Righteousness, Wrath and Salvation

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash
In the first half of Romans, Paul presents his “gospel” by arguing from plight to solution. It is the “power of God for salvation, both to the Jew and the Greek.” Because of sin, two forces are at work in the world – righteousness and wrath. In his Son, God has provided salvation for men and women, a solution to the desperate plight of humanity that is available to all, and on the same basis, both to Jew and to Gentile – “from faith” - [
Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash].

The issue behind the letter was tensions between Gentile and Jewish believers. Its theological “center” is found in chapters 9 through 11 where Paul answers the question – “Has the Word of God failed?” Since most Jews had rejected the gospel, had God abandoned the Jewish nation? This is followed by practical responses to the areas of dispute – especially to controversies over holy days and dietary restrictions.

This “good news” announced by Paul was promised beforehand in the Hebrew scriptures, and it concerned the Son of God:
  • Who came to be of the seed of David according to flesh, was marked off as the Son of God by power, according to a Spirit of Holiness, by means of a resurrection out from among the dead” - (Romans 1:2-4).
Through him Paul “received grace and apostleship for the obedience of faith among all the nations.” And the resurrection of Jesus is the irrefutable proof that he is the Messiah and the Son of God, and of the validity of the message preached by Paul.

Righteousness and WrathTwo forces are in the process of being revealed – righteousness and wrath. Every person will experience one or the other, depending on his or her response to the gospel - the “power of God for salvation:
  • (Romans 1:16-19) – “For I am not ashamed of the good news, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, both to Jew first, and to Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is being revealed from faith for faith; even as it is written: But the righteous man from faith will liveFor there is being revealed the wrath of God from heaven upon all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who in unrighteousness possess the truth.
The “righteousness of God is being revealed from faith for faith.” This translates the present tense verb apokaluptetai, meaning “reveal, disclose, unveil, uncover,” and which signifies an ongoing process of unveiling. Whenever the gospel is declared, the “righteousness of God” is revealed, evident whenever Jews and Gentiles respond to it in faith. Thus, there is a present aspect to the “righteousness of God.”

The “righteousness” is revealed “from faith for faith.” That is, faith is both the source and the proper response to His “righteousness.” At this point, it is not clear precisely what or who is intended by “from faith” – who does Paul mean by the “righteous one” who lives from faith?

It is the “righteousness of God” that is under discussion, NOT the righteous deeds, nature, or status of individual men and women. This “righteousness” is manifested in His covenant faithfulness by providing salvation for His wayward creatures.

At the same time, “wrath” also is “being revealed,” only against all “who possess the truth in unrighteousness.” Thus, two processes occur whenever the gospel is proclaimed, both to Jew and Gentile alike.

The “wrath from heaven upon ungodliness” is the negative counterpart to the revelation of righteousness. Anyone who embraces the gospel, whether Jew or Gentile, is empowered to receive salvation, but “wrath” is revealed against all who refuse it, whether Jew or Gentile.

Elsewhere, Paul links the “wrath” to the final judgment, but here he describes its present aspect. The very sins practiced by and delighted in by those who reject the gospel prove that, already, they are under “wrath”:
  • (Romans 1:22-25) - “Professing to be wise, they were made foolish and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of a corruptible man, and of birds and four-footed beasts and reptiles. Wherefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts unto impurity to dishonor their bodies among them, who indeed, exchanged the truth of God for the falsehood, and rendered worship and service to the creature rather than to the Creator.”
God delivered rebellious humanity to the very sins for which it lusted, even though sinners “acknowledged the righteous sentence of God, that they who practice such things are worthy of death.” Humanity wallows in idolatrous sins because of the “wrath of God,” sins that demonstrate humanity is under “wrath.” This is the plight of all men, whether Jew or Gentile.

Day of Wrath – Demonstration of Righteousness: Sin is the Great Leveler. Both Jew and Gentile fall short, therefore, both stand under the just “sentence of God.” All are “inexcusable” because of sin. Jews and Gentiles stand or fall before God on the same basis.

Without Divine intervention, regardless of race, everyone stands condemned, whether “within law” or “apart from law.” Without exception, every rebellious man and woman will experience condemnation on the coming “day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” This must be so, for “there is no respect of persons with God.” His righteousness demands equal treatment before the law.

On that day, God “will render to each one according to his works.” Here, Paul stresses the future aspect of the divine “wrath.” Elsewhere, he links the “day of wrath” to the day when Jesus arrives “from heaven” - (Romans 2:162 Thessalonians 1:5-10).

Using several proof-texts, Paul demonstrates that “both Jews and Greeks are all under sin”; everyone is in the same sorry state. Since all have “sinned and lack the glory of God,” men and women are not set right before God “from the works of the Law.” Instead, the Law serves to “expose sin” for what it really is – the “trespass” of God’s righteous commandments – whether violated “within” or “apart from the law.”

In the gospel, “righteousness” is made available “through the faith of Jesus Christ for all who believe.” In other words, “from the faith” of Jesus, and “for the faith” of believers. He is the “righteous one who lives from faith.” In this way, God declares all who believe “righteous by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” and this apart “from the works of the law,” whether to the Jew or the Greek - (Romans 1:16, Romans 3:9-24).

The term rendered “faith” or pistis can signify “faith” or “faithfulness.” The latter is the intended sense when Paul speaks of the “faith of Jesus,” which, most likely, is shorthand for his faithful obedience unto death. His “faithfulness” provided the means for placing men and women in right standing before God - (Galatians 2:15-21, Philippians 2:6-11).

