Romans 1-2 study notes

“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 author of the book of Romans, apostle Paul, knew what he meant by “not ashamed of”. He knew a thing or two about personal dignity and personal pride. Before the Lord Jesus revealed himself to Paul, Paul was outstanding among his contemporaries, achieving an enviable academic status of his generation.  He persecuted the followers of Jesus because he was zealous to God but did not know the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  We learn from Acts how God, in His wisdom, turned the chief persecutor of the believers into the chief evangelist of the gospel. 

Ever since, the man who pursued and achieved personal excellence and owned his own universe willingly became a bondservant of his Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul was not ashamed of that.

Paul was not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the good news of Christ whom he came to know to be his Lord, and the Lord of all.  Paul had confidence in his message, a confidence that is not based on human determination and conviction, but on personal revelation he received from God.

But what does the gospel according to Paul say?

First, think about the audience Paul was trying to address.  At Paul’s time (mid of the first century), the people in Rome had known many great philosophers and philosophies. The people in Rome loved philosophies. It’s their philosophies that people are proud of and boast about.

Ironically, with the increase of people’s philosophical knowledge, the immorality of the society dramatically increased as well, rather than decreased.

Yet more ironically, Roman people’s interest in philosophies originally started with their interest in moralities.

What is morality? Before we know God, we think of morality as a human concept which is created to regulate the society out of necessity. But this concept of morality is not only wrong, it is corrupt.  Thinkers among men intuitively know that morality points to something far more fundamental and significant. German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s words say it well: “Two things awe me most, the starry sky above me and the moral law within me.”

Human morality is a reflection, although an imperfect one, of a divine concept of righteousness – a right standing of man before his Greater. Standing before God, the human concept of “morality” is only a secondary concept that derives from a fundamental concept of “righteousness”.  Being “right” or “wrong” standing before God is the most fundamental issue for the existence of a human being, not only for the current time, but also for the eternity.

It seems that the people in Rome first sought after the righteousness, but in the end their actual experience utterly and irrefutably testified total bankruptcy of their morality, a bankruptcy even by human standard, much more so by God’s standard.

Those who are familiar with the human history will know what happened to Roman society in history.  What happened is not an isolated case. It is not even just a frequent case, but rather it is a constant and unchanging theme of human history that repeats itself, again and again at individual levels and societies.

What have the peoples on earth learned throughout the history? The wisdom points to this conclusion:  Even though the knowledge seems to increase rapidly, outside of the Gospel people have learned nothing as far as the righteousness is concerned.

My friend, if you carefully observe the present society in which we live, you will see the old Rome.  If you understand you own situation with respect to your standing before God, you should have a sense of hopelessness because what you have is a terribly wrong standing, and there’s nothing you can do on your own to change that.

But listen to Paul, “For in it (the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God) the righteousness of God is revealed…”

The very essence of the Gospel is that God has now revealed the true righteousness, the righteousness of God, to us. That righteousness is in Jesus Christ, and it becomes our righteousness through faith. That is, our righteousness is based on the merits of what Jesus has done for us, not on the merits of what we have done and will ever do.

God now does not ask men to behave in order to be saved, but to believe in order to receive the righteousness in Jesus Christ. It is faith in Christ that saves the sinner.

The true meaning of the gospel often offends people, particularly those who strongly believe in themselves and are confident in their own righteousness. This is so because in the gospel, God defines what’s right and what’s wrong in the most fundamental sense, not based on our sense of right and wrong but based on the absolute righteousness of His Son Jesus Christ. This utter disregard of human reasoning and human sense of justice seems unreasonable and arbitrary to many and therefore offends their pride.

When telling people about the gospel, I often have people react to me as if I am the most foolish, unreasonable, narrow-minded and unenlightened person in the world. But my friends, before you reach your own conclusion, I beg you to humble yourself and come to God to seek to gain a basic understanding of what He actually meant by righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ.

One of the most frequent misunderstanding people have when they first hear the Gospel is that they presume what the gospel means is simply this: Righteousness has nothing to do what kind of person you eventually are, as long as one says “I believe in Jesus.”   But this is a total misunderstanding of the nature of gospel.

In other words, people are easily tempted to think that gospel is a cheap compromise or even a cover-up of the ugly truth of human corruption.  With this presumption, people conclude that gospel is unreasonable, foolish and even immoral.

But moving into Chapter 2 of Romans, you will see that this misunderstanding is actually the opposite of the Gospel. God is not after symbolism, nor a superficial confession without reality. Nor is God drawing a vain satisfaction from human submission. 

Just the opposite, God demands actual righteousness that is by no means less than righteousness by human standard. In order for a person to be righteous before a holy God, he must be no less perfect than what the law (or his conscience if he does not know the law) demands. Our problem is that no one can meet that standard through his own efforts by his old life, and this is when we need to turn to God’s solution.

God, being perfect in His holiness, will not compromise. And that is the very reason why he gives us the gospel in Christ as the only option for salvation.  That the salvation comes only in Jesus Christ is precisely because God does not compromise, not because God decided to “cut some slack” when man fails.

God he has prepared a new life that is completely up to a perfect standard. And that new life is given in Jesus Christ and can be actually received by faith in Jesus Christ. Even though we find our righteousness through our faith in Jesus Christ, the substance of the righteousness comes from Jesus Christ, not from our faith itself. In other words, we are saved through faith but not because of our faith. Our faith is but a means to access the real, the actual, the absolute righteousness in Jesus Christ.

Dear friends, you see, the gospel is precisely the result of a holy God’s demand of total holiness and perfection, rather than a result of a man-made theory which offers a compromise in the symbolism of faith when it is too difficult to have actual righteousness.  There is an infinite chasm between the perfect righteousness of a holy God and mere human symbolism of faith, and that infinite chasm is filled by the infinite power and love of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died for you and me on the Cross bearing our iniquities.

I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes…For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.” I trust what my Lord has done for me, not what I have done or will ever do for myself.

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