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What Does Romans 1:16 Mean?

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“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek, (Romans 1:16).

A. For.

 “For”; is subordinating conjunction expressing cause or explanation and thus introduces an explanation. In simple terms, “for” is a term of explanation, and its occurrence should always prompt one to pause and ponder the text and context, asking what the author is explaining, how he explains it, etc. While not every “for” in the Bible is a term of explanation, most are, and since there are over 7000 uses of “for” (NKJV), you will have ample opportunity to observe and interrogate the text. As you practice this discipline of pausing to ponder, you are establishing the context (which leads to more accurate interpretation and thus more appropriate application), and you are, in effect, engaging in the blessed activity of Biblical Meditation (see Psalm 1:2, Psalm 1:3, Joshua 1:8). When “for” is used at the beginning of a passage (as Ro 1:16), it is usually a term of explanation. The “for” links this verse to the last thought. This verse is in the context of Romans 1:14–18. At Rome, if anywhere, he might be “ashamed” (Mark 8:38) of the message of a crucified Saviour, a message, too, which pronounced, “the whole world guilty before God.” But he was not ashamed of his message and was ready to “see Rome.”

B. Unashamed of the Gospel.

In saying he was “not ashamed,” Paul may have had in his mind our Lord’s own words (Mark 8:38 and Luke 9:26.) In this verse of the passage, 1 Corinthians 1:17-31, we are reminded that I am not ashamed to own and publish this Gospel of Christ. I do not shrink back and withdraw myself, as men do from these things whereof, they are ashamed. Neither indeed need I because, however, it seems to be to carnal eyes. 

  • “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,”. This language implies that it requires some courage to bring to “the mistress of the world” what “to the Jews was a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness” (1Co 1:23). But its inherent glory, as God’s life-giving message to a dying world, so filled his soul, that, like his blessed Master, Paul “despised the shame.”
  • “I am not ashamed … “The Jews had cast him off and regarded him as an apostate; and by the wise, among the Gentiles, he had been persecuted, and despised, and driven from place to place, and regarded as the filth of the world, and the offscouring of all things 1 Corinthians 4:13, but still he was not ashamed of the Gospel. He had a firm conviction of its value and truth; he had experienced so much of its consolations and had seen so much of its efficacy; that he was so far from being ashamed of it that he gloried in it as the power of God unto salvation. People should be ashamed of crime and folly. They are ashamed of their own offences and the foolishness of their conduct when they come to reflect on it. But they are not ashamed of what they feel to be right and of what they know will contribute to their welfare and the benefit of their fellow men. Such were the views of Paul about the Gospel; and it is one of his favourite doctrines that they who believe in Christ shall not be ashamed, Romans 10:11; Romans 5:5; 2 Corinthians 7:14; 2 Timothy 1:12; Philippians 1:20; Romans 9:33; 2 Timothy 1:8; compare Mark 8:38; 1 Peter 4:16; 1 John 2:28.
  • Paul was indubitably unashamed, and the Gospel had indeed created many “scandals” for Paul – he had been imprisoned in Philippi (Acts 16:23, 24), chased out of Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9), smuggled out of Berea (Acts 17:10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15), sneered at in Athens (Acts 17:32), regarded as a fool in Corinth (1Cor 1:18 23), and stoned in Galatia (Acts 14:19), but Paul remained eager to preach the Gospel in Rome—the seat of contemporary political power and pagan religion. Neither ridicule, criticism, nor physical persecution could curb his boldness. (2 Corinthians 4:5-18; 11:23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28; 12:9). But its inherent glory, as God’s life-giving message to a dying world, so filled his soul, that, like his blessed Master, Paul “despised the shame.” (Hebrews 12:2)

The four reasons Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel. “I am not ashamed of the gospel of CHRIST,” Romans 1:16; and he unfolds the reasons why he was not ashamed in the use of those four “for’s” in Romans 1:16-18:

