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Romans 1:18 by Robert Dean
Series:Romans (2010)
Duration:1 hr 0 mins 14 secs

The Justified by Faith Shall Live
Romans 1:18
Romans Lesson #010
February 24, 2011

When Paul says he is not ashamed of the gospel (Rom. 1:16 he is referring to the entire Christian body of doctrine. That is the power of God to salvation, to bring us through phase one, phase two to phase three. Paul is going to expand on that in the next sentence and clinch it with an Old Testament quote: Romans 1:17 NASB “For in it [the gospel, the body of doctrine that makes up Christian belief]{the} righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘BUT THE RIGHTEOUS {man} SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.’”

There is a lot of discussion about the phrase “from faith to faith,” it is somewhat ambiguous. But the best explanation in terms of context is “from faith,” i.e., the initial faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah promised in the Old Testament who died as the final and complete sacrifice for sin on the cross (justification faith), to sanctification “faith,” the faith that is essential to grow as a believer.

Then Paul uses the phrase “The righteous shall live by faith.” He is using this phrase from Habakkuk 2:4 to illustrate the point that he has just made, i.e., that everyone who believes will be saved. This is not talking about just eternal life; it is talking about what we refer to as enhanced life, the fullness of life. It is not just talking about length of life, unending life, but it is talking about the quality and the largeness of life that is the believer’s because he is no longer dead.

The first thing we need to do to understand this is to go back and understand the Old Testament context, which comes out of Habakkuk. Chapters 1 & 2 of Habakkuk relate a conversation, a dialogue between Habakkuk and God. Chapter 3 is a hymn of praise to God because Habakkuk now sees how God’s righteousness is being displayed by His temporal judgment on Judah in 586 BC. As the prophet began in the first part of chapter 1 he is looking out at his fellow Israelites and he is appalled at their unrighteous behavior. He complains to God in terms of His justice: Why haven’t you brought judgment on these unrighteous Jews? God says: Come to think of it, I was just about to do that? I have these people over here to the east called the Chaldeans and they are on the verge of coming in and will bring judgment into Judah. As soon as God said that Habakkuk was taken aback and says: They are more unrighteous than we are. How can you use an unrighteous people to judge righteous Israel?

Habakkuk 1:12, 13 NASB “Are You not from everlasting, O LORD, my God, my Holy One? We will not die. You, O LORD, have appointed them to judge; And You, O Rock, have established them to correct. {Your} eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You can not look on wickedness {with favor.} Why do You look with favor On those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up Those more righteous than they?” Who is he talking about? Israel—more righteous than the Gentiles. He brings in that idea of righteousness.

Then in chapter 2 he makes this statement: Habakkuk 2:4 NASB “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.” The proud are the Chaldeans. Where is the proud headed? To death [5] “Furthermore, wine betrays the haughty man, So that he does not stay at home. He enlarges his appetite like Sheol, And he is like death, never satisfied. He also gathers to himself all nations And collects to himself all peoples.” So the Chaldeans will be judged by God. But in contrast, the just, i.e. the righteous remnant in Israel, shall live by his faith. What he is talking about there is how the righteous in Israel will be sustained in the coming calamity by his faith. So it is comparable to what we would describe in relation to the Christian life as phase two—our ongoing dependence upon God as a believer, trusting Him in the midst of crises and calamities. The issue is (for the believer) that he is to live by his faith.

That is the original context. But if we take that and that meaning to “The just shall live by faith” to Romans 1:17 it doesn’t fit. Paul is not making a literal one-to-one correspondence with the historical circumstance of Habakkuk to the circumstance of believers in the first century. So to understand it we go back to our categories of how the Old Testament is used in the New. The first category is literal prophecy-literal fulfillment. This isn’t a prophecy and it is not talking about literal fulfillment in Romans 1:17. Next category is a literal historical event, like the exodus from Egypt, applied typologically to the New Testament. Example: Applied to Jesus when Joseph and Mary brought Him back from Egypt. Then the third usage is literal historical event as indicated by Jeremiah’s statement in 31:15 that is quoted in Matthew 2:17, 18, and it is applied. There is something analogous between the original historical event and the present event so that under divine inspiration a statement is taken from the Old Testament and applied and enlarged in its meaning. So it is an application by analogy. The fourth category is summary. This just takes a phrase and sort of summarizes and Old Testament teaching. What we see Paul doing in Romans 1:17 and the other two passages where he quotes Habakkuk is to apply a principle in a fuller sense from the original phrase.

