Most Christians are familiar with Paul’s bold declaration in Romans 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 for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'”
Understanding this text was famously the key to Luther’s theological transformation. It is a call to bold proclamation of the gospel, an assertion of confidence in the power of the gospel to save, a testament to the universal application of the gospel (it is for Jews and Greeks), and a mighty pillar in the defense of justification by faith alone. I believe it is also a rock to support Christian souls weighed down by fearful doubt of their salvation.
What Does “From Faith for Faith” Mean?
This rock is found in the phrase, “from faith for faith.” It can also be translated “from faith to faith” or “from faith unto faith.” But what exactly does this mean? It perhaps sounds unnecessarily repetitive or a bit ambiguous. Various explanations have been offered. Some suggest it is speaking of one degree of faith to another. Others suggest that it means nothing else than “by faith alone.” Still others argue it means that the righteousness of God is by faith from beginning to end. I believe, however, that a clue to the meaning is found later in Romans 3:22.
In that verse, Paul speaks of “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Why does Paul add “for all who believe” when he has already said the righteousness of God comes through faith? Is he being redundant? I don’t think so, and I believe it is for the same reason he says in Romans 1:17 that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for (or to) faith.
Faith Always Justifies
Paul does not waste words. He never says something that is superfluous. His point is this: not only is faith in Christ the means by which God’s righteousness comes to savingly bear upon a person, but it comes to bear savingly upon every person who has faith in Christ. In other words, faith is the means of justification, and faith always justifies.
It is good to know that faith in Christ is the only means by which one can receive his righteousness and be saved, but you may still wonder if faith in Christ works every time. You might hear there is only one medicine to treat a particular disease, but what if it is only effective 80% of the time? You would seek that medicine, but you would not be sure it would work for you. What if you are in the minority, an exception to the rule?
This is why Paul’s phrase is so comforting. Not only is faith in Christ the means by which Christ’s righteousness comes to savingly bear upon a person, but faith in Christ is 100% effective. There are no exceptions. Everyone who puts their faith in Jesus receives his righteousness and is justified before God. So, as John Murray explains, “‘From faith’ points to the truth that only ‘by faith’ are we the beneficiaries of this righteousness, and so it is a ‘faith-righteousness’ as truly as it is a ‘God-righteousness’. ‘To faith’ underlines the truth that every believer is the beneficiary whatever his race or culture or the degree of his faith. Faith always carries with it the justifying righteousness of God.”
The Righteous Will Live by Faith
Truly, then, the righteous will live by faith. There is no scenario where someone places his or her faith in Christ and remains dead in sin. If you have placed your faith in Christ, you do not need to worry or doubt. You are justified. You are saved. You cannot be an exception because no such thing exists. Faith in Christ is the only cure, and it is 100% effective 100% of the time. Praise the Lord!