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10 September 2022

From Faith - For Faith


Men are not set right before God from the works of the law but from the faith of Jesus Christ. In his letter to the Romans, Paul demonstrates that all men have sinned. Jews and Gentiles violate God’s revealed will, therefore, no one is justified before Him “from the law.” Jews have the Law but fall short of its requirements. Gentiles have the witness of their conscience yet live and even revel in sin.

So, if no one is set right before God “from the works of the law,” how is anyone “justified” before Him?

Fortunately, Paul does not leave us without 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.

Arguably, this pronouncement is the theme of his letter and goes to the heart of its message. In Christ, God has provided salvation for all men who exercise faith in him, and the gospel alone contains the “power” to achieve their reconciliation with God.

HIS FAITHFULNESS


Paul refers to the righteousness “of God” - something that He possesses - and not to any moral absolute or principle that men must attain or follow 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 the gospel is proclaimed. The salvation that commenced with his death and resurrection continues as Jesus is proclaimed before men.

And it is being revealed, “from faith for faith.” The two Greek prepositions are specific – “from” (ek) and “for” (eis – or “unto faith”). There is a source (“from”) and a recipient or recipients (“for faith”).

And the 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 Christ. And once again, he uses a very specific preposition – “from” or ek.

This is Paul’s shorthand description of what Jesus accomplished in his death. At this point, the language is cryptic. But this bare framework is filled in 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 put in right standing before God, and the righteousness they receive is “through the faith OF Jesus Christ” - (Romans 3:21-22).

In this last passage, Paul uses the genitive case. 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.

He is referring to his faith, the “faith” or “faithfulness of Jesus,” and most likely, Paul 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).

REDEMPTION


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,” a release that is accomplished through a paid ransom. The language is metaphorical, and questions about who paid what to whom do not enter Paul’s discussion - (Romans 3:23).

And 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” as the ‘hilastérion.’

When we debate whether the noun means “propitiation” or “expiation” we overlook the background from Leviticus. The Greek Septuagint version uses hilastérion for the “mercy seat” 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 polluted the “mercy seat” and the “holy place.” The blood was not applied to Israelites. 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.

PROOF


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 “to the end” translates eis to einai indicating purpose - “to the end, for the purpose.” And “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.”

God justifies Jews and Gentiles alike “from the faith of Jesus Christ” whether they are under the Law or not. And He vindicated Christ’s faithful act by resurrecting him (“marked out as the Son of God by power…through a resurrection from among the dead”).

And in this “present time,” men are being 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 believe.