The reason the gospel is God’s saving power is that in it, God’s righteousness is revealed. Moreover, this righteousness is “by faith from first to last,” in fulfillment of Habakkuk 2:4: “the righteous person will live by his faithfulness.”
Throughout Romans, Paul is at pains to defend the righteous character and behavior of God. For he is convinced that whatever God does in salvation or in judgment is absolutely consistent with his righteousness. And in Romans, God’s personal righteousness is supremely seen in the cross of Christ.
The righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is the righteous status which God requires if we are ever to stand before him, which he achieves through the atoning sacrifice of the cross, which he reveals in the gospel, and which he bestows freely on all who trust in Jesus Christ. It is God’s righteous initiative in putting sinners right with himself, by bestowing on them a righteousness not their own but his. The righteousness of God is God’s just justification of the unjust, his righteous way of pronouncing the unrighteous righteous, in which he both demonstrates his righteousness and gives righteousness to us. He has done it through Christ, the righteous one, who died for the unrighteous, as Paul will explain later. And he does it by faith when we put our trust in him and cry to him for mercy.
This righteousness of God, which is revealed in the gospel and offered to us, is literally “out of faith into faith” or “from faith to faith.” Many scholars, however, translate Paul’s quotation of Habakkuk differently: “he who through faith is righteous shall live.” Is it legitimate to translate the Habakkuk text in this way, and so to make faith the way to righteousness instead of the way to life? I think so. Whichever way the sentence is understood, both renderings affirm that “the righteous will live” and that faith is essential. The only question is whether the righteous by faith will live, or the righteous will live by faith. Are not both true? Righteousness and life are both by faith. Those who are righteous by faith also live by faith. Having begun in faith, they continue in the same path.
Adapted from Reading Romans with John Stott, Volume 1. Copyright © 2017 John Stott's Literary Executors. Used by permission. For more information, please visit www.ivpress.com/reading-romans-with-john-stott-vol-1.