16 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. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
The Righteousness of God:
There is much debate over what this text means, because the phrase “righteousness of God” is a bit ambiguous in the Greek, and the surrounding text still leaves us with some questions concerning Paul’s intent of the phrase. In efforts to keep it simple, the primary debate that I have seen when studying Romans is whether this “righteousness of God” phrase means the “justice of God” or “the act of God putting people in the right”. We certainly see both of these definitions displayed in the Bible, and they certainly occur in salvation, but as a central theme for the book of Romans, I believe Paul is intending the first meaning, the “justice of God”.
Initially, we may ask how in the world is the justice of God “good news” to sinful man? To begin to answer that, let me first say that the Gospel is good news, but it’s bad news first. It means that we have to admit that we are broken, fallen, and in need of a Savior. Next, we must look at what “justice”, or “righteousness” in this case, means. Merriam-Webster defines justice as the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action. It’s important to know that the Greek for words such as righteousness or justice (justification, as we see it most) have the same root word, and it’s translated based on surrounding text and how the rest of the word is written (forgive me if I’m off on that second part, I’m definitely a beginner when it comes to understanding New Testament Greek). This is important because when we try to define one word, we are defining the other as well. Even in English, the words “just” and “right” have the same connotation, depending on the rest of the sentence.
So when we say that the “righteousness of God” is God dealing rightly, we still ask how this is good news to sinful man. In and of itself, it isn’t. If God dealt rightly with sinful man, we would spend this life on Earth wandering aimlessly with no purpose, and we would spend eternity in Hell. Except for grace. God’s grace is what makes His just dealing good news. God is just in punishing sin, but His grace in sending Jesus to save us makes Him just in NOT punishing those who confess Christ as Savior. Do you see that? This is where the righteousness of God becomes incredibly good news! This is what gives us the confidence that we have in Christ. If God were not righteous, if God were not just, then even after confessing Christ as Savior and living a life for Him, God could still send us to hell for our sin. Because God is just, because God is righteous, we are able to have confidence that when we stand because God that He will deal rightly with us and allow us to spend eternity with Him because of Christ’s work on the cross.
Again, we see the Gospel is rooted firmly in God’s character and saving grace. Again we see our confidence is rooted in God, not anything that we can do. Again we see that the Gospel isn’t centered around man, but centered around a loving, just, saving God.