  1. (“For” the People it serves: Roman, Jew, Greek, so universal in its range.
  2. “For” the power it shows: the dynamite power of GOD: not to destruction, but salvation, “turning right side up,” not as Acts 17:6. 
  3. “For” the problem, it solves the way in which GOD can righteously exercise His love in saving us. 
  4. “For” the Pardon it secures instead of “the wrath of God” for all who turn and trust Him. All that the Gospel does for believers and such glorious effects endow Paul’s message with a quality he can never be ashamed of. (Philippians 1:12-26)

When we have the opportunity to speak for Christ, we often do not. We know the Gospel is unattractive, intimidating, and repulsive to the natural, unsaved person and the ungodly spiritual system that now dominates the world. The Gospel exposes man’s sin, wickedness, depravity, and lostness, and it declares pride to be despicable and works righteousness to be worthless in God’s sight. But, to the sinful heart of unbelievers, the Gospel does not appear to be good news but bad, and when they first hear it, they often react with disdain against the one presenting it or throw out arguments and theories against it. Fear of men and not being able to handle their arguments are some of the greatest impediments to being a bold witness for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Criticism, ridicule, tradition, and rejection prevent many believers from leaving the security of Christian fellowship to witness to the unsaved.

C. The Gospel 

Of the Gospel – This Word means the “good news,” or the glad intelligence; It is so-called because it contains the glad annunciation that sin may be pardoned, and the soul saved.

Because there is great power in the Gospel, we can always confidently share the good news. The Gospel is not advice to people, suggesting that they lift themselves. It is power. It lifts them up. Paul does not say that the Gospel brings power, but that it is (present tense = continually) power, and God’s (Omnipotent) power at that. Here are a few verses on the power of God’s Word, especially the GOSPEL “Is not My word like fire?” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer which shatters a rock?” (Jeremiah 23:29) “For the word of the cross (THE GOSPEL) is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”. (1 Corinthians 1:18). “And my message and my preaching (THE GOSPEL) were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power”, (1 Corinthians 2:4). “because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it (THE GOSPEL) is constantly bearing fruit and increasing (NOTE THE INTRINSIC POWER OF THE GOSPEL – WHEN YOU SPEAK IT FORTH IT IS NOT YOUR POWER BUT GOD’S POWER GOING FORTH! THAT TAKES THE PRESSURE OFF OF US TO HAVE A “PERFECT PRESENTATION!”), even as [it has been doing] in you also since the day you heard [of it] and understood the grace of God in truth” (Colossians 1:5; 6). “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake”. (1 Thessalonians 1:5). “For this reason, we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God (THE GOSPEL) which you heard from us, you accepted [it] not [as] the word of men, but [for] what it really is, the word of God (THE GOSPEL), which also performs (energeo in the present tense = continually!) its work in you who believe”. (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

D. Gospel of Christ

Of Christ – The good news respecting the Messiah; or which the Messiah has brought. The expression probably refers to the former, the good news that relates to the Messiah, his character, advent, preaching, death, resurrection, and ascension. Though this was “to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness,” yet he regarded it as the only hope of salvation and was ready to preach it even in the rich and splendid capital of the world –Rome.

E. Power of God

It is the power of God unto salvation, not the essential power of God, but the organic power. See the like, 1 Corinthians 1:18. It is a powerful means ordained by God for this purpose, touching the efficacy and excellent power of the Gospel for the conversion and salvation of the souls of men (Isaiah 53:1 1 Corinthians 4:15 2 Corinthians 4:7 2 Corinthians 10:4,5 Heb 4:12 Jam 1:21).

