Romans 1:16 For I (the apostle Paul) am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
Romans is one of the books of the bible that is more of a teaching piece than a narrative story. In these verses Paul is explaining the nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ (righteousness by faith). He will later contrast this with the old covenant (righteousness by adherence to the law). The verse that got my particular attention this morning is the following:
“For in (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith.”
What does that mean, “through faith for faith”? In discussion with a colleague we agreed the key to understanding this verse lies in translation of the Greek words “ek” (through) and “eis” (for). It’s the English translation of “ek” in the NRSV version of the bible that I believe creates some confusion.
My Greek resources tell me that “ek” denotes origin, a place of beginning. Hence another translation of v.17 would include “from faith” rather than “through faith”. Both can be understood as denoting origin, but I think “from faith” does a better job of this. This gives us the following:
“…the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith”
In other words “faith” is the key to obtaining righteousness in the first place, not adherence to the law. And it is that faith that sustains us throughout our lives as followers of Jesus.
There were people in Paul’s day who tried to convince new Christians that, though they received the gospel by faith, they still had to observe the law of Moses as other Jews did (whether these new Christians were of Jewish ethnicity or not). They argued Christians should observe things like dietary restrictions, circumcision of all males, and so on. Paul fought against this his entire life. Eventually the influence of the Jewish Christians who observed the law of Moses waned, particularly as the primary engine for growth of Christianity was among the Gentile population, not Jews.
But why is this passage, and this verse in particular, important to you and me? I believe there remains in modern Christianity a tendency to want to “earn” or “deserve” righteousness; to revert back to the spirit of the covenant of the law. We want to place conditions on the love of God in Jesus Christ, often at the expense of others. We make lists of things both acceptable and prohibited by God, most often in such a way that we are found within the bounds of righteousness. I see progressive Christians condemning conservative Christians in this way and vice versa. It makes for a very poor witness to a world skeptical of Christianity in the first place.
The point of righteousness by faith is that we ALL stand condemned by the law, by dos and don’ts. Our only hope, on the first day of our faith journey and every day thereafter, is in the righteousness that comes by faith alone. Lord, teach us to receive this message into our very core. Amen.