The Glory of the Gospel, Part Three
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, March 23, 2008
Copyright © 2008, P. G. Mathew
For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." - Romans 1:17
The next point we want to speak about from Romans 1:16-17 is the role of faith in our salvation. Paul says, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes," that is, who continually believes. Elsewhere Paul writes that faith remains, even in heaven: "And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love" (1 Cor. 13:13). We are people of faith, not just when we trusted in Christ at our point of conversion, but we live by faith. Paul continues, "first to the Jew, then to the Greek. For in the gospel a 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'" (Rom. 1:16-17). Paul quotes from Habakkuk 2:4 to prove that this righteousness of God and life by faith is not a new idea, but the way all believers of the Old Testament lived.
Salvation is by faith alone (sola fide). In other words, the gift of the righteousness of God is to be received by faith only-faith from first to last, faith from beginning to end. This gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.
A Christian lives by faith throughout his life. The faith that receives the gift of right standing with God is not the temporal faith of the second and third soil in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:1-23). Such rootless and fruitless believers fall away and do not persevere. Their faith is like that of King Saul, Judas, and Demas. Such people exercise mere temporal faith, only wanting to get something from Jesus-health, wealth, power, and fame. But God demands saving faith, a faith that issues in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not the devil's faith, which is faith unaccompanied by an obedient life.
This idea that faith is mere mental assent to certain Christian facts is rampant throughout today's evangelical world. But such faith is dead faith. It is a faith that says yes to justification and no to sanctification. Those who have such faith are eager to come forward and be justified, but they are also eager to walk away and continue living in sin. But Paul received grace and apostleship to call the Gentiles to the obedience of faith (Rom. 1:5; 16:26). His apostolic mission was to call the Gentiles to faith that results in obedience to Christ.
Paul is speaking about faith as trust in Christ-fides est fiducia-a faith that issues in delightful obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones argues that the faith God requires is not the ordinary faith exercised by people when they fly on airplanes or invest money. We exercise such ordinary faith based on mathematical probabilities. So we take trains, drive cars, eat food, and even marry our spouses by faith. But that is not supernatural faith; it is ordinary faith. Faith that receives the righteousness from God is supernatural. It is a gift from God. It is nothing less than a divine faith.
In Ephesians 2 Paul speaks about the role of faith in our spiritual resurrection, which is the application of redemption by the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit of God raises us from our spiritual death, he opens our eyes and ears so that we can love God and believe the gospel: "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions." If we are dead in transgressions, how much work can we do to be saved? None. It is all God's of initiation and mighty resurrection power. Paul continues, "It is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:4-9). This is supernatural faith, not faith based on mathematical probability.
We see such faith as Paul was preaching by the riverside in Philippi. The Holy Spirit did something wonderful: "One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message" (Acts 16:14). God raised Lydia from the dead; God regenerated her and gave her faith and repentance. Authentic repentance and saving faith are both supernatural gifts that God gives us as a result of regeneration. In the same chapter we see the Philippian jailer asking, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" The answer came: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved-you and your household" (Acts 16:30-31). When we connect this reply with Lydia's experience, we can conclude that this requirement to believe was granted to the jailer. In other words, what God demands, he also grants to us. God demands righteousness but then he grants it to us as a gift. Salvation is by grace from beginning to end; therefore, no one is able to boast in his presence. Paul writes about this gift of faith: "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him" (Phil. 1:29).
This saving faith comes through hearing the gospel. When we come to church, therefore, we should listen eagerly. We should pray before we come, asking God to help us to hear, understand, believe, and call upon the name of the Lord that we may be saved, healed, blessed, and guided because God is in the midst of us. Faith is not a leap in the dark; it is based on information that comes through the preaching of the gospel. The Hebrews writer says that those who come to God must believe "that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him" (Heb. 11:6).
Faith, therefore, is trust, but it is trust in objective facts. Paul told the Corinthians, "For what I have received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve . . . and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born" (1 Cor. 15:3-8). We have to have these basic gospel facts. If we are not reading the Bible and listening to the preached word, how can we have faith? So the first thing we need is information.
The information God gives us is not a lie, for God is truth. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6). Everything he predicted happened-his arrest, trial, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection-proving that he is truth. (PGM) Everything he says is true. That is why we do not speak about politics, philosophy, sociology, or psychology. Faith comes by hearing the preached word of God. The Holy Spirit energizes the preacher and the same Holy Spirit works in us to give us the ability to hear. The Holy Spirit grants us this supernatural kind of faith, and our hearts leap for joy as we trust in God's promise offered to us in the gospel.
