To the Word

Reflections on the call to live by the Word of God

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Location: Mud Creek, Tennessee, United States

Friday, March 04, 2005

It’s Not About Us

Romans 16:25-27
Preached Sunday morning, February 20, 2005
Lexington Church of Christ

Friday morning, in my role as a volunteer police chaplain, I went to the scene of a house fire. When I arrived the police had blocked the road, the fire trucks had stretched hoses across the street, and the fire was just about out. Praise God no one was killed or injured in the fire. The woman whose house had burned, however, was hit doubly hard that day. As she was speaking to the fire investigator, she received news that her mother had just died in a nursing home. I ministered as best I could to this poor woman, then started back down the hill to my car.

As I walked toward the other side of the barricade, I came upon an older woman who lived across the street from the burned-out house. This woman was waiting for someone to move the police barricade so she could be on her way. Clearly she didn’t enjoy having to wait. Our discussion went something like this:

“I need somebody to move that police car so I can get to work,” she insisted, waving her arms angrily.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “Just let that officer over there know you need to get out, and I’m sure he’ll be happy to move the car.”

“Yea, right,” she scoffed. “There’s no reason for that car to be blocking the road.”

While I have little trouble dealing with angry people, this woman’s lack of perspective amazed me.

“Ma’am. You notice there’s been a house fire. The trucks and firefighters and hoses are all in the street. The police have to keep traffic from going through here.” My explanation only seemed to make her more fervent.

“But I live here, and I need to get to work!”

“I understand that, and the officer understands that. It’s nothing personal— It’s not about you.” With that I turned and walked back to my car.

These final three verses of the book of Romans are known as a doxology— words giving glory to God. They are also, in a sense, a summary of the entire book of Romans. In these few words all the major themes of the letter are touched on either explicitly or implicitly: our weakness, God’s righteous power, faith, obedience, and a Kingdom of the redeemed from all nations. In a sense, Paul is ending the letter where he began: with the focus on God.

This doxology is also a positive counter-balance for the warning Paul gives the Romans in verses 17-20 [1]. In those verses Paul cautions the Romans to “watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine the you have been taught.” These people serve not Christ, but their appetites. They flatter the naïve with smooth talk. And, Paul implies, they will suffer the fate reserved for Satan.

Paul does not end the letter on that negative note, however. As the letter ends the focus is on God, not men. It is a word of glory. For the next few minutes let’s go through that doxology together, and find the blessings within those words for Christians today.

This word of glory speaks first of strengthening the saints according to the gospel and preaching of Jesus Christ. These words reach all the way back to the beginning of the letter, Rom. 1:11, where Paul expresses his longing to bestow on the Romans a gift. He wanted to see them in person, but he has now imparted a gift to them from a distance, in this letter. That gift is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Notice what Paul calls it here: “my gospel.” People in the first century had different ideas of humility than we do today. Paul is making no effort at false humility, and he’s not being arrogant to call it “his” gospel [2]. Paul recognized that the world is made up of sinners “of which I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15). And Paul knew the power of the gospel. He was obligated to speak that good news to everyone, including those in Rome: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:14-16). Paul says “my gospel” the same way he would say “my Lord” or “my God,” not through pride, but through obligation. That’s because he knew his message wasn’t about Paul. It was about the good news, and about the Savior at the center of that good news.

So Paul gives glory to God who can strengthen Christians “according to the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed.” Do you like that word, “mystery”? Most of us like mysteries in the sense of something to solve. Last night my family and I watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Now that man could solve a mystery. No mystery’s too obscure or difficult for Indiana Jones to solve—and find the treasure.

Of course, that kind of idea has nothing to do with what the New Testament means by mystery. In the Bible, a mystery is a “truth hidden in the mind of God and undiscoverable by human reason” [3]. In this case, the mystery is the inclusion of the Gentiles in the salvation of Israel (Rom. 11:25). This mystery is not something for us to figure out. It’s something we find only when God reveals it to us. In other words, it’s not about our cleverness; it’s about God’s revealed Word.

And notice: the Word is disclosed through the prophetic writings. Many things we can know by our own observation and intelligence, but the most important truths are known only through the Scriptures.

Friday night I met two astronomers at a special star-gazing night at my sons’ elementary school. We had a good discussion out in the school yard with telescopes and a clear night sky. After finding out that I’m a preacher, one of these astronomers remarked, in effect, that his religion was science. “Our church is out here,” he said.

I tried to think of something appropriate to say. “Well, you know the psalmist said, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God.’” And it was like a blanket fell over the conversation. We had hit an impasse between two ways of looking at the world, and at truth.

Some things are known only through the Word of God—such as why otherwise sharp minds become as dull as marbles when it comes to spiritual matters. We find the answer in Rom. 1:28: “And since they did not acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind.” Without honoring and thanking God, human beings become futile in their thinking, and darkened in their hearts. The most important truths are discovered only through the Scriptures. That’s because it’s not about our intelligence—relying on our own minds brings pride and darkness—it’s about the mind of God, who loves us and shares his righteousness with those who believe in him.

