The Great Work of the Only Wise God
From Gospel Translations
By John Piper About The Sovereignty of God
Part of the series Romans: The Greatest Book Ever Written
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 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—to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.
When Paul comes to the final phrases of his doxology—the final phrases of the entire book of Romans—he emphasizes one attribute of God, namely, his wisdom. Verse 27: “To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” My aim in this message is to open a window in your mind to the infinite expanses of the wisdom of God, so that you see it more clearly and admire him more intensely and trust him more firmly and thus obey him more consistently and joyfully—to the end that your life would display the glory of his wisdom more compellingly. You don’t have to remember all that. Just pray that it happen.
God Is Infinitely Wise
The main truth I want to focus on with you is simply that God is infinitely wise. And underneath that main truth we will look two expressions of it. First, that God is infinitely wise in the way he saves sinners. And second, God is infinitely wise in the way he keeps his covenant with Israel.
First, God is infinitely wise. Let’s start with a definition. Wisdom is knowing what the greatest goal is in any situation, and what the best way is to achieve it. It’s different from knowledge, but it assumes knowledge. They overlap. You can’t exercise wisdom without knowledge; because in order to figure out the best way to achieve a goal, you have to have knowledge of many factors. On the other hand, you can have a lot of knowledge and not have wisdom. There are many brilliant fools. And many less-educated sages.
But we are talking about God’s wisdom, not ours. The difference is that he always knows the best goal in every situation, and he always has total and perfect knowledge of billions and billions of relevant factors in every situation that enable him to now the best way to achieve the goal.
To God Alone Who Is Wise
When Paul calls him “the only wise God” in Romans 16:27, he doesn’t mean that there are many gods and that all but one are foolish. He says in 1 Timothy 1:17, “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” He is not just the only wise God. He is the only God, period. In 1 Timothy 2:5, he says, “There isone God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (see also 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:6). When he adds here in Romans 16:27 the word wise, he means, “to God alone who is wise be glory forevermore.” The one and only God is wise—gloriously wise, infinitely wise.
The way he expresses the extent of God’s wisdom is seen in Romans 11:33-36.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
The wisdom of God is very deep! “O the depth of the . . . wisdom of God.” It is so deep that his judgments are unsearchable. It is so deep that his ways are inscrutable. It is so deep that no one has been, or ever could be, his counselor. In fact, the wisdom of God is so deep and so expansive that he does not and cannot increase in wisdom. To increase in wisdom, something would have to go into God’s mind that has not already come out of God’s mind. But Romans 11:36 emphatically says that this does not happen: “From him and through him and to him are all things.” And if all things are from him, there is no wisdom in the universe that is not already his. Therefore, we conclude: God is infinite in wisdom. That is, his wisdom cannot be increased, not because he has limits, but because every conceivable increase is already his.
God’s Wisdom in Saving Sinners
That is the main truth of the message: God is infinite in wisdom. He always knows the greatest goal in every situation and the perfect way to achieve it. Now underneath that main truth there are two expressions of it I want to mention. First, God is infinitely wise in the way he saves sinners—namely, through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ his only Son.
The point I want to make here is that God chose the way of salvation through Christ because it was the perfect way to achieve the greatest goal, namely, the humility of man and the glory of God. The incarnation as a peasant at Christmas time, the brief three-year ministry of word and deed, the scandalous execution as a criminal, the resurrection after three days just to depart and leave a band of imperfect disciples—this, God says, is infinite wisdom. This was the perfect way to accomplish the greatest goal. It could not have been done better.
The Work of Christ and the Wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:21-31)
All of Romans is unfolding this. But look with me at 1 Corinthians 1:21-31 where Paul connects the work of Christ directly with the wisdom of God.
(Verse 21) Since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom. . .
In other words, God wisely rejected the possibility of salvation by human intellect and wisdom and knowledge. We will see why in a moment.
. . . it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
So for now, he calls God’s way of salvation foolishness—that is, foolishness in the eyes of the world.
(Verses 22-24) For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
In his infinite wisdom, God chose a way of salvation through Christ that strikes a blow against the Jewish demand for signs and against the Gentile demand for human wisdom. With infinite wisdom, he chose to save sinners through the human foolishness of a crucified Messiah. This Christ, he says, precisely in his most foolish-looking moment is the wisdom of God. And in his weakest-looking moment is the power of God.
(Verse 25) For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
“The foolishness of God is wiser than men.” In other words, God chose to express his infinite wisdom in the form of human foolishness and weakness.
Now, why does he do it this way? Why is this an infinitely wise way to save sinners? Because it is the perfect way to achieve the greatest goal. And what is that goal? You will see it if we keep reading.
