“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:17
It was the testimony of Paul that he was ready to preach the gospel to those in Rome. He was ready emotionally because of His great love for Jesus. Once Paul hated Jesus, until the resurrected Lord met him and changed his heart. It would have been easy for Christ to kill Saul that day on the road to Damascus when first He appeared. It would have been within the boundaries of Divine justice for Christ to blast Saul of Tarsus into eternity with the brightness of His glory. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound, and Saul was spared. His heart was changed, and he saw Jesus as the Savior for sinners.
Saul was a great sinner. He was guilty of pride and prejudice. He could be charged with covetousness and cruelty, for he had consented to the death of Stephen. But again, instead of punishment, Saul found grace and mercy in the eyes of the Lord. As a result, he wanted to spend the rest of his life apologizing, and preaching the gospel of redeeming grace. As Paul was prepared emotionally, he was prepared psychologically. He knew that much danger awaited him in Rome. A trial awaited, and he might lose his life. Still, Paul was not going to change his message. He was totally committed.
Many years ago, a young African pastor wrote the following words, and tacked them on the wall of his house.
My Commitment as a Christian
“I’m part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have Holy
Spirit power. The die has been cast I have stepped over the
line. The decision has been made. I’m a disciple of His. I
won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.
My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is
secure. I’m finished and done with low living, sight
walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams,
tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position,
promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be
right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or
rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by
patience, lift by prayer, and labor by power.
My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road
is narrow, my way rough, my companions few, my Guide
reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised,
detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed. I
will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the
presence of the adversary, negotiate at the table of the
enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the
maze of mediocrity.
I won’t give up, shut up, let up, until I have stayed up,
stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause
of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till He
comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till
He stops me. And when He comes for His own, He will have no
problems recognizing me my banner will be clear!”
In addition to emotional and mental preparation for preaching the gospel, Paul was prepared theologically. Illuminated by Divine revelation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Paul had thought through the implications of the gospel. His irrevocable position was that the gospel was nothing to be ashamed of, because it was the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth. Furthermore, in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed. Prior to Christ, Paul, like all orthodox Jews, looked to the Law, for the righteousness of God was revealed therein. It was to the Law that men looked for the way of salvation. People were taught that righteousness consisted in keeping the Law, for the Law was holy, just, and good.
However, the problem was that no one could keep the Law. Many tried. Sacrifices were offered. The Scriptures were studied. Special days were observed. The Law of the Lord was loved. But was this righteousness? Was this ceremonial activity the righteousness of God? These were the haunting questions for thinking men and women. And the honest answer was, No! The attempts to keep the Law seemed inadequate, for no one could keep it perfectly. The Law was too demanding. It was precise, exacting, and far above what men could produce. The Law condemned individuals with a sensitive conscience.
The Law condemned the best efforts of men, as individuals realized that the righteousness of God was not just a matter of degrees whereby one man kept 20% of the Law, and another person kept 80% and God kept it all. No. The righteousness of God was part of His essence. God’s righteousness is not a matter of submission to external commandments. God’s righteousness is His attribute. Fallen man does not have the innate righteousness of God. The best he can now do is seek after it. But in the seeking, the discovery is made that the soul will always fall short of the high and holy standard. Once Israel realized that the Law could not be kept perfectly, several groups were formed. Into one group were those who were still determined that they would at least keep as much of the Law as possible. Such were the Scribes and the Pharisees. They hoped that somehow, someday, their good lives would be accepted after all.
In another group were those who decided to enjoy life by being religious, if not righteous. Life would be lived without any real concern with the demands of the Law. Still another group just decided to forget the Law, and embrace a lifestyle of hedonism. They are described in Romans 1:21-32.
Different from all of these groups was one more. It was much smaller than the rest. It could be called the elect, for it was a remnant according to grace. Into this group of people came the glorious light of gospel truth, that the just shall live by faith. How did the gospel come to this group? Very simply, one person told another, so that from the faith of one soul the faith of the other was strengthened. In the process of sharing messages, several truths were communicated, the most important being that it is the gospel that displays the righteousness of God.
The gospel tells us that God is distinct from mankind. The gospel reveals that God is absolute holiness, righteousness, and goodness. His holiness is not something to fear, but to honor, and respect. While God’s righteousness condemns sinners, it causes some souls to want to be holy in His sight. But how is that possible? By keeping the Law? No. By faith! The gospel message declares that, “not all the blood of beasts on Jewish altars slain, Could give the guilty conscience peace, or wash away the stain.”
But Christ, the heavenly Lamb, takes all our sins away, A sacrifice of nobler Name and richer blood than they. By faith the righteous shall live. The righteous shall live in time. It is a new life, not of works, but of faith. It is life, not of striving, but serving. It is a life, not of trying, but of trusting. Oh, what freedom there is in a life of faith. There is freedom from fear, freedom from failure, and freedom from future condemnation. Christ clothes Christians with garments of His own righteousness, so that we can step forth into the company of the saved. We step out of the sphere of death, and into life, and sing,
“Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness,
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Mid flaming worlds in these arrayed
With joy shall I lift up my heart.”
