By Faith

  • Steve Hatter
Man jumping across a canyon

C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Wow, does it seem like the Sovereign of the universe is seeking to rouse a deaf America? Like other crisis moments in our nation’s history, God is allowing suffering in 2020. But He always does so with a gracious purpose, which is to bring us to the end of ourselves and ever back to Christ

In the current season of pains—pandemic, political strife, economic stress—we’re getting to the end of ourselves. But what does the Bible tell us about how we are to understand Christ alone as our only hope and path forward? When we see with clarity in our pain that apart from Him, we literally “can’t get there from here,” where can we go for the explanations and doctrinal answers for which we are newly hungry? The New Testament Book of Romans gives the path, and that path begins with faith.

The principal theme developed by the author of Romans, Paul, was the righteousness given by God to condemned sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (1:16–17). We cannot save ourselves. Only God, by His grace, can save us, and He does this by counting us righteous as we turn to Him in faith.

Righteousness, or Justification, is the state of conforming to God’s Law and holy character and is necessary for a person to avoid wrath and live in right relationship with God. However, only God Himself is inherently righteous (Deut 32:4; Ps 11:7; 116:5; John 17:25; 1 John 2:1; Rev 16:5) and therefore humanity ever falls short of God’s divine standard of moral perfection (3:10; 23; Job 9:2; Matt 5:48). Therefore, God must impute acceptable righteousness to man in an exercise of His grace.

Building from Abraham as a prototype of faith (Rom 4:11, 16, 22–25), Paul articulated humanity’s dilemma—the need for a righteousness that neither Greek nor Jew could realize apart from divine grace. Paul followed with the answer—the glorious Gospel of Christ! From the very beginning, God chose to meet man’s most desperate need through the means of faith alone in the person and completed salvific work of Jesus Christ alone. In this way, Paul brought both a clarifying and unifying message to the divided camps of Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome. 

Allow me to show you how Paul’s letter to the Romans developed the theme of God’s imputed righteousness to believers as a progression through five essential ideas: Condemnation—humanity’s need of God’s righteousness (1:18–3:20), Justification—the provision of God’s righteousness (3:21–5:21), Sanctification—the demonstration of God’s righteousness (6:1–8:39), Vindication—the defense of God’s righteousness regarding Israel (9:1–11:36), and Application—the behaviors expected of believers (12:1–15:13).


Paul’s thesis statement was captured in 1:16–17:

“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 to faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16-17)

Upon this foundational doctrine, Paul began building the case for its validity. Verses 1:18–3:20 presented God as utterly righteous in His wrath against all sinners. Starting first with a condemnation of the Gentiles (1:18–32), followed by an equal condemnation of the Jews (2:1–3:8), Paul was able to summarize man’s utter hopelessness before Holy God. In verses 3:9–20, he left no room for works-based salvation with descriptions such as: “None is righteous, no, not one,” and “For by works of the law no human will be justified in his sight” (3:10, 20).


Addressing man’s dilemma, Paul turned next to articulating God’s provision of righteousness through the means of grace (3:21–5:21). Paul explained the source of man’s needed righteousness, God’s plan of salvation, and perfect purposes in the death of His Son, Jesus (3:21–31). Here Paul advanced the concept of imputed righteousness—Justification by faith—to condemned men in verses 3:27–31. Finally, in Chapter four, Paul provided an Old Testament example of God’s astonishing salvific means by claiming Abraham as the father of Jews and Gentiles and the prototype of Justification by faith: “Abraham believed God and it was counted as righteousness” (4:2; Gen 15:6).

With salvation for condemned sinners explained as made possible by God’s grace through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, Paul sought next to expound upon the awesome hope open to believers now saved and unified in Christ (5:1–11). Believers justified by faith could have “peace with God” (5:1)—among many assurances—and were even encouraged to rejoice in suffering because of the good fruit God promised to produce in His redeemed. Virtues and blessings, such as endurance leading to character, character leading to hope, and hope that celebrates “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us,” could flow freely to the man in right relationship—through faith—with God (5:4–5). In 5:12–21, Paul more deeply defended the concept of the imputation of righteousness through the hope found in Christ’s triumph over Adam’s sin.


Paul then turned to the concept of Sanctification in verses 6:1–8:39. Sanctification is the demonstration of God’s righteousness wherein God, through His Spirit, conforms one justified by faith to the image of Christ. Within the context of Sanctification, Paul explained the triumph of grace over both the power of sin (6:1–23) and any power of the Law (7:1–6). He explained the relationship between the Law and sin, but then how the believer in Christ finds freedom to live life in the Spirit (8:1–17). Finally, Paul gave the full assurance of real and eternal hope in all circumstances and future glory in 8:18–39.


Considering the inclusive Gospel of Jesus Christ with its saving power to the Gentiles, Paul was compelled to vindicate God’s past dealings with Israel, His chosen nation. As Paul reminded in verse 9:4: “to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.” In verses 9:1–11:36, Paul—himself a Jew—offered a rigorous defense of God’s sovereignty and righteous interactions with Israel, centering on chronic unbelief as the “stumbling stone” in her corporate failings to achieve righteousness through God’s election and special provision (9:32–33). Moreover, Paul reminded readers of the consistent pattern of faith in action seen in the prophets and a remnant of Israel, even as God used the “hardening” (11:25) of most in Israel to advance His grace plan to all mankind. Finally, Paul ensured an explanation of the mystery of Israel’s ultimate guaranteed salvation: “for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (11:29).


Paul’s final emphasis found in 12:1–15:13 focused on Christian living or the expected behaviors of graciously saved believers. Those justified by faith, being sanctified daily by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, are to be transformed as living sacrifices (12:1–2). Believers are to leverage the gifts of grace ever to exhibit the marks of a Christian, even as God molds them in the image of Christ.

I love the intellectual rigor of Paul’s arguments for sound doctrine! We’re supposed to be thinkers as Christians, which manifests the uniqueness we have as being made in God’s image. It’s good to recognize Know your emotional needs in a fallen world as you run to Christ for safety and comfort, but also learn the beauty of the rational arguments underpinning the truth that will withstand any test, past, present, or future!

If God has your attention by “shouting to you in your pain,” He has given you His perfect Word to feed on and grow. What a mighty God we serve!