Another thing we see is that the Hebrew word order, the LXX word order and the Romans Koine Greek order are somewhat different. The Hebrew word order states: The righteous by his faith shall live. You can imply the same thing: the righteous by faith shall live, the emphasis being on the basis of righteousness. And if we say the righteous shall live by his faith then the emphasis is on living by faith. The LXX word order keeps the same word order as the original Hebrew: HO DE DIKAIOS EK PISTEOS MOU ZESETAI (ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεώς μου ζήσεται). Romans keeps that same word order as well but moves the “by faith” to a position following the verb, so it is translated into English in every English translation as “The just shall live by faith.” So we have to address this as to whether that is a legitimate translation.

“For in it righteousness of God is revealed…” In Romans the word DIKAIOSUNE is used 34 times. The suffix, the UNE, indicates the quality of something, so it is the quality of righteousness that is used 34 times in Romans. The phrase, “the righteousness of God” is used eight times in the New Testament, seven of which are in Romans. That phrase literally scared the hell out of Martin Luther before he was saved because he pictured the righteousness of God in terms of this Judge up in heaven casting thunderbolts of judgment at mankind. It wasn’t until he began to study through the Psalms that he realized the righteousness of God wasn’t a focus on God’s righteousness as much as it was the provision of God’s righteousness by His mercy to mankind. That eventually led him to realize that it was through the imputation of God’s righteousness to man by faith that was the basis for salvation. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament agree that man is not righteous. He can perform good deeds and do many wonderful things in history for his fellow man and his family. Jesus said to His disciples: “You being evil know how to give know how to give good gifts to your children.”

Just because we say as Christians that man is totally depraved we don’t mean that he is absolutely depraved. Human beings are not absolutely evil. The doctrine of total depravity means that every part of man’s being has been affected, corrupted by sin. Therefore man is inherently evil in his orientation, and evil is always defined in Scripture as oriented away from God’s authority towards idolatry, which is what we see in Romans chapter one. Evil is not defined in Scripture in terms of specific acts such as incest, child abuse, sexual assault, genocide, slavery or any of these other things that are sins occupying the minds of contemporary people. Evil is the idea of the rejection of God as the creator God of the universe. Even though man does good things they are relative to other people. We can do many good things, things that improve the lot of mankind, but we can’t measure up to the absolute standard of God’s character. That is the definition of God’s character. Righteousness is the gold standard of God’s perfection. Justice is another word that comes out of righteousness—the same words that are translated out of Hebrew and Greek that are translated “righteous” are also translated “justice.” It depends on whether the context is talking about the objective standard or the application of the standard. When the emphasis is on the standard of God’s perfection (His righteousness) then the word should be translated “righteousness,” and that is the standard by which God relates to mankind. That is what is rejected by man, because he cannot live up to the absolute standard of God.

This absolute standard of God “is revealed.” In the gospel we understand that man doesn’t measure up to the standard. Man is a sinner, Romans 3:23. This is the same thing Isaiah was saying in Isaiah 64:6. The gospel reveals God’s righteous standard and it also reveals the solution to measure up to that standard—faith in Christ, at which time God’s righteousness is imputed or applied to man. This is what is referred to as the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Another thing that we run into here is that the Hebrew word that is translated “faith” in Habakkuk 2:4 is the word emunah. The root is the same word from which we get amen and aman meaning to believe. Emunah is translated “faithfulness” or “steadfastness” or “stability” in every place else in the Old Testament except for here where it has always been translated “faith,” except perhaps for the last 20-30 years. So the interpretive question is: Does it mean faithfulness or does it mean faith.

If we take it here that it must be faithfulness then we end up saying that it is the faithfulness of man that is the basis for justification. In Habakkuk it is clear that he is not talking about faithfulness because the contrast to the just is the proud. So what we are talking about is two groups of people who have already settled what they are; they are closed groups. Whereas if we define the second group as being faithful, faithful is a linear process: you have to see if you have been faithful enough and for a long enough period of time. It is a process; it is open-ended. What we are talking about in the way it is expressed in Habakkuk 2:4 is those who are of this category shall by faith live. They are viewed as a set category; it is not a process. We are not trying to find out of they are going to be faithful; they are already defined as this set category. This is why historically Habakkuk 2:4 has been understood as faith rather than faithfulness. The theological implications of faithfulness, also, will change. Some people will say this is reading New Testament passages back into the Old because when Paul quotes from Habakkuk 2:4 he always deals with it in terms of faith, not in terms of faithfulness, a different Greek word—PISTOS rather than PISTIS. PISTOS is faithfulness. Paul always quotes this with pistis, which is how it is translated in the Septuagint (LXX). Even the rabbis who translated Hebrew text into the LXX before Christ understood this to be faith and not faithfulness.

