Romans on Righteousness (Part One)
Romans is a book of foundational doctrine for the Christian Church. Among the seven church epistles written by the Apostle Paul, it was by no means written first, but it stands first in the canonological order because of its foundational nature. The Apostle Paul had not yet had the opportunity to travel to Rome to teach the believers there. Since the believers in Rome had not had the benefit of Paul’s presence and teaching, they needed to be taught fundamental doctrine by means of a letter. This is why so much of the early chapters of Romans is devoted to righteousness.
“Righteousness” basically means “rightness.” The earliest English versions of the Bible used the word, “rightwiseness.” When Romans speaks of one’s righteousness, or rightness, it refers to one’s rightness before God. It is the condition of being before God as one ought to be. This is not a side note when it comes to right believing. What constitutes being right before God, and why, is as fundamental as it gets.
Being made righteous and being justified are not different concepts in God’s Word. “Righteousness” is usually translated from the Greek word, dikaiosune. This is the feminine form of the noun, occurring 92 times in the New Testament and all 92 times translated “righteousness” in the King James Version. The adjective form, dikaios, is translated “righteous” 41 times and “just” 33 times. The verb form, dikaioo, is translated “justify” 37 times and “be righteous” one time. Generally speaking, the noun is translated “righteousness.” The adjective is reasonably evenly divided between “righteous” and “just.” And the verb is translated “justify.” But it is the same family of Greek words whether the translation indicates being made righteous or being justified.
Romans begins with a brief introduction in which, among other things, the Apostle expresses his great desire to come to Rome that he may preach the gospel there.
Romans 1:13 Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.
14 I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.
15 So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.
“Ready” in verse 15 is an interesting word. It is obvious from the context that he was more than just ready or willing to preach the gospel at Rome. A number of other versions use the word “eager” which is more descriptive than the ho-hum “ready” of the King James Version. The Greek word used in the text is, however, even more descriptive. It is prothumos, the stem of which is thumos, meaning heat, or passion. He was hot so to speak, passionate, about getting to Rome to preach the gospel. Why?
Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
He was not ashamed of the gospel of (pertaining to) Christ, and declared that it (the gospel of Christ) is the power of God unto SALVATION. “For” at the beginning of verse 17 indicates a continuation of the thought expressed in verse 16. “For therein [in the gospel pertaining to Christ, which is the power of God unto salvation] is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just [righteous] shall live by faith.” These words, “revealed from faith to faith…the just shall live by faith,” must be understood in the context of their correspondence to the gospel of Christ which is the power of God unto salvation. These words are not talking about how to achieve a more glorious way of living.They are talking about salvation.
In the gospel pertaining to Christ, which is the power of God unto salvation, the righteousness of God is revealed “from faith to faith.” In this phrase, the first “faith” is used figuratively. It is the figure of speech, metonomy, where one thing is put for another. In this case, “faith,” (pistis, belief) is put for that which is to be believed. The second “faith” (pistis, belief) indicates the belief of that which should be believed, which, of course, would bring salvation.”The just shall live by faith” refers not to what the just (or righteous) will do with their lives (for which there is no guarantee), but rather to how it is that they have life (salvation) instead of death.
“Faith,” used as a metonymy for the full gamut of what is to be believed is not uncommon in God’s Word. Compare the following records from the book of Acts:
Acts 6:7 And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
Acts: 13:8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith.
Acts 14:22 Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
Acts 14:27 And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.
Acts 16:5 And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.
There are a number of other such references. What follows in our passage under consideration in Romans 1, is the introduction to the just reason for the wrath of God in response to the ungodliness of men.
Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold [hold down, suppress] the truth in unrighteousness;
19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
This section continues on through Romans 3:20 describing the degradation of mankind without God. It shows that both Jews and Gentiles were deserving of God’s wrath. All were under sin.
Romans 3:9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;
10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
Romans 3:19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
What was God’s response to all the world being guilty before Him? He had just cause to condemn the world, but chose rather to provide the means by which His righteousness could be upon all and unto all who would choose to believe.
Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
Paul, writing by the spirit of God, continues on to show that men have no cause for boasting, glorying, in their own works for making themselves righteous before God since they are justified (made righteous) not by works but by faith (the right belief regarding Jesus Christ). He concludes also that this is true for the Gentiles as well as for the Jews.
Romans 3:27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded.Â By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.
28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
29 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:
30 Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.
Next, the Apostle addresses a potential objection to the doctrine of righteousness coming by faith without the deeds of the law (the Old Testament law of Moses).
Romans 3:31 [King James Version] Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
Romans 3:31 [New Jerusalem Bible] Are we saying that the Law has been made pointless by faith? Out of the question; we are placing the Law on its true footing.
There would be those who would object and say Paul was destroying the law, making it empty and useless. Right believing regarding Jesus Christ does not declare the law to be worthless. Indeed, there were many things in the law that pointed the way toward the coming redeemer. But the law had only a shadow of good things to come, not the very image of them (Hebrews 10:1). There were things the law could not do, but that did not make it useless. Paul is showing here that he wasn’t saying that it was, even though he had declared that the righteousness of God is now being manifested without it.
Chapter 4 continues the discussion of righteousness coming by faith without the deeds of the law, presenting Abraham as the precedent. He believed God and it was “counted” unto him for righteousness. Abraham was not yet circumcised when this occurred and he lived before the law was given.Thus, neither the law nor the sign of circumcision had anything to do with it.
In part two of “Romans on Righteousness,” we’ll investigate what it means to have something “counted” unto someone for righteousness as well as take a look at some of the other details of this record.