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Commentary on Rom. 1:16,17 [the just shall live by faith]

"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. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith'." (NKJV)

Synopsis: according to Rom. 1:16,17 "The justshall live by faith," i.e. the gift of life shall be given to those who will actually become righteous in nature. The means leading to this goal is faith caused by the sacrificial love to which in turn leads the "power of the Gospel" - the spirit of sacrifice which was manifested in Jesus Christ. The starting point for the spirit of sacrifice must be another kind of faith - a conviction of salvation in Christ, which through piety (obligatory love) leads to repentance and in this way to the experience of consecration and spiritual birth of a new character developed by obedience to God and work with His Word. In this way, the influence of the Gospel leads from faith (piety) to faith (sacrifice) until full and true justification.

The meaning of salvation of which Rom. 1:16-17 teaches is actually explained in the last two words of this passage: "shall live". Adam brought the death sentence upon himself and all his family; salvation must therefore remove this original effect (Rom. 5:12,17). The sentence came, however, for a reason. Disobedience to the divine requirements of justice has brought a curse on man, and nothing has changed here and will not change: everyone who sins will die (Ezek. 18:4). Therefore, the Apostle Paul links salvation with justification - "the just shall live" (Rom. 1:17 NKJV). This is clearly shown by our Lord in Jn. 15:1-10 in the parable of the vine. Every branch that does not bear fruit is cut off and destined for burning (destruction), and likewise everyone who is joined to Christ and does not bear fruit. Jesus, however, makes the bringing of the fruit depend on sticking to his teaching (Jn. 15:2,3), and likewise, the Apostle Paul writes in the analysed passage that Gospel is "the power of God to salvation" (Rom. 1:16 NKJV). If the source of Adam's transgression was the failure of preserving (and misunderstanding of) the principles of God's justice, the evangelical teaching is their source and pattern. Only by observing it the image of our Lord's perfect character can be shaped and consolidated in us.


The key element of this Biblical justification is faith. In Rom. 1:16,17 the Apostle Paul mentions faith three times, saying that 1) salvation is for every believer, 2) justice is "from faith to faith" and 3) the just will live by faith. The second mentioned case in particular suggests that the concept of faith does not appear here only in one definition, and that is why it is worth starting the study of Rom. 1:16,17 with the definition of faith. The Greek pistis has two essential meanings: conviction and trust. Conviction is only a state of mind, knowledge that does not go into the sphere of action. Demons also have this faith, which clearly shows that from the point of view of justification, faith understood only as a belief is worthless (James 2:19). The great mystification of Christianity is the teaching that it is enough to have the conviction that Jesus Christ is the savior, and on this basis God recognizes us as just. God's great opponent and each of his demons also have this knowledge and yet they are far away from justification.

The faith which has value from the point of view of justification is trust, and therefore a conviction combined with action. For a belief to become an action, a motivator is needed, and this can be of two kinds. It may be what the Bible calls piety (Greek eusebeia), which is obligatory love of man towards God, and it can also be agape, or sacrificial love. There are quite fundamental differences between these two types of love. The essence of piety is the sense of duty that is born in a human being along with the conviction that the Supreme Being exists. It is therefore a form of justice - giving everyone what belongs to him (Mt. 22:21). Sacrificial love goes far beyond giving what is due. Due to agape love, we give our lives to God's service. "For the love of Christ compels us ... that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again" (2 Cor. 5:14,15 NKJV). The second significant difference is the source of faith: piety is the duty of every man, but agape is God's gift to the elect (Acts 17:30, Rom. 5:5).


How are these two kinds of faith related to justification - the only Biblical meaning of justification is the reform of character according to the measure of God's principles. In the sinful offspring of Adam, this reform is two-fold, that is, on the one hand it requires turning away from sin, and on the other hand it requires developing good character traits. Faith caused by piety works through repentance (Greek metanoia) primarily in the first area, i.e. in the area of combating sin. Of course, there is also a place for conversion (Greek epistrofe), that is, turning to the development of spiritual fruit. However, this is not yet birth of the spirit because actual initiation and development of character requires an in-depth understanding of the truth, in which, in turn, piety is interested only to a limited extent. Therefore, in the case of faith not caused by sacrificial love, one can speak of begettalof the spirit in the sense of beginning in a believing person a ‘seed’ form of a new, Christian character, but not yet a spiritual new birth.

