Salvation Space Saver
Romans 1:16-17 : It's the gospel, just smaller!
Ever seen those ads on TV for the space-saver bags? The attractive, blonde, female model puts a huge pile of clothes in a bag, zips it up and sticks a vacuum cleaner to it. Right before your eyes, the size just shrinks away!
Romans 1:16-17 is the ‘space-saver bag’ of Romans. In just two verses, Paul pulls together almost every idea of the whole letter into one neat package:
16I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17For 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."
However, just like the "two-payments-of-$39.95-plus-postage-and-handling" space saver, we need to unpack this message for it to be of any use to us. Let’s zip it open and see what’s inside!
As we saw last week, “gospel” means “God’s story”. Often, we get too caught up in ‘what the Bible says to me’ that we forget that our main concern should be ‘what the Bible says about God’. God is the centre of the Bible – as he is the centre of everything. It’s only because of his grace (undeserved kindness) that we get a look-in at all.
“…it is the power of God for salvation...”
‘Salvation’ is something often misunderstood – we don’t understand what we’re saved from, who saves us, how we’re saved or what we’re saved for. In later articles, we’ll see that we’re saved from God’s anger with us for our sin, through Jesus’ death in our place, by trusting in Jesus, for doing good works (thank goodness we’ll look at that over a few weeks!). But for now we’ll remember these two important points:
- It is through hearing the gospel that people are saved
- It isn’t us who saves people when we tell them God’s story; it’s God who saves.
“…to everyone who believes…”
Many people think that by ‘being an alright person’ or ‘doing good’ they’ll get into heaven. God disagrees. Salvation isn’t something we earn, as we’ll look more closely at later. Salvation is given only to those who believe – to those who put their trust in him alone.
“…to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
Paul’s readers were really concerned about the Jew-Gentile divide. In the Old Testament, God had chosen the Jews to be his special people. He had only very rarely dealt with Gentiles (non-Jews) before (and normally only in judgement). How, then, could Gentiles be saved with the Jews? “Wait a minute!” the Jews said, “The Lord is our God! How can these blow-ins be included?” Paul deals with this later – here, we only learn that God’s salvation-gift is for everyone.
“…the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith…”
This is probably the hardest part of the beginning of Romans. “Righteousness of God” has two (equally valid) meanings:
- God carrying out justice (Romans 1:18-3:20)
- Righteousness (being right with God) given out to others (Romans 3:21-4:12)
“From faith” also has two meanings:
- God keeps his word – he’s faithful to his promises (Romans 9:30-11:36)
- From Jesus Christ’s faith in his Father and his perfectly right life before him (1 Peter 2:22-24)
“For faith” is a little simpler – we receive salvation from God through trusting in him. Hence, this section could be read as “God carries out his justice and keeps his word. Through Jesus Christ and his perfect life, and through putting our trust in him, we can be reconciled with God.”
“…I am not ashamed of the gospel… The righteous shall live by faith.”
We’ve unpacked the space-saver bag. Over the next few weeks, we’ll see what each piece of ‘clothing’ in the bag (each idea) is all about, and how they fit together to make a ‘wardrobe’ (doctrine, or complete idea, of salvation). But how should we respond to what we’ve learned this week? Well, we should look at Paul’s response. He wasn’t ashamed of the message he proclaimed (in spite of the sufferings it brought him). Neither did he just sit back and say, “Ah. That’s a good story.” No, he actively sought to boldly tell others God’s story. He also trusted God in all things, a trust that led (with God’s Spirit’s help) to doing good, to living as one made right with God. If we trust God for salvation (and we should!), we too should seek to do good, as those made good, and to tell everyone of the righteousness of God for all who believe.