Monday, October 31, 2016

Romans 1:16,17 "In Remembrance of the 16th Century Reformation"

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.”
This text from Paul’s epistle to the Romans   changed a man, and that man in the hand of God  changed the world of his day, and his influence  has  been felt to this day. Martin Luther,   in his own words :
“I had indeed been captivated with an extraordinary  desire  for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. But …. a single phrase  in  Romans  1:17, “for in it ( i.e. the gospel)  the righteousness of God is revealed,”  stood in my way. For I hated that word “the righteousness of God,” which, according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically regarding the formal or active righteousness, as they called it, with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner. Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly… I was angry with God….Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I desired to know what St. Paul wanted… At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I understood the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’ ” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith… Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. [1]

Martin Luther, born in  1483 in Eisleben, Germany, son of a miner   was  once caught in a horrific thunderstorm. He feared for his life and cried out to St. Anne, the patron saint of miners, saying, “Save me, St. Anne, and I’ll become a monk!” The storm subsided and he was not killed.   He kept his vow  and entered the  Augustinean monastery. He had an astute mind and had become a theology professor at the University of Erfurt. At  this time he was a God fearing man, but not a converted man.  Luther had understood the nature of sin as few people in our day would and  he  had understood the holiness of God in a profound way, as few people would do today.  But he did not know how to deal with his sin  before a holy God.  He knew that all his attempts   at  justifying himself  before God  were failing. 
As he was studying the letter to the Romans, it was this text  that made him understand  for the first time God’s method of justifying sinners. Until then he had always thought  of justification  from  the typical Roman Catholic works oriented perspective. It was this text in  Paul’s letter to the Romans that  helped him to see that  a person’s justification before a just, righteous and holy God was not  something that a man could achieve in his own  efforts. It was something that God  did  for man, and which a man  could  only receive by looking to God  by faith  alone.  When  Martin Luther had understood the basis of the gospel, namely, that a person’s justification came by the grace and mercy  from  God alone,  the  foundations  for a new  mighty work of God were laid. A  Holy Spirit sent revival    had begun.   
All because of Romans 1:16-17.
These words constitute the theme of  Paul’s letter  to the Romans. The whole letter to the Romans is about “the gospel of God”.  That phrase  is first used  in  v.1,  in the opening statement : “Paul… called to  be an apostle set apart for the gospel of God.   This is the reason  that Paul wants to come to Rome.
The gospel is at the heart  of evangelical theology. This explains the difference between evangelical Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church, and  every other system of religion in the world which operates on the primary basis of works righteousness rather than a righteousness  from God – a righteousness outside of ourselves!  
I am not ashamed of the gospel
Why does  Paul  say  this  negatively?  Why  does he not  say,  "I am proud of the gospel”? This form of speech is  known as  litotes   Litotes is a figure of speech in which a negative statement is used to affirm a positive sentiment.  We use it often  in our conversations e.g.  we say,   “I am not opposed to doing this” when  we could   have said  “I  can do this”. Paul may  have said it like this  because of the peculiar  position in which the Roman Christians  had found themselves.  It was not easy to be a Christian in Rome. It still is not easy to speak  about Christ for fear of ridicule or rejection. Looking at the gospel at face value, it would  appear as  "foolishness"[2].   Jesus  was the  son of a poor carpenter, with little means,  with no   formal education   and  with  no  political  ambition  or influence. His  message    was  a stumbling block to Jews and folly to gentiles (1 Cor.  1:22). He  was crucified as a common criminal. Such a man  claimed to be the Saviour of the world  and  He claimed to  be equal to God. All this was so  absurd to  Jews and Gentiles. With all these thoughts in mind  it is easy to feel ashamed of the gospel. This is what Paul experienced and yet despite  all this  Paul  was  never  ashamed of the gospel.  
