NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ONE (Part XV)
We also read what one early church patriarch had to say about the power of the Gospel: “Those who objected to the Christian gospel ridiculed it, mocking it because of its absurdity. For there is nothing more ridiculous than the word of someone who preaches that the Son of God was born and brought up by Jews, who rejects neither the cross nor death, who says moreover not only that Christ rose from the dead but that He ascended to heaven as Lord of all, that He will raise everyone else from the dead, and other things the apostles preached. The pagans mocked these things and ridiculed them, thinking that they would make the apostles shut up. Therefore, St. Paul feeling obliged to reply to this opinion of the apostles, began his teaching thus: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel.’”1
In reference to the power of the Gospel, Martin Luther has this to say: “The Gospel is called the power of God in contradistinction to the power of man. The latter is the ability by which he, according to his carnal opinion, obtains salvation by his own strength, and performs the things which are of the flesh. But this ability God by the Cross of Christ, has utterly declared null and void, and He now gives us His own power by which the spiritual is empowered unto salvation.”2 So the word “power” is the important term here. In Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, he describes the usage of the word dynamis here in the same sense as the power to heal diseases. In other words, “the power to make things happen.”
Reformist John Calvin offers this comment about Paul not being ashamed of the Gospel he preached: “This is an anticipation of an objection; for he declares beforehand, that he cared not for the taunts of the ungodly; and he thus provides a way for himself, by which he proceeds to pronounce a eulogy on the value of the gospel, that it might not appear contemptible to the Romans. He indeed intimates that it was contemptible in the eyes of the world; and he does this by saying, that he was not ashamed of it. And thus he prepares them for bearing the reproach of the cross of Christ, lest they should esteem the gospel of less value by finding it exposed to the scoffs and reproaches of the ungodly; and, on the other hand, he shows how valuable it was to the faithful. If in the first place, the power of God ought to be extolled by us, that power shines forth in the gospel; if again, the goodness of God deserves to be sought and loved by us, the gospel is a display of His goodness. It ought then to be reverenced and honored since veneration is due to God’s power; and as it avails to our salvation, it ought to be loved by us.”3
Charles Hodge offers this definitive exhortation: “We have here the two great doctrines set forth in this epistle. First, salvation is by faith; and secondly, it is universally applicable, to the Greek as well as to the Jew. The faith of which the apostle here speaks includes a firm persuasion of the truth and a reliance or trust on the object of faith. Sometimes the one, sometimes the other of these ideas is expressed by the word, and very often both are united. The meaning of the term is not to be determined so much by philosophical analysis as by scriptural usage. For the question is not what is the abstract nature of the act of believing, philosophically considered, but what act or state of mind is expressed by the words ‘believing’ and ‘faith’ in the various constructions in which they occur. It is rare indeed that the state of mind expressed by any word is so simple as not to admit of being resolved into various elements… So also with the word faith, the exercise which it expresses includes a perception of its object and its qualities, that is, it includes knowledge; secondly, an assent of the mind to the truth of the thing believed, and very often a reliance or trust on the object of faith. Assent is therefore but one of the elements of saving faith, that is, it is but one of the constituents of that state of mind which, in a multitude of cases, is in the Bible expressed by the word. And as the great object of interest to Christians is not a philosophical definition of a word, but a knowledge of the sense in which it is used in the word of God, we must recur to the usage of the Scriptures themselves to determine what that faith is which is connected with salvation.”4
Adam Clarke gives his commentary on Paul being unashamed of the Gospel: “This text is best illustrated by Isaiah,5 quoted later by the apostle: ‘As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.”’6 That is, they will neither be confounded nor disappointed of their hope… Those who have believed on Christ have, in and through Him, all the blessings of which the prophets spoke; every promise of God being yea and amen through Him. Paul, as a Jew, believed on Christ Jesus; and in believing he had life through His name; through Him, he enjoyed an abundance of grace; so that, being filled with that happiness which an indwelling Christ produces, he could cheerfully say, I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. And why? Because he felt it to be the power of God to the salvation of his believing soul. This appears to be the true sense of this passage, and this interpretation acquires additional strength from the consideration that St. Paul is here most evidently addressing himself to the Jews.”7
