New Christians are often told they should begin reading their Bible in the Gospels, specifically with the Book of John. This is partly because each Gospel is said to present Jesus differently: Matthew as King, Mark as a Servant, Luke as Man, and John as God. To many, John sounds like a logical place for a new Christian to begin for them to become established in the faith. But what does the Bible say?
The Gospels are beloved, and for good reason. For in them, Christ Jesus, our Savior, is revealed, and His life while on earth is shared like in no other book ever written. They tell us how our God and Savior humbled Himself and was born in such lowly conditions. How He walked from town to town, teaching, healing, and showing love and compassion for the ones He knew would soon reject Him. And even though He created this world, He willingly subjected Himself to harsher conditions than His creation. He said of Himself that the “foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head” (Matt. 8:20).
However, as precious as the Gospels are, we mustn’t assume that is where God would have us begin or that it contains the necessary doctrine to establish our foundation in the faith. We shouldn’t, like so many do, esteem the “red letters” more than the rest of the Bible. After all, are not Christ’s words spoken from heaven just as important as His words spoken while on earth?
We should remember that God is not neglectful in providing direction, especially on something as important as a believer being established. All too often, people make the mistake of giving their opinion on an issue instead of simply asking, “For what saith the Scripture?” (Rom. 4:3 cf. 11:2; Gal 4:30).
“Now to Him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,
“But now is made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: “To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen” (Rom. 16:25-27).
In reality, every new believer would do well to begin their Bible reading and study in the Book of Romans; it truly is the foundational book of doctrine for the Body of Christ. But you don’t need to take my word for it. Consider the words from our text in Romans 16:25-27 and the fact that Paul wrote Romans because he could not go to Rome as he wanted, and said, “For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established” (cf. Rom. 1:11).
Established By God
The word “stablish” in Romans 16:25 relates directly to the word established in chapter 1 and is the same Greek word (sterizo). It means to make stable, place firmly, or “fixed,” as in the case of the great gulf that was between Lazarus and the rich man in Abraham’s Bosom (cf. Luke 16:26).
Unable to go to Rome (cf. Rom. 1:13), Paul instead wrote the Book of Romans, which is the spiritual gift Paul longed to give them—the doctrine (instruction) in which they (and we) could be established.
Sometimes, though, people won’t listen to the direction God provides. Many churches want to make Peter and his words at Pentecost the foundation for the church. The Catholic church has staked its position as the one true church and the authority of Jesus Christ here on earth on an incorrect belief of apostolic succession from Peter and the words of the four Gospels. Meanwhile, the Pentecostal church claims the message that Peter spoke in Acts 2 at Pentecost is the foundation for the church, the Body of Christ.
Every believer should take note of the fact that Peter never claimed to have the foundational message for the Body of Christ, while Paul said so explicitly of himself. The refusal to listen to God’s direction is reminiscent of what the Lord told Israel through the prophet Jeremiah:
“Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.
“Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken” (Jer. 6:16-17).
The words in Jeremiah are a metaphor taken from travelers, who, being in doubt of their way, stop to consider whether the direction they have received from someone is correct or not. To “ask for the old paths” is to inquire in what way those righteous persons before walked and imitate their practices. God was pointing out that He had given Israel directions, but they refused to listen.
He said, “I set watchmen over you.” These are prophets to sound the way and issue warning, which is the sound of the trumpet, but again, He says, they would not listen. Refusing to listen to God is just as much a problem for the church today as it was for Israel in Jeremiah’s day.
The church needs to stop and consider carefully which direction to go. Look for what path the righteous before us took: those like Phebe, Priscilla and Aquila, Titus, Timothy, and many others whom God lists as examples, and all who followed the doctrine and teaching of the risen Savior’s newly chosen Apostle—Paul (cf. Rom. 16:1-3; Titus 1:4; Phil. 2:19-22).
Apollos is a great example. He was a man “mighty in the [Old Testament] Scriptures” (Acts 18:24), who had been “instructed in the way of the Lord” (v. 25). He knew of Jesus according to prophecy, that is, according to His earthly ministry, but not according to the revelation of the mystery. Thus, we are told that when “he began to speak boldly in the synagogue,” Aquila and Priscilla, who learned the mystery from Paul, “took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (v. 26).
