Thursday, April 1, 2021

The Final Doxology – Romans 16:25-27


How does Paul end this epistle?  He does so in a doxology, which is a word of praise to God.  Paul ends on this note of prayer and praise.  Note that the main idea here, the main verb, is found in verse 27 which completes the thought began in verse 25 – “Now to him . . . to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.”  In other words, this is a prayer that God be glorified.  That is really the only appropriate way to end an epistle which is about God and his gospel.  This God is the God from whom and through whom and to whom are all things.  “To him be glory forever. Amen” (11:36).  This is the reason why God saves men and women.  He saves us for his glory: “in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (9:23). 

I want you to hear that last verse because a lot of people think that God being for his glory means that makes him selfish and vainglorious in a bad way.  But this is not the case.  God is the only being in the universe for which it would be wicked for him not to be for his glory.  For he is God and we are not.  As John Piper has put it, God is not an idolator: he has no other gods besides himself.  But this does not mean that God being for his glory puts us at a disadvantage. That is certainly the way it is when people are out for themselves.  It means that they are willing to walk over you to get ahead.  But when God seeks his glory, he does so through the sacrifice of his Son for the salvation of sinners like you and me.  That is what Paul means in 9:23.  God makes known his glory for vessels of mercy (sinners) by bestowing glory upon them.  He makes us kings and priests to God. 

This of course does not mean that we are made into gods.  There will always be an infinite distance between the creature and the creator.  God will always be the only one worthy of worship.  The creature being bestowed with glory means that we are restored by grace in a relationship with God so that we can truly enjoy seeing his glory and his experience his fellowship.  That is where the truest happiness and joy and satisfaction and peace and contentment is found.  It doesn’t happen by making much of yourself.  It happens by making much of God, by knowing him, and seeking him.  “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:8)!  How are we blessed?  Be seeing and knowing and experiencing the love and mercy of God. 

“The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 1).  To glorify God and to enjoy him are not things at odds with each other.  They are complimentary.  God is not a cosmic killjoy, as some like to represent him.  No, my friends, God calls us to enjoy him and to glorify him.  And that is what Paul is calling us to do here.

The reality is that because you praise what you love, it is inevitable that the gospel will lead us to praise.  The gospel tells sinners like you and me how to be saved, and about the God of grace who does this through his Son Jesus and his life and death and resurrection, through his ascension into heaven and his ongoing intercession for his people.  And if you really believe this message, you are going to fall in love with the God of the gospel, this God of glory.  And if you love him you are going to praise him.  Doxology is the inevitable consequences of theology.  It is the natural response of sinners who have been saved by grace alone through faith alone in the work of Christ alone – for the glory of God alone.

Do the truths of the book of Romans lead us to this?  It is an important question to ask ourselves.  Does the gospel create within us a heart of praise to God?  Does it cause us to love him and therefore to worship him?  Do its truths resonate in our hearts?  Because if they don’t, there is something very wrong with us.  It certainly means that we are in a very poor spiritual condition.  It might even mean that we are not yet saved. 

Now that is the main idea.  This is a doxology.  But this is not like so many “praise songs” that are sung in churches today.  There are songs out there which call people to praise God but don’t really give much reason to do so.  Many times, it seems to me, the praises of the people are carried by the tune or the instrumental accompaniment instead of by the message of the song itself.  But that is not the case here.  It is not the case with any of Paul’s calls to doxology.  There is a rich theological content in these verses and we need to understand this if we are going to join the apostle in true praise to God.

So what does the apostle say about God here?  To see it, I want you to trace with me the flow thought in verses 25-27.  Paul begins in verse 25 by saying, “Now to him . . .” (remember, this thought is completed in verse 27).  What follows is a description of God.  Now what does the apostle say about God?  The chief thing he says here is that God is the one “who is able to strengthen you.”  What follows that is a description of the way God does this.  He does it “according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has not been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all the nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith” (25-26). 

When you step back and consider the structure of this doxology, it becomes clear that the main thing here that causes the apostle to break forth into worship and doxology is the fact that God is the one who strengthens us and establishes us.  He does this through the gospel and through faith in its message.  So by believing the message of the mystery, which is fully revealed and manifested in the gospel, we are strengthened by God.  It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the apostle began this epistle by expressing a wish that the Roman Christians might be strengthened and established (1:11).  He ends the epistle by commending the Romans Christians to God who is able to strengthen and establish them (16:25). 