Full justification in the element of abandoning sin and development of character in the image of Jesus Christ also requires development in a deeper understanding of the Word of God (Col. 1:9-12). This is a completely obvious condition - the development of character is inextricably linked to the development of understanding so that by adopting the hard food of knowledge and through exercise our "senses [are] exercised to discern both good and evil" (Heb. 5:11-14 NKJV). However, while piety will direct the minds of believers towards the Word of God and bring them to hear the Sunday sermon, a thorough study of the Scriptures is a work that requires consecration and thus the sacrificial activity of agape love. This is the "love of Christ" referred to in the already quoted 2 Cor. 5:14 - just as the dedicated life of our Lord was focused on serving the truth, so the life of his followers is also focused on the study of the Word of God, teaching and evangelization (Jn. 18:37, Eph. 4:11). The purpose of this service, as in the case of the service of Jesus Christ, is to proclaim the reconciliation of man with God by turning away from sin and coming to the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 5:18-21).

Faith and justification in Rom. 1:16,17

Because this text is meant to be a commentary on Rom. 1:16-17, the above considerations regarding faith and justification should be applied in the analysis of the above-mentioned verses. The fact that these two Biblical teachings occupy a central place here is best demonstrated by the last words of the Apostle quoted from the prophet Habakkuk 2:4 - "the just shall live by faith" (NKJV). The just, that is, the one that is truly just in character. Divine justice will ultimately grant the gift of life only to those who fulfill its requirements. Nevertheless, the tool to achieve it must be faith, and even "faith working through love" – the sacrificial love agape (Gal. 5:6 NKJV). This is a necessary element of justification because not only resignation from sin is important here, but also the development of full maturity in the knowledge of the Word of God (Eph. 1:16-18, 4:11-15). The same thought that we find in the statement "the just shall live by faith" is also included in the condition of "salvation for everyone who believes": the meaning of salvation is to receive the gift of life ("shall live"); the believer, on the other hand, regains justice in character through the action of the consecrating faith ("the just … by faith").

The Gospel is the means of salvation for believers; "for it is the power of God to salvation ... in it the righteousness of God is revealed" (Rom. 1:16,17 NKJV). Such a description of the doctrine of Christ is the logical consequence of justification seen as a real reform of character. For if we are to change according to God's principles, we must know and understand these principles. And we can know and understand them because their source and model is Christ and what we learn about him from the Bible. Therefore, in a prayer to the Father Jesus says that we are consecrated by the truth (Jn. 17:17). This influence of the spirit of the Gospel means that we want not only to get to know our Lord, but also to follow in his footsteps in sacrifice. With this motivation in mind, we embrace the hard food of knowledge to become adults in it - adults in Christ's spirit, and therefore also complete in justification (Phil. 1:9-11, 3:8-11).

This influence of God's Word about Christ leads "from faith to faith" (NKJV). The influence of the Gospel begins where there is one's reaction to the Word about Christ in the form of both conviction and accompanying repentance - and thus, referring to the above analysis of the concept of faith, where there is belief + obligatory love (piety). The content of the Gospel, however, is not faith in this basic sense, but faith acting through sacrificial love. This is our Lord's example, and in this sense, the Gospel leads one "to faith" - the spirit of sacrifice manifested in our Lord works through the influence of the Word of God in the elect, sacrificing them to serve the truth in the shape of his service (2 Cor. 5:20; 1 Thess. 1:4-7, Titus 3:4-7). Agape love is a gift of God, but only for the elect and only to those who will believe, that is, they will complete their conviction in salvation in Christ with repentance (Acts 16:30-34). Only such faith can be the basis for further action of God, who will supplement this faith with His own sacrificial faith. Only then will it be effective as a means of complete salvation and justification (Acts 2:38, Rom. 12:3). Only then will the believer live.

Keywords: Rom. 1:16-17, faith, justification
Bible translations used in the commentary:
NKJV - New King James Version