Dr. Richard L. Strauss
October 27, 1991
Purpose: To help us understand the importance of right beliefs, and to learn where right beliefs begin.
Do you agree or disagree with this statement? "It doesn't matter what you believe, just so you're sincere."
I doubt very much that you do, having come to Emmanuel Faith for very long anyway. But there are a great many people in the world who stand firm on that creed. If they believe in a God at all, they're convinced that all roads lead to Him. So just pick a road, any road, and follow it sincerely, and everything will turn out all right.
But insisting that it doesn't matter what you believe might be like driving on a mountain road beside a steep precipice and encountering a sign that reads, "Dangerous Curve Ahead." What are you going to do? Well, that depends on what you believe. If you truly believe the sign, you will slow down…and live. If you don't think it matters what you believe, you may continue at the same rate of speed, and find yourself in a bit of trouble. Or you can flat-out disbelieve it and speed up, in which case you will probably end up dead. The sign is true. Whatever your response, you cannot change the truth of the sign. The curve remains dangerous whatever you believe about it. But what you believe about it is going to make a great deal of difference to you personally. And the sincerity of your intentions isn't going to change that.
Now the same thing is true about the Bible. It's like God's sign-post, and it's true. What you believe about it doesn't change the truth of it. You can choose to disbelieve it if you want; you have that option. But that doesn't change the truth of what it says. And whether or not you believe it is going to make a great deal of difference to you personally. In fact, it's going to make an eternal difference. The sincerity of your intentions isn't going to change that.
It's like that old Peanuts comic strip where Charlie Brown is walking home dejected after another humiliating defeat on the baseball diamond: "We lost, 153 to nothing. How could we lose when we were so sincere?" Evidently, it is possible to be sincerely wrong.
The Apostle Paul is concerned lest those who are clearly--and even sincerely--wrong should confuse and mislead true believers in the church. So he concludes his letter with a warning about false teaching and false teachers, and a reminder of what we do need to believe.
The thread running through this concluding paragraph of the letter is BELIEF! Because it does matter what we believe.
Paul begins with a warning about false teachers who don't believe.
Guarding Against People Who Don't Believe
Romans 16:17. "Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them."
These false teachers are professing believers who have infiltrated the church, but are doing two things: First they are causing divisions by sowing the seeds of error; and second, they are putting obstacles in the way of people coming to know Christ and growing in Him. Paul doesn't tell us what their error was, and maybe it's a good thing he doesn't. If he had, we would probably be watching out for that error alone and letting others slip by, but this way we are warned to watch out for anything that is contrary to the doctrine of God's Word.
Don't let that word doctrine throw you. It simply means "teaching." And there is good teaching and bad teaching. There is teaching that is true and teaching that is false. It does matter what teaching we believe and allow in our church. False teaching causes divisions, and it keeps people from coming to know Christ and growing in Him. That's serious business. Their error may seem innocuous at first, but it can have serious repercussions.
A Sunday school teacher asked her class if they knew what false doctrine was. One little guy raised his hand and said, "It's when the doctor gives the wrong stuff to people who are sick." He must have thought she said "false doctoring." But his answer was profound. If a person wants to know how to get right with God and be sure of heaven and we give him the wrong information, we doom him to eternal condemnation. We need to be sure we give him the right medicine, the right stuff.
It's like aiming a missile five degrees off target. The difference may seem insignificant at first, but it increases dramatically as it moves out, until it totally misses the target. It could miss by miles and miles. We cannot allow that. We are to mark false teachers, keep an eye on them and avoid them. It doesn't say we're supposed to torture them or burn them at the stake, but simply freeze them out by refusing to listen to them (Stifler, 249). God doesn't look kindly on people who cause dissension and division in the church, or who put hindrances in the way others coming to Christ by their false doctrine. And we need to keep them from doing their damaging work in the church--in our church and in all churches. That's an exhortation for churches of all time, because it does matter what we believe.
After that word of warning, Paul goes on to say a word about their motive and their method of operation. Romans 16:18. "For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple."
They claim to be serving Christ. But it's obvious that not everybody who claims His name is truly serving Him. Some are serving themselves. It literally says they are serving "their own belly," but Paul may be referring to their selfish desires generally. They're looking out for number one, trying to make themselves rich and comfortable off of God's people. They're using the church to further their own ends. Does that sound like anybody you've ever heard of?
They sound so plausible (chrestologia)--that's the meaning behind the translation of "smooth words" here. They sound so reasonable. "Yeah, that sounds right to me." And they make you feel so good with their well-chosen, flattering words (eulogia). You listen to that and you say, "Wow, that makes me feel really good." But they are deceiving the hearts of innocent people, Paul says.
