In the verses we looked at last time, Paul was mentioning his desire to go to Rome in order to see the believers there. And, of course, he wanted to see them so that he could preach the gospel to them. Why was he so eager to preach the gospel to them? That’s what verse 16 of Romans 1 is about. He was eager to preach the gospel to them, and he wasn’t ashamed of the gospel, because the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. Paul the Apostle had discovered that, through the reading and preaching of God’s word, God works powerfully in our lives to convince us and to convert us to faith in Christ.
But go back to verse 15, for a moment. We normally think that gospel preaching is for unbelievers. In some churches in the past, Sunday mornings were for believers, to build them up in the faith. And Sunday evenings were for unbelievers. The evening service was evangelistic. A strong gospel message was preached in order to win men and women to faith in Christ. But that was for unbelievers. The gospel was for unbelievers. On the other hand, the morning service was directed to believers and it was about going beyond the basics of the gospel to other things.
But here’s Paul the Apostle, saying that he was eager to preach the gospel to you who are at Rome. And who is he addressing? Well, he’s addressing believers. He’s addressing the members of the church in Rome. He was eager to preach the gospel to believers. That’s not to say he didn’t also want to preach the gospel to unbelievers. But nevertheless, he’s saying here that he really wanted to preach the gospel to the believers in Rome.
This is a reminder to us that believers also need to hear the gospel again and again and again. We need to hear the gospel again and again and again, otherwise we may begin to despair over our sins or else we might become proud because of our good deeds. If we’re not constantly reminded of the good news of the gospel, then the Devil will come along and remind us of our sins. He’ll show us our faults. He’ll point out our mistakes. He’ll show us that we’re sinners. He wants to make us doubt God’s love and he wants to tempt us to despair and to think to ourselves that there’s no way God could love someone like me who is such a sinner. How could God love me when I’ve disobeyed him so much?
But by hearing the gospel again and again and again, we’re building a wall of defence around us to protect us from his temptations, because the gospel teaches us that our sins are covered over by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. And so — for the sake of Christ who died for me — my sins have been taken away from me; and they have been paid for in full; and I now have peace with God for ever and ever. He’s no longer the Judge who is ready to condemn me, but he’s my heavenly Father who loves me. And he loved me so much that he was prepared to give up his Son for me. By hearing the gospel again and again and again, we’re building a wall of defence around us to protect us from the Devil when he tries to get us to despair.
But, hearing the gospel again and again and again also protects us from pride. When we forget the gospel, we begin to boast about ourselves. We say:
Look at me! Aren’t I great. And look at all the things I’ve done for God. He must be really pleased with me.
But then we hear the gospel, and we’re reminded that we’re sinners. And we’re reminded that it’s only through Christ that I can come to God. We’re reminded that it’s only on account of what Christ has done for me that I have peace with God. I can’t boast about myself and what I have done. Instead I ought to boast in the Lord Jesus Christ and what he did for me.
So, Paul was eager to preach the gospel to believers. And believers need to hear the gospel again and again and again because it keeps us from despair and it keeps us from pride.
And Paul wanted to preach the gospel because he knew it was the power of God for salvation. God works powerfully through the preaching of the gospel to convince and convert sinners to Christ. And he then works powerfully through the gospel message to strengthen our faith so that we will persevere as believers and will keep going until at last we come into the presence of God in glory.
And I mentioned the last time what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians. Some people demand signs: A big show to dazzle and impress them. Some people want wisdom: They want to hear the latest ideas. But what did Paul preach? He preached the gospel message of Christ crucified. To some it seemed a weak message. To others it seemed foolishness. But to those who believe, it’s the power of God, because God works through this weak and foolish message to bring sinners to faith in Christ. This is how one commentator puts it:
it is not enough to say that the gospel is about God’s power; it is itself the power of God. Whenever the gospel is preached, the power of God is effective for salvation. The gospel is not the presentation of an idea, but the operation of a power. When the gospel is preached, it is not merely an utterance; it is something that occurs. The power of God is at work for the salvation of men, snatching them from the powers of destruction and transferring them into the new age of life.
