Paul’s Footsteps #233

Footsteps #233

This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” NLT (Rom.1:17)

Rom.1:17 is one of the most influential verses in the history of Christianity. An understanding of it ignited the Protestant Reformation during the early 1500s. Martin Luther had struggled with the justice of God and he agonized over standing before God’s anger against sin. After contemplating this verse for days he came to understand the connection between the justice of God and ‘the just living by faith.” When this dawned on him he “felt reborn and to have gone through the doors of paradise.” The justice of God no longer filled him with fear, because he realized he did not have to trust human works for salvation, but that his eternal destiny rested on the merits of Christ alone. 

It will be easier for us to understand what happened to Luther when we realise that the Greek uses the same word for both righteousness and justice. Luther, who had been reading the word in terms of justice and judgment had been overwhelmed because no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t be good enough. All he could see were God’s judgments. His breakthrough came when he realised that Paul was not emphasising judgment but a righteousness that comes through faith. That day Luther passed from being a judgment-oriented Christian to being a grace-oriented Christian, a shift in understanding that changed the world. It will transform your life also. 

Throughout Romans, Paul is clear that salvation is a matter of faith from “start to finish.” As Luther finally saw, salvation or righteousness does not come from being good or trying to be good, but from faith in the power of the gospel to save (v16). 

It is interesting that Paul here quoted Habakkuk.2:4, because Habakkuk was complaining to God about the ruthless Babylonians punishing Israel for their sinful ways. God had told Habakkuk that the pride of Babylon would eventually fall and that the righteous Israelites would live by their faith and trust in God’s power and mercy. Paul applied Habakkuk’s passage to salvation from sin, which simply put is faith and trust in God, not through our own efforts, strength, or obedience but in God’s faithfulness to His promise.

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