Sermon preached on Romans 16:21-27 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 7/7/2013 in Novato, CA.
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Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“To God, Alone Wise, Be Glory Through Jesus Christ Forever”
Today we come to our final message from the epistle to the Romans. And this passage is a fitting conclusion. Today, we will primarily focus on verses 25-27. And here in these final verses, we see Paul revisit again many themes he mentioned at the start of the letter. As such, we see Paul is intentionally concluding this letter in the way he started it. It’s like bookends that hold the letter together. A few examples: In chapter 1, verse 1, he had mentioned the gospel; here in verse 25 he mentions again the gospel. In chapter 1, verse 2, he had mentioned how this gospel was promised long before via the prophets in the Holy Scriptures; he mentions that same thing, using the terms of a mystery, in verse 26. In chapter 1, verse 5, he mentions the obedience of faith — talking about call to believe in Christ and the gospel; that he mentions here again in verse 26. And in chapter 1, verse 11, Paul mentions how he wants to visit them and use his spiritual gifts among them so that he could help in establishing them; here in verse 25 he points to how its ultimately God who is able to establish them. The point in chapter 1 and now here is both essentially the same. It’s about our salvation, and how wonderfully God brought it all about. Paul is rejoicing in the work of God among them, that through the gospel preaching of Christ, the Romans, both Jews and Gentiles, are saved and united together by their common faith. This was all according to God’s plan from long ago, even foretold in the Scriptures. In the bulk of this letter, Paul talked more in depth about this wonderful salvation. And at the start and end of the letters he spoke about it with these similar terms. This then is a wonderful summary passage to consider as we reflect back on all that we’ve studied in the book of Romans.
But make no mistake. Paul is doing more here than just summarizing what he talked about in this letter. Verses 25-27 are a specific thing. It’s what we call a doxology. A doxology refers to some words that glorify God. Verses 25-27 are praising God and giving him the glory. And so, Paul doesn’t just summarize the salvation topics here that he’s talked about. He summarizes them in such a way so as to say this then calls us to glorify God. Our wonderful salvation by grace alone through faith alone by the work of Christ alone as we find in the Scriptures, is all to the glory of God. And so that is the thrust of this passage. And it must be behind all of what we talk about today. How these truths here, and in all of Romans, give glory and praise to God!
Well then, let’s begin our first point today in seeing the primary reason given here for why we are to glorify God. This is begun in verse 26. It talks of God’s ability to establish us. In our first point, we will talk of this ability of God to establish us as a primary reason to glorify God. So then, let’s talk of this establishing. The idea of the Greek here for establishing is about being strengthened and more firmly fixed in something. It means that you are unwavering in whatever you are being established in. So what are we being established in?
Well, we are being established in our Christian faith and life. In all our Christian hope and convictions. Verses 25 and 26 are pretty dense, but if you follow them along, you see that’s the basic gist of it. We are established as Christians; in that obedience of faith which is according to the gospel and the preaching of Christ. In other words, God is able to make us more firm and unchanging in our Christian faith. That we become more and more solidified in that faith. In essence, this talks about how God grows us and strengthens us as Christians.
Verse 25 specifically connects this establishing with the gospel and the preaching about Christ. As he makes that connection, we remember all the doctrinal teaching of this letter. Paul began a detailed theological treatise on the gospel of salvation by faith in chapter 1, verse 16. There, he said that the gospel is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes. It’s this gospel that talks about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we would be saved. The cross, according to the book of Romans, is how we can be justified and sanctified and ultimately glorified.
And so Paul then went on to describe all that justification and sanctification in great detail. In chapters 1 through 5 he especially brought out how we can be justified. He said we were justified, set in a right standing before God, by faith. His point was that we are not justified by works. That nobody after the fall of Adam into sin can have any hope of being justified by our own works. Both Jews and Gentiles alike have shown this to be true. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. No one is righteous, no not one. What we need is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. And we need our sin to be imputed to Christ on the cross where it was paid in full. That, Paul says in his gospel preaching, we have by faith in Christ. That if we call upon Christ in faith, we can have this justification.
Likewise, Paul went on in chapters 6-8 to talk of our sanctification. He talked of how we can be sanctified, that is to grow in godliness and righteous living. For Paul, our sanctification too comes back to the cross. In Romans 6:6, he told us that our old man was crucified with Christ on the cross, and that means that since we have died, we have been freed from sin. That we can reckon ourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus, even as Christ has risen from the dead. Of course, as soon as he described this, he also talked about the struggle this will be, before we are glorified. While we live in this world, there will be a struggle with our remaining corruption of the flesh. We will battle against it. The encouragement he brings us is that when we do still commit sin as a Christian, there is no condemnation anymore because we are in Christ — Romans 8:1. We don’t lose our justification by the fact that our sanctification is not perfected yet. At the same time, we are given the hope that Christ will ultimately deliver us from this body of sin, Romans 7:24-25. Romans 8 then describes how we groan waiting for that day of Christ when that deliverance will be complete. Then we’ll be glorified and no longer have to wage war against our sinful natures any longer. This too we trust by faith.
