If Paul’s letter to the Romans is indeed the Mt. Everest of the New Testament, it’s fitting to say Romans 1:16-17 should be likened to ‘Base Camp’ on Mt. Everest. If you’re unfamiliar with what a Base Camp on a mountain is, it’s the place where everything happens, it’s the HQ if you will. So, everyone who climbs Mt. Everest (29,000 ft.) has to get to base camp first (17,000 ft.). You meet your team there, you plan your trek to the summit there, you do the hard work of acclimatizing there so your body gets used to the altitude. Literally, everything that happens on Everest begins at, goes out from, and comes back to Base Camp.
Such is 1:16-17 for Paul’s letter to the Romans. Everything in Romans is founded on these two verses. So much so that we could say, the whole letter is just an explanation of what these two verses mean and why they matter. Now, I’m aware that two weeks ago I said I’m not going to follow the slow pace of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Piper, and many others as they preached through Romans. I don’t want us to miss the forest for the trees. But I also said there will be moments as we go through Romans when we’ll slow down and zoom in. Today we have the first of those moments as we come to Romans 1:16-17.
Why zoom in here? The gospel Paul has already spoken of in v1, v9, and v15 is now expanded on further. And more so, as Paul expands on the gospel, he makes it clear that the gospel is universal in its scope, applying to all people, in all times, in all places. This very well could be the most important passage in the whole of Romans, thus, it deserves our utmost attention.
As we begin, hear our passage in full. Romans 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
In these verses Paul is makes a transition. Up until this point Paul has been speaking about his calling, about his ministry, and why he’s writing to and desiring to come see these Romans. But in v16 Paul shifts away from himself and begins to focus in on the subject that will occupy the rest of this letter, the gospel.
In order to see this passage for what it is, to behold its wonder and its glory, I’d like to ask Paul three questions and then marvel at the power of his answers.
As the previous section ended in v15 Paul said, “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” This leads us to our first question.
Question 1: why is Paul eager to preach the gospel at Rome?
Answer: v16a, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.”
v16 begins with “For…” because it’s connected to what comes before in v14 and after in v16. Before in v14 Paul had just said he was gladly obligated and willingly indebted to all men to give them the gospel which leads him in v15 to say he’s eager to come preach the gospel to them. But this also leads to what he says after in v16, that he is not ashamed of the gospel. The word “For…” makes all these connections.
Now, that v16a is in the negative is important to notice. He could’ve very easily said what he does in many other of his letters, ‘I glory, I boast, I am proud of, I have great confidence in the gospel of God.’ But here, he turns it around and says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” I wonder why he says it like this. I think Paul talks like this because he feels the temptation to be ashamed, or to be embarrassed of the gospel, to be thought foolish. So think, why would Paul feel ashamed of the gospel? Simple. Because the gospel offends. The gospel says all are sinners, so the gospel offends those who think they’re good and moral and don’t need to be saved. The gospel demands we come to God through Christ, so the gospel offends spiritual those who think they can find ‘god’ in their own way. And the gospel of a crucified Messiah who bids us to come and die to follow Him offends those who are comfortable and just want an easy life. All of these and more are adequate reasons why Paul (and why we too) would be tempted to feel ashamed of the gospel.
This all becomes clearer when we remember Rome is in view. The city boasting of being the epicenter of all the supposed wisdom and ceremonial pomp and might in the ancient world. We can imagine Paul preaching there and them responding, ‘You really came here to tell us the King and Savior of the world was a simple carpenter in Nazareth? Where’s the majesty in that? And this Savior saves the world by dying on a cross? Where’s the power in that? And that’s he isn’t dead anymore but fully alive? What utter nonsense! How amusing Paul!’
But, in the face of the temptation to be thought foolish Paul proudly states, “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” Which moves us to ask ourselves, are we ashamed of the gospel? Are we embarrassed to be known as a Christian in today’s culture? We must admit the temptation to be ashamed of the gospel is present for us all in various ways, but do we give in to it? Do we feel the offense of speaking biblically about sin in a culture that’s allergic to any mention of sin and try to soften the harder edges of Scripture? Do we feel the narrowness of the one true way of salvation in a culture that’s eager to embrace many paths to ‘god’ and shy away from telling people the whole truth? Do we feel the gravity of the call to come and die in our age of ease and make less demands of others than God does in His Word? I think at the bottom of all these temptations is this: are we afraid to be thought of as fools because of the gospel in our culture? Church, see this as it is. Only the fear of man can make one fear being thought foolish for the gospel. And more so, the remedy to the fear of man is not bowing before the demands of men, but having a greater fear of God. When God’s glory, God’s Word, God’s ways, God’s holiness, God’s saving work fill our minds and hearts, when we fix our eyes on Him, we’ll fear God more than man, and when we fear God more than man we will be eager to say with Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel!”
