The gospel is so good we keep trying to put the final celebration in the wrong places.
In my early college days, my music appreciation class was required to attend a classical music concert. The crowd was hardly cultured, but we tried to rise to the occasion—that is to say, we ironed our shirts and wore our best clip-on ties. But then we made the mistake that most freshman classical music listeners make in a live setting—we applauded at the wrong time. The music arrived at a place of dramatic pause, and that room full of dock workers, gas station attendants, and good-time Charlies began clapping and whistling as if it were a Def Leppard concert.
Then the music resumed.
This happened several more times until the bunch of us became gun shy, never knowing when the piece was finished.
As we complete a study of “the gospel of God,” when should we start clapping? Is it when we believe and start following Jesus? Is it when we die and go to heaven? Very likely we’d select an ending all about us.
It isn’t wrong to celebrate the effects of salvation in our lives, but it’s a problem if we think the end of the Gospel is to obtain a pastiche of small blessings. We create a false ending when we stop with an eclectic group of feel-goods. The gospel becomes a symphony minus its crescendo.
The only fitting end to the Gospel of God is the glory of God.
Consider the verses at the end of Romans chapter 16. These are actually one long complex sentence, plus one word.
25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.
If you want to keep track of what’s going on in this multi-layered, thick, meaty passage, keep an eye on “to him” in verse 25, and “be glory forevermore” in verse 27. That’s right, this is a doxology, an expression of glory to God, and how Paul ends his most comprehensive treatise on the gospel.
His list kicks off with a celebration of the God “who is able to strengthen you.” We’re used to this thought. We think we know what it looks like. For me, the strength of God means not getting irate when I have to stand in a line longer than three people. When the teen boy in front of me really needs to pull his pants up. When the cashier is sleeping with her eyes open. When I have to swipe my card three times to make it work. Maybe yours has to do with accomplishments. God strengthens you to keep drinking those disgusting shakes so you can fit into last year’s slacks. Or so you’ll stop the crazy online shopping, so your savings can actually be larger than your checking. Those situations are the ones most apt to earn “praise reports.”
But in the Romans farewell, when Paul refers to the God who is able to strengthen you, it is not strength randomly distributed for anything and everything. Instead it is “according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ.” Glory, praise, celebration, and rejoicing should go to the God who can strengthen us according to the contents of the book of Romans.
The First Movement: Out of Wrath, into Grace
We were sinners who could only expect God’s severest condemnation, but by chapter 3 we were “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” and by 5:2, were rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God. God is able to strengthen our trust in the blood of Christ, and our assurance of salvation to the extent that we can anticipate and currently celebrate our eternity.
The Second Movement: Out of Adam, into Christ
Our old manner of life is still around, like a ghost haunting a house. Through the work of Christ though, we were not only justified, but according to Romans 6:4, enabled to walk in Christ in newness of life. God strengthens us to be new, to think new, and to live new, fresh out of the tomb.
The Third Movement: Out of the Flesh, Into the Spirit
At a certain place in our Christian development, we decided to “help” God by becoming religious. We entered a phase of life marked by the dismal failures of the flesh in Romans 7. But Romans 8:2 tells us “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death in our flesh.” God strengthens us to walk in the third Person of the godhead, the Holy Spirit.
The Fourth Movement: Out of the world, Into the Church
We lived as members of the same dark world that killed Christ. Yet Romans 12:2 tells us to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice together with a new membership in the body of Christ (12:4). God strengthens us to worship serve, and live together as the very arms and legs of Christ.
This is the normal Christian life—a stratospheric reality—and glory be to the God who can strengthen folks like us unto it. Paul had been caught up with the sight of these movements so that he couldn’t help but end his epistle to the Romans with trumpets blasting and cymbals crashing. Kazoos don’t fit here. We need to learn from him.
A researcher named Christian Smith wrote a book called, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Teenagers. Surveying those who pray, he found most were motivated by purely selfish concerns. They spoke overwhelmingly in terms of prayer related to personal problems, such as needing to feel calm, secure, successful, and the need to feel “Something there helping me out.” Smith’s final analysis determined that “Young Americans’ prayers lacked any sense of repentance or adoration.”
Why are these elements missing? Primarily because they are tied to what we see, and if the highest thing we see is deliverance from strep throat, then our praise will only rise that high.
But soak in the gospel of God, and you, like Paul, will reach a place of doxology.
Then it’ll be time for a standing ovation.