Romans 16:27 Illustrated: "To the only wise God be glory forever..." —  Heartlight® Gallery

A sermon on Romans 16:17-27 by Richard Keith on Sunday 5 March 2023

All good things come to an end, and with chapter 16 Paul’s letter to the Romans will end for us today. And Paul ends his letter as he began it by talking about the obedience of faith.

To obey is to do what you are told. Children obey their parents. Students obey their teachers. Workers obey their bosses. They do what they are told.

To obey is to do what you should. Not necessarily what you want. Nor what is convenient. Nor what is easy. But what is right and good in each and every different situation.

And when we obey God, when we do his will revealed in his commandments to love him first and to love others in his name, we fulfil the purpose of the gospel, the purpose of our creation, and the purpose of our salvation.

Paul’s letter to the Romans ends with these words:

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.

It is a prayer of praise to God. “Now to him,” it starts in verse 25 and then ends in verse 27, “to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ. Amen.” To God be glory. May all the praise go to him. May he be glorified by all his people.


A word literally meaning truth, but when coming at the end of prayers means something more like, may it be so. Yes, indeed, truly. It’s a word of agreement to the words of the prayer and a wish to God that they may come true.

But of course, no prayer in the Bible is ever so simple. Instead, in the bits in between that beginning and end, is a long explanation of why God should be praised.

Basically it is because God is the one who can “establish” us. To make us stand firm. To make us strong. When you establish a garden you’ve not just planted plants, but you’ve created the environment in which those plants’ roots have gone down deep and found all the nutrients they need to look after themselves. God establishes us by giving us every resource we need to be strong in faith and hope and love so that we are not easily discouraged or tempted.

God does this “by the gospel”. By the good news that Paul proclaimed about Jesus Christ. Who revealed God’s power and grace in his words and works. Who gave his life for us on the cross and rose to life by the power of the Spirit. So that he is king of kings and lord of lords.

By the gospel we are brought to faith so that we trust in Christ and receive the blessings of salvation. Our sins are forgiven. We have peace with God. We no longer fear his condemnation.

And by the gospel we are strengthened in faith. For God’s love fills our hearts. His Spirit guides us in truth. Jesus example inspires us and his presence reassures us. We are not only saved from sin’s penalty of death, but its power over us wanes and we look forward to being set free from its presence forever. By the gospel we become children of God and brothers and sisters of each other and members of the body of Christ, his church. We encourage each other, putting God first in our lives and serving others in his name.

This gospel, this message of good news, was once “hidden for long ages”. Planted like a seed in the nation of Israel where it germinated but remained small and lay dormant for generations. Overlooked by the world, unnoticed and unknown by the nations in distant lands.

But with the life and death and resurrection of Jesus it has “now been revealed and made known”. No longer a secret, but taken first by the apostles to take root among the nations. To Egypt. To India. To Turkey and Greece. And to Rome, the heart of the leading empire of Paul’s day. And then later in the generations that followed through the rest of Europe and Asia and America and finally to America and Australia.

And what is the reason for this spread, this making known of what had been hidden in God’s promises to Israel for generations? What is the purpose? What is the intended result?

… so that all nations might believe and obey him.

Not just Israel. Not just Australia. Not just British people. Not just white people. But all nations. So that every person, of all colours, of all races, of all languages, men, women and children, “might believe”. That they might repent of their sins and come to faith in Jesus Christ for their salvation.

For without faith they will not believe that there is a God who made all things in heaven and on earth. Not a god who is made in the image of humans out of wood or silver or stone. But a God who has made us in his image to represent him on earth and to reflect his glory.

And without faith they will not come to repentance. They will not believe that God has made them to know him and love him and serve him. Nor will they believe that their thoughts and words and actions fall short of the glory that God made us for, that they harm what he has made good and bring death to those whom God made for life. Without faith they will keep making excuses to justify their actions.

And without faith they will not turn to Christ to trust him, to believe that his death on the cross paid our debt to God for our forgiveness and that his resurrection is God’s promise of his gift to us of eternal life. Without faith they will not believe that the God who made us for better things than the misery and condemnation we bring upon ourselves. Without faith they will not believe that God has a plan to make those better things come true for them in his Son Jesus.

All this takes faith. And by faith alone we receive the blessings of Jesus’ death and new life. Not by our works. Not by our good intentions. Not by our commitment to high ideals or by our own best efforts. But by faith in Jesus who does what we could not do for ourselves. He rescues us from sin and death that we may live.

God has made known this good news so that all nations might believe. But not only that they might believe. But also that they might “obey him”. Because Jesus our Saviour is Lord. He was God’s promised king for Israel, and though his people Israel rejected him, God his father raised him to life. Jesus has ascended to his Father’s right hand above all other rule and authority and he is Lord of the living and the dead. So that those who accept him as Saviour, must accept him as Lord as well.

Jesus is not like the doctor who patches us up and then sends us on our way. Jesus is not like the lifesaver who pulls us from the waves so that we can go back to our ordinary lives. Jesus is the Lord who opens the prison doors of our sin and misery and says, “Come follow me,” so that the life of faith is lived following in his footsteps.

Jesus has saved us from death for life, but the life that he has saved us for is lived in his example of humility and service and love. Jesus has saved us so that we may fulfil the original purpose of our creation and truly be those who bear the image of God in his world. Jesus saved us so that his love for us might flow into a life of love for others.

This is the obedience of faith. It is very different to the obedience of legalism or of moralism. Legalism says, “Be good or you’ll be punished.” And people try to be good out of fear, but only end up resenting those who have set themselves up as judges above them. Moralism says, “Be good and people will think good things about you.” And people try to be good out of self-interest.

Both legalism and moralism produce people who look good on the outside, who conform to an external code of behaviour, but inside they are just as fearful and resentful and self-seeking as everyone else. Looking down on others while turning a blind eye to their own faults. Legalism and moralism don’t create obedience. They create hypocrisy.

But the obedience of faith is different. It begins by admitting that no outward show is good enough to please and to appease the true and holy God. It trusts in Jesus because of his love. And submits to his authority as king of kings and lord of lords. It receives his Spirit who changes us from the inside out, making us want to love the things that God wants. And it hears his command, “Love one another as I have loved you. Accept one another as in Christ God has accepted you. Do not judge as you have not been judged.” And makes every effort to obey them.

Statements like, “If I’m forgiven, it doesn’t matter what I do,” or like, “If I only have to repent and believe to go to heaven, then I’ll wait until just before I die,” those kinds of statements just don’t make sense to those who know the love of God for them in Jesus. Because those who know God’s love do what God says. Not just because they have to. Not just for fear of the consequences if they don’t. Not just because of the rewards in their local community if they do. But because they want to. They love what God loves. They do what God says.

Verses 25 to 27 are a prayer of praise to God.

To the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ.

Why? Because his love for us in Jesus, though hidden for so long in Israel, has been made known to all nations, so that we may believe him and obey him. Because obedience is not just the purpose of the gospel. It is the purpose of our creation and of our salvation.