And so Paul brings these teachings to mind as he talks about how God is able to establish us according to this gospel of Christ and according to how God is bringing about this obedience of faith. Don’t miss then how this attributes our establishment to God. This is some of that wonderful Calvinistic theology here. That God is at work to fully establish our faith. We know from elsewhere the very reason we can have faith in the first place is because God makes us born again by his Spirit. Here, the emphasis comes on how we are further preserved and strengthened in that faith. The powered to be established further in our faith is not attributed to humans. It’s attributed to God. God in the work of sovereign power is the one to strengthen a Christian’s faith. To not bring out this truth, would be to reduce part of what it means for God to be our savior. Scripture does not have a narrow view of what it means for God to save us. It’s not just that God provides a way of salvation so that if we can gather up enough power and ability on our own, then we can obtain that salvation. No, the picture of Scripture is a God who has the ability and power to save us, and so works in us to bring that about.
Sometimes people ask what value is there in emphasizing the sovereignty of God in how we believe and in the perseverance of the saints. When we know from our human perspective that we still need to actually believe. If man has the responsibility to believe, what value is there is emphasizing that we can only fulfill that if God sovereignly acts to bring and establish our faith? Well, here we have the answer by Paul. This truth gives Paul reason to give glory to God. To him is able to do this establishing — to him be the glory through Jesus Christ, forever.
Let’s turn now to our second point. Part of Paul’s glorying of God here is a sub point that he makes about our salvation. In talking about how God establishes us, he says in verse 25 that this is according to the revelation of a specific mystery. It’s this revealed mystery that I’d like to turn now to consider in our second point. It’s this revealed mystery that Paul sees as continued cause to praise God. In Scripture, a mystery is something that we wouldn’t know about, unless God gave special revelation about it. The mystery he talks about here is something that was kept a secret for long before, but now has been made manifest and known. He gets at what this mystery is when he mentions the nations in verse 26. This mystery in part is about how God is bringing the nations, the Gentiles, into a saving faith. That too has been a big part of this letter.
Now, to be clear, this mystery is not simply that God had a plan to save the nations. It’s a touch more complex than that. We know that because in Romans 15, Paul quoted a bunch of Old Testament passages that essentially promised that God would bring salvation to the Gentiles. The fact that the Scriptures predicted the salvation of the Gentiles is actually what seems to be referenced here in verse 26 when he mentions the prophetic Scriptures. But Paul further explains the nuance of this mystery in both Romans 9-11 and also in Ephesians 3. Ephesians 3 talked about the mystery with regard to the Gentiles salvation as about how Gentiles would be saved together with the Jews. In other words, that they would be united together as one common people through faith in the Christ. This is surely hinted at in the Old Testament, but the unity of the salvation is not clearly brought to light until you get into the New Testament. Well, it’s that mystery that’s also described further in Romans.
Romans 9, for example, made the point that not every ethnic Israelite, is really one of God’s saved elect. It then went on to say that many Gentiles are part of God’s elect. Together they make one body, as Romans 11 goes on to describe that elect Gentile believers are able to be grafted into the one holy tree. The result is one tree, one body, one united church of all believers, Jew and Gentiles, saved by faith in the Christ. Romans 11:25 uses this same language of mystery, talking about how amazing it is that God is using the partial hardening of Israel to bring many Gentiles to a saving faith in Jesus. And in turn that salvation of Gentiles will spark many unbelieving Jews to jealousy, causing them too to come to Jesus Christ in faith. The result will be one amazing body of believers in Christ, made up of Jews and Gentiles. And this whole number of true believers, Paul has taught in this letter, was chosen by God, elect, from ages past.
Paul’s point then here in our passage today, brings all his teachings on this again to mind. We should be in awe on how God made this to happen. It’s marvelous. In fact when Paul got done talking about the way God has brought together Jew and Gentile, that launched him into that amazing doxology we saw at the end of chapter 14. Remember, that’s the one that went like this:
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him? For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever.
Paul thinks this revealed mystery about God bring Jews and Gentiles together by faith in Christ is pretty amazing. That it brings glory to God. Well, when you think of all strife historically between Jews and Gentiles, it is pretty amazing. In the same way, when you remember all the wars that have happened in general between one nation and the next, it is pretty amazing that God brings people together from all the nations as united in Christ. We have known this peace of God as the church. It is reason to glorify God in a most mighty way. That’s Paul’s point.
And so this then leads us to our third point. We’ve reflected on the two interrelated reasons for why Paul says we should glorify God. In our final point, I want to reflect specifically on this glorying of God. Let me draw our attention then to the final verse. To God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ, amen. This is saying several related things. This glory we are to attribute to God, it’s about acknowledging his splendor, his magnificence. It’s saying that he is amazingly beautiful in what he’s done here. He’s being exalted and honored and valued in the best way. All this praise we attribute to God for many reasons. But Paul especially has in mind what we’ve talked about today.