After we hear the information of the gospel, we must agree with it. It is like a young man seeing a young woman-that is information. Then he gets to know her by dating her, and he says, "This woman has many good qualities." But that is not enough. The third stage in faith is commitment, which is marriage. So faith, in the third degree, is putting one's trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ now and forevermore.
Paul writes, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). This is personal appropriation of the gospel message. We can say, "The Lord is a shepherd," or "The Lord is a Savior," but that is not good enough. We must say, "The Lord is my shepherd," "The Lord is my Savior," "The Lord is my Lord." That is the full-hearted commitment to Christ that God requires.
As we listen to the gospel, God opens our hearts through the work of the Spirit. Whenever the gospel is preached, the invisible Holy Spirit is working to open our hearts and give us repentance and faith to respond to the gospel that we may be saved.
We must not glory or boast in our faith, for it is non-meritorious before God. It is only the instrumental cause of our salvation, not the efficient cause. This supernatural faith is the beggar's hand lifted up to receive the bread. As beggars, we must not boast about lifting up our hands, going forward, or doing anything to achieve salvation. We may have done these things, but our saving faith was given to us as a gift.
Therefore we do not boast in our faith, but in Jesus Christ alone. We glory in grace, which is the efficient cause of our salvation. We do not have faith in faith, as John Murray says, for the object of our faith is not our faith, but our crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. Faith means we deny ourselves. We refuse to trust in ourselves and our righteousness. Living by faith means trusting entirely in another, in Christ.
Paul writes, "If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless" (Phil. 3:4-6). Paul gave himself an A-plus grade. But then he was apprehended by the risen Lord and gained a true understanding of his self-righteousness: "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God and is received by faith" (Phil. 3:7-9). Everyone who believes in this manner will be saved, as God himself promises. Therefore, come as you are, in the faith that God gives you. Come as a sinner, and he will save you. Everyone who believes in the gospel will be saved, forgiven, and justified.
An unbeliever despises the triune God and treats him with contempt. He is not only an ungodly sinner, but he is also an enemy of God, for the mind of the flesh is enmity against God (Rom. 8:7). Yes, unbelievers may be nice, but if we speak about Jesus Christ to them, all of a sudden we see the enmity. An unbelieving person is a self-trusting person. Like the Pharisee, he comes condemned and goes home condemned. He prays to himself, not to God triune. He is like many moral people. They may agree with us about many things, but if we tell them that Jesus is the Son of God and that they should repent and trust in him, all of a sudden they will not like us. They refuse to believe that truth. The Pharisee has no need of a Savior; he depends on his homemade self-salvation.
Faith comes by hearing; therefore, we must proclaim the gospel to every person, for there is no other way for us to have faith and be saved. And when we preach the gospel, God opens sinners' hearts to repent and believe unto salvation. Remember how God sent Peter to Cornelius and his household to preach the gospel. And as they were listening, the Holy Spirit came upon them. They were saved, baptized, and filled with the Holy Spirit. But, notice, the angel did not preach; he told Cornelius to get Peter to speak to them. This great responsibility to preach the gospel is given not to angels but to us. Every believer is responsible to share the gospel, for we are all debtors to the world. We owe the world the word of God. As we witness, people listen, believe, pray, and are saved: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Rom. 10:13).
The Just by Faith Shall Live
Paul concludes this passage with a quote from Habakkuk 2:4: "The just by faith shall live." We have spoken about becoming righteous by faith, and certainly this idea is found in that sentence. But Paul is also saying that the righteous shall live by faith. This is what the book of Hebrews also speaks about. We become just by faith and we live by faith, and there are no exceptions. Both Jews and Gentiles are saved by faith: faith is the great leveler. The only criterion is that we come as sinners like the publican.
We noticed that the prayer of the Pharisee in Luke 18 is a long prayer. But look at the prayer of the publican: it is very short. Instead of making long speeches like the Pharisee, we must come as sinners, like the publican, and cry out, "Have mercy upon me, the sinner!" That is all we need to do, for Jesus saves only sinners who trust in him. So we say with Augustus Toplady, "Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling; naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul I to the Fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die." C. H. Spurgeon says, "Faith is the eye which looks to Christ; faith is the hand that grasps Christ; faith is the mouth that feeds upon Christ."
Are you saved from God's wrath? Remember, we cannot save ourselves. Thank God for the gospel that reveals a righteousness from God, that meets our needs. It comes to everyone who believes, without discrimination. I urge you to lift up your hands of faith, receive the righteousness of God, and go home as the publican did, justified forever, walking and leaping and praising God.
Thank you for reading. If you found this content useful or encouraging, let us know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2008, P. G. Mathew
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The "NIV" and "New International Version" are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™