This mystery of salvation “has been made know to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God.” The faithful of all nations are now counted among the redeemed of Israel. In this letter Paul used a lot of ink explaining that God loves and chooses even the Gentiles. Jewish Christians apparently had a hard time with that idea. But for the Jews, the concept should have been nothing new. The book of Jonah, for example, shows that God cares for the Gentiles. Ezekiel 47 shows that foreigners can share in the inheritance of Israel, and Isaiah 56 proclaims that even the eunuch and foreigner is invited to worship God. There are many more examples from the Old Testament. Salvation is not limited to the Jews or Israelites. When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans the Jews knew they were God’s chosen people, and they did a pretty good job of following the rules he had laid out for them. Apparently that was a source of pride for the Jews, including many Jewish Christians. But it’s not about the Jews. It’s about a loving God who chooses to save.

Did you notice why this mystery of salvation has been revealed? The answer is in verse 27: “to bring about the obedience of faith.” The obedience of faith. These words go back to Rom. 1:5, where Paul declares his mission: “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all nations, including you who were called to belong to Jesus Christ.” Obedience is for the sake of Jesus’ name. Obedience, then, is not about us. It’s about the name of Jesus Christ.

That’s because it’s an obedience of faith, not of pride [4]. It’s not about trusting ourselves or our intelligence or our will. One of the dangers of discipleship, in fact, is focusing on our obedience rather than on God’s love. Christians are righteous, but our righteousness is not our own. God “consigned all to disobedience so that he might have mercy on all” (Rom. 11:32). Our righteousness is God’s, imputed through the blood of Jesus Christ

Our obedience is of faith. It’s not intellect-centered, not emotions-centered, but faith-centered. That means our faith is obedience-oriented, action-oriented. Notice, too, that it is “obedience of faith,” not “faith of obedience.” Obedience in particular behaviors is not necessarily proof of our faith, and it’s certainly not the source of our faith. We can obey for the wrong reasons: faithless fear, for example, or pride. Real faith, however, will bring about obedience, as good ground brings forth a harvest.

That’s why the condition of our hearts is so important. Yes, we are still called to obey God even if we don’t feel like it. But obedience is nothing without faith. That’s why the concept of “the obedience of faith” is so important, and why, I think, the phrase serves as bookends to the whole letter. The whole book of Romans is about the obedience of faith—an obedience that arises from a heart made right with God. That’s why what’s in our heart is more important than what’s in our hands. To be Christian disciples we need more than changed actions; we need changed hearts. And how do we change our hearts?

We don’t. God changes our hearts, through the regenerating power of Jesus Christ. It’s not about our obedience; it’s about our faith. More importantly, it’s about the one we have faith in. It’s about the one who empowers us to be righteous, through faith in Jesus Christ, our hope and our salvation.

And that, by the way, is how the whole book of Romans ends: “to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ, Amen!” We’re back to the heart of the matter here. Paul began this letter with reference to the gospel and the Lord. Through the letter Paul taught about God’s righteousness and how we may share in that righteousness. Now he gives glory to the source of that righteousness.

To the “only wise God”—those words say so much. The Jews in the first century were suspicious of Gentiles not only because they were foreign, but because they worshiped false gods. They worshiped whole pantheons of them: Hermes and Athena and Nebo and a thousand others. The Jews, on the other hand, knew there is only one God, and his name is The Lord. They had learned that lesson over the centuries through hard experience. The Lord is the only God.

The Romans, both Jew and Gentile, lived at the hub of the known world: a city like New York, Paris and London all rolled into one. The Romans were the ultimate big city folk, and that made them prime candidates for the idolatry of the self. In giving glory to “the only wise God” Paul lays waste to any idolatrous claims the Romans might have to being the standard of wisdom. There is only one God, and he is the one who is wise. To him be the glory.

At its most basic meaning, glory is light. And here’s where the Jew in Paul comes out. He doesn’t describe God with any sophisticated words from the vocabulary of philosophy. Paul doesn’t describe God as omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient. He doesn’t use any of the philosophical phrases that learned men glory in being able to throw around. That’s because it’s not about our glory; it’s about God’s glory.

It is a glory through Jesus Christ, the radiance of God’s glory (Heb. 1:3). Jesus’ life was lived to glorify God—in his obedience in life, and in his dying and rising again. Jesus shows us how to glorify God through the obedience of faith. And even that faith is not our doing; “it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8b).

So here in these last three verses of Romans we touch upon the whole message of the letter. That message is this: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (3:23), and we deserve death for that sin (6:23). We must repent of that old way of life (2:4) and be saved by grace through faith (14:16). That is a faith in Jesus who died on the cross for our sins, rose again, and now imputes God’s righteousness to us. We must be baptized to newness of life (6:3), offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God and be transformed in our hearts (12:1,2). We are to love one another (12:10; 14:15), proclaim the word of life (10:14-17), and give glory to the Father through Jesus Christ (16:27).

It’s not about us; it’s about God. But God is righteous, and he shares his righteousness with those who believe. To God be the glory.


1. Bob Deffinbaugh, “Watching Out for Wolves (Romans 16:17-27).” Online study at .

2. William Loader, “First Thoughts on Year B Epistle Passages from the Lectionary.” Online expository notes at .

3. Jack Cottrell, Romans, vol. 2. College Press NIV Commentary. Joplin, MO (College Press), 1998, p. 495.

4. James Squire, “The Mystery Has Been Revealed—In You and Me!.” Online study at .

Copyright 2005, A. Milton Stanley