Just notice how he mentions the wisdom of God. It was God’s wisdom that saved us the way he did. We saw his wisdom in Romans 3:26, that he found a way to justly justify sinners. How else could he magnify his grace and mercy while still magnifying his justice? Well, in God’s wisdom he found a way — it was by God putting forward Jesus Christ as a propitiation for our sins. What wisdom of God that enabled both his justice and grace to shine forth! To God be the glory for his amazing wisdom to save sinners is such a just and gracious way.
And the same is true for how he brought Gentiles and Jews together. Paul made the point as we said that it was so wise of how God brought them into one people. He used the Jews’ hard hearted rejection of Christ in bring Gentiles to faith. In turn he used the Gentiles faith to make Jews jealous and bring such Jews to faith. That’s why Paul praised God’s wisdom in that doxology at the end of chapter 11. It’s that wisdom specifically referenced here in the last verse.
And so Paul especially shines our praise on God’s wisdom in all of this. But he also shines our praise on how God brought it all about through Christ. Verse 27 says that this glory to God comes through Christ. That’s because this salvation is made possible through Christ. And this salvation is only known through Christ. If God had not sent Christ to come and do what he did, we’d not be people who would speak forth a doxology like this. It’s all possible because of Christ. And it was God’s doing in sending Christ. And we now know God and his glory through Christ. So this is indeed glory to God through Christ.
The last thing to note about this glory mentioned in verse 27 is that it is to be forever. This praise is to be unending. What God has done for us in our common salvation, it’s something never to stop talking about. It will be something for eternity to keep praising God about. It is to be ever before us, because it’s that great. In our earthly relationships, we might praise someone for an amazing accomplishment. If your baseball team wins the world series, you have a time of celebration. You maybe have a parade. It may be on your mind a lot for several days or even weeks or months. The next season it might still be something you think about. Years later you might occasionally reference it, or think back to some highlight. But the praise is likely to increasingly wane. That’s because the victory was only so spectacular. Other teams will win from year to year. Your team will have some pretty bad years too. The glory of that one winning season is great, but not like our salvation. It’s significance will always be there for us in eternity. We’ll never have reason to forget it or to think it old news.
I suspect here in this world we tend to get excited about salvation when we first are saved. But there may be times when sadly its excitement and glory might seem to wane to you in some ways. But I’m sure that’s something that will change when we get to heaven. If we praise God right now for our salvation, a salvation that’s only been realized in part — how much more will we surely praise him when we taste of its fullness. When we are finally delivered from this body of sin and death. When our expectant groanings are ceased when we are finally revealed to the world to be the sons of God in glory. When we are vindicated before Satan and all God’s enemies to be God’s own. When no charge against us is clearly able to stand — because of the inseparable love of God that we have in Christ is made so clearly known to all. Then this idea that such glory be to God forever will surely become all the more manifest to us. Then we will never again let the significance of our great salvation fall into mental neglect. I look forward to that day.
And yet brothers in sisters, that is precisely the encouragement that comes to us today — that even before that great day, you can be all the more established in your Christian hope and faith. You can be all the more established in the firm conviction of the glory of God. That you can be all the more strengthened in always knowing that it is God alone, in his glorious wisdom, that has brought you to a real and enduring salvation. That you can be more firmly established in the joy of your salvation. That you can become more steadfast in living for Christ all your days. This passage has told us how that is able to come about — by God our savior. God is able to do this, through Jesus Christ.
Believe that. And act accordingly. And so if you believe God is able to establish you according to this gospel — then meditate more on that gospel. If you trust that God is able to establish you according to the preaching of Christ — then faithfully come to hear Christ preached. If you know that God is able to establish you as part of his plan to bring Jews and Gentiles together in faith, then come and assemble regularly with the fellow saints. In so doing, you will be used to show forth God’s glory. That as God establishes you according to these things, you will be an example of God’s power.
And remember that Paul said in chapter 1 that he wanted to come visit the Romans and exercise his spiritual gifts so that they’d be established. Paul wasn’t saying he establishes them. No, God is the one who establishes, as it says here. But God gives his people spiritual gifts to be used even in establishing one another. This means that God still is behind the establishing. But it also means that God can use us in helping someone else grow in the church. And so as you help others to grow in the church too, you are again glorifying God — because his establishing power is seen even in how you exercise your God-given gifts to mutually encourage one another.
So, if you didn’t catch my exhortation there, here it again: be about the fellowship of the saints. We glorify God not just in our overt praises like when we sing songs. We also glorify God through showing forth his power that is establishing us. And so grow through the preaching of the Word. And let us grow together in building each other up. As we are grown and strengthened in our salvation, in the fullness of that term, God is glorified. I will close us then by the reading again of this doxology:
Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began, but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith — to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.
Copyright © 2013 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.