Saturday, April 21, 2018

How God's Grace And Wisdom Frame The Book Of Romans

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Romans 16:25-27 "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 which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen."


Have you ever turned to the back cover of a book to see how it ended? Paul's letter to the church at Rome is consider his most important. The Epistle to the Romans presents a full treatment on the theological and practical implications of the Gospel. The introductory section to Romans contains themes that mesh well with the closing of the book. Romans 1:1-7 states:

"Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ. 7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

How God's Grace and Wisdom Frame The Book Of Romans

The introduction, Romans 1:1-7, describes how people are brought to saving faith in Jesus through the Gospel. The closing verses of Romans 16:25-27 focus upon the basis upon which the Gospel rests. 

As a note: the reader is urged to view the underlined portions I have underscored in the texts of today's post, since we will recall them later in this post. 

It is with the beginning and end that we respectively witness the means by which sinners are won to faith and the marvelous foundation upon which faith in the Gospel is rooted. The signature note of Romans 1:1-7 is that of God's grace. The closing melody of Romans 16:25-27 is that of God's wisdom. 

God's grace is God doing and providing for us what we could never provide nor achieve by ourselves. God's wisdom involves God's use of His divinely appointed means (both good and bad) to achieve His most noble ends (which are always good), (see Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). Therefore we see two book-ends to the book of Romans: God's grace and God's wisdom. 

What details about God's Grace and Wisdom Bracket the Book of Romans

We have observed how God's grace and wisdom function as book-ends to hold together the Book of Romans. The question is, what details of each of these attributes of grace and wisdom depict God's work in salvation? If we look first at Romans 1:1-7, wherein is expressed God's grace in human salvation, we find a particular chain of avenues by which God ordained to bring forth the Gospel to sinners:

1. "through His prophets", 1:2

2. "through whom we have received", i.e. Christ, 1:5

3. "among whom", i.e. the nations or gentiles, individual sinners are lovingly called by God, 1:6

When Paul speaks of "through the prophets", that is theological shorthand for the Old Covenant or Old Testament scriptures. We mustn't forget the foundation of scripture as the chief instrument by which human salvation derives (see 2 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 4:12; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). 

This first "instrument" of scripture, that God in His grace uses to call forth sinners, points beyond itself to Christ. Christ is the center and circumference of the prophetic scriptures (see Luke 24:44). Christ is the one by whom grace is channeled and is the source of all salvation by grace through faith (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5; Titus 2:11). 

Then the last instrumental means that God uses to channel His redemptive grace to sinners are the nations themselves. Passages such as Matthew 24:14 and Romans 11 detail how God is calling forth all kinds of people from every nation to respond to His gracious call. Both God's general revelation, or non-saving common grace on all men, as well as His focused saving grace on sinners in each nation, provide the context of genuine responses of faith to the Gospel. None can say they have not somehow benefited from all Christ achieved. For those persons that truly respond to the Gospel, the same shall be redeemed (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 10:8-9). Anyone saved by grace through faith can only credit God's saving grace for their salvation  (see 2 Corinthians 4:1-6). All others that persist in their refusal of the Gospel or actively reject God's revelation of His power through the general revelation of creation and the conscience perish in their sins as consequent of their choice to refuse God's well-meant offer of grace (John 3:36; Acts 13:46-47). 

Interestingly, when we turn to the closing verses of Paul's masterpiece of Romans 16:25-27, we find three related categories as those found in Romans 1:1-7. The following function as foundations for the Gospel as expressions of God's wisdom:

1. "according to my Gospel", Romans 16:25, i.e. "according to the Gospel as preached by me". Paul is the author of Romans and apostle to the nations. The Gospel he preaches was taught to Him by Christ following his conversion (see Galatians 1-2). This is the message of the Gospel which he states was "handed down to him" as Christ's death, burial, resurrection and post-resurrection appearances according to the scriptures (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-10). It is the Gospel which comprises the key theme of Romans itself (see Romans 1:16-17). The Gospel expresses God's wisdom and derives from Him (see Romans 11:33-36). 

2. "according to the revelation", Romans 16:25, i.e. the mystery as hidden from plain sight to the Old Testament prophets but fully disclosed in the New Testament. This mystery is two-fold. Firstly, how God would send forth Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, to incarnate Himself in the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth. Then secondly, included in the mystery was the commissioning of the church as the main instrument for propagating the Gospel in this present age until Christ's return (see Matthew 24:14; 28:18-20). 

3. "according to the commandment of the eternal God", 16:26. The Gospel is rooted in the "all-wise God". The covenant of redemption agreed upon by the Father, Son and Spirit concerning the Son's incarnation and plan of salvation came before the creation of the world (see Isaiah 43:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:15-21; Ephesians 1:1-14; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2; Revelation 13:8). God found it best to raise up a chosen nation among the nations, namely Israel, in the Old Testament (see Exodus 19; Deuteronomy 7:1-9; Amos 3:1-4). Once Christ came, God temporarily set-aside Israel so as to call for all sorts of people from every nation and language (including those among the Jews) to compose His church. Romans 11 spells out the two complementary arrangements God has for Israel and the nations. The salvation of the nations will drive Israel to jealousy to pine after the Messiah - Christ. Meanwhile in temporarily setting aside Israel, the nations get the chance to hear the Gospel in this present age. Once Christ returns, Israel as a nation (not necessarily every individual Jew) will be redeemed upon seeing her Messiah (see Romans 11:25-26; Revelation 1:7). This combined arrangement enables sinners responding to the Gospel call to compose the body of Christ - i.e. the church. 

Closing thoughts:

When one takes the time to read the introduction and conclusion to Paul's epistle to the Romans, the discovery is made of God's grace and wisdom framing the letter. The details are extraordinary when we begin to see how God's grace (Romans 1:1-7) and wisdom (Romans 16:25-27) weave their ways like two threads of gold through the tapestry of Romans. May we look today to the God of grace who is all wise in setting forth salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.