It's interesting to me to observe how many of the cults use Biblical language and try to present themselves as being in the mainstream of the Christian faith, even while they are denying great Biblical doctrines such as the deity of Christ. Cults will deny that Jesus is God in human flesh. They don't believe that. Watch out for them. Evaluate by the Word of God what they are saying. Don't be led astray.
Or cults deny the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. They want to add something beyond the completed, finished work of Jesus Christ on Calvary's cross. Check them out by the word of God. Watch out for them. Don't be led astray, because it does matter what you believe. It can make an eternal difference.
Well after that word about the method of operation, Paul talks about our defense against them.
Romans 16:19. "For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil."
When Paul says, "your obedience has become known to all," he may be expressing his confidence that they will stay true to the word of God and resist the false teachers, or he may be warning them that they will surely be attacked because they have such a good reputation. When people are true to the word, they are often attacked--sometimes they're even attacked by fellow believers. I'm not really sure why he said that, but in either case, they are known for their obedience, and that is cause for rejoicing.
"Keep up the good work," is what Paul is saying here. And here's how to keep defending yourself: Be wise in what is good: wise in the good Word of God. Be too wise to be deceived by these false teachers and led astray by their error. And not only wise concerning what is good, but "simple concerning evil"--committed to obeying what the Word says. That word simple (akeraios; "innocent" in NIV and NASB) means "pure" or "unmixed." It was used of metal which had no alloy, or of wine or milk which was not diluted with water.
Keep your heart pure and don't allow it to be adulterated by sin. People may think we are rather naive to simply take God's Word at face value and obey it in whatever it says, without any mixture of personal ambition or worldly wisdom. But that kind of commitment can go far in protecting us from error. Our commitment to what God says and obeying it will be one of the factors that keeps us from being led astray by false teachers. It all begins with a commitment to God's truth and God's Word. And that is important, because it does matter what you believe.
There is a promise for us if we will heed Paul's exhortation. In Romans 16:20a, Paul says: "And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly." Does that sound like shades of Genesis 3:15 where the seed of the woman will crush the serpent's head?! "The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly."
Isn't that interesting? He's called the God of peace, but He's going to crush somebody! That's important. You see, He is the God of peace, but it is not peace at the price of evading doctrinal issues. The ecumenicists try to tell us that doctrine divides, so we should downplay doctrine in order to have peace and unity. But God's Word makes it clear that there can be no true peace and unity where false doctrine is allowed to fester. So eventually the God of peace is going to see that truth prevails. He will crush Satan's attempts to introduce error. Because it does matter what you believe.
Paul follows up on that great promise with a benediction. Romans 16:20b: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen."
You see, it is God's grace that can keep us from error. God has provided all that we need in His grace--that free gift of grace. But that does not eliminate our responsibility: God's grace is always received by faith. So we need to do what God tells us to do in this passage. We need to avoid false teachers. We need to measure what they're saying by the Word of God. We need to be committed to obeying God's Word; we need to be wise in the Word; we need to be undiluted by sin. That's how we guard ourselves against those who do not believe. Let's do it. Because it does matter what you believe.
Paul is winding down his letter now, and there are people with him in Corinth where he is writing who want to send greetings to the church in Rome. They are obviously Paul's friends and fellow workers. They are true believers--people who hold fast to the truth of God's Word. They exemplify everything Paul has been talking about in the previous four verses.
Greetings from People Who Do Believe
There are eight of them mentioned; note them as you read Romans 16:21-24. "Timothy, my fellow worker, and Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my countrymen, greet you. I, Tertius, who wrote this epistle, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, my host and the host of the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the treasurer of the city, greets you, and Quartus, a brother. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen."
Let's meet these folks, beginning with Gaius, because he is called Paul's host and the host of the whole church at Corinth. Paul is evidently staying in the home of this man named Gaius (verse 23), and the church at Corinth is meeting in his house as well. If you look across the page to 1 Corinthians 1:14, you'll see that man, Gaius. He had recently become a Christian. He is one of only two people Paul baptized at Corinth. How he had grown in his walk with Christ! All ready his resources are at God's disposal. His home is open for God's people. He is the host to Paul and for the whole church at Corinth. He had a love for God's work and God's people. He was a man who knew what he believed and let it affect his whole manner of life.
You see, Gaius is more than just a name on a list. There is a lesson to be learned from his life. Picture the scene. The church at Corinth is gathered together for worship in Gaius' house, and Paul is probably reading them this letter he has just finished writing to the church at Rome. He wants them to hear it because it's such a very important epistle. And when Paul gets to the end, Timothy speaks up: "Say hello to the church at Rome for me, will you please Paul?" So Paul takes the pen in hand himself and writes, "Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you."
