17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
Paul now explained the ground for verse 16 that the gospel message carries the power of God. The gospel is a message from heaven, from God’s revelation.
in it the righteousness of God
The word “righteousness” is the theme of the book of Romans, especially the phrase “righteousness of God.”
The Greek root “right” is in both the words “righteousness” and “justify.” Paul used the verb “to justify” 15 times in Romans. To justify means to declare forensically (legally) right. The Greek scholar Cremer defined the noun “righteousness” as “what is right, conformable to right.” Further, he said the word ”righteousness” is “a state or condition conformable to order.” In other words, there is a standard apart from what is practical or utilitarian. God does not change his standards of His character according to a situation or circumstance. This is why Paul used “of God” following “righteousness” (cf. Ro 1:17; 3:21).
This is righteousness that belongs to God. With Him, it is not a social virtue. God is the ultimate norm for man. God always deals with man on the basis of His righteousness rather than man’s righteousness.
The words “of God” show that this is a righteousness that God Himself provides. It does not find its origin in man. God puts (imputes) His righteousness to the believer’s account by the believer’s trust in Christ’s work. God is the standard of integrity. His integrity stands separate from human righteousness. Our righteousness and God’s righteousness are two different things.
God’s righteousness affects His decisions. His righteousness is perfect, so anyone who relates to Him must do so on a perfect basis; He will never abuse standards for Himself. We do not have perfect righteousness in ourselves; God must give us that righteousness. God always bases His justice on His own righteousness.
We understand God’s righteousness by revelation; we do not obtain it by natural understanding. We can only know it if God makes it known. The gospel is something “revealed” rather than a human perspective. The word “revealed” means to uncover what is hidden, to unveil. God’s nature would be hidden to man were it not for revelation. The gospel unveils God’s righteousness; it lifts the veil off His absolute righteousness.
The gospel message is the only way to obtain the status of God’s righteousness in our soul.
The righteousness by which a believer is declared right before God is not due to anything in him or her. It is something done for us and put into us. It is the work of Christ on the cross. This righteousness is not our own. The only way God gives this righteous status before Himself is by faith.
Man’s righteousness and God’s righteousness are two entirely different kinds of righteousness. They are not two phases of the same righteousness. There is no degree of righteousness in man that is acceptable to God. God provides salvation apart from the standards of men; He operates on His own standard.
Man cannot say to God, “I have done 90% myself but You need to make up the 10% difference.” To the contrary, we need to eliminate the 90% to be acceptable to God. We must come to the cross alone to receive forgiveness.
Ro 4:5, But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,
If we do not curse the 90%—or, in fact, any amount—that we consider we do by ourselves for salvation, then we violate what Jesus did on the cross. That is, we are to “not work” for salvation, but rather we are to believe in the work that Jesus alone did for our justification. If we do not curse the 10% (“not work”) then violate what Jesus did on the cross.
We know this is right because God “revealed” it to us.