Now it may be a curious thing to you why the apostle would focus on this particular thing in these last verses as he closes his epistle to the Romans.  Paul is praising God that he strengthens us by the gospel.  That begs several questions, which I want to explore with you.  First, why does Paul praise God for this?  Second, what is it about the gospel that it leads to our being established?

Why does Paul praise God for this?

I think the reason Paul picks this particular thing, that God is able to strengthen us, is because the apostle understood the need not only to grasp and believe the truths as some point in our lives, but the necessity of persevering in them.  It’s fine if you like what Paul has written up to this point.  But you don’t want to be a person who enjoys one book but then goes on to another and forgets what he read in the first book.  You don’t want to be the person who rejoices in the truths of Romans only to find something else more compelling later on.  You need to persevere in these truths.  And that is what the apostle is commending to the Romans here: he is commending them to the God who is able to strengthen them so they don’t give in and don’t give up.

But do I really have the right to make this connection between being strengthened in the faith and persevering?  I think so.  This is what the New Testament scholar Thomas Schreiner says about this verse: “The strengthening envisioned is the ability to resist temptations and trials with the result that they do not forsake and abandon the Christians faith.”[1]  And if you look at other passages where this word “strengthen” is used, it is often used in this very connection.  For example, when Paul is writing to the Thessalonians, he talks about how he sent Timothy “to establish [same Greek word] and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions” (1 Thess. 3:2-3).  The apostle was clearly worried that the trials they were going through might cause them to have second thoughts about their commitment to Jesus.  This is why he sent Timothy to them: “For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain” (5).  And so he prays for them: “Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish [again, same Greek word] your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (11-13).  This is a strengthening for perseverance.

In order to really appreciate this doxology, therefore, you need to understand two things.  First, you need to understand the absolute importance of persevering in the faith and the danger posed to those who don’t.  Second, you need to understand that all the resources we need for persevering – the strengthening – don’t come from you but are found in God through Christ.

So how important is this need to persevere?  Well, let me put it this way: there are no promises for those who do not persevere.  Our Lord put it this way: “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt. 24:13).  When you hear his exhortations to the seven churches in Asia, given to us in the second and third chapters of Revelation, everyone of them ends with an exhortation and a warning like this: “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of live, which is in the paradise of God” (2:7; cf. 2:11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21).  This is not a promise that if you persevere (this is implied in the language of conquering) you will have a rich spiritual life this side of heaven.  Of course that’s true as far as it goes.  But that is not what the Lord is saying here.  He is saying that if you persevere in the faith you will be saved.  And there are no promises for those who do not!  In fact, this is what the apostle John has to say about those who fail to persevere: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.  But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 Jn. 2:19).

Or consider how Paul put it to the Corinthians.  He writes: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?” (1 Cor. 9:24).  By the way, what is the prize here?  It is “an imperishable [wreath]” (25).  Now note the word “all” in verse 24.  Then drop down to 10:1,ff.  Not all who get in a race cross the finish line and win the wreath.  Paul illustrates this with the story of the Israelites coming out of Egypt: “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.  Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (10:1-5).  Not everyone who came out of Egypt entered the Promised Land, an example for us (10:6,ff).  Indeed, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (12). 

Do you see the obvious application here?  Just because you call yourself a Christian doesn’t mean a whole lot if you don’t persevere.  Not everyone who gets in a race finishes well.  Not all those who came out of Egypt entered the promised land.  It’s not just a matter of starting well, but of finishing well.  It’s a matter of being able to say with Paul, at the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

But this leads to the next thing you really need to understand about persevering in the faith.  It is this: you don’t have the resources to get you to the end.  But God does.  And he will keep you!  He is able to strengthen you.  Yes, you!  You with all your weakness and sins and mistakes and limited vision.  It is in our weakness that we are made strong by God’s grace (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9).  That is what this doxology is all about.  It is about God’s power to keep his people.  It is a fact that we persevere only because God preserves us.  There is no real difference between the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saint in faith and the doctrine of the preservation of the saint by God.  The latter secures the former.  It is what the apostle Peter was getting at in 1 Pet. 1:5, when he reminds the believers that they “by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” 

We need to be reminded that we do not live the Christian life in our own strength but in the strength which God provides.  We all probably have the tendency sometimes to fall back on our own reserves.  But we don’t just have grace in the forgiveness of our sins but we are given grace in the daily living out the life marked out for us by Jesus Christ.  We are to look to Jesus (Heb. 12:1-2).  We are to remember the blessed truth in another great doxology: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).