Not following Paul as they should was a problem for the church in Corinth. To this, Paul declared, “I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me. For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church” (1 Cor. 4:14-17).
Just as God provided direction and warned Israel, God has done the same for us, the Body of Christ. God has warned us and told us what direction to follow and how a believer is to be established.
“Now to Him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel…” (Rom. 16:25).
Words matter, and never more so than in the case of Scripture. So, it’s important to note that Paul doesn’t merely say the gospel but instead says “my gospel.” It is evident that Paul is purposely trying to distinguish between his gospel and other gospels that had been taught.
Contrary to what some believe, Paul’s gospel is different from any presented before. Why does this matter? Because there are situations in which believing in Jesus won’t save you. It’s not if you believe in Jesus, but what you believe about Jesus that saves. Prior to Paul, the gospel of the kingdom required believing that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name” (John 20:31).
Further proof that Paul’s gospel is different from that preached in the four Gospels and by the 12 Apostles can be clearly demonstrated by looking at the Book of Luke. In the opening verses of chapter 9, we find that the Lord sent out the 12 Apostles to “preach the kingdom of God” (v. 2); it says they went “preaching the gospel” (v. 6). However, later in chapter 18 we’re told that when Jesus explained to the apostles that He was going to die and rise again, they “understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken” (18:34).
Obviously, they hadn’t been sharing a gospel that involved the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus if they didn’t understand or even know of those things.
We should not allow the similarities between the gospel of the kingdom and the gospel of the grace of God to cause us to overlook their differences. Real and counterfeit money have similarities, but it’s the differences that define them, and just because a valid gospel was in place at one time, it does not mean that it remains in effect forever.
Those fortunate enough to own a $100,000 bill (U.S.) in 1944 would have been quite disappointed had they tried to spend it in 1946. Although it was perfectly valid and a legal form of payment at one time, that changed in 1945 when its status as a legal form of payment was revoked, rendering it obsolete for any financial transaction. The same is true for the gospel of the kingdom; it simply is not in effect today, and it cannot help to pay the debt of sin.
On the other hand, Paul’s “my gospel,” also called the “gospel of your salvation” (Eph. 1:13 cf. Rom. 1:16), is that “Christ died for our sins…was buried, and that He rose again the third day…” (1 Cor. 15:1-4)—no requirement to believe that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah, only a belief in His finished work on the sinner’s behalf.
No person today can be established of God without first believing Paul’s “my gospel.” Like Israel before us, we have been warned, specifically of a coming day “when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to [Paul’s] my gospel” (Rom. 2:16).
The Preaching of Jesus According to the Mystery
“Now to Him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest…” (Rom 16:25-26).
Believing the correct gospel is enough to immediately and eternally save us from the condemnation of our sin. It instantly and completely changes our identity and position before God; however, it is not enough to keep us from being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). For that, we must have the correct doctrine that applies directly to us; we must have our “loins girt about with truth” (Eph. 6:14).
This is why the second necessity of preaching Jesus, “according to the revelation of the mystery,” is so vital.
Countless churches preach Jesus, but how He is preached differs and matters greatly. We do not edify the church nor glorify Christ if we preach Him and His doctrine contrary to how He now commands it to be done. Paul warns that “as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty” (2 Cor. 11:3), there are those that “preacheth another Jesus, whom we [Paul] have not preached” (v. 4).
One of the most common ways people preach another Jesus is to preach Him according to prophecy, which is to use the Gospels and the General Epistles to teach Christ’s doctrine from His earthly ministry as directly applicable to us today. Romans 15:8 tells us that Jesus was a “minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers.” Promises made in the Old Testament and
fulfilled in the Gospels certainly don’t qualify to be called a “mystery” or “kept secret since the world began,” as Paul describes in Romans 16:25.
Paul’s use of the past tense “was” in Romans 15:8 to describe Jesus’s ministry to Israel is noteworthy, especially considering a few verses later, he uses the present tense with the ministry the risen Christ gave him (cf. vv. 15-16). Clearly, a change had occurred.
Regarding Pentecost, Peter clearly establishes the event and his message as one of prophecy and not “the revelation of the mystery” when he says, “this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16).
