“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. For in it God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17 HCSB)
Last week we focused in on Paul’s unwillingness to be ashamed of the gospel and how that must be reflected in our own lives and our openness to sharing the gospel with those who are dead in their relationship with God. This week I want to focus in on the latter half of this passage and how God’s righteousness is revealed through faith, specifically how God’s righteousness is revealed through OUR faith. At first, you might be a bit surprised by what I’ve called this message, Zombie Faith, but the Voodoo myth of a Zombie is all about someone who has been brought back to life from death and that’s precisely the idea that Paul is presenting in this letter to the Roman Church. So, let’s get started…
Let me start by addressing a nagging thought in the back of my mind. Maybe it’s there in the back of your mind, too. When I think about zombies then I think about them in the way most TV shows and movies portray them, as “mindless and emotionless” killing machines that are constantly seeking to satisfy their need for the “life” sustaining food of a victim’s brain. Honestly, I think this describes some Christian’s approach to faith and life. They become legalistic in their approach to Christian living and obedience. They are mindless and emotionless in their attempts at worship, obedience, and Christian living. They check off all of the boxes on the list of the Church’s expectations of attendance, giving, working, and serving but their efforts are really devoid of any indication of “real life.”
Some even check off the boxes of sharing the gospel with others, but their efforts are mechanical and scripted. They see it as a duty and they are just mindless and emotionless in their approach to “getting people saved.” Their focus seems to be on some future state of righteousness and of “going to heaven” and “not going to hell.” In fact, in my mind it really resembles that classic TV portrayal of a Zombie apocalypse as the zombies relentlessly pursue the “living” to feed off of them. The Christian Zombies are relentlessly marching around, arms outstretched, moaning and mindlessly repeating tired, old cliches that are intended to scare or shame non-Christians into being “saved.”
Whether you agree or disagree with my take on the state of things among many Christians, you are probably wondering what my so-called Christian Zombie Apocalypse has to do with today’s focal passage. Paul states that the Gospel REVEALS God’s righteousness through faith into faith and that the righteous live by faith. So, the apparent focus of these verses is all about how God’s character and the Gospel impacts us and how that impact is revealed through faith and realized in our lives by faith. My goal is to show you how God’s righteousness can be revealed in you and realized through you resulting in life-altering faith and not just mindless, emotionless zombie-like attempts at following a set of Christian conduct standards.
First, Paul says the gospel reveals God’s righteousness. For us, that word righteousness can be best understood as “right standing” or relationship before the one who has the authority and right to judge us, God. We tend to associate “righteousness” with our moral actions and that’s where we tend to fall into the Zombie trap of just “checking off the boxes” of worship attendance, Bible reading, giving, etc. But I want you to notice that Paul says the righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel. For those of you who are still hung up on my Zombie Apocalypse theme today, the word “revealed” is actually the Greek word for apocalypse and means to “be uncovered” or “revealed.” (Come on, you really thought I was just making all of this Christian Zombie Apocalypse stuff up, didn’t you? 😉) So, God’s righteousness that was revealed in the Gospel is His Son, Jesus.
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” (Psalms 118:22 HCSB)
I want to be VERY clear here, so pay close attention. Non-Christians tend to have little problem with the “moral goodness” of Jesus. They see Jesus and His teachings as good examples to follow and as worthy goals for us to pursue. However, that’s where they stop… that’s who or what we OUGHT to be like. Worthy goals, now go do it. But, what Paul is saying is SO much deeper than that! The righteousness of God that is revealed in Jesus is much, much more than just the moral goodness and inspiring teachings of Jesus. The righteousness of God that is revealed or uncovered in the Gospel IS Jesus… Jesus isn’t just morally good like God, Jesus IS God revealed in human flesh. The Eternal, Holy and Supremely Righteous invisible God is fully revealed to mankind in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus isn’t like God, Jesus IS God. That’s the Good News, the Gospel. God has come among us to show us how to KNOW and RELATE to God – and that brings me to my next point.
Next, this righteousness of God that is Jesus is known through faith. This tends to be a stumbling block for many. They want, even demand, proof before they can believe. Really, everything we know and believe is through faith. At its core, Christian faith is really the idea of complete and absolute trust in the idea, evidence, character, personality and redemptive work of God. We haven’t seen Him but we’ve seen evidence and, thus, we believe. Faith, right? In reality, everything we know and believe is by faith. We believe that our senses are relaying accurate information about our world to our brains and that our brains are correctly interpreting and understanding that data resulting in accurate reactions and interactions with our world. Do our senses ALWAYS relay accurate information and do our brains ALWAYS interpret that data correctly? While I think our senses generally transmit accurately, there are times that those transmissions are either short-circuited or interrupted and that can result in our brains misunderstanding the data. There are also times when our senses relay accurate data but our brains misunderstand and misinterpret the data. Here’s one example:
What’s my point? It really is just that everything we think we know for certain is based on an element of trust and faith in our perceptions, reasoning, senses, observations and understanding. We’ve become so accustomed to trusting our senses that we don’t question our perceptions of reality. Anyone who has ever sat through a college philosophy course has been introduced to this idea. Yet, in our “scientific” culture we ignore these philosophical ideas and focus in on just the facts, the cold, hard facts. We trust them. We believe in them. But even the scientific model cannot “prove” anything to be absolutely true but just true to a reasonable degree of certainty. For example, we don’t KNOW that our understanding of gravity is absolutely accurate we just know that our current understanding of the law of gravity is consistent with our observations and experiences. See, an element of faith exists even in these things.
