The Theme of the Epistle

Study of Romans as given by Dr. James Montgomery Boice: Romans 1:16-17


I 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. For 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.”

In these verses we come to what is probably the most important sentences of the entire text of God’s word and probably in all of literature. They are the theme of the epistle and the essence of Christianity. These two sentences are the heart of biblical religion. Why is so much weight given to these two sentences? They tell us how to be right with God. Not a single one of us is right with God and is the essence of the doctrine of original sin. We are in rebellion against God and since we are in rebellion we cannot be right with God. What can be done to remedy this? On our own we can do nothing to rectify this problem. God has provided a way, He has provided a righteousness and its that righteousness which is the only way to find a right relationship with God. This righteousness is not earned by doing righteous things, but by simple faith.


  1. No One Righteous

    1. The Righteousness from God is received by faith.
    2. It is important to understand that we do not possess this righteousness apart from God.
    3. Paul lays out his formal argument, Romans 1:18 – 3:20, that we are not righteous, but in fact we are corrupt and deserving of God’s wrath, judgement, and condemnation.
    4. We see that in 3:21 Paul makes essentially the same claim as in 1:17, but in 3:21 Paul actually goes back to an Old Testament statement from the book of Habakkuk when he says “…the Law and the Prophets testify.” in the earlier verse “just as it is written: the righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 3:21 and Habakkuk 2:4)
    5. What Paul introduces in 1:17 he gives a full exposition starting in 3:21.
    6. What does the material in between cover? It covers mans need for the righteousness of God.
      1. v.18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by the wickedness.
      2. what is said in v.18 excludes no one, it pertains to all people.
      3. Left to ourselves, we use either our corrupt lifestyle, out claims to moral superiority, or our religion to resist God.
      4. Paul reminds us that certain facts about God have been revealed to all people in nature.
      5. Instead of allowing that revelation to point us to God and seek Him, we suppress that revelation and turn away from God in order to continue with a corrupt lifestyle.
      6. In the end Paul is correct when stringing together some sections of the citations from the Old Testament
  2. As it is written:
    “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

    “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.”

    “The poison of vipers is on their li’s.”

    “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”

    “Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.”

    “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Romans 3:10-18

    We may not like this description of ourselves, but it is God’s accurate assessment of our depraved lives and civilization.

  3. A Righteouisness from God

    The realistic picture given to us by Paul concerning the human condition is a grim and hopeless. It is in light of this picture that the true wonder of the gospel and its gloriousness should be interpreted. It is against the background of this hopeless and grim picture that we need to understand “that a righteousness from God” is made known. Several important things to take notice of here.

    1. This righteousness from God is the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.

      1. In 1:17 and 3:21 Paul says that righteousness “comes through faith in Jesus Christ.”
      2. Jesus posses righteousness in two senses.

        1. Jesus is intrinsically righteous. That is, being God, he is utterly hole and without sin.
        2. Jesus is also righteous in that he achieved a perfect righteousness by his obedience to the law of God while on earth.
    2. God offers this righteousness of Jesus Christ freely, apart from any need to work for it on our part.

      1. This is the heart of the gospel.
      2. If God were not willing to freely give this righteousness, there is nothing we could do to earn it and it would increase our sense of condemnation.
      3. The term for the application of the righteousness of Christ to the sinner is “Imputation.”
    3. Faith is the channel by which sinners receive Christ’s righteousness.

      1. Paul lived well before the reformation, but seems to have anticipated the coming battles over the role of faith in the act of salvation.
      2. In Romans 3:21-31 we see the fullest argument by Paul concerning the doctrine of justification by faith. Paul of course mentions the role of faith in salvation throughout his letters, but Romans 3:21-31 is the foundational argument that ties faith and justification together.
      3. What is faith? Faith consists of three elements

        1. It consists of knowledge. It is no mere attitude of mind; it involves content. We must have faith in something. In the case of salvation that content is the revelation of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
        2. Faith consists of a heart response to the gospel.
        3. Faith consists of commitment, commitment to Christ.
  4. “Nothing in My Hands”

    1. Paul tells of his experience of God’s grace in Philippians. I highly recommend that you read this on your own.
    2. Paul uses a somewhat of a metaphor. He believe that before knowing Christ his thoughts about religion involved something like a lifelong “balance” sheet. He thought being saved meant having more in the assets column than the liabilities column he thought he was okay since he had considerable assets.
    3. Paul was a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” Paul was an Israelite, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a member of God’s covenant people. He was a Pharisee, the strictest and most faithful of the Jewish religious orders. He was a zealous Pharisee proven by his persecution of the church. Paul reckoned himself to be blameless as he kept all of the law as he understood it.
    4. This all changed when God revealed his righteousness to Paul in the person of Jesus Christ. For the first time Paul understood what real righteousness was.
    5. When those who have been made alive by God turn from their own attempts at righteousness, which can only condemn them, and instead embrace the Lord Jesus Christ by saving faith, God declares their sins to have been punished in Christ and imputes his own perfect righteousness to their account.

Personal Reflection

Righteousness isn’t something we can purchase with money and its not something we can earn through good deeds. There is nothing we can do to earn righteousness because its something that is freely given away for those who come to know Christ. From time to time I have to remind myself of this simple fact. It’s very easy for me to convince myself that I’ve done enough good in this life to earn righteousness. I’ve tried treating people fairly, feeding the hungry when I could, listening to people when they are sad, giving to the church when it was convenient, etc. You know, doing all the normal things Christians believe they can do to earn righteousness. Just when I think I’ve done enough I read something like this and am reminded that I am woefully wrong. Righteousness is imputed, more on that word later, to us by the work of Christ on the cross. Just as man imputed all of our sin on Christ at the cross and Adam imputed sin to all the righteousness of Christ is imputed to all those who know him. This is a truth that every single Christian should have branded on their heart as it is a foundational belief of Christianity and one of the major points that defines Christianity. What does the word “impute” mean? Simple definition involves the idea of taking from one’s account and placing what was taken into anothers account. The formal definition of “impute” according to Merriam-Webster is; to credit to a person or a cause. Adam’s sin was credited to all men just as Christ’s righteousness was credit to all those who know him. When we hear that God imputed the sin of man onto the Christ, it means that even though we are guilty of sin against God, God takes that sin and credits it to Christ. Christ now owns that sin, it is in Christ’s account. In the same fashion God credited to all believers the righteousness of Christ and so when God looks at those who know Him, he sees them as if they were just as righteous as Christ. God now looks at those who place their hope in Christ through the lens of Christ, and in Christ we are made righteous and holy.

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