However, Paul makes it equally clear that “the mystery” was given to him. He said, “For this cause I Paul…for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery” (Eph. 3:1-3 cf. vv. 7-9). When Paul says, “For this cause,” he is pointing out that his calling and Apostleship were given to him specifically for the unveiling of the revelation of the mystery.
He tells those in Colosse the same thing: “Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you…Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints” (Col. 1:25-26 cf. v. 23). To our nondispensational friends, I must say, I’m not sure how “but now” can mean “back then.”
The only way a believer can be established in “the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery” is through the same means that Paul told the Romans, Colossians, and Ephesians—through his teaching. Referring to his writing, Paul says:
“…Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed…” (Eph. 3:4-5).
The preaching of Jesus according to prophecy rather than the mystery has led to countless errors, and the result has been divisions within the church, which is entirely contrary to Christ’s desire for unity (cf. 1 Cor. 6:17; Eph. 4:3; Phil. 1:27; 2:2).
Again, Christians should ask themselves if they want to repeat the mistake of Israel by failing to follow the clear direction given by God.
The Scriptures of the Prophets
“Now to Him that is of power to stablish you according to… the Scriptures of the prophets” (Rom. 16:25-26).
The third requirement Paul lists for being established is “the Scriptures of the prophets.” Some suggest that when Paul says this, he refers to his writings. Many doubt that the Body of Christ needs the Old testament writings to Israel in order to be “established.” They point to the fact that Paul was a prophet (1 Cor. 13:2 cf. 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11) and wrote Scripture (cf. 2 Pet. 3:16), and thus he fits the reference. This is certainly a valid point; however, it does not seem to be the best explanation for Paul’s meaning, and it would appear to be a bit redundant, considering his previous point on the revelation of the mystery referenced his writings.
It’s worth noting that the wording used in Romans 16 matches precisely those spoken by Christ in Matthew 26:56, which is a clear reference to the Old Testament.
I would point out as well that it was Paul who said, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished…” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). This verse alone emphatically declares that all Scripture is necessary for a believer to be fully equipped. But this is not the only indication that when Paul says “the Scriptures of the prophets,” he is speaking of the entirety of Scripture, and the Old Testament in particular.
Is it possible to be “established” and not have hope? Well, interestingly, nestled amongst the many nuggets of truth within Romans is a wonderful passage that tells us that though the mystery and the Body of Christ were “hid in God” (Eph. 3:9) and not revealed until Paul, we were still on God’s mind all throughout the Old Testament and that the things He inspired to be written were meant to help us have hope:
“For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).
Certainly, there are no idle words with God, and according to this verse, He has determined the Old Testament as necessary for us because it establishes hope. The Old Testment may not have been written to us, and many things do not apply today, but it most certainly is for us, and it would be a mistake to neglect the many truths from the Old Testament that do still apply today: things like God’s character and that no matter how much time passes, God keeps His promises, and He alone is the Creator and Judge of all things.
Often, it’s Genesis that we use to establish the basis for one man and one woman in marriage, the role of the family, and the origination and purpose of government. True, Paul also taught some of these things, but I’ve yet to meet a fellow pastor who doesn’t believe that people need repetition in teaching, and it seems rather clear that God believes the same.
Another consideration is that progressive revelation is the idea that the current truths are built upon the foundation of former revelation (cf. 2 Tim. 2:8), namely, Christ: “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). Though the gospel for today is not found in the Old Testament, the foundation for every gospel began to be laid all the way back in Genesis 3:15 with the first hint of a coming Savior for mankind.
As John Newton beautifully said, “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!” but how can we truly understand God’s amazing grace if we don’t have a complete picture of God’s righteous standards, which are revealed in the law? “For by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).
To be established of God, a person must be established by God, and Romans 16:25-26 tells us how.
- Paul’s “my gospel” (v. 25).
- The “preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery” (v. 25).
- The “Scriptures of the prophets” (v. 26).
But notice the order Paul gives—no doubt by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Nobody can be established without first believing the gospel that is in effect today— Paul’s “my gospel.”
Next, we must understand the distinctive message and doctrine that applies directly to us, which is the revelation of the mystery. Misapplying doctrine or using instructions meant for another doesn’t help us, but hinders us.
Finally, we must keep our “nose in the Book,” as my old pastor used to say. That means the entire Book. God has given us many great things, and this Book, His Book, is among the chief of those.