"My fellow worker!" He was that, and a whole lot more. In 2 Timothy 1:2 he was called "my beloved son." To the Philippians, Paul wrote concerning him, "For I have no one (else) like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state.... But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel" (Philippians 2:20, 22). What a man Timothy was! He was without doubt a man who knew what he believed and lived it daily. He's more than just a name on a list. He's example and a challenge to our lives.
Then there were Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, whom Paul calls "my kinsmen," meaning his fellow countrymen--fellow Jews--who also had trusted Christ as Savior. They stood with him in Corinth for the truth of the gospel. After them was Tertius (verse 22). Tertius says, "I wrote this letter." Now that doesn't mean he made it up. Rather, he was the secretary to whom Paul had dictated this letter. Most commentators believe that Tertius was a slave, or a former slave, because his name simply means "Third." Children born in slavery were sometimes not given names. Their parents just numbered them: First, Second, Third, and so on (Stedman, p.193). By the way, Tertius has a brother, who's in verse 23. His brother is Quartus, which means "Fourth."
One more person is mentioned that we need to notice. His name is Erastus (verse 23), and he's the city treasurer in Corinth. There were slaves who had come to know Christ, but there were also high city officials. And it was probably not easy for them to maintain their Christian testimony and stand true to their Lord in that pagan environment in such a prominent and conspicuous position, but the mention of Erastus in this list would imply that he did just that. He was true to the Savior. He was a man who knew what he believed and let it be known to those around him.
These are more than just names on a list. They were people who exemplified the truth.
One more short paragraph remains in the letter, Paul's final doxology. But it is packed with great truth in this same vein. So after a word of warning against people who don't believe and greetings from people who do believe, let's talk about guidance about what we should believe.
Guidance about What We Should Believe
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 kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith--to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen."
Paul gives glory to the one who is able to "establish" us. Don't miss that; it's the key word. The word means "to make firm, to make stable." It pictures somebody who has it together, whose life isn't shaky and unstable like a three-legged stool on bumpy ground, but one who is resting on a solid foundation. There is an inner security and confidence, a sense of significance and direction, an ability to cope with the problems of life. These people have it together. They're established.
And what is it that brings this kind of stability to life? It's right there--"the gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ." All that we need to find stability in life is found in our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That is the great truth of this doxology, that we need to believe and appropriate to our daily living.
All that we need to find stability in life is in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul calls this a mystery, which was kept secret since the world began but has now been revealed and made known to all nations by the prophetic scriptures--probably a reference to New Testament prophets, maybe Paul's own writings. I wouldn't be surprised if he was talking about his own writings because he is the one who said "this mystery was made known to me."
By the way, a Biblical mystery is not something particularly mysterious. It is something that was once unknown but which has now been disclosed by divine revelation. He mentions the mystery in a number of passages, but none clearer than Ephesians 3:3-5: "how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets." These are clearly New Testament prophets here because it's linked with the apostles.
The heart of the mystery is in Ephesians 3:6: "That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel."
It was no mystery in Old Testament times that Christ should live, die, rise again and ascend into heaven. That was taught in the Old Testament. It was no mystery that Gentiles would be saved, or that salvation was by faith. That was revealed in the Old Testament. The mystery was that Gentiles would be one with Jews, fellow heirs with Jews, equal partners in the same body. That was never revealed in the Old Testament.
Paul puts the same basic truth in slightly different words in Colossians 1:26-27. "The mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."
The mystery was that the same Lord Jesus Christ would indwell Gentiles as He would Jews, and bind them together in His life. That's the idea: All true believers are bound together in Christ's life. And the only hope--either of us, Jews or Gentiles--for becoming all that God intended us to be, in this life or in the life to come, our only hope of "glory," is that personal indwelling presence of Jesus Christ in our lives in the Person of His Spirit.
Read Colossians 2:9-10. "For in Him [Christ] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power."
That's the same truth we just saw in Romans 16: All that we need to find stability and fulfillment in life is found in our personal relationship with Jesus Christ--all that we need! We are complete in Him! God is able to establish you in accord with the gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ. We are complete in Him.