“The power of God” – This expression means that it is the way in which God exerts his power in the salvation of people. It is the efficacious or mighty plan by which power goes forth to save and by which all the obstacles of man’s redemption are taken away. This expression implies,

  1. That it is God’s plan or appointment, it is not man’s device.
  2. It is adapted to the end. It is suited to overcome the obstacles in the way. It is not merely the instrument by which God exerts his power, but it has inherent adaptedness to the end; it is suited to accomplish salvation to man so that it may be denominated power.
  3. It is mighty; hence, it is called power and the power of God. It is not a feeble and ineffectual instrumentality but “mighty to the pulling down of strongholds,” 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. It has shown its power as applicable to every degree of sin and every wickedness combination. It has gone against the sins of the world and displayed its power to save sinners of all grades and to overcome and subdue every mighty form of iniquity; compare Jeremiah 23:29, “Is not my Word like as a fire? Saith the Lord, and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” 1 Corinthians 1:18, “the preaching of the cross is to them that perish, foolishness, but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God.”

“Power of God” Study the 13 NT occurrences of this great phrase = Matthew 22:29; Mark 12:24; Luke 22:69; Acts 8:10; Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18, 24; 2:5; 2 Corinthians 6:7; 13:4; 2Timothy 1:8; 1Peter 1:5. Note that power translates one of the favourite Greek words, dunamis, the inherent ability to accomplish a task in each of these passages. This doctrine of the true Messiah brought to bear God’s energy, to the result of “salvation.”

 F. Salvation

Salvation (4991) (soteria [word study] from soter [word study] = Savior in turn from sozo [word study] = save, rescue, deliver) describes the rescue or deliverance from danger, destruction and peril. Salvation is a broader term in Greek than we often think of in English. Other inherent concepts in soteria include restoration to a state of safety, soundness, health and well-being, and preservation from the danger of destruction.

  • Salvation is not something we ACHIEVE, but something we RECEIVE when we BELIEVE. (Jn 1:11, 12, 13). I would add that the Gospel is not just some “thing” we receive but some “One” we receive for when we believe we receive the Spirit of Jesus Christ indwelling our bodies, His “temple.”
  • Salvation through Christ is God’s powerful hand, as it were (Is 50:2, 59:1), that He has let down to lift men up from the deadly “bite” and despair of sin (Jn 3:13, 14, 15) and the destiny of eternal separation from His glorious presence (2Th 1:8, 9). His salvation brings deliverance from the spiritual infection of “this perverse generation” (Acts 2:40, Philippians 2:15), from lostness (Matthew 18:11), from sin (Matthew 1:21 = Jesus very name = Jehovah saves!), and from the wrath of God (1Thessalonians 1:10, Romans 5:9). The Good News is believed to bring about deliverance from gross and willful spiritual ignorance (Hosea 4:6; 2 Corinthians 4:3, 4, 5), from evil self-indulgence (Luke 14:26), and the kingdom of darkness and dominion of Satan (Acts 26:18, Colossians 1:13; 1Peter 2:9).
  • “Salvation” – This Word means complete deliverance from sin and death, and all the foes and dangers beset man. It cannot imply anything less than eternal life. If a man should believe and then fall away, he could be said to be saved in no correct sense. And hence, when the apostle declares that it is the power of God unto salvation “to every one that believeth,” it implies that all who become believers “shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” (1 Peter 1:5), and that none shall ever fall away and be lost. The apostle thus commences his discussion with one of the essential doctrines of the Christian religion, the final preservation of the saints. He is not defending the Gospel for any temporary object or with any temporary hope. He looks through the system and sees a plan for the complete and eternal recovery of all those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. When he says it is the power of God unto salvation, he means that it is the power of God for the attainment of salvation. This is the end of the design of this exertion of power.

G. Everyone who believes

Everyone means all with no exception. There is the qualification that the “all” truly believe the Gospel in the present context. Paul writes later that “whoever will call upon the Name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13). If you stopped with “salvation to everyone” and yanked it out of context, you would have the false teaching of universalism. Paul qualifies it with “who believes,” which in the present tense signifies they keep on believing the truth of the Gospel. In short, the offer of the Gospel is universal, but participation is limited to those who trust.