In commending them to the God who is able to strengthen them, Paul is in effect showing us how to pray.  We are to pray that God will strengthen us.  And we are to pray with the confidence that he will answer this prayer.  I tell you, if it weren’t for truths like this, I would have given up on the pastorate a long time ago.  But knowing that God is able to keep his people is what keeps me from quitting.  He loves his own and he loves them to the end and he will keep them (cf. Jn. 13:1).  As the hymn puts it so well, “He will hold me fast.”  It’s a truth worth exulting over!  It means that God really is willing as well as able to answer such a prayer.

How does the gospel work to strengthen us?

We noted earlier that Paul not only praises God as the one who is able to strengthen us but also tells us how God does this.  He does it through the gospel, which the apostle goes on to describe as “the preaching of Jesus Christ” and “the revelation of the mystery.”  It is the preaching of Jesus Christ – there is no gospel apart from him.  It is the person and work of Jesus that is the gospel.  The gospel is not a new law.  It is not a self-help manual.  It is the announcement that God has come to earth in his Son, has kept the law that we broke and has paid the penalty that we deserved.  It is the good news that all who believe, who put their trust in Jesus Christ, will be saved because of what he has done for us. 

In describing it as “the revelation of the mystery” the apostle is not saying that the gospel is something “mysterious” in the sense that we can’t understand it.  Rather, he is saying that it is a mystery in the sense that we would not have known it on our own.  That is why Paul calls it “revelation.”  The gospel is not a merely human attempt to understand God.  It is God speaking to us and telling us how we can be saved. 

Then Paul connects the gospel with the Old Testament: “through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations.”  The gospel is not something brand new, but the outworking of God’s plan of salvation from the very beginning.  It goes all the way back to the promise in the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve, down to God’s promises to Abraham and David and the prophets.  Jesus, in fact, is the culmination of all God’s promises to us: all the promises of God find their yes in him!

But how does the gospel work to strengthen us?  It strengthens us because God meets faith in Christ with strength.  He loves to glorify his Son by strengthening those who look away from themselves to his Son for salvation and grace and empowerment.  The apostle himself illustrates this attitude of a life by faith in his letter to the Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).  It is what our Lord himself pointed to by saying, “I am the vine, you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5).  On the other hand, as Paul puts it “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).  This is why Paul connects the gospel to faith: it has not been made known to all the nations for the purpose of admiration merely or as an item of curiosity, but as an object of faith: it has been made known to all the nations “to bring about the obedience of faith.”  That’s how the gospel strengthens us.

In other words, you are not strengthened by looking to yourself, to your resources, to your goodness, to your merit, to your works, to your accomplishments.  You are strengthened by looking to Christ and to his resources, goodness, merit, works, and accomplishments (cf. Rev. 3:17-18).  That is a gospel-centered life.

And this is a fitting conclusion to the book of Romans.  It is fitting because the doctrines of this letter are meant to be believed and loved throughout our lives from beginning to end.  Paul could have concluded this letter by a long soliloquy on the sovereignty of God or justification by faith or the oneness of Jew and Gentile, but actually these doctrines are most magnified when they are lived out in lives of believers.  What Paul is saying here is that the most fitting conclusion is that which is reflected in a life-long commitment of faith and love and obedience to Jesus Christ.  Words can never match a life of faithfulness. 

On the other hand, apostacy is the worst kind of reflection on the gospel that one can give.  And how sad and heart-rending it is that someone will take the treasure of the gospel and sell it for things that cannot ultimately profit! But when people do that, others see and think that the gospel is not the treasure that it really is.  So if we want to honor the doctrines of Romans, we will do it by a life lived out in faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In doing so, we are not only honoring the doctrines but we are honoring the God of the doctrines.  For in doing so, we are declaring that the only way we can live is by grace, that we are cast upon the grace of God from beginning to end.  In doing so we magnify the grace of God and the power of God and as we loo into the mystery of God and behold its riches we come to magnify the wisdom of God.  And hence verse 27: “To the only wise God, be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ.”



[1] T. R. Schreiner, Romans [ECNT], (Baker, 1998), p. 811.

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