This fits with what we see in Galatians 2:16. It begins with a causal participle which should be translated “because we know that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ”—faith toward an object, which is Jesus Christ—“even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” We are justified only by faith and only in Jesus Christ.

So when we look at Romans 1:17 NASB “For in it {the} righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS {man} SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” Is it the just by faith shall live, or the just shall live by faith?

Reasons why this should be understood as the justified by faith shall live: If we look at the structure of Romans and how the words “righteousness” and “faith” are used, righteousness and faith are always connected together. Faith is not connected to life. So it is not living by faith; that is not the issue in Romans. Again and again and again we have righteousness by faith stated throughout the epistle. The noun PISTIS, faith, and the verb PISTEUO, I believe, appear twenty-seven times in Romans chapters three through four. Romans 3 & 4 is the greatest exposition and explanation of justification by faith in all of Scripture. In Paul’s mind in Romans chapter four he goes back to Genesis 15:6 when it is said that Abraham trusted God and it was imputed to him as righteousness. That is the Old Testament foundation for understanding that justification is by faith. That is what Habakkuk is alluding to in his statement; that is what Paul is alluding to in Romans 1:17 and develops in chapters three and four. Romans 5:1 uses the words PISTIS and PISTEUO again. We don’t read them again until the latter part of Romans. He stops talking about faith in Romans 5:1, 2. There it is simply a transition from the topic of justification by faith alone in chapter four to the topic of reconciliation and the peace we have with God in chapter five.

On the other hand, the noun ZOE, life, and ZAO, the verb to live, appear 25 times in chapters 5-8 which are the sections dealing with the spiritual life that comes after we are justified. Those words are not found in the section dealing with justification by faith. So when we look at these three words—DIKAIOSUNE for justification, PISTIS and PISTEUO for faith, ZOE and ZAO for life, we see that in Romans Paul always associates justification with faith, not life with faith. Therefore on the basis of that statistical analysis within the context of Romans we see that Paul is emphasizing that what begins life is justification by faith and those who are justified by faith, if they continue to the second faith of 1:17, will live; they will have the abundant life, the enhanced life, the joyous life that Christ promised us. Those two verses set up the basic theme for the epistle to the Romans.

Starting in verse 18 we shift into the first major division of Romans: 1:18–3:20 the focus is on the condemnation of man from God’s righteousness. God’s righteousness is His absolute standard and His justice in the application of that standard to His creatures, because as His creatures that are moral, volitional and have responsibility we fail to meet the standard of His righteousness and therefore His justice must condemn us. What God’s righteousness rejects God’s justice condemns. What God’s righteousness accepts God’s justice will bless. So in this next section we see the condemnation of man, revealing that no matter what man does he just cannot measure up to the righteousness of God. In the first part of this we see God’s condemnation upon the human race as a whole and that this condemnation is based on man’s rejection of God.

In verse 18 we have the word “for” again, third time in a row. It introduces an explanation. It is explaining why it is true that the justified by faith shall live.

Romans 1:18 NASB “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” First of all we have the phrase “the wrath of God.” It is without an article in the Greek, which means it is talking about the quality of the noun as opposed to the distinctiveness. So it is referring to the absolute judgment of God. The word “wrath” speaks of anger in its literal meaning. However the phrase “wrath of God” is not to be understood in terms of the literal meaning of the word, but it has an idiomatic sense. It expresses the harshness of God’s judgment, His judicial activity.

There are those who go to phrases like “God’s anger” or “God’s wrath” and they want to say that this expresses God’s emotion. There are problems with that. The phrase “wrath of God” in the Hebrew where it originates is not a literal phrase, it doesn’t even use the word for wrath or anger, it uses an idiom, a physical idiom. Literally in Hebrew it means God’s nose burns. So right away we see that this is a figure of speech when it is applied to God. It is called anthropomorphism, meaning that something related to human form is applied to God but God doesn’t actually possess it. We have phrases like the eyes of God, the finger of God, God turning His back on Moses; but God doesn’t have a human body like we have a human body. These words are used in an analogous sense because they help communicate something about God’s purpose or His plan toward us so we can understand Him. So when we see this phrase “the wrath of God” we must understand that it originates from an idiomatic anthropomorphism. It is then applied as an anthropopathism—ANTHROPOS = man; PATHOS = emotion. We are talking about a human emotion and ascribing that to God, and just like the word anthropomorphism God doesn’t actually possess that form and He doesn’t possess that emotion either.