 The Gospel is offered unto all, but it profitable unto salvation only those that believe as a medicine is only effectual to those who receive or apply it.

Believes means adherence to, committal to, faith in, reliance upon or trust in a person or an object, in this case, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As discussed below, this belief involves the consent of the mind and an act of the heart and will. As someone has said, the medicine will not cure you if it is not taken. One must believe the objective facts of the Gospel. To truly believe unto salvation is more than mental assent. However, it certainly does include the use of our reasoning faculties and initial receipt of the truth (e.g., “come let us reason together” in Isaiah 1:18, “And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard?” Romans 10:14 

Genuine belief includes (this definition is adapted from Vines Lexicon entry for pisteuo)

  1. A mental or intellectual apprehension of the facts concerning the Gospel. 
  2. A firm conviction that fully acknowledges God’s revelation of truth. 
  3. A personal surrender to the truth. 
  4. And conduct inspired by and consistent with one’s surrender.

“To the Jew…and…Greek”. From a Biblical perspective, all humanity is either Jew or Gentile. But, again, this phrase stresses the offer of God’s salvation in the Gospel to everyone…specifically everyone who believes.

Jew: according to Easton’s Dictionary, “derived from the patriarch Judah, at first given to one belonging to the tribe of Judah or the separate kingdom of Judah (2Kingd 16:6), in contradistinction from those belonging to the kingdom of the ten tribes, who were called Israelites. However, during the Captivity and after the Restoration, the name was extended to all the Hebrews without distinction. Originally, these people were called Hebrews, but this name fell into disuse after the Exile. In the NT, “Jew” is frequently used to distinguish the descendants of Israel from proselytes, Samaritans, and Gentiles.

H. For the Jew First

First, (4413) (proton) means first in time, as alluded to in the preceding comment. First, it is an order of sequence, just as the Gospel came first to the Jew and then to Greek, and now, since the “no difference” fact is proclaimed to all indiscriminately, Jews and Greeks.

First in order of time, not that the Gospel was any more adapted to Jews than to others; but to them had been committed the oracles of God; the Messiah had come through them; they had had the Law, the temple, and the service of God, and it was natural that the Gospel should be proclaimed to them before it was to the Gentiles. This was the order in which the Gospel was actually preached to the world, first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. Compare Acts 2 and Acts 10; Matthew 10:6; Luke 24:49; Acts 13:46, “It was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” Compare Matthew 21:43.

Jesus had instructed His disciples that repentance and remission of sins were to be preached in His Name unto all the nations, “beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). They were to be His witnesses first in Judea and Samaria and then unto the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). Salvation was to come first to the Jews because it was through them, He ordained salvation to come (John 4:22). The Messiah came first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24). Then, in the Gospels and the Book of Acts, the preaching of the Gospel was addressed to the Jews first and, in the beginning, to them alone (Matthew 10:5, 6, 7).

Not principally, nor in preference to the Greek, but first in point of time. Compare John 4:22; Romans 3:1; Romans 9:1; Matthew 15:24.

I. Greek

“And also, to the Greek” – To all who were none Jews, that is, to all the world. It was not confined in its intention or efficacy to any class or nation of people. It was adapted to all and was designed to be extended to all. Greek could refer either to a Greek either by nationality, whether a native of the mainland or the Greek islands or colonies or in the broader sense, Greek embraces all nations, not Jews that made the language, customs, and learning of the Greeks their own; the primary reference is to a difference of religion and worship. In the context of the preceding Word, everyone, Greek, is synonymous with Gentiles. Just as all men are either in Adam (unregenerate) or in Christ (born again), all the world can be divided Biblically speaking into two groups, Jews, and Gentiles, which is the idea of the Word Greek in this passage. To the Jew first, and also to the Greek; the Gospel was first to be published to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles, whom he here calls Greeks:

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By Gilbert Magomere Ayieko
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