Abraham, heir of the world: Next, Paul introduced Abraham as the great exemplar of faith. God declared him “right” and reckoned his faith as “righteousness” while he was uncircumcised, thus, apart from the “works of the Law,” and therefore he became the father of all who are “from faith,” circumcised or not.

The true “children of Abraham” are men and women of faith. Neither circumcision nor ethnicity has any bearing on membership in the covenant. Abraham was justified prior to his circumcision, although it is a fundamental requirement of the Torah. Therefore, right standing before God cannot be dependent on the “works from the law.” Whatever the intended purpose of the Law, it was not given to justify individuals before God. Instead, circumcision was “a sign”:
  • The seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while yet uncircumcised…Abraham is father of circumcision to them who are not of circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of the faith while he was yet uncircumcised.” Therefore, “not through the law is the promise to Abraham or to his seed, for him to be heir of the world, but through a righteousness from faith.”
References to “promise” and “heir” point to future realities, things not yet received. For the “children of Abraham,” both believing Jews and Gentiles, the promised inheritance is the entire “world” or kosmos, not just the tiny land of Canaan. Here, Paul universalizes the original but limited “land promise”; now, it includes the entire Cosmos.

The promise is to Abraham and to “his seed,” which includes all who walk in the same faith, whether circumcised or not. The promised inheritance is through faith, and the “promise is firm for all the seed.”

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Because he believed the God “
who causes the dead to live and calls the things that are not as things that are,” God appointed Abraham the “father of many nations.” Paul applies this to Abraham’s belief that God would grant him “seed” from the “dead” womb of Sarah. This links the promised inheritance to the future resurrection of the righteous. The record of Abraham’s justification was not “written for his sake alone,” but:
  • For our sakes also to whom it is to be reckoned, even to them that believe upon Him who raised Jesus our Lord from among the dead, who was delivered up on account of our offenses, and was raised on account of the declaring us righteous.”
Salvation and Wrath – Future AspectsSince believers have been “declared righteous through his blood,” they also “will be saved through him from the wrath.” Although already they have been “set right,” just like the “inheritance” of Abraham, “salvation” is actualized in the future.
  • If we have been “reconciled to God through the death of his Son,” how much more “will we be saved by his life.” For though “through one man,” Adam, “sin entered the world and through sin deathhow much more they who the superabundance of the grace and the free-gift of righteousness do receive will reign through the one man, Jesus Christ” {Note the future tense}. “Just as through one fault the sentence was to all men for condemnation, so also through one recovery of righteousness the decree of grace is for all men for righteous acquittal for life…and through the obedience of the one,” - {through the obedience of Jesus!} – the many will be constituted righteous.” Just as “sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness for everlasting life through Jesus Christ.”
Sin is the Great Leveler, and “death” for all men is its consequence. This is the common and desperate plight of every man and woman. For all who believe the gospel, condemnation is in the past, and right standing before God is a present reality. However, final salvation is yet to be received at the end of the age, when God raises the righteous from the dead.

Future Hope - Resurrection and New Creation: For those who are in Jesus, “there is now no condemnation” because the “law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set them free from the law of sin and of death.” What the Law of Moses could not do because of human frailty and bondage to sin:
  • God by sending his own Son…condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who walk according to spirit and not according to the flesh.”
The flesh “prefers death, but the Spirit prefers life and peace.” The carnal man produced by the sin of Adam is “hostile towards God, for it cannot submit to the Law…and they who have their being in flesh cannot please God.” The discussion of “flesh” and “spirit” is Paul’s way of contrasting the old Adamic life under bondage to sin with the new life now provided in Jesus. It is the indwelling of the Spirit that enables us to walk righteously and identifies us as the “children of Abraham” and heirs of the promise.

Though our present bodies remain “dead by reason of sin,” if the Spirit of Him that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us, “He that raised from among the dead Christ Jesus will make alive even our death-doomed bodies through means of his indwelling Spirit.”
Paul now focuses on the future bodily resurrection. Final salvation will be realized at the time of the resurrection, and the redemption of our bodies is foundational to our salvation.
The Spirit of God “bears witness together with our spirit that we are children of God.” We are “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” But to be co-heirs with him necessitates suffering in this life, so that “they may also be glorified.” Believers must bear in mind that the sufferings of “this present season cannot be compared with the glory about to be revealed.”

Because of sin, even the creation was subjected “to vanity.” All creation is sighing and travailing-in-birth-throes even until the present, “ardently awaiting the revelation of the sons of God,” that is, their resurrection when the “creation itself will be freed from the bondage of decay into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God.” That day will mean nothing less than bodily resurrection and new creation - (Romans 8:20-25).

The present gift of the Holy Spirit is the “first-fruit,” the sign and guarantee of the future “adoption, the redemption of our body.” Thus, new creation and bodily resurrection are two sides of the same salvation coin.

In the first half of the epistle, the focus is on the salvation of believers provided by God, and the corresponding condemnation of unbelievers – righteousness or wrath. “Salvation” has present and future aspects, justification now and resurrection later. Believers who have been declared righteous in Christ, received the Spirit of God, and continue to live accordingly will receive this salvation at the end of the age.

In contrast, already, unbelievers demonstrate the “righteous sentence” of God as they continue and even revel in their sin and idolatry. Death awaits all men because of Adam’s sin, but the impenitent also will undergo the “wrath of God,” Jewish and Gentile sinner alike.

Finally, by the implication of the Apostle’s argument, both “salvation” and “wrath” will occur at the end of the age when God raises the righteous dead and liberates the creation itself from bondage to decay and death.




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