All of this leads us to our next question for Paul.
Question 2: why is Paul not ashamed of the gospel?
Answer: v16b, “…for, it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
Beginning his answer we see another ‘for’ which again shows how all of this is connected. So why is Paul not ashamed of the gospel is the fact that the gospel is power. Specifically the power of God. This is the second time we’ve now seen this word power in Romans, the first being v4 where Paul says because of His resurrection, Jesus is declared the Son of God in power. Here the same word is used to describe the nature of gospel. Paul is saying the gospel is more than a concept, the gospel is more than a philosophy, the gospel is the power of God. He doesn’t say the gospel has the power of God, he doesn’t say the gospel brings the power of God, and he doesn’t even say the gospel is about the power of God, no. He says the gospel actually is the power of God. What kind of power? The Greek word used here is dunamis where we get our English word dynamite. But be careful here, though many have said it I think it’s unhelpful to say ‘the gospel is the dynamite of God.’ Paul didn’t have dynamite in mind as he writes this, dynamite is a modern invention. And Paul doesn’t have any kind of power in mind that destroys or power to blow things up like dynamite would normally be used for, no. What then is Paul saying? The gospel is nothing less than the power, the omnipotence of Almighty God…for what? What is God using this power of His for? Look ahead in v16, the gospel “…is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” So God’s omnipotent might, His great power, that He used to create everything from nothing in the beginning, that power, He is using to save. But who are those who experience this power? Is it all mankind in general? No, though this power is boundless God has put a boundary on it. The gospel truly is for everyone, but only those who believe will be saved and experience this power. This means the gospel of God is not just interesting information to stir up the mental faculties of curious people who like to think. The gospel is interesting information, but it’s so much more, it’s a transforming declaration. Those who believe it are more than just well informed, they’re entirely changed. They become something they have not been before, they become new, they’re resurrected to a new kind of life, a life not of timidity or fear but a life of power.
I think this very thing, that the gospel is the power of God, is something that if it were actually taught on, remembered, or embraced by Christians, many abuses we see in the Church today could be corrected. We believe and are saved but we still struggle with sin, with doubt, with temptation. So what do we do? Well, many conclude that the gospel hasn’t worked and so they seek for a kind of higher power in Christianity. Power in miracles, power in signs and wonders, power in a fuller filling of the Holy Spirit, power in seeking a personal revelation beyond Scripture. Do you see how sad this is in light of what v16 says? When one departs the gospel of God, one departs from the power of God. Oh that we would see this anew and afresh in our day! That there would be a return to the gospel! That we would see how our sins and struggles don’t reveal weakness in the gospel but weakness in us, which shows us how much we need the gospel! I think you can see the health of any Christian, any local church, any organization, or any movement in this very thing. If the gospel is left behind for something more all manner of heresy, in doctrine and life, will result. But if the gospel is clung to, even if it looks weak from all outward appearances, there is true power there! Paul is not ashamed that the gospel is the power of God, let’s join him in this.
In Romans so far, this verse, v16, is the first explicit mention that the way to enter into this gospel is by faith alone. One commentator, John Murray, put it like this, “Wherever there is faith, there the omnipotence of God is working to save…no exceptions.” Paul will unpack this later on in great depth, but it all begins right here. Don’t move ahead too quick though. Paul clarifies what he means by saying ‘everyone’ with that ending phrase, “…to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Why did he tack that onto the end? Why did he make this clarification? Is it to show that in the heart and purpose of God the Jews will forever hold a special place? No. Is to show that the gospel only went out to the nations because the Jews rejected it first? No, again. Or is it simply because the Jews have a greater importance than everyone else? No, for a third time. What then can Paul mean when he says “…to the Jew first and also to the Greek…”? I think it’s clear Paul is speaking historically or chronologically. Paul has already made it clear Jesus was a “descendant of David according to the flesh…” This is now more of the same idea at the end of v16. Out of all the nations God was pleased to give His covenants, His promises, His Law, His prophets, and more to the nation of Israel. But even in these there were hints and glimpses that the Kingdom of God was bigger than one nation. The promise to Abraham was that through Him God would bless all the nations! And fast forward, in the fullness of time the very One in whom all of these things find fulfillment, the Son of God, came to Israel Himself, born as a Jew, born under the Law. And in His ministry Jesus preached to the Jews but He also frequently ministered to those who weren’t Israelites, those who no Israelite would even touch or have dealings with. And after Jesus’ resurrection He commissioned His Church saying, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in (where? In Israel? Sure let’s begin there) Jerusalem and in all Judea…(but He didn’t stop there)… Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Some teach Jews do not need the gospel because they’re Jewish, and they’re forever God’s special people. But you see how Paul even disagrees with that here? The gospel is for everyone, and who’s the first people group Paul names? The Jews, but see it’s not the Jew alone, it’s Gentile also. So yes, historically these great and precious promises came to the nation of Israel first, but now God has taken them beyond one nation to all nations. Therefore, since it’s true to say all need the gospel, it implies that you and I will never meet anyone on earth who doesn’t need the gospel. And since the gospel is the power of God to save everyone who believes, there is great hope for the everyone!
