READ : Romans 16:25-27
Paul’s letter to the Romans opens with a brief statement outlining the Christian gospel, and it closes in exactly the same way. Let’s look at the theme of this monumental book.
The great songwriter Cole Porter wrote his hit tune “You’re the Top” for the 1934 Broadway show Anything Goes. In its clever lyrics the singer compares his girlfriend to all the best things he can think of.
You’re the top! You’re the Coliseum,
You’re the top! You’re the Louvre museum . . .
You’re the Nile! You’re the Tower of Pisa,
You’re the smile of the Mona Lisa.
I don’t think Cole Porter was much of a biblical scholar, but if he
had been, he might have included another line in his song:
You’re the top! You’re the book of Romans.
What Niagara is to waterfalls, the book of Romans is to the gospel. It is its ultimate expression. What makes Romans great is the teaching it contains-the densely packed, closely and carefully reasoned, incredibly rich theology explaining Christian truth. It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of this book or its influence on Christians throughout history. And because of all that, it’s easy to forget that Romans isn’t a theological treatise at all. It is a personal letter. It was written by a real person, a man called Paul, to a group of real people, the Christians who lived in Rome. Paul wrote this letter in order to explain in detail the message that he had been proclaiming throughout the world, and to express his intention of visiting Rome and to enlist the support of the Roman Christians in sending him to still more distant places with the gospel.
So when he has finished his main business, Paul brings his letter to a close in a very natural way. After spending fifteen chapters writing about human guilt and God’s grace and Christian’s gratitude, he comes to chapter 16 and strikes a different note. What he says, in effect, is: “Say hi to a bunch of folks there in Rome for me, will you? And, by the way, some of my friends here want to be remembered to you as well.”
There’s even a point near the end where the scribe, the man who was taking down Paul’s words by dictation, threw in his two cents’ worth. “I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord” (v. 22). I love that human touch. I can just imagine poor Tertius spending all these laborious hours writing down every word, taking great care not to make the slightest mistake with this precious message. Now the end is in sight, and he can breathe easier, so he pauses, looks up at Paul for permission, and adds a sentence of his own. But now finally, Paul comes to his own close. It could even be that he took up the pen to write the final words himself as a sort of a signature after the whole letter had been finished and read back to him. And what he ends with by way of concluding, summing up, is a doxology, a burst of praise to God:
Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him-to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.
THE CONTENT OF THE GOSPEL
If you read that paragraph carefully, you see that the doxology itself (the ascription of praise to God) comprises only the opening and closing phrases. “Now to him . . . to the only wise God, be glory forever through Jesus Christ!” Most of the paragraph consists of a lengthy parenthetical clause. It is as though when it comes time to close, Paul’s mind goes back to all that he has written about the gospel, and he cannot help but repeat the essence of it one last time.
So Paul reminds us first of the content of that gospel. “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel . . . the proclamation of Jesus Christ.” When the apostle refers to “my gospel,” he’s not suggesting that there are many different gospels, of which his version happens to be one. Paul isn’t like the modern-day relativist who says, “You have your truth and I have my truth. Yours is good for you and mine is good for me, but we mustn’t try to impose them upon each other.” No. Truth is truth. If something is true, it must be true for everyone. Paul’s gospel is the gospel. There is only one message of salvation, the good news of God’s grace demonstrated in Jesus Christ with salvation through his cross. When Paul talks about “my gospel” he means the gospel as he himself has believed and preached it, not a gospel he invented.
But here’s how Paul defines the content of the gospel with the phrase. He uses the phrase “the proclamation of Jesus Christ.” By this Paul does not mean Jesus’ proclamation, or the preaching that Jesus did when he was on earth. Rather, Paul means the preaching, or the message, whose content is Jesus Christ. The gospel is the proclamation that consists of Jesus Christ. Recently an American denomination engaged in a lengthy debate at its General Assembly over the significance of Jesus. News reports said that the debate was triggered in part because of one minister’s rather flip remark, “What’s the big deal about Jesus?” “Well,” the apostle Paul might have responded, “the big deal is that Jesus is the entire gospel.” Jesus Christ-his miraculous birth, his holy life, his sacrificial suffering and death, his resurrection and ascension, his present reign and future return-that is the substance of the gospel, indeed, of the whole Bible.
Paul goes on to say that Jesus Christ is “the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known.” He is the one of whom the Old Testament prophets spoke. No one clearly understood this in former times. But now that Christ has come, now that he’s been revealed by God, the Bible’s message and meaning can be understood by all and must be proclaimed to all.
