The Power of the Gospel (1:16,17)
When the Roman’s weren’t physically harming Christians they were actively persecuting them through a sustained campaign of mockery. The target was so easy and obvious. For in an empire in which power and victory were worshiped above all else, the emergence of a religion that worshiped a crucified man appeared to be obvious idiocy. An example of this mockery has survived in the Alexamenos graffito, which I have previously discussed.
So, when the Apostle Paul speaks of not being ashamed of the gospel he is not only referring to an internal emotion, but also to a very real and powerful external reality.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Note that Paul’s lack of shame is not due to anything sourced within himself, but rather to the the power of God. It’s not that the pagans and Jews who so mock have an intellectually unsustainable position that Paul in his creativity and wisdom can defeat. Rather, it is that God Himself has demonstrated their folly by, through this despised means, delivering salvation to everyone who has faith. Thus, the gospel’s power is something that can only be personally experienced through a faith that originates within God’s eternal acts of mercy and grace. However, the accumulated personal experiences of salvation will eventually shake the foundations of the pagan world.
17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.”
Note well Who has the total initiative in the first phrase of this sentence — it is God and God alone. Perhaps this understanding could slip by a reader if they stopped here. However, were anyone to read the entire Epistle there could be no doubt. It is God who gives some the faith to receive the Gospel. Thus, the righteousness of the elect exists only because God’s righteousness is imputed to then through Christ.
Far too many Christians rebel against this scandal. They deeply desire to save some sherd of their pride by claiming credit for their salvation. Terrible destruction has been wrought in the lives of Christians and in all with whom they interact due to this false belief. For, we cannot give true glory to God nor properly understand the nature of sin and its consequences if we cling to our false pride.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God— 9 not because of works, lest any man should boast.