Read Romans 1:16-17
These are transitional verses. Part of the intro but linked to the body of the letter. The verses before say that Paul is "eager to preach the Gospel", and now we see, "for" i.e. because "I am not ashamed of the Gospel". This underlines the overarching topic of Romans: The Gospel. To begin to unpack this huge topic Paul introduces us to "righteousness that is by faith".
Why might Paul say that he is 'not ashamed of the Gospel'?
This funny, almost defensive language, might be explained by the challenges he may have faced. He is witnessing into a pagan world, a world surrounded by idols, not only the idols we today struggle with like power, position and possessions, but actual mini gods - little 'g'. Meanwhile, the Jews are under the law and here Paul is sharing the good news of Christ and the gift of grace. Paul is under attack every time he shares the good news, but he is not ashamed. The Gospel provides salvation - The Gospel has the power to save and transform.
We see Paul use various tenses with regard to salvation. In Romans 10:1 and 10:9:
Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. (Romans 10:1)
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
Both of these are very definitive. To be saved as in an event. This is Justification, however, in Romans 13:11 we see progression - that it is getting nearer, that it has not yet been fulfilled. This is Sanctification:
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. (Romans 13:11)
Either way and both ways, salvation is available for all who believe. We do see an order put forward here. Once that is replicated elsewhere in the epistle. That is, the Jews were the first to receive and therefore have a specific position in regards to the Gospel. Jews being first to hear and proclaim the Gospel.
Verse 17, For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed, is a statement that on face value seems logical, but how is the good news (the Gospel) revealed through understanding that God is righteous, and therefore the next step that we are not righteous. If we only take this sentence to mean we are aware of the righteousness of God, we only have half a picture. Not the full gospel. We know righteousness is an attribute of God. It is who He is. It is linked to justice and the justice that He desires. But if we stop there the Gospel is incomplete. Rather we put forward that it is a righteousness from God. Pointing back to the act or event of justification. That we have been justified with God. Our position (that we were estranged from God) has been put right through Jesus. That we are now able to stand before God in our new status. Later scholars have proposed one step further. That is is in fact Righteousness done by God. That does not only speak to the sinner becoming righteous, but that it is God's intervention to correct what has gone wrong with His creation. This opens the discussion about our faith. If faith is from us, does it constitute works, but if it is only by God through His sovereignty, do we have free will. This last point is driven by the inclusion of the word 'reveal". This is to say that it is God doing the revealing, that it is His work that we are made righteous. How God's grace and our faith play together under the guidance of His spirit in our life is simply a blessing beyond the understanding I have on this earth, but I'm happy for you to wrestle with it.
“See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright—but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness (Habakkuk 2:4)
Paul's point regardless of how salvation comes to be, is that this is the intent of these transition verses. That we are to live out our faith. This has two elements:
A righteous person should live by faith, and
A person who is righteous through faith has life.
Both are true, both are beautiful and both are what followers of Christ are to hold on to!
Through these 2 verses, we are introduced to mankind's fundamental problem, that we are apart from God. And that the Gospel is God's response. His power to save and to transform.
When people respond in faith to the message of the Gospel, God justifies them to Himself. We are made innocent and the banner between Him and us is removed. From this wonderful experience, everything else in a Christian's life then flows!