Now, the world can't understand that. And, unfortunately, the philosophy of the world is seeping into the church. People who insist that Christ is all that we need, as Paul claims here, are being told--and sometimes by other Christians--that they are simplistic and naive. We're told that we can't really find wholeness and stability in life without digging back into our childhood and dredging up all the rotten things that happened there and dealing with them. We really can't enjoy a balanced and fulfilling life unless we go to this seminar, read that book, attend this class, group, follow that procedure. Many of those things may be helpful. I would never deny that they may be helpful. God allows us to be helped through many different means. But the point is, none of them is necessary! You are COMPLETE IN CHRIST! Those other helpful things must eventually lead us to Christ. They may be helpful in showing us that we need to appropriate His resources to our lives, but ultimately, that's what we need to do! We must appropriate His resources to our lives because we are complete in Him. Our stability and our strength is found in the Person of Jesus Christ. He in Himself is enough.
A story is told about William Randolph Hearst, the late newspaper publisher. He not only built a castle for us to visit, but he also invested a fortune in great works of art. One day he read about some valuable pieces of art and decided that he must add them to his collection, so he sent his agent abroad to locate them and purchase them. Months passed before the agent finally returned and reported to Hearst that the items had at last been found--they were stored in his own warehouse. Hearst had purchased them years before (MacArthur, Our Sufficiency in Christ, p. 169).
I'm afraid that's exactly what is happening to some of us Christians. We have all these wonderful resources in Christ and don't even know it. We're running around looking for answers when we have all that we need in the personal indwelling presence of Jesus Christ.
So get to know Him. Get to know Christ above all else. Saturate your mind and heart with His Word where He is revealed. Spend time in prayer where you can cultivate your personal relationship with Him. You will be able to detect and avoid error by getting to know Him more intimately. He said very clearly, "I am the truth."
Haddon Robinson, in Biblical Preaching, tells the story of a Chinese boy who wanted to learn about jade, so he went to study with a talented old teacher. The old gentleman put a piece of the precious stone into his hand and told him to hold on to it. Then he began to talk of philosophy, men, women, the sun, and almost everything under it. After an hour he took back the stone and sent the boy home. He did the same thing for several weeks, and the boy became frustrated. When would he be told about the jade? He was too polite, however, to question the wisdom of his venerable teacher. Then one day, when the old man put a stone into his hands, the boy cried out indignantly, 'That's not jade!' And then he realized what had happened. He had become so familiar with the genuine item that he could immediately detect the counterfeit (Our Daily Bread, January 18, 1984).
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
It really does matter what you believe. And the way to detect and avoid wrong beliefs is to get to know Jesus Christ, the Truth. In Him, Paul says, are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). What a powerful statement that is, and it is God's Word. In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. In Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead, bodily, and you are complete in Him. No wonder Paul concludes his letter to the Romans by saying, "To God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever, Amen."
You know, if you have never trusted Christ as your personal Savior from sin, that may account for your lack of security and stability and direction in life. It may account for the uncertainty and turmoil that rages within you. God's Word is true. You may have ignored it or neglected it all these years, but your response cannot change the truth of the Word. And these great truths were revealed to us so that we might BELIEVE them. See, the goal of it all in Romans 16:26--"for obedience to the faith." Obeying God in the sense of trusting Him and His Son for our eternal salvation. You see, it does make a difference what you believe--an eternal difference. "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23). He's the one who offers us forgiveness, acceptance by God, and everlasting salvation. Have you put your faith in Him? That's where stability begins. If you've not made that decision, I invite you to do it right now.
Let's bow before His presence. With our heads bowed reverently before God, I want to ask you if you know Christ. That's the issue here. It's not whether you've been religious or non-religious, a good person or a bad person. I hope you've been a good person, but that won't get you into heaven. The Bible makes that very clear. "It is not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy that He saves us" (Titus 3:5).
Have you cast yourself upon God's mercy, as a sinner unworthy of His favor and the grateful recipient of His forgiveness and His life? Your sins were paid for in full on Calvary's cross. That's the gospel. Have you believed it? It's true. It is our only hope of eternal salvation. Jesus said, "No man comes to the Father but by Me. I am the Life--I am the Way, the Truth, the Life." There is no other way.
Have you put your faith in Him alone? Not in any religious institution, not in any religious ritual or deed, but in Jesus Christ alone. Will you do that now? Just settle it prayerfully in your own heart, right where you are. Tell God something like this:
"God, I'm a sinner. I believe that Jesus paid for my sin at Calvary and offers me life. Lord Jesus, I accept Your gift right now. Come into my heart, into my life. Save me from sin."
He so longs to do that for you. Will you let Him?
Christian, are you getting to know Him? What plans do you have to get to know Him better? Would you make that commitment right now? A great desire of your life now is going to be getting to know the Lord Jesus more intimately and finding our completeness in Him.
Oh, God, may it be. I pray that we may be committed to get to know the Savior and to live in obedience to His Word. For we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.