Fourth Sunday in Advent: Rom. 16:25-27
Every religion, every worldview is concerned to provide human beings with the solution to their finitude, the solution to their limits. Frequently, the problems we face seem to amount to our being finite: if we had limitless access to space and time, we would know who to marry, what house to buy, which cancer treatment to select, and whether there should be more pineapple in our diet. But Christianity is unique among world religions in insisting the solution is the infinite God becoming finite.
The Text: This is the final doxology of the book of Romans that is simultaneously a prayer for the Roman Christians. Paul’s prayer is that they would be strengthened or established according to three things: First, the gospel of Paul (16:25); second, the revelation of the mystery that has been revealed for all the nations (16:25); and third, the command of God for the obedience of faith (16:26). The point of the doxology is that the establishment of Christians in these ways is how the only true God’s wisdom is glorified now and forever (16:27).
While some translations have Paul praying that the Roman Christians would be “strengthened,” the word really seems to be more concrete than that. In Luke, poor Lazarus uses the same word to describe the gulf that is “fixed” between him and the rich man (Lk. 16:26). And the same word was used earlier in Luke to describe Jesus setting His face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem (Lk. 9:51). Likewise, Paul prays that God would establish the hearts of the Thessalonians “blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints” (1 Thess. 3:11, cf. 2 Thess. 3:2, 3:13, 1 Pet. 5:10). In other words, the Bible presents the human predicament not primarily in terms of people being finite or limited but rather the problem is that humans are detached, unanchored, disestablished. The name for this problem is sin. Sin separates us from God, from one another, and from the goodness of the world. Sin makes us flighty, double-minded, doubtful, insecure. Sin makes us childishly distracted “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Eph. 4:14). James describes this problem as the “doubting man” who is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind (Js. 1:6). He is a “double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (Js. 1:8).
Believe the Gospel: The striking thing about Christianity is that the answer to this rootlessness is not human ingenuity or a new mental technique. The Christian answer to human rootlessness is the Incarnation, God’s establishment of Himself with us, in this world, permanently, forever. In other words, the answer is not us being spread out further in space and time, overcoming our limits, overcoming our finitude. The answer is the particularity of God’s grace coming to us in Christ. The answer is the infinite God being born as a finite human child. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn. 1). Why is this good news? Because the incarnation establishes God’s grace as personal, particular, and permanent. We are sure of God’s personal favor toward us because the Eternal God has been born as a person. It’s particular because Jesus had particular parents, a particular genealogy, and was born at a particular point in history. God chose that particular moment “the fullness of time” not to exclude all other moments but to display His knowledge and care for all other moments. And finally, this is good news because the grace of God is as permanent as the incarnation. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Lk, 2:14). This is why nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Can anything separate God from being human? Then nothing can separate you from His love. And the biblical response to this is faith. Believe.
Share the Gospel: Paul says that this gospel is for all nations. In other words, this peace, this grace is for everyone. This gospel is for everyone or it’s for no one, but it’s not merely an attractive option for some. When you share the gospel, you are believing that the gospel is for all men.
This sharing of the gospel is also the purpose of the Church. The Church is the place where people are rooted and grounded in God’s grace. Frequently people go to church in order to check a religious box or to get their religious fix but it isn’t because they are grounded in Christ. It isn’t because they are established there. They have other forms of establishment (e.g. clubs, sports, hobbies, jobs, friends, wealth, children, etc.). In 1 Thessalonians, Paul says that he sent Timothy as a fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ to establish them and encourage them in their faith (1 Thess. 3:2). In Ephesians, Paul has something similar in mind when he describes the Body of Christ where the saints are “equipped for the work of ministry, till we all come to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man… that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14).
Obey the Gospel: Here, Paul’s prayer for the Roman Christians is that they would be established together with all nations for “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:26). Earlier, Paul referred to those who did not obey the gospel (Rom. 10:16, cf. 2 Thess. 1:8, 1 Pet. 4:17). We are not established in the faith by producing fruit, but we do produce fruit by being established in the faith. We do not work out our salvation in order to get God to work on us. We work out our salvation because He is at work in us (Phil. 2:12-13). We are saved by faith alone, but we are saved by a faith that is never alone. It is a living faith, a faith that works by love, a faith that is animated by obedience (Gal. 5:6, Js. 2:26). In other words, the only way to find your life is by taking up your cross and following Jesus, by losing your life for His sake. This sounds like a horrible, awful burden to those who don’t know Him, but for those who know Jesus it’s relief, release, like coming home, like the hard work of Christmas morning.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably (Heb. 12:28). It’s God’s grace that holds us, that grounds us. Not our stumbling, bumbling efforts. It’s His Christmas grace that was born that establishes us, that roots us, that holds us fast.