Here  is  the reason, as to why he says that:
Because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone  who believes...”
Despite the fact, that the gospel may be resented by man, it does  not deny the fact that it is powerful!     It is clearly seen in the  words and deeds of Jesus. His Word and His works  changed the world.  The gospel is  the power (Gr. dunamis) of God. Knowing this Paul felt no need to  be embarrassed for coming to Rome. He knew that in the gospel there is a power that would overwhelm  proud Romans !  
How does this power work?  Paul give  three answers.
(i)                  The Gospel provides the power to save (16a). What does the gospel do? It saves sinners from the coming  wrath of God. And it saves in the fullest sense of that word, past, present and future. The gospel has the power to …Forgive sins (past)—Impart new life (present)—Admit into heaven (future).
(ii)                The Gospel provides  the power to save those who believe (16b)  To “believe” means to make a personal commitment to the God  who  has given us the gospel. It is not enough to  hear  and to  pray a sinners prayer.  The gospel must be believed  in the fullest sense  by  hearing it, receiving it  and by a continual  walking in its truth.
(iii)             The Gospel provides  the power to save everyone  who believes 16c : “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.” The gospel has the power to save  all kinds of people in the world without regard to the distinctions that divide us. That’s why Paul wasn’t ashamed to preach the gospel in Rome. He knew it had the power to save anyone who would believe it.
In verse 17 Paul reveals the second reason why he wasn’t ashamed of the gospel. “For in it (i.e. the gospel )   the  righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written, ’The righteous will live by faith.’”  This is the text that  woke  Martin Luther  up from the dead !  Why is this such a powerful truth ?
(i)                 Because it reveals a righteousness (17a).  The key word  here is righteousness, which means to have a right standing in God’s eyes. Here is where the greatness of the gospel is clearly seen. It provides for us what we could never provide for ourselves. Righteousness is what we need but do not have. Therefore God, knowing that we could never be righteous on our own, has provided a righteousness which comes  from Him, given to us as a free gift through Christ .That brings us to the second reason why the gospel is so powerful.
(ii)                Because the righteousness that is in the gospel is received only by faith. (17b)  The key word here is faith. In the Greek, it literally reads, “is revealed by faith unto faith.”  (ESV) It has the idea of “faith from first to last.” Everyone who is saved by the gospel  is saved the same way: By faith. It is faith alone and faith always. This answers the great question,  How can I be right with God? The answer is simple: By receiving the righteousness of God that comes only by faith in Jesus  Christ alone. He  is our substitute. He alone  has  righteously kept the righteous law  of God in  His life. You have broken the law  so many times, and in God’s eyes you are unrighteous.  But God in His great love  gave His Son, the Lord Jesus, the Righteous One   to die  the   death that you deserved to die. All that God  now requires of you is to  have faith in Jesus- to trust Him with your whole life.  He is the object of your faith. 
There is a third and final reason why the gospel is so powerful.
(iii)             Because the righteousness  that is in the gospel, which when believed in,  conveys saving faith  to men and women. (17c) To prove his point Paul includes a quotation from the prophet  Habakkuk 2:4:  “The just shall live by faith.” It was this text—quoted by Paul in Romans 1:17—that ultimately shook Martin Luther to the core and brought him to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
From that  simple and yet profound truth, came the Protestant Reformation.  It saved  the world from the hopeless doctrine of  salvation by  a system of works  or self- justification. It restored the biblical doctrine  of  “Faith” as the operative principle  by which men and women  would be saved, and  so with it the battle-cry of the Reformation became  SOLA FIDE -  “by faith alone.”
So, how much faith does it take to go to heaven? The answer is  this : With whatever you have you must look to Jesus! Saving faith is putting your trust in Jesus Christ and Him alone. In order to do that you have to stop trying to save yourself.
What happened to Martin Luther can happen to you. Those who trust in Christ alone will never be put to shame, not in this life nor in the life to come.
Amen !

[2] see Paul's arguments in 1 Cor 1:18-31

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