(Verses 26-29) For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
The infinitely wise way of salvation in the death of Christ is rooted in an infinitely wise way of choosing sinners before the cross, and an infinitely wise way of calling sinners after the cross. And the purpose of it all is clear in verse 29, “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” God chose us, purchased us, and called us in a way that would strip us of every ground of boasting in ourselves. Stated negatively, this is the greatest goal of our salvation, and God has chosen the perfect way to bring it about. No boasting in ourselves in the presence of God.
But Paul does not state the greatest goal merely negatively. Leaving it there would not be good news, nor infinite wisdom. So Paul continues like this:
(Verses 30-31) He [God the Father] is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
This is the greatest goal of salvation. This is what infinite wisdom was aiming at. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” God has chosen us, purchased us, called us, and done everything else involved in our salvation, from eternity to eternity, with perfect wisdom—that is, in such a way as to strip us of all boasting before God in ourselves, and replace it with boasting only in the Lord.
The great goal of God’s work in salvation is that all the elect from every people and tribe and language and nation would boast with white hot allegiance only in the Lord, and not in themselves. Beware of saying you could have found a better way to do it. “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” You do not know enough to counsel God about the way he saves. Rather, let us bow our heads with broken-hearted humility and learn what infinite wisdom does. And then, let your whole life be one consistent boasting in the Lord alone.
God’s Wisdom in Keeping Covenant with Israel
Now, finally, I said there was a second expression of God’s infinite wisdom I wanted to mention. The first was that he is infinitely wise in the way he saves sinners. And the second is that he his infinitely wise in the way he keeps his covenant with Israel. I chose to mention the first one because that’s what Romans 1-8 is about. And I choose to mention the second because that’s what Romans 9-11 is about. I know that both sections are about both realities. But the emphasis in Romans 9-11 is on the issue of God’s covenant with Israel.
The reason it is an issue is found in Romans 9:6, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” The issue as Romans 9 begins is: Has the word of God—that is, God’s word of promise, his covenant promise made to Abraham and his descendants—failed? If Gentiles are streaming to the Jewish Messiah and becoming children of Abraham by faith alone (Romans 2:24-29; Galatians 3:7), and if the Jews, by and large, are turning away from the Messiah and being cast into outer darkness (cf. Matthew 8:11-12), then has the covenant that God made with Israel, reaffirmed over and over again in the Old Testament in the midst of their most horrific disobedience, fallen?
Paul’s resounding answer in these three chapters is no. The word of God is not fallen. God’s way of being faithful to Israel while saving the Gentiles is so counterintuitive and so extraordinary that when he sums it up near the end of chapter 11, he breaks out into the doxology about the unfathomable wisdom of God. Like the way of saving sinners through Christ, so the way of keeping covenant with Israel is an expression of infinite wisdom.
So let’s go there and look at that final summary. And for those who have ears to hear, what you will hear is the same great goal that God has in the salvation of sinners. His way of keeping covenant with Israel is designed with infinite wisdom to strip Gentile and Jew of all boasting in ourselves—Jewishness or non-Jewishness.
God’s Wisdom in Destroying Human Pride (Romans 11:25-26)
Look at verses 25-26 addressed to us Gentiles.
Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved . . .
The point of that strange strategy (Jews are hardened, so that we Gentiles get saved, so that when the fullness of Gentiles is in, the fullness of Israel will come in as well)—the point of that strategy is “lest you be wise in your own conceits”! So that no human being might boast in the presence of God! God’s way of keeping covenant is infinitely wise in achieving his main goal of striping human beings of pride.
God’s Wisdom in the Glory of His Mercy (Romans 11:30-32)
But again, Paul does not leave us mainly with the negative goal. He gives one last summary of God’s infinite wisdom in keeping covenant with Israel while saving Gentiles, and then breaks into the acclamation of God’s wisdom. The summary goes like this in Romans 11:30-32,
Just as you [Gentiles] were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their [Jewish] disobedience, so they [the Jews] too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you [Gentiles] they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
Infinite wisdom keeps covenant and saves sinners in a way that strips every human soul of boasting in itself and makes every soul utterly dependent on mercy alone. Why? Because the greatest goal of all things is to boast in the glory of the mercy of God.
I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs [covenant keeping!], and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy [the salvation of sinners!]. (Romans 15:8-9)
Should we not then join the apostle Paul at the end of Romans 11 and at the end of Romans 16 and fulfill from our hearts the greatest goal for which we were made—let him who boasts boast in the Lord.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (11:33-36)
To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (16:27)
(John Piper summarizes this message in a song.)