Anger is a response to a change of circumstances where we don’t get our way. It happens when we suddenly recognize we are not getting our way and we respond or react to the circumstances. It is absurd to think this about God because God in His omniscience knew from all eternity that man was going to rebel against Him and man was going to reject Him. God doesn’t wait until somebody says they don’t believe in God to throw temper tantrum and to get mad at him. God has always known that they are going to reject Him. So He doesn’t operate in terms of visceral emotions that are always in a state of flux. The phrase “the wrath of God” just expresses the severity of judgment. We have a similar expression in the English language. If you are going to court and are given a sentence that is the fullest extent of the law you might say that the judge threw the book at you. The judge was not angry, he may have been very impartial and very objective and, in fact, very cold, but he didn’t literally pick up the book and throw it at you.

The “wrath of God” is a term that is never used to describe eternal condemnation. It is always a term that is used to describe God’s temporal judgment on mankind. The way the wrath of God is revealed in the coming verses, beginning in vv. 24 and down through v. 32, has to do with the historical manifestation of God’s judgment in human history in civilizations up to the point of the time of Paul’s writing. Later on we read in 1 Thessalonians that God has saved us from the wrath to come. That is not talking about the lake of fire; it is talking about the Tribulation, which is the outpouring of God’s judgment on human civilization during the period of Daniel’s seventieth week. It is not a term for eternal judgment.

We read that the wrath of God is revealed, disclosed from heaven, which is where God’s throne is located (the Supreme Court of heaven) against two things: all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. The phrase “of men” applies to both ungodliness and unrighteousness. To what do these two terms refer? The first word is ASEBEIA. The root SEBEIA has to do with something related to deity. When it has the prefix eu, which means something good, we have EUSEBEIA which has to do with something that is good in relationship to God. That is the word that is translated “godliness” usually, from the old English word Godlikeness which just means that we are to be conformed into the image of God. ASEBEIA is the negation of that. In English we have the prefix un, which means it is not something; in the Greek the prefix is just the letter a [a]. So ASEBEIA is ungodliness or a lack of a spiritual life or a lack of a focus on the spiritual realities of life. It is a rejection of everything God has established in terms of true spirituality. The second word that is used is ADIKIA and it has to do with unrighteousness. John says, “All unrighteousness (ADIKIA) is sin.” So we have something that has to do with negating God and something to do with the violation of righteous standards.

It is interesting that this fits on the Ten Commandments, that ASEBEIA relates to those initial commandments that relate to worshipping only one God and ADIKIA has to do with violating all of the other standards like honoring parents, committing adultery, stealing, being a false witness. So by using these two words, ASEBEIA and ADIKIA Paul is assuming all violation of that which relates to God and that which relates to man. Remember, Jesus summarized the Law by saying that all of the Law is “Love the Lord your God for all your heart, soul, mind (first half of the Ten Commandments) and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (second half of the Ten Commandments).” So this is a rejection of that.

So the wrath [judgment] of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness—ASEBEIA, all that rejects the truth of God in terms of spiritual life and man’s relationship to God—and unrighteousness—everything related to the violation of God’s standards and relationship to other human beings—of men. The final phrase and relative clause, “who suppress the truth in [by means of] unrighteousness.” This is a great phrase one of the most significant phrases and verses in all of Scripture.

The relative clause “who suppress” describes the men: those who were receivers are those who are ungodly and unrighteous. These are men who are suppressing truth by means of unrighteousness. The verb KATECHO means to hold something down, to push something down, to stuff something down and out of the way so you don’t see it. People don’t want to have a place for God so they try to find some place in their soul to stuff Him in some dark corner somewhere so they don’t ever have to deal with Him. But God isn’t just going to go away and leave them alone. His reality is in their soul. Every now and then when somebody says X, Y, and Z is wrong someone gets really upset. We see this every now and then in our culture when somebody is just going along, everything is fine, and then they make some statement in relation to something that is wrong. And all of a sudden somebody just goes ballistic over it because they have been trying to keep God in a box somewhere and not come out, and those Christians want to talk about creation. This just drives the atheist and the evolutionist nuts because they are working so hard to create a scientific explanation for the origin of life that leaves God out and it just doesn’t work. It is pseudo-science. Man is constantly trying to suppress truth by means of that which violates God’s standard, so he comes up with all manner of ways that violate God’s Law, the Torah, so suppress the existence of God.

Then Paul is going to answer the question: How did they even know that God exists? He is going to explain that in the next two verses, that what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. The conclusion of verse 20 is that they are without excuse. God says they have enough information by looking at creation. Everything He has created has His fingerprint on it and every time they look at a tree, a leaf, a snowflake, a flower it is screaming to them that it can’t happen by chance. Every time they see that it resonates with something God put in their soul and they hate it. They want to live life their way and do what they want to do, and as soon as they are reminded that there just might be an absolute accountability to God they just go ballistic. God says they have enough information so that they are without excuse.