand it well enough or you’re a dead man walking, spiritually dead.

Now last week, in the opening verses of chapter 1, we heard Paul tell us a little bit about this gospel: that as an apostle he was set apart for the gospel of God; that this gospel was promised beforehand in the Old Testament; and that it is the gospel concerning God’s Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, come in the flesh as the Messiah descended from David, and now risen from the dead in divine power. This is the gospel that Paul is now referring to in our text tonight. He writes, “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”

And so Paul continues, by way of a delicious understatement, and says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.” No, Paul, we know that. You have risked life and limb, traveled thousands of miles, spared no expense or effort, endured opposition and persecution, all in order to preach this one message to thousands and thousands of people, both Jews and Gentiles. Far from being ashamed, Paul makes his only boast in the gospel, he glories in it.

But why? For what reason? “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” he writes, “for it is the power of God for salvation.” The gospel is powerful. It works, it does stuff, it accomplishes something. God’s creative word is never empty and void. It is not an empty word, but rather one that is alive and active and effective. And what does it do? It saves people, it rescues them. The gospel of God delivers you from mortal danger and puts you into a place of safety and security. The gospel saves.

Whom does it save? Answer: Those who receive it, receive it in faith. “It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” Paul says. Now this is not just any old “believing,” this is not some generic “faith,” like saying, “Well, I believe . . . in something.” No. Or, “Well, I believe . . . that there must be a god or gods, whatever you want to call them, some sort of Higher Power–Allah, Jesus, it doesn’t matter.” Nope, that’s not it, either. No, the “everyone who believes” means everyone who believes this gospel, which has very specific content, which Paul will get to over the next few chapters.

You see, “believing,” “faith,” does not save because we’re doing our part of mustering up faith as some great, heroic work that we do. That’s not it. Rather, faith has value only by virtue of its object, namely, the God in whom we believe–his work, his promise, the content that God packs into his gospel. Faith is not a meritorious work that we do. Instead, it is simply receiving what God gives us by way of the gospel. Faith is being given to by God.

And the gospel that saves, which we receive by faith–this is not limited to a certain ethnic group or culture. Paul says that the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” No one is excluded. Jew and Gentile alike, white, black, yellow–the gospel of God is meant for all people, everywhere, in every nation and every language under the sun. God has provided the one Savior for all people, and that is our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ, who died for the sins of the whole world, when he shed his holy blood on the cross. Our God is the one true God, the God who created the heavens and the earth, who created all men, every race of man. And now he has acted to save all men by sending his Son to take our sins and win forgiveness for them, to conquer death, and to restore creation. This is not limited. All are covered, all are invited. The gospel goes out into all the world, so that all may believe and be saved.

The gospel delivers the goods to us. Everything that Christ won for us on the cross, all the benefits of forgiveness, righteousness, justification, the resurrection from the dead, eternal life–all of it is packed into the saving gospel that is preached to you. Believing the gospel, you receive the very benefits it promises. And, in fact, the gospel preached carries with it the power to create faith in your heart and keep you in that faith. This is the Holy Spirit’s work. That’s why the gospel truly is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”

“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” The righteousness of God is “revealed” in the gospel. This is a righteousness you would not have known otherwise. It had to be revealed to you. The natural way of thinking is that I have to do something to make myself righteous before God. I have to be a pretty good person, or at least better in some way than the bad people, however I define that. That is man’s natural human thinking about righteousness. I’ve got be righteous by what I do or who I am, in order to get right with God.

But that is not the righteousness of God that will work. That would be a righteousness according to the law, and that will only put pressure on you. And you won’t be able to achieve it anyway, even if you thought you could. Instead, the righteousness of God that is revealed in the gospel is the righteousness that God provides, the righteousness that God bestows as a free gift for the sake of Jesus Christ. That’s something you do not know unless it is preached to you, unless it is revealed to you.

How do you achieve a righteous standing before God, and thus gain eternal life? Not by the righteousness that God demands in the law, but instead by the righteousness that God bestows in the gospel. This makes all the difference in the world for you. It’s going from demand to gift, from sin to grace, from death to life. This righteousness, the one revealed in the gospel, opens up paradise to you.

Let me tell about someone who discovered this difference for himself. It’s the story of a young man who thought the righteousness of God was something he had to earn, something he had to work at very hard–and, believe me, this young man worked very, very hard at it! But he saw, over time, that he could never do enough to reach the perfection that that kind of righteousness demanded. It was only after coming to the end of his rope–and upon reflecting on our theme verse for tonight, Romans 1:16-17–that the truth started to dawn for him. The light bulb came on, and he learned what the righteousness revealed in the gospel is all about. I’ll let him tell you his experience in his own words:

“At first I clearly saw that the free grace of God is absolutely necessary to attain to light and eternal life; and I anxiously and busily worked to understand the word of Paul in Rom. 1:17: The righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel. I questioned this passage for a long time and labored over it, for the expression ‘righteousness of God’ barred my way. This phrase was customarily explained to mean that the righteousness of God is a virtue by which he is himself righteous and condemns sinners. . . . The righteousness of God, that is, the wrath of God. But as often as I read this passage, I wished that God had never revealed the gospel; for who could love a God who was angry, who judged and condemned people? This misunderstanding continued until, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, I finally examined more carefully the word of Habakkuk: ‘The just shall live by his faith.’ From this passage I concluded that life must be derived from faith. . . . Then the entire Holy Scripture became clear to me, and heaven itself was opened to me. Now we see this brilliant light very clearly, and we are privileged to enjoy it abundantly.”

The young man I’ve just quoted, of course, is Martin Luther, a man set free by the wonderful good news of God’s grace in Christ, received by faith, not earned by works. And, dear friends, this same gospel sets you free, too.

The theme passage of the Letter to the Romans–may it be your theme in life: “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.’”

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Published in: on March 30, 2011 at 12:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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