Author: Ron Graham
In Paul’s expression "From faith to faith" (Romans 1:16-17), he is thinking (among other things) of faith’s development among all peoples down the ages —how the veiled faith of one nation in a past age, develops into the revealed faith for all nations today. We need this historical perspective to understand and develop our own personal faith better.
Ancient faith was veiled in mystery. Nowadays faith is fully revealed and manifest in Christ. Paul preached the ancient faith, but his gospel developed it.
Paul uses the terms "mystery" and "secret" to describe the character of the faith of the ancients, and the terms "revelation" and "manifested" to characterise the modern faith (Romans 16:25-26).
The mystery and clarity of faith are relative. Paul quotes, "Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness" (Romans 4:3, Genesis 15:6). Paul didn't think that Abraham’s faith was vague. No, Abraham and the other patriarchs believed in something very solid, namely "the promises" (Romans 15:8). Obviously a promise might contain elements of mystery. But God couldn't say, “I promise you a secret.” That wouldn't make sense. The promised future was real to the ancients. In a parallel manner, we believe the second coming of Christ is real, although we can't imagine its full glory.
The patriarchs’ faith in Christ saved them as much as our faith in Christ saves us. For both them and us, "God presented [his Son] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood... to be the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:21-26).
The land promise (Genesis 17:8) and the seed promise (Genesis 22:18) were definite promises pointing the ancients to a faith in heaven and eternal life (Hebrews 11:13-16). The ancients were content in their conviction, knowing that when the promises were fulfilled, all would become clear —which is exactly what happened.
Paul’s gospel proclaims the fulfillment and manifestation of the seed promise in which the fathers believed. The seed came and was "manifest in the flesh" (John 1:14, 1Timothy 3:16). True, our faith is still "evidence of things unseen" (Hebrews 11:1-2, Romans 8:24-25, 2Corinthians 5:7, 1Peter 1:3-13). But since the gospel of Christ was proclaimed, we have come very much further along the road of faith and hope —out of the shadows and into the light.
The expression "from faith to faith" is linked to the idea of, "the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:15-17). A faith focussed in one nation has become a faith far and wide —I say "focussed" not "confined", because faith was always for all, not just those in the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. When Paul said, "...to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16) he was stating an historic principle.
A great theme of Paul's letter to the Romans, is the place of the Gentile in God's age-old scheme of things. Paul understood that salvation is "for everyone who believes" and "There’s no partiality with God" (Romans 2:11). Paul adds that Jew and Gentile alike are "all under sin" (Romans 3:9). As Paul saw it, God's wrath and God's salvation were universal (Romans 2:9-10).
Paul applied an Old Testament passage about salvation by faith, to the birth of Christ —his coming down from heaven to dwell among men (Romans 10:6). Angels proclaimed Christ's birth with the benediction, "Peace on earth, goodwill to mankind". They did not confine it to "Peace in Israel, goodwill to Jews" (Luke 2:14). We also recall that "Wise men came from the east... to worship him" (Matt 2:1-2). People from distant lands were aware of the promises and prophecies, and in faith were watching for Christ.
God's word was known to the Gentiles, but generally speaking they suppressed and perverted the truth which God made known to them (Romans 1:18-19). God was always willing to accept anyone who had faith in Christ (Romans 3:28-30).
It’s always been true that the real Jew is the person who is a Jew inwardly, regardless of lineage or fleshly circumcision (Romans 2:26-29). It’s circumcision of the heart that counts —faith in Christ. Paul could have used the argument that godly women were accepted without fleshly circumcision, but he used an even more cogent argument: Abraham himself was justified by faith while he was uncircumcised. The gospel makes Abraham’s faith a paradigm or pattern for all peoples (Romans 1:5, 4:9-12).
As a Moabite, Ruth was without Jewish lineage. As a woman, she was without circumcision. Yet lacking both, she was welcomed in Bethlehem and welcomed by God, because she did not lack faith. Moreover, if Christ is the son of David (Romans 1:3) then he is also the son of Ruth for she was David’s grandmother (Ruth 4:13,21-22).
When Paul told the Ephesians that they had been "excluded from the commonwealth of Israel", he didn’t mean as Gentiles, but as sinners who lacked faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:12). Israel had a special place in God's scheme of things (Romans 3:1-2 and 9:4-5), but not an exclusive right to justification by faith. Faith in Christ has always been a faith for the wide world, but much more so in this Christian age.
The gospel gave impetus to God’s age-old intention that faith should be open to the whole world.