Commentary on Romans 16:25-27
The doxology of Romans 16:25-27, as well as the past sixteen chapters of the epistle center on the project of bringing all humanity to the obedience of faith in the Gospel in order to bring great glory to God.
In contemporary culture, the idea of God receiving glory might be interpreted as something that makes God seem needy, or even arrogant. Who is this God who constantly requires this sort of affirmation and recognition; indeed, this sort of glorification, and that from the entire world? When we think of human “glory-seeking” exemplars, many images come to mind. We think of the professional athlete, the successful business person, the model parent or child, the high school quarterback, and a host of other examples that are often accompanied by the glorious accolades of human crowds.
This sort of thinking frustrates in advance our concept of “glory,” poisoning its potency by eviscerating the infinite qualitative distinction between God and every other person and thing in existence. Instead of viewing God as the infinitely wise, eternally loving, totally transcendent Other who is approachable only through supernatural grace, we view God as a cosmic football quarterback, sitting on a velvet throne, thriving on the glorious praises that are shouted from his adoring fans across the universe. We think of God as a version of ourselves that just happens to be more grand, expansive, and impressive.
Yet, in order to understand the glory of God, and to understand how the preaching of the Gospel brings God glory, we must rid ourselves of the rot of the insufficient analogy of human glory applied to God, and instead repopulate the meaning of glory by situating it in reference to the character of God himself. First we must ask: why does the preaching of the Gospel and the obedience of faith bring God glory? God is not like the prideful church planter who likes to drop church growth stats over coffee meetings with colleagues as a source of pride. God is not like the mega church prosperity pastor who gets glory based on the number of sheep herded into the arena and the volume of “love offerings” made toward the purchase of his third private jet.
Rather, God’s glory is a direct result of the paradox of divine love. God is glorious, not because he is infinitely arrogant; but because he is infinitely humble. This is most profoundly expressed by the others-centered, self-giving love of Jesus on the cross for the sins of the world. God’s glory, then, must be defined by the glory of his love, which is his very essence (see also 1 John 4:8).
The obedience of faith is considered to be the pinnacle of God’s glory not because God is after “big salvation numbers” but because faith in the God who is love transforms us into the image of his love (Colossians 3:10). And when we behold the face of the glorious God, we are transformed into the image of his glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). Likewise, in 2 Corinthians 4:5-6, it is through the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the preaching of his Gospel, that we come to a “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Elsewhere in Paul, in Philippians 2:1-11 the exaltation of Jesus by God the Father is not a result of Jesus’ will to human power or his claim to divine privilege; it is a result of his servant-like, suffering obedience even to the point of death on a cross.
The humility of God in the person of Jesus Christ redefines glory forever. The posh royal thrones of human rulers no longer express the glory of true kingship. The royal throne of the crucified God is now forever defined by the humility of a carpenter on a cross, thereby killing the idolatrous narrative of human prestige, power, and arrogance.
Earlier in Romans 5:1-11, the glorious love of the Gospel is on full display: Christ died for humanity while we were still sinners. The Gospel is a story about the humble king who died for a people who hated him in order that his sacrificial death might turn their hate into divine, world-transforming, redemptive, cruciform love. The glory of the Gospel is in the paradox of divine love, and the paradox of divine love, is what makes the obedience of faith so glorious.
The phrase, “the obedience of faith” is found earlier in the epistle, in Romans 1:5-6 where Paul says that his apostleship was given to “bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.” Both there, and in Romans 16:26, the phrase can be interpreted as “the obedience which is faith,” thus functioning as a reference to the act of faith in the believer. Or, alternately, the phrase can be translated “the obedience which comes from faith,” focusing more intently on the obedient life that is sourced in or produced by faith in Christ. Whichever is the better rendering here, is really a moot point; in a robust, biblically-faithful theology, both are true.
In Galatians 5:6 we find that true faith is that which is “working through love.” Likewise, in James 2:26, the Scriptures teach that faith “apart from works is dead.” It is not that something else — love or works — is required in addition to faith to save us. Rather, the truth is more profoundly radical, namely, that true faith is alive only when it is infused with, characterized by, and empowered through divine, transformative cruciform love.
The obedience of active, loving faith glorifies God because it transforms individuals and the world through the power of divine love into the image of divine love. Through the exercise of the obedience of faith, the will to power is re-framed by the renunciation of power. The paradox of divine love results in heavenly redemptive humility rather than human regal haughtiness.