By Benjamin H. Liles
"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, New King James).
I want to start here where Paul is talking about how having faith in God's works justifies a man. And I want to do that before tackling the harder part just after this where Paul goes down the path of him talking about God's wrath on unrighteousness.
Why would I start this on faith and why it's so important to believe in this miracle working God whose desire it is to justify us, to make us righteous with Him? It is because of what He had the Son, Jesus Christ do, because we cannot hope to clean ourselves up to "measure up" to God's standards on our own merit. If we did we would have to break all of God's commands, and later on we'll see that Paul says, "There is none righteous, no, not one. There is none who understands. There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside. They have together become unprofitable. There is none who does good, no, not one" (Romans 3:10-12).
So, Paul starts this off by saying, "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." He might as well be saying, "I'm not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, it has God's power to give salvation to everyone who believes, for the educated first and then as well for the uneducated." But I don't think that is what Paul is saying at all. Numerous versions, including the King James have him saying, "to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." Why is that important, the order?
The best and quickest way I can explain this is that Jesus Christ was born to Jewish parents, Mary and Joseph, both descend from Jacob, through his son Judah. Matthew 1 and Luke 3 both give two different genealogies of Jesus Christ, so one is on his father's descent and the other through his mother, Mary. This whole exercise though is to show why those who are called just by their faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, Paul isn't putting down anyone on their powers of intellect. If anything he's making the distinction as to who Jesus ministered to first and foremost before ministering to others: more often than not He went to the Jews first, then to others, such as a Roman Centurion, a Samaritan woman, etc.
Next we see Paul saying, "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith.'" For this I do have an answer: Paul tells the church at Galatia, who have been listening to a different form of the gospel, "And it is clear that no one is justified before God by the Law, because, 'The righteous will live by faith'" (Galatians 3:11). Here's the tying factor, God shows Habakkuk this amazing thing, and it is what Paul brings to his argument: "Look at the proud one; His soul is not upright--But the righteous will live by his faith" (Habakkuk 2:4, Berean Study).
So, if we take God at His word that we can believe in the power with which He raised His son, Jesus Christ, who is the hope and the Savior of this great faith of Christianity, that means there is power in His ability to resurrect a man. And this has terrifying consequences. Think on this a moment. Truly marinate on it. If you do all the things your father commands you to do, everything to its fullest, to the best of your utmost ability, and he then makes you an ambassador to speak on his behalf, doing amazing things, even to bring the dead back to life that would take a lot of power to do, right? I think we can all agree on that. So notice this thing.
John records Jesus saying, "Truly, truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing by Himself, unless He sees the Father doing it. For whatever the Father does, the Son also does. The Father loves the Son and shows Him all He does. And to your amazement, He will show Him even greater works than these. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom He wishes...Do not be amazed at this, for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out—those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment" (John 5:20-29, Berean Study).
So, then we see that judgment doesn't come from God the Father, but rather from the Son, whom God appointed to be raised from the dead. If that's the case then we should be afraid indeed. If we are to believe that Christ has risen from the grave, from the dead back to imperishable life and sitting at God's right hand, then what Jesus said is true and accurate: "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28, New American Standard, emphasis mine).
We see then that what we profess to believe can either justify us or condemn us. When we read Paul's words in Romans, he's saying--essentially, "I will not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for [in it] is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For righteousness [from] God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just will live by faith.'" In other words, we who believe in the wonder-making power of God, to prove the nations either holy or unfit are reserved for either life or death.
That's the thing of it here and why Paul goes on the next part of his argument on why we deserve God's punishment for sin. Sin corrupts a mind, distorting truth, it elevates man's thoughts and priorities more so than that for God. And if God's power is truly that magnificent then the powers of Hell are nothing compared to that of God's great power. We shouldn't take any of these powers lightly, for they are real, they are magnificent. At the end of the day, however, God's power, His magnificence transcends that of evil, of sin, of death and all the destruction that we heap on ourselves.
Allow me to leave you with this thought: think of the power it takes for a seed bud to break forth from parched earth, to blossom and to radiate life around a dead area. If that power is superior over a dead and dying area, then it's worth noting the One in charge of both Heaven and Hell. It means the One who conquered death and the grave ought to be a sober reminder of who the truly righteous Judge is. For while He was on this earth He did all that He saw the Father doing: "Go and report to John the things you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news" (Luke 7:22, Holman Christian Standard).
The good news is this: the power of the grave is no match for the Son of God who was crucified, who bore our sins, who put on display the powers of sin and death by His dying on the cross. He rose again on the third day, sitting at the right hand of the Father, waiting for the day, the hour in which to return and to execute His judgments in the earth. It is why we read, "I tell you, He will promptly carry out justice on their behalf. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8, Berean Study). I pray this helps your understanding on faith and it's power to justify. In the matchless name of Jesus, my Lord, Savior, and friend. Amen.