In his epistle to the Romans, Paul introduces himself to Christians residing in that city: “Paul, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, called apostle, separated for the Gospel.” This “good news” was promised in Israel’s scriptures and concerned God’s Son:
“Who came to be of the seed of David according to the flesh, was marked off as the Son of God by power, according to a Spirit of Holiness, by means of a resurrection out from among the dead” (Romans 1:1-4).
Christ’s resurrection from the dead is the irrefutable proof of his messiahship, of his vindication by God, and of the validity of his message for all nations. The thematic statement of the letter is that this gospel is God’s power “for salvation to everyone who believes,” whether Jew or Gentiles. What Paul preaches empowers individuals to receive salvation from faith, not from ethnicity or any deeds required by the Torah, the law of Moses (Romans 1:16-17).
In this gospel, God’s “righteousness is being revealed from faith for faith.” This translates a present tense verb, apokaluptetai, meaning “reveal, disclose, unveil, uncover.” The present tense signifies an action in progress, ongoing action, and refers to an ongoing process, not to a single event in the past.
As the Gospel is proclaimed, God’s “righteousness,” His faithfulness, is revealed to all and validated by the Jews and Gentiles who are responding in faith. Thus, there is a definite present aspect to the righteousness of God.
In contrast, and at the very same time, God’s “wrath” is also “being revealed from heaven” against all “who possess the truth in unrighteousness.” Paul contrasts the two processes; both occur in the present age and both are produced by gospel proclamation.
Anyone who embraces and submits to the gospel, Jew or Gentile, is empowered for salvation. In contrast, “wrath” is at the same time revealed against everyone who does not submit to the gospel and “opposes the truth in unrighteousness.”
While elsewhere Paul links God’s “wrath” with the final judgment, here he describes an aspect of God’s wrath within the present age, a process evidenced by the very sins embraced and practiced by sinners who reject the gospel. Paul centers on the sin of idolatry as the source and sin that leads to all the others; refusing to acknowledge God as God (Romans 1:19-32, 2:5, 5:9, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 5:9)
Because sinners “exchanged the truth of God for falsehood and rendered worship to the creature rather than to the Creator,” He delivered them over to the very sins for which they lusted, even though they “acknowledge the righteous sentence of God that they who practice such things are worthy of death.”
A humanity that is wallowing in idolatrous sin demonstrates that already the present world order is under the wrath of God. Mankind given over to an abundance of sin is a punishment from God and justifies His impending final “wrath.” But individuals living under this wrath do not need to remain in that state if they respond in faith to the gospel.
The “righteousness of God” is even now being revealed by means of the proclamation of the Gospel, “through the faith of Jesus Christ for all who believe.” God declares those who believe in Jesus to be “righteous by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” and this apart from the works required by the regulations of the Mosaic Law (Romans 3:22-24).
This has been done “with a view to a showing forth of His righteousness in the present season.” In this paragraph, the stress falls on the present reality of God’s righteousness which is demonstrated in the proclamation of the gospel to all nations, His faithfulness to redeem and set right before Him all men who respond in faith (Romans 3:19-30).
His faithfulness is on display in the here-and-now whenever He declares a man or woman to be in right-standing before him because of the “faith of Jesus Christ” and their response to it.
It is this provision of forgiveness and salvation that demonstrates the righteousness of God. Paul speaks of His “righteousness” from an Old Testament perspective. “Righteousness” refers not to an abstract concept of some absolute moral standard required by God but, instead, to His faithfulness to His promises. By providing the means of escape from the future “wrath” that all men richly deserve, God has been more than faithful to His promises and to His creatures.