From Faith - For Faith
In Romans, Paul demonstrates that all men have sinned. Jews and Gentiles alike violate God’s revealed will, therefore, no one is or can be justified before Him “from the works of the Law.” Jews have the Mosaic Law but fall short of its requirements. Gentiles have the witness of their conscience yet live and even revel in their sins. So, if no one is set right before God “from the works of the Law,” how is anyone “justified” or reconciled with Him?
Fortunately, Paul does not leave us without explanation or hope. After his opening salutations, he declares that there is a “righteousness of God” that is being “manifested apart from the law”:
- “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to every man who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For in it is being revealed a righteousness of God from faith for faith, as it is written, But the righteous one shall live from faith” – (Romans 1:16-17 – Emphasis added).
Arguably, this pronouncement is the main theme of the Letter and goes to the heart of its message.
In His Son, God has provided salvation for all men and women who exercise faith in him, and the Gospel alone contains the “power” to achieve their reconciliation with their Creator.
Paul refers to the righteousness “of God” - something that He possesses - and not to any moral absolute or ethical standard that men must attain through their own efforts. Certainly, there are moral absolutes, but that is not what is under discussion.
In the Greek sentence, Paul uses a progressive present tense verb - God’s “righteousness,” His faithfulness, is “being revealed” wherever and whenever the Gospel is proclaimed. The salvation that commenced with his death and resurrection continues as Jesus is borne witness to before men. This proposition could quite accurately be described as “apocalyptic.”
And His righteousness is being revealed, “from faith for faith.” The two Greek prepositions are quite specific – “from” (ek) and “for” (eis – or “unto faith”). There is a source (“from”) and a recipient of this righteousness (“for faith”).
And its source is the “Righteous One.” Here, Paul uses a noun in the singular number accompanied by a direct article or “the.” He is referring to a specific and known person, namely, Jesus of Nazareth. And again, he uses a specific preposition – “from” or ek.
This is Paul’s shorthand description of what Jesus accomplished by his death. At this point, the language is cryptic. But this bare framework is filled in with further details as the Letter progresses.
In his declaration, Paul is not talking about how believers live a daily Christian life; he is describing how they are set right with God in the first place - the basis of their “justification” before Him.
Moreover, in a letter in which he stresses that “no one is righteous, no not one,” it would be strange to describe anyone other than Jesus as “righteous.” Unrighteous sinners are reconciled with God “through the faith OF Jesus Christ” - (Romans 3:21-22).
In the passage cited from Chapter 3, Paul uses a genitive case noun. If he intended to write “in Jesus,” he would have used the dative case and inserted the preposition en or “in.” But no Greek preposition is present in the clause, and the genitive noun signifies something that Jesus possesses.
Paul is referring to his faith, namely, the “faith” or “faithfulness of Jesus,” and most likely, he means his faithful obedience “unto death.” And this righteousness is now “for [eis] all men who believe” - faith is how the penitent man responds to the righteousness “from the faith of Jesus.” We are set right “freely by His grace” that is available “through the redemption that is in Jesus” - (Romans 3:21-22).
The term “redemption” represents the Greek word formed with the preposition apo (“from”), the noun lutron (“ransom”), and the verb luô (“loose, release”). The idea is a “ransomed release,” that is, a release that is accomplished through ransom. The language is metaphorical, and questions about who paid what to whom do not enter Paul’s discussion - (Romans 3:23).
Moreover, in his death on the cross, God “presented Jesus.” Paul uses a verb that means to set something forth, to “present” something or someone for public display. And Christ was “presented” on the cross as the ‘hilastérion.’
When we debate whether this last Greek noun means “propitiation” or “expiation” we overlook the background from the Book of Leviticus. The Greek Septuagint version uses hilastérion for the “mercy seat” that was in the inner sanctum of the Tabernacle. Paul uses an analogy from the annual Day of Atonement when the high priest entered the “holy of holies” with sacrificial blood that was sprinkled before and on the “mercy seat” to “cover” the stain of Israel’s sin - (Leviticus 16:15-17).
The “mercy seat” was the place where the presence of Yahweh met with the priestly representative of Israel and reconciliation was made by applying animal blood to it. In Leviticus, the blood “covered” the stains of Israel’s sin that had defiled the “mercy seat” and the “holy place” over the preceding year. The blood was not applied to any Israelite. Thus, in Romans, Jesus is both the place and the means of reconciliation between God and man.
But there are differences between the Levitical ritual and the sacrifice of Jesus. In the Temple, the high priest entered the “holy of holies” alone and out of sight of the people, but God “presented” Jesus as the place of sacrifice openly for all to see. And the high priest applied the blood of bulls and goats to the “mercy seat,” but God applied the blood of Jesus, the “righteous” and faithful one.
Through his faithful act, Jesus became the “mercy seat,” the place of reconciliation, and the means for reconciling us to God. His sacrificial death is also “proof,” the evidence of God’s “righteousness,” of His justice and covenant faithfulness.
In His “forbearance,” God “passed over” our past sins. By putting off our just desserts until the “Day of wrath” He spared us from experiencing the very “wrath” that we so richly deserve. That is, until now, for in Jesus Christ He has dealt decisively with the problem and made provision for our justification.
But this has been done “for proof in the present time,” for God has made salvation available to all men through His Son. That is why the paragraph concludes - “To the end, his righteous one, even the one who is being set right from the faith of Jesus.”
The clause rendered “to the end” translates eis to einai indicating purpose - “to the end, for the purpose.” And the term “his righteous one” (auton dikaion, singular) reiterates the Letter’s opening proposition that the “righteous one (ho dikaios, singular) will live from faith (ek pisteôs).”
Only now, the source of that faith is identified – “from the faith of Jesus.” That is to say, the righteous man is being reconciled to God on the basis of Christ’s faithful act. His faithfulness in death is the foundation of God’s declaration that a man is justified before Him.
This understanding is confirmed in the conclusion of Chapter 3. There can be no “boasting,” no claim laid upon God because of our faithful law-keeping. He owes us nothing but wrath and death. We are not justified “from the law” of Moses, but “from a law of faith,” namely, the “faith of Jesus Christ.”
And in this “present time,” men are justified by responding to that gracious act with faith in what God has done “through the faith of Jesus.” Thus, the Gospel preached by Paul is the “power of God for salvation” to all men and women who respond to the “faith of Jesus,” his faithfulness in death, with faith.