Monday, June 26, 2006

Paul's Thesis Statement (Romans № 3)

Do you remember English class when your teacher wanted you to write a clear and concise thesis statement? The thesis statement was a short encapsulation of your entire paper--it told in brief what you were going to write about in full. At yesterday evening's worship service we examined Paul's thesis statement for his letter to the Romans:

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith.'" (Rom 1.16-17 ESV)

This short statement by Paul controls his letter; in it he tells his audience in Rome what to expect. What has followed his thesis statement has captivated, inspired and puzzled generations of Christians following! Let's break it down together:

1. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel" (Rom 1.16a ESV). Our English word "gospel" is our rendition of the Greek word euaggelion or "good news". Paul will be declaring wonderful news to the Roman Christians when he elaborates on the gospel. He isn't ashamed of it, either. Paul did arrive at Rome as he prayed--but not as he hoped. He came in chains as a prisoner. Still, he was not ashamed of his Lord or his predicament to hinder his good witness to the Praetorian guards who were chained to him (Phil 1.12,13).

2. "...for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Rom 1.16b ESV)

Notice this careful observation by Paul. His Greek is captivating--dunamis gar theou estin, "for it is [the] power of God." When we think of power we may visualize something immense, like Hoover Dam's hydroelectric plant or that errant lightening bolt that scared us silly during a thunderstorm.

Paul, though, declares the gospel to be God's power. It's an interesting concept, really. Think of it: God the Son himself also becomes man during his conception in the virgin, Mary. He lives a life as a carpenter and then as an itinerant rabbi who ultimately is conspired against by the religious elite and murdered by Rome. However, he rises from the dead early Sunday morning and later ascends to heaven, shortly thereafter sending the Holy Spirit in a new way--filling the saints with himself.

Power is a changed life. Power is a depraved sinner becoming a saint. Power is a child of hell becoming a child of God. This is power! It came first to the Jew (Christianity was, in the beginning, exclusively Jewish) and later to everybody else on the planet. Power!

3. "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, '"The righteous shall live by faith.'" (Rom 1.17 ESV)

Quoting Habbakuk 2.4b, Paul states that God's salvation (deliverance) that the Lord offers people will come by way of their faith/trust in Christ. We will be looking at this concept repeatedly in our Romans study but, for the moment, let me speak of "the righteousness of God" (Rom 1.17a). It's monumental in scope.

There are differing views for understanding this phrase; in his Commentary Clarke spoke of it succinctly as, "God’s method of saving sinners." In other words, "the righteousness of God" is the gospel, with its conditions, spelled out.

A. T. Robertson disagrees; in the Greek there is no "the" before "righteousness of God" that different English translations add. in his Word Pictures he paints a different explanation:
A righteousness of God (dikaiosunē theou). Subjective genitive, 'a God kind of righteousness,' one that each must have and can obtain in no other way save 'from faith unto faith' ( ek pisteōs eis pistin), faith the starting point and faith the goal (Lightfoot).
However one believes the phrase should be nuanced, Paul will be speaking on the only way people can be saved.

If you've stayed with me for the entire post, give yourself a hand! You deserve it!