So the gospel is all about Jesus Christ. It is the message of what God has done through Jesus to save humans. “The gospel,” said the American theologian B. B. Warfield, “is good news, not good advice.” It’s not about what we ought to do in order to be saved. It is about what God has done for us. What we ought to do comes later as part of our response to God’s amazing grace. So the gospel isn’t: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It isn’t: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It isn’t even: “Love the Lord God with all your heart, mind and strength.” No, the gospel is: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
THE GOAL OF THE GOSPEL
Next we’re reminded here of the goal of the gospel. The gospel, Paul writes, has been made known and is now being proclaimed “so that all nations might believe and obey him.” Notice the gospel’s universal scope: It is intended for all nations. When a jealous clergyman complained that John Wesley, the great 18th century evangelist, should not be preaching in his parish, Wesley replied, “The world is my parish.” Like Paul, Wesley understood that the true gospel ministry is unlimited; we have a gospel for the whole world. The gospel isn’t just for Jews but for Gentiles too, not just for the Roman empire but for all those savage tribes living outside, not just for Europeans but for the new world and for Africa and Asia, not just for Westerners or whites or the middle class, but for all races, all classes, all nationalities. It is for everyone. If the gospel is true, then it must be true for every person on earth. If it isn’t for everyone, if it’s just something for those who have been raised in a Christian environment, while others can find God through their own religion, then it isn’t true. The gospel tells about the only way to come to the holy and living God. And that way must be the way for every man, woman and child on earth, or it can’t be the way for any man, woman or child on earth.
When Paul mentions the nations, he doesn’t mean those familiar shapes on the map with definite borders and capital cities. A nation in that modern sense is an artificial thing. It’s only been around for a couple hundred years. Nations like that didn’t even exist when the Bible was written. What the Bible means by the term nations is “peoples”-groups defined by ethnic, linguistic, or cultural ties. These “nations” are the goal of the gospel. No faithful Christian can rest until the gospel has been brought to every nation, until every person on earth has had the opportunity to hear, in a way he or she can understand, of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
Notice also the particular thing that is expected of those who hear and respond to the gospel: “that all nations might believe and obey.” The ultimate goal of the gospel is that people practice the obedience that comes from faith in Jesus. The goal of the gospel will not be reached when the world is evangelized-when people everywhere have heard the good news about Christ. The goal of the gospel would not even be reached if the world believed in Christ-if the nations were converted and confess their faith in the Lord Jesus. We sometimes speak of effecting “decisions for Christ,” and certainly it is a good thing for people everywhere to confess their faith in the Lord Jesus. But decisions for Christ are not the goal of the gospel; discipleship for Christ is. The goal of the gospel will only finally be reached when all nations, in the apostle’s words, believe and obey him-when people everywhere trust in Christ, confess his name and obey his teaching in all of life.
This worldwide goal explains the dynamics of Paul’s own life. “Through him and for his name’s sake,” he wrote in the opening verses of Romans, “we received grace and apostleship to call people from among the [nations] to the obedience that comes from faith” (Romans 1:5). The apostolic calling to reach the whole world with the gospel is why Paul never stayed long in one place. He was always eager to push on into new territory in order to share Christ with those who had not yet heard about him. In fact, despite his long-standing desire to visit Rome and preach the gospel there, Paul actually views Rome only as a stopping-off point. He wants to use the church at Rome as a staging base for further missionary efforts. “Since I have been longing for many years to see you, Paul said, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while” (Romans 15:23-24). This remarkable statement of Paul’s plans is why the book of Romans has been described as not just a doctrinal treatise but the world’s first missionary fund-raising letter.
THE RESULTS OF THE GOSPEL
So the content of the gospel is Jesus Christ. The goal of the gospel is to proclaim the message of Christ to all of earth’s peoples, so that they believe it and obey it. And when that happens, finally two wonderful results flow from the gospel.
The first is salvation for us. This is how Paul puts it: “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel.” What God does through the gospel is to establish us, to set us up, to cause us to stand. We sometimes talk about “setting someone up”-our children, for example-in business. What we mean is that we provide them with everything they need, not only to survive but to succeed. And through the gospel, God has established us forever. He has set us up with eternal life, providing everything we need so that we will stand and never fall. The gospel is a strong base on which to build your life. Believing and obeying it is like building a house on a foundation of solid rock. No storm in time or eternity will ever sweep you away.
The second result of the gospel is glory-glory for God. This gospel, this good news of sinners saved through Christ, displays to best advantage all the praiseworthy attributes of God. It all ends, you see, in praise, in doxology. Here is seen his wisdom-who else could have thought of such a plan to save those who could not save themselves?-and His power-who else could have done it?-and above all, his love-who else would have done it?
It all-the book of Romans, the gospel, the Christian life itself-ends in doxology. “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! . . . For from him and through him and to him are all things. . . to the only wise God, be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Romans 11:33,36, 16:27).