So, how can I claim that my knowledge and understanding of God is accurate? Well, my understanding and knowledge of God is probably not completely accurate. It is the result of my perceptions, observations, understanding and beliefs in the revelation of God in Jesus, but it is through faith. My faith walk with God began when I was seven years old. Was my knowledge and understanding of God at that age accurate or complete? Absolutely not! But I was walking with God in the knowledge and understanding I had, at that time. Is my knowledge and understanding of God accurate or complete, now? Absolutely not! But I’m walking with God in the knowledge and understanding I have, right now… by faith.
When I look at the world around me, I perceive and recognize a world that exhibits evidence of God. I see life when chance says life shouldn’t exist. I see reasoning and understanding when and where it should be absent. I see beauty, experience love, treasure music, enjoy art and marvel at creativity when it makes no sense that I should be able to perceive such ideas and concepts. I see order, reason, information and design where disorder, chaos, darkness and emptiness should reign. I SEE evidence of God all around me. Do you? Because my senses perceive this evidence of God, my soul begins to develop a faith in the God this evidence reveals – a God who breaths life, one who gives reason and understanding to our minds. My soul leans into faith in a God who typifies beauty, exemplifies love, treasures music, enjoys art and has expressed His own creativity in this diverse world. I believe in God because I sense my own ability to reason, understand and to know the world around me. Do I have proof of God’s existence? I have as much proof of God’s existence as I do my own… but both still take faith.
But faith in the existence of God is not sufficient for life or righteousness. The gospel is specifically about the who, what, and why of God’s revelation of Himself in Jesus. The who should be obvious, but let me state emphatically that Jesus is not one of many revelations of God, but the One and Only revelation of God. As John states, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 HCSB) Jesus is the who, salvation is the what, and our sin is the why. Jesus came to save us from our sin and restore us to relationship and fellowship with God, the Father. Our sin separates us from God, but Jesus came to make it possible for us to know, relate to and walk with God, again. Is it a matter of faith, yes. But, as I pointed out, so is all of life.
Finally, Pauls says that the righteousness of God is revealed through faith into faith or from faith to faith. What does that mean? It means that saving faith in Jesus leads you into a walk or life of faith. Let me illustrate what I mean: when the Israelites finally reached the edge of the promised land following the Exodus, they sent scouts or “spies” into the land to see what opportunities they might enjoy and what obstacles they might encounter. When the twelve scouts returned, 10 of them reported how lush and rich the land was but how large and fearsome the inhabitants were. The advised against continuing. Two of the scouts, Joshua and Caleb, reported that the land was very lush and the inhabitants were large and fearsome, but God had kept His promises to them throughout the Exodus and that they should immediately proceed in faith and take the land. That is EXACTLY Paul’s point in this phrase… from faith into faith or from faith to faith. Let me state it very clearly and succinctly:
If you are willing to trust God for your personal Exodus by faith from a life of slavery to sin (salvation) then trust Him as you continue that faith journey into a life of obedient freedom in Jesus Christ (sanctification).
If God has delivered you from your sin through faith in Christ, then He will also continue and complete that work by faith as you obediently walk with Him each and every day… through faith into faith! If God is worthy of your trust for the saving of your soul then He’s also worthy of your trust every day of living and in every aspect of living. If you’re saved by faith then you must also walk daily with God by faith. Instead of looking at the days ahead and seeing just the obstacles, see the opportunities for God to reveal Himself through those obstacles. Don’t stand at the edge of the Promised Land of life in Christ and refuse to move by faith into obedience. Do giants exist in the land? Are there situations and circumstances that might incite fear or hesitation? Of course, there are. But faith has brought you to this point and it can carry you into “faithful” obedience to Christ.
Paul ends his purpose statement for this letter to the Roman Church with a quote regarding faith, “the righteous will live by faith.” (See Hab. 2:4) You’ve likely heard that quote before, but take a minute and let it sink in a bit more. We tend to think that the righteous don’t need faith, they’re already righteous. But read that quote slowly. The righteous actually live by or because of their faith. Their righteousness doesn’t make them holy and acceptable before God, their faith makes them righteous, holy and acceptable before God. In other words, their faith and trust in God impacts how they respond when faced by life’s challenges and choices. They don’t stand back and wait for the circumstances to improve before they act in obedience, they act in obedience knowing that God will honor His Word and keep His promises in the midst of their difficult circumstances and times of struggle… from faith to faith/through faith into faith.
Where does that leave us with this idea of Zombie Faith? First, we are all dead until the apocalypse (revelation) occurs and we find new life through faith in Jesus Christ. Then, by faith in Christ we are no longer the “walking dead” but we are now truly ALIVE in Him. That saving faith then leads us into a walk of faith whereby we relentlessly pursue fellowship and a growing relationship with God, are driven to “feed” on God’s Word, and we desire and seek faith-filled obedience to His commands… we are driven by faith to faith.