The Righteousness of God
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.”
What is "the righteousness of God?" How are we to interpret the phrase "from faith for faith?" Paul uses the concept of "the righteousness of God" in different ways in his various epistles. In some instances he means a standing of moral perfection and uprightness which is received as a gift from God by faith. But there are some scholars who would argue Paul also uses the phrase to describe the covenant faithfulness of God. These scholars have in mind evidence from the dead sea scrolls that use the same phraseology to discuss the faithfulness of God. They also take into consideration the Jewish expectation of the return of YHVH to His people and the establishment of His messianic Kingdom.
I will approach this passage utilizing both perspectives and then combine them as I believe Paul is communicating both concepts here. I will then give practical application and reasons why this is significant for the believer.
Paul begins by saying that he is not at all ashamed of the good news because it is this very news that contains the power of God to deliver His people. Salvation does not mean "heaven bound" or anything even remotely like that. Salvation means deliverance in most NT contexts. It was primarily used in the first century to describe ones deliverance from temporal threat or danger. Paul uses this language to convey the idea of deliverance, and with this idea of deliverance, Paul intends to convey the very Jewish understanding of divine intervention.
Next Paul says something that would have been incredibly scandalous to his Jewish readers. He asserts that this saving power is not only for the sons of Abraham, the covenant and chosen people, but even for those dirty pig eating Gentiles like you and me. Paul then continues to the phrase of interest, stating that within this gospel is “revealed,” or put on full and public display, the righteousness of God, which is entered into through faith and continually experienced in the same manner.
The traditional protestant way of interpreting this "righteousness of God" is to read it as the morally perfect position of the believer who has received, as a free gift, righteousness. The power of God to deliver therefore means the power of God to deliver the sinner from their condemnation and bring them into heavenly righteousness. But part of Paul's understanding of salvation or deliverance is rooted in the OT stories of God rescuing His people from danger, and for Paul to then included Gentiles, who were primarily the antagonists in these tales, seems to be communicating something more than merely right standing before God.
Paul then uses the word "for" γάρ, a conjunction typically used to express a cause or explanation, which seems to mean he is utilizing "the righteousness of God" phrase as an explanation for his previous scandalous remark. He then includes that this "righteousness of God" is continually being revealed, publicly on display, originating from faith and lived in, or continually experienced, in faith. Thus He qualifies his remark.
I believe Paul is saying that God's covenant righteousness is now on full display for the entire world to see via the gospel and the work of Christ, but I also believe he is giving a glimpse, a short flash of revelatory glory, which would be further expounded on later in the epistle. The glory found in the righteousness received as a result of having all of one's sins pardoned and done away with. Thus the power of God to deliver is an expression of God's covenant faithfulness, and that covenant faithfulness confers onto all men righteousness, which is communicated and received through faith.
So what right? What does this mean for us? Well it means that the good news found in the message of Christ's redeeming work is a tangible expression of God's unending, undying, unrelenting covenant faithfulness. God utilizes the human concept of covenant as a medium to communicate the seriousness of His devotion and commitment to us. It is through simple faith in Christ that we can boldly enter into this faithfulness, and this faithfulness comes with a free gift: the gift of righteousness. God's delivering power has been made manifest as a historical testimony to His steadfast and stubborn faithfulness to His people. This means we can rest assured of our standing before Him. Our righteousness is an expression of His faithfulness and not our own. We can rejoice in the reality of our perfection in His sight because it was by His own pierced hands that this perfection was granted.