To every heart the gospel comes asking, “Are you living a life of faith?” “Are you trusting in Jesus?” To trust in Christ means to cast oneself upon Him for salvation. This concept is not always easy to communicate.
Stretch Thyself Out
In the early days of the gospel in the South Pacific isles, many missionaries were killed by the natives who were in a state of savage cannibalism. Finally, John G. Paton arrived at his destination in the New Hebrides, and by one of the acts of Providence, which unbelieving men call chance, he came to the island at the moment when there was a terrible epidemic that had decimated the population. He entered into the huts of the sick and began to care for them. He buried the dead and tended to the sick. When the epidemic had passed, he was received by all, and began to take up his life with them. His first thought was to learn their language, and he began to listen to their speech, and write down in his note book all the words and phrases which he learned. The natives became accustomed to having him stop them in the middle of a sentence, repeating words, and waiting while he wrote them down. Then came a time when John decided that he would begin to translate some of the gospel stories into their language. But to his dismay, when he began the task he discovered that there was no word in his book for faith, confidence, trust, and belief. You will not get very far in translating the Bible without such words, and he turned his full attention to finding something that would convey the missing idea. Nothing availed.
He imagined stories that would bring up possible conversations that would contain such a word. The natives knew that he was seeking something, but they could not imagine what it was. After some time of frustration, he went on a hunting trip with one of his helpers. They shot a deer-like animal and several smaller game, and started to carry their kill back to the house of the missionary. The equatorial weather was oppressive; the hill in which they hunted was trackless; and they arrived at the house almost exhausted. They dropped their heavy burden, and then cast themselves down on the grass to rest. The native said, after a moment, Oh, it is good to stretch yourself out here in the shade.
John Paton revived on the instant. Excitedly he had his companion repeat the sentence again and again. He put every bit of it down in his book; and, when the Gospels were ultimately translated, this was the word that was used to convey the idea of faith and belief. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever stretcheth Himself out on Him, shall not perish, but have everlasting life. And stretch yourself out on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” And again, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and in thine heart stretch thyself out on the fact that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved; for with the heart one stretcheth himself out unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.“
This is the Life of Faith
Sometimes discovering this simple truth takes a long time. That was the case with Martin Luther. For many years Luther tried to know the righteousness of God by keeping the Law. Then the hour came when God revealed to Him the true meaning of salvation in Romans 1:17. Of this whole experience Boreham of Australia wrote the following. “It goes without saying that the text that made Martin Luther, made history with a vengeance. When, through its mystical but mighty ministry, Martin Luther entered the newness of life, the face of the world was changed. It was as though all the windows of Europe had been suddenly thrown open, and the sunshine came streaming in everywhere. The destiny of empires was turned that day into a new channel.”
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) has written, in a stirring manner, to show that every nation under heaven stood or fell according to the attitude that it assumed toward Martin Luther. “I call this Luther a true great man. He is great in intellect, great in courage, great in affection and integrity one of our most lovable and gracious men. He is great, not as a hewn monolith is great, but as an Alpine mountain is great; so simple, honest, spontaneous; not setting himself up to be great, but there for quite another purpose than the purpose of being great! A mighty man, he says again: What were all emperors, popes and potentates in comparison? His life to flame as a beacon over long centuries and epochs of the world; the whole world and its history was waiting for this man!” And elsewhere he declares that the moment in which Luther defied the wrath of the Diet of Worms, was the greatest moment in the history of men. Here, then, was the man; what was the text that made him?
“Let us visit a very interesting European library. Here, in the Covenant Library at Erfurt, we are shown an exceedingly famous and beautiful picture. It represents Luther as a young monk of four and twenty, poring in the early morning over a copy of the Scriptures to which a bit of broken chain is hanging. The dawn is stealing through the open lattice, illumining both the open Bible and the eager face of its reader. And on the page that the young monk so intently studies are to be seen the words: ‘the just shall live by faith.’ These are the words that made the world all over again. If we want to live a life of faith, then let us resolve to be like the saints of old and say, ‘I will, like Paul, forget those things that are behind and press forward. Abraham, trusted implicitly in my God. I will, like Moses, choose rather to suffer than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. I will, like Daniel, commune with my God at all times. I will, like Caleb and Joshua, refuse to be discouraged because of superior numbers. With Joseph, I will turn my back to all seductive advances. Gideon, advance even though my friends be few. With Isaiah, I will consecrate myself to do God’s work. Like Andrew, I will strive to lead my brother into a closer walk with Christ. As John leaned upon the bosom of the Master and imbibed of His Spirit, so will I. As Stephen manifested a forgiving spirit toward all who hurt him, so will I. After the manner Timothy, I will study the Word of God. With the heavenly hosts, I will proclaim the message of peace on earth and good will to all men. I will, by faith, rely upon Christ, for I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.’” This is the life of faith.