But, Paul doesn’t stop here. He could’ve, but he doesn’t. He goes on. He’s not ashamed of the gospel, because the gospel is the power of God, but…
Question 3: why is the gospel the power of God for salvation?
Answer: v17, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Beginning his answer in v17 we see yet another ‘for’ start, “For in it…” it being the gospel that’s the power of God for salvation. Remember, these “for” words that begin these verses show how all of this is connected. So why is the gospel the power of God for salvation? There are four parts to the answer of this question, and they all have to do with righteousness.
First, a righteousness of God now comes into view. Righteousness of God. Does this refer to God’s own righteousness revealed in His character describing who He is? God is right, He does right. God is just, ever and always perfect in His character. Is that what’s in view here, God’s very righteousness? Some would say so and stop right here not going further, but Paul doesn’t stop right here. So yes, God is righteous, His character reveals it. But is that what Paul has in mind? A righteousness revealed by the character of God? Keep on to the second part of the answer.
Second, a righteousness revealed in the gospel. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed…” Yes this is all about righteousness, but it’s a righteousness of God revealed in what? Revealed in the gospel! This means the righteousness in view here in v17 doesn’t so much have the character of God in view, no, it’s a status or a gift given by God in view. How though does one go about receiving this gift of righteousness from God? See the third part of this answer.
Third, a righteousness received by faith alone. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith…” My oh my Church. Learn for the first time here today, or be reminded today, this righteousness of God given or gifted in the gospel is not earned by our works, no, it’s received by faith alone. “…from faith for faith…” means it begins in faith, it stands by faith, it ends in faith. It’s all of faith. That’s why some translations here will say, “Faith from first to last…” So see this for what it is. Yes God is righteous, and yes God demands a perfect righteousness of all who enter into His presence. But in the gospel we find something astonishing…the very righteousness God requires of all, He gives in the gospel to all who believe. But there’s more.
Fourth, a righteousness rooted in Scripture. Paul ends v17 with an Old Testament quotation of Habakkuk 2:4, “…as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” In other words, Paul isn’t saying something new. It’s always been like this. The righteous have always lived by faith. The Old Covenant saints were saved by faith in the Messiah to come who would redeem, and we in the New Covenant saints are saved by faith in the Messiah who came to redeem. Church, this is the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says it like this, justification by faith “…is an act of God’s free grace, where He pardons all our sins, accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.” The Heidelberg Catechism does better, “How are you righteous before God? Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.”
At that feather touch of faith, Church, God declares the sinner to be what they’re not – righteous!
This is the gospel of God that saved Paul. This is the gospel of God that Paul was set apart for. Church, this is the gospel of God Paul is not ashamed of. And remember, this is the ‘Base Camp’ of Romans. Paul will spend the next 15 chapters explaining, defending, and applying this very gospel to the Romans then and to us here today.
Well, how do I conclude such a powerful text? Let me say this: today is a special day for us in the Powers household. Today is Jack’s 9th birthday! And for sure, we’ll make much of him, eat a cake with him, and give many gifts to him. But be sure of this, there is no better gift than what God has given us in the gospel of His Son. His very righteousness received by faith alone. This is why the gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. This is why Paul isn’t ashamed of the gospel. This is why he’s so eager to preach this gospel.
May the same eagerness be found in us.
 Robert W. Yarbrough et al., ESV Expository Commentary: Romans-Galatians, ed. Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020), 40–41.
 Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 67.
 John Murray, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1968), 26.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, God’s Word For You (The Good Book Company, 2014), 18–19.
 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, vol. 1 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 262.
 Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, 19.
 R.C. Sproul, Romans, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2009), 31.
 D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1996) 34.
 Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, 20.
 Yarbrough et al., ESV Expository Commentary: Romans-Galatians, 41.
 Murray, Romans, 28.
 Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 292.
 Michael J. Kruger, The Book of Romans Study Notes, accessed via rts.edu, 8.27.2020.