Preaching the gospel is not the same thing as giving a presentation. It’s not passing on information. When the gospel is preached, God is at work. He work powerfully in the hearts of those who hear; and he calls and draws sinners into his kingdom. And through the preaching of the gospel, he keeps them in his kingdom.
And so, once again, we ought to pray for the preaching of the gospel, asking God to work powerfully in our lives whenever we hear it. And we ought to pray that he will work powerfully in the lives of people around the world. And we ought to pray that the current coronavirus crisis will come to an end so that preachers can go back out into the world to preach the good news of the gospel, because the gospel and the preaching of the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.
Why is the gospel the saving power for all who believe? That’s what verse 17 tells us. Look again at what Paul wrote:
For in the gospel a righteousness from God [or better, the righteousness of God] is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’
Many of you will be familiar with the name Martin Luther, the man who started the Reformation in Europe whenever he nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg in Germany in 1517. When Luther was younger, and was a monk in the church, the phrase, ‘the righteousness of God’ in Romans 1:17 used to bother him. At that time, he understood the phrase ‘the righteousness of God’ to refer to a property in God. It referred to God’s justice. And justice means God has to punish the guilty and clear the innocent. So, if someone has done well, then it’s only just, it’s only right, for God to clear that person. But if someone has sinned, then it’s only just, it’s only right for God to punish him. That’s the right thing for God to do: God must punish the guilty.
And Luther was painfully aware of his own sins; and so, he tells us, he hated the righteousness of God. He wrote:
Although I lived an irreproachable life as a monk, I felt that I was a sinner, with an uneasy conscience in the sight of God…. I was angry with God, saying to myself: ‘It’s bad enough that miserable sinners should be condemned for ever by original sin, with all kinds of extra burdens laid on us by the OT law — and God makes thing even worse through the gospel.’
Luther wondered: How is the gospel which Paul preached good news if the gospel is about how God will punish the guilty? He couldn’t understand it. And he believed that he would always remain under the wrath of God.
But then, in 1515, Luther realised that the phrase ‘the righteousness of God’ refers not to a property in God, but it refers to the righteousness which comes from God and which God shares with us. Instead of treating us as our sins deserve, God is prepared to treat us as if we had done nothing wrong. More than that, instead of treating us as our sins deserve, God is prepared to treat us as if we had done everything right. In other words, God is prepared to regard us as righteous in his sight. It’s not that he makes us righteous. He doesn’t zap us and make us perfect all at once. But he’s prepared to regard us as if we really were perfect, even though we’re still sinners.
And to those who know they have sinned, and deserve to be condemned, to those who know that can do nothing to save themselves, that message is indeed good news.
How do we receive this righteousness from God? Paul tells us in verse 17: it’s by faith from first to last. In other words, it’s entirely by faith: by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the perfectly righteous one, who never did anything wrong and who always did what was right. He’s the perfectly righteous one. And he shares his perfect righteousness with everyone who puts their faith in him. Whenever we believe in Christ, God no longer treats us as our sins deserve, but he regards us as righteous in his sight for the sake of the righteousness of Christ.
And this good news is revealed in the gospel. That’s why Paul wanted to preach the good news of the gospel. In the gospel, sinners discover how we can become right with God. In fact, it’s even better than that, isn’t it? It’s not simply that we discover how to become right with God, but through the gospel and through believing the gospel, we actually become right with God. The moment we hear the gospel message and believe it, that’s the moment when God declares us ‘not guilty’, and that’s the moment when he begins to regard us as right in his sight.
And then, as if to confirm what he’s been saying, Paul quotes from the Old Testament book of Habakuk 2:4:
just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’
Perhaps a better way to put it is this:
The one who is righteous by faith will live.
In other words, we become right with God by faith. And those who become right with God by faith will have everlasting life.
So, Paul was eager to preach the gospel. And the gospel reveals to us the righteousness which God shares with all who trust in his Son. So, we’re reminded of the glory of the gospel: that sinners like us can become right with God through faith in his Son. And we’re reminded of the priority of preaching: because it’s through the preaching of the gospel, that this righteousness from God is revealed to sinners. And so we should give thanks to God for the gospel. And we should pray for the preaching of his word.