Charles Spurgeon adds his homiletical commentary here: “Many other people were ashamed of the gospel of Christ. It was too simple; it had not enough of mystery about it; it had not enough of worldly wisdom about it. Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” and then gives his reason for not being ashamed of it. At this day, is not the gospel in itself the rod of Jehovah’s strength? Is it not the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes? And does not our beloved apostle constantly insist upon it, that it is not with wisdom of words, nor with fineness of speech, lest the excellency of the power should not be of God, but of man; and lest man’s faith should stand in the wisdom of man, and not in the power of the Most High?”8
Albert Barnes continues this thought on the effect of this power to offer and complete salvation: “The apostle commences his discussion with one of the important doctrines of the Christian religion, the final preservation of the saints. He is not defending the gospel for any temporary object, or with any temporary hope. He looks through the system and sees in it a plan for the complete and eternal recovery of all those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. When he says it is the power of God unto salvation, he means that it is the power of God for the attainment of salvation. This is the end or the design of this exertion of power.”9
John Stott gives us his impression: “I once heard James Stewart of Edinburgh, in a sermon on this text, make the perceptive comment that ‘there’s no sense in declaring that you’re not ashamed of something unless you’ve been tempted to feel ashamed of it’. And without doubt, Paul knew this temptation. He told the Corinthians that he came to them ‘in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.’ He knew that the message of the cross was ‘foolishness’ to some and ‘a stumbling-block’ to others because it undermines self-righteousness and challenges self-indulgence. So whenever the gospel is faithfully preached, it arouses opposition, often contempt, and sometimes ridicule.”10
During the years I worked in the Philippians I met a lady with a beautiful, powerful, and anointed voice named Maricris Bermont who became my favorite singer (next to my mom). At a Philippine Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship in Manila, I heard her sing this song for the first time, and it thrilled my heart and soul each and every time she sang it after that. The final chorus to the song goes:
That’s why I am not ashamed of the gospel
The gospel of Jesus Christ
No, I am not afraid to be counted
But I’m willing to give my life
See I’m ready to be
All He wants me to be
Give up the wrong for the right
No, I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ
No, I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ
I’ve got too much behind me
To let this world blind me
To some, He’s just a name
But to me, He’s my everything
I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ
No, I am not ashamed of the gospel
Oh, I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Verse 17: The Gospel shows how God reconciles people to Himself. God’s way of making people right begins and ends with faith. As the Scriptures say, “The one who is right with God will live by faith forever.”11
Now Paul adds more to his exposition on the Good News and what it contains and is able to do. First, he said it had to power to save. Now he says it has the power to reconcile. But this is not a one-way street. God offers, but mankind must accept; God reaches out, but mankind must take hold. This is done by faith. Here Paul quotes a phrase that had already become a mantra among the Jews. It first appears in the text of Habakkuk: “The just shall live by faith.”12 The Jewish Bible renders it: “The righteous will attain life through trusting faithfulness.” And the Aramaic Version reads: “But the righteous will live by his faith.”
So we see two key words here in understanding what the prophet Habakkuk had to say and how the apostle Paul understood it. The first is the word “Just.” The Hebrew word tsaddiyq in Habakkuk means one who does what is right, not only according to the law, but also in harmony with their morals, ethics, and virtues, especially to their neighbors and strangers. The Greek word dikaios means the same thing. This describes someone who is virtuous in keeping the commands of God and being fair in their judgment when dealing with others.
The second is the word “Faith.” The Hebrew word “’emuwnah” refers to firmness, fidelity, steadfastness, and steadiness in fulfilling one’s promises. The Greek word “pistis” is defined as conviction of the truth of anything, belief; in the NT of a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and joined with it. Today, the word “trust” may fit the context better than faith. When put together, we see that this phrase complies completely with what Jesus said was the two greatest commandments a believer must have and follow: “[Faith] You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. And [being Just], Love your neighbor as yourself.”13
1 Gennadius of Constantinople: Pauline Commentary from the Greek Church, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 40
3 John Calvin: Romans, loc. cit.
4 Charles Hodge: On Romans, loc. cit.
5 Isaiah 28:16; 49:23
6 Romans 10:11
7 Adam Clarke: On Romans, loc. cit.
8 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Habakkuk 2:4
13 Luke 10:27