Reformation Sunday is usually the Sunday before October 31, Reformation Day, the day when Martin Luther nailed his ninety five theses on the door of the Wittenberg College Church. The ninety-five theses were statements of truth for a proposed debate. But instead of sparking a debate, they ignited the Protestant Reformation. The essence of the truth that ultimately generated a revolution that would change the entire world was found in this text in Romans chapter one. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’ (Romans 1:16–17).
The Apostle Paul wrote this epistle to a church that he did not plant. None but God knows how it began, but we know that Paul did not start it. Churches without a Pauline beginning were few and far between. Paul planned to travel to Roman church and use it as a launching pad to church plant in Spain and the Western Mediterranean. So, Paul wrote this letter to systematically introduce the Gospel he preached. In this paragraph he underlines two reasons that he preaches this Gospel message to the world he sought to evangelize. He preached it because it changes people and he preached it because it glorifies God.
Paul’s argument is held together by beads of glue. That glue is the Greek word, “gar”–which means “for.” In verse 16 we find the word “gar” two times tying the text together. “For [gar] I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for [gar] it is the power of God to salvation for [eis] everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also for the Greek.” This is one reason why Paul desired so much to visit and minister to the Roman believers. This statement causes us to question: “Paul, why are you not ashamed of the Gospel?” The first answer is the next “for.” “For it is the power of God unto salvation for all believing, both to the Jew and to the Greek.” How could Paul be ashamed of the Gospel if by its power God saved people?
This Gospel, the Gospel that Paul proclaimed, is the means by which God saves people. Through the Gospel of Christ God delivers sinners from the condemnation of their sin and works an eternal change in the lives of all who believe. This same Apostle wrote earlier in 1 Corinthians 1:18. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
How does God use the gospel to save us? The Apostle Paul answers in 1 Corinthians 1:21. God’s methodology is: “In the wisdom of God it pleased God to use the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe.” God uses the message proclaimed to transform hearts. In 1 Peter 1:23 Peter echoes Paul. “Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.”
This is not just some sterile intellectual assent to the precepts of God’s Word. This is a living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself through the word of God that the Lord Jesus uses to transform our lives. This conversion is described several places in the New Testament.
Colossians 1:12-13 says, “[We give] thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” When God saved us He removed us from the dominion of darkness and put us in the kingdom of His dear Son. When God saved us, we received a new master. Once we obeyed Satan through the flesh; we now should obey the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself said in John 5:24 “[Truly, Truly,] I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” I have never seen someone passing from death to life, but I have witnessed the change from life to death. The one who once was there is there no longer. The Lord Jesus tells us that when we are saved we are changed dramatically. We were spiritually dead in our trespasses and sin and now we are alive unto God. At one time we had no desire to serve Him or please Him, but now we want nothing more than to glorify Him.
One final example, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” He has washed away our sin and has made us brand new. The point is that the power of God to change us completely is released through the Gospel He commands us to share. Paul wants to preach this Gospel to the Jews and the Gentiles because through it all kinds of people are saved for all eternity.
Not only does this Gospel transform people, it also brings glory to God because it reveals God’s righteousness. What do the words “the righteousness of God” mean? There are three ways we can understand it.
It can indicate the righteous acts that God does. This is the idea in Genesis 18:25 when Abraham argued with God about the fate of Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah. He said, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” The answer to Abraham’s question is an unqualified, “Yes.” God’s acts will always be righteous. He is holy and can do nothing unholy and unrighteous.
The phrase, “the righteousness of God” can also refer to an attribute that God possesses. The Psalmist in Psalm 7:9 gives us an example of this idea. “Oh, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end, but establish the just; For the righteous God tests the hearts and minds.” God always does righteously because in His essential nature, He is righteous.
Finally, the phrase, “the Righteousness of God” could mean the righteousness that comes from God. For example, consider Philippians 3:8-9 “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”
In a real sense all three of these aspects of God’s righteousness is seen in the Gospel. It is this last aspect of righteousness, the righteousness that God gives to us, that made Martin Luther understand the point of the Gospel for the believer.
God saves us by imputing righteousness to our account. He does that because of a transaction that took place on Calvary described in 2 Corinthians 5:21 “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” This verse describes what God did for all of us who have put our trust in Christ alone for our salvation. He made Jesus our sin and punished that sin on the cross, in order to make us His righteousness! He declared us righteous! “Because my sinless Savior died,/ My sinful soul is counted free/ For God the Just is satisfied/ to look on Him and pardon me.”
When God saves He also shows us His righteous nature in that our salvation is not without cost. This is where the word “propitiation” comes in. Propitiation implies that God is angry with our sin. God’s wrath against sin is shown us in the next verse in Romans 1, verse 18. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Because God is angry at us and our sin, someone must take the righteous result of that wrath if we are to be delivered. That person was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:10. Every drop of God’s wrath against our sin was poured on the Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary. All the wrath that should have been directed against you and me and against your sin and mine He took it all and so there is none left for each of us.
How is this righteousness and propitiation available to us? It ours not through our efforts, but it is ours through our trusting Christ alone to save us. Martin Luther’s life was changed by this reality and he proclaimed it to a world that had forgotten this precious truth. So, why is Paul not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? He is not ashamed because the Gospel changes people. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe, and the Gospel glorifies God. In it the Righteousness of God is revealed, out of the faith of justification and into the faith of sanctification. It is a salvation that is ours because “the just shall live by faith.” We are born again by faith. The righteousness of God is imputed to us by faith. We live out our entire new life in Christ by faith. Charitie Lee Bancroft wrote this truth so eloquently in her hymn.
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there,
Who made an end of all my sin
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the just is satisfied
to look on Him and pardon me!