Today we complete our six-year journey through Romans 1–11. We’ve seen the terribly sinful condition of our hearts — and the hearts of all humanity — in Romans 1–3:19; and the great work of Christ on the cross to provide a righteousness and a sacrifice so that we could be justified by faith alone apart from works of the law in Romans 3:20–21; and the mighty sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit to conquer sin and make us secure in the love of Christ in Romans 6–8; and then the great defense of the God’s sovereign grace and promise-keeping faithfulness in Romans 9–11, climaxing now with the stunning words in Romans 11:32: “God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.”
Response of Praise for Romans 1–11
And in response to all this revelation of the ways and judgments of God, Paul breaks into explicit wonder and praise 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.
This is where God wants us to be when we have heard Romans 1–11. Amazed at mercy, and worshipping God through Jesus Christ. This is the response that will make us able to live out the practical moral demands of Romans 12–15.
Morality in the Christian life is not simply the willpower to do right things, because God has the authority to command them. Christian morality is the overflow of worshipping the sovereign, merciful God. Christian life is the fruit of a mind and heart transformed by seeing and savoring the all-sufficiency and sovereignty and mercy of God revealed in Jesus Christ. That will become plain as soon as we turn to chapter 12.
Lingering Over the Praises of Romans 11:33–36
But for now, we linger one more time over the praises of Paul’s heart here at the end of chapter 11. We saw in verse 33a that the riches and wisdom and the knowledge of God are unfathomably deep. No matter how far down into God’s wealth or into God’s wisdom or into God’s knowledge you go, you never get beneath God. There is no explanation for anything beneath God. There is nothing beneath God. And there is nothing above God. And there is nothing decisive over against God between his depths and his heights.
And that is why Paul says in verse 36, “For from him and through him and to him are all things.” And this truth leads to the truth of verse 35, “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” Answer: nobody. In other words, you can’t give to God anything that is not already his. If you could, he would owe you. But you can’t. So he doesn’t owe you anything. And never will. All things are from him and through him. He is absolutely free.
This also leads Paul to say in verse 34, “Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” Answer again: nobody. In other words, not only can’t you give God a gift that he doesn’t already own; you can’t give him advice he doesn’t already know. For from him and through him are all things.
“Christian morality is the overflow of worshipping the sovereign, merciful God.”
Which leads Paul to say in verse 33b: “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” In other words, since God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge are very deep, so that we can’t give him anything he doesn’t have, or tell him anything he doesn’t know, it is no wonder that we are often confounded, bewildered, perplexed, and amazed by the ways and the judgments of God.
The final design and effect of it all is at the end of verse 36: All things are not only from him and through, but also “to him.” Therefore, “To him be glory forever.” Our lives are to be lived willingly to the glory of God. Or we will serve his glory unwillingly in our damnation. We are created and called to make the beauty and greatness of God known in the world. Our reason for being is to make much of God, and bring all the nations to confess that Jesus is Lord “to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11).
Five Steps to Glory
So that is the outline of the message today: Since God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge are unfathomably deep:
All things are from him and through him; therefore
no one can give a gift to God so as to make him a debtor; and
no one can give any counsel to God about how he should do things; which is why
his ways and judgments are unsearchable and inscrutable to our finite minds; so that, finally,
we should give all glory to God, and be content with an utterly dependent Christ-exalting happiness in God.
Let’s take these five steps one at a time.
1. All Things Are From, Through, and To God
First, because God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge are unfathomably deep, verse 36 is true: “From him and through him . . . are all things.” I take this to mean that the ultimate origin or the ultimate cause or the ultimately decisive reason for everything is God. Everything is dependent for its existence on God — at its beginning and all the way along (from him and through him).
Ephesians 1:11 puts it like this: “[God] works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Romans 9:16 puts it like this: “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” Proverbs 16:33 puts it like this: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” All things are from him and through him” means that there is no explanation for what is or what happens that is deeper or more decisive than God. This is what we mean when we say that God is absolutely sovereign.
The devil is not co-eternal with God, and he is not ultimately independent of God. His existence and all that comes from it — so much of the evil in the world — depends on God’s willing him to exist and allowing him moment by moment to do what he does. God sees it coming and he permits it to happen. And since he does nothing aimlessly or capriciously, there is always a purpose for what he causes to happen directly and what he permits to happen indirectly. So in that sense, we can say that even the evil and the calamity of the world (e.g., Romans 11:7–10) are included in verse 36, “All things are from him and through him.”
But let’s not say more than we should here. There is another sense in which we must not say that all things are from God. For example, think of 1 John 2:15–16:
“There is no explanation for what is or what happens that is deeper or more decisive than God.”
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions — is not from the Father but is from the world.
Here John says that “the desires of the flesh” and “the desires of the eyes” and the “pride in possessions” is “not from God.” So in one sense “all things” are “from God.” But in another sense, these evil things are not from God.
I take this to mean that sin does not come from God’s nature. That is, it’s not an extension or aspect of God’s nature or character. God is holy, and there is no unholiness in him. God is light, and in him is no darkness. The darkness and unholiness of sin do not arise as part of God’s nature or character. They don’t come from him in that sense. Sin can be from God and through God in the sense of ultimate and decisive cause, but not in the sense that sin comes from his nature or character. God wills that sin be, without himself sinning. It is not a sin when God, with infinite wisdom and holiness, ordains that sin exist. Sin is “from him” as the one who ordained it, but “not from him” as an expression of his nature.
Here’s an imperfect illustration of the difference. You can get a black eye in two ways. You can be hit in your eye with a white snowball, and your eye will turn black. Or you can be injected above your eye with a hypodermic needle full of black dye, and your eye will turn black. In the second case, the darkness comes from the nature of the dye. In the first case, the darkness does not come from any darkness in the snowball. All I want you to see from that illustration is that there are two different ways to think about something being “from God.” All things are from God in the sense that he ordains all that comes to pass. But all sinful acts are not from God as an expression of his nature.
The practical upshot of this is that we are utterly dependent on God for all things and that we are utterly responsible and guilty for the evil in our hearts. The effect this should have is deep humility. 1 Corinthians 4:7: “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” The fact that all things are from God and through God, excludes boasting.
2. No One Can Give a Gift to God So as to Make Him a Debtor
Second, this implies verse 35: “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” Answer: no one. Since all is from God and through God, he owns all things and we can never give him anything that is not already his. Which means that we can never put him in our debt. There is absolutely no negotiating with God. We have no bargaining position. We are utterly owned and we are squatters on his territory. Every breath we take is a gift. Every virtue we perform is grace. “God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything, for he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25).
3. No One Can Give Any Counsel to God About How He Should Do Things
Third, Paul gives one specific example of how we can’t give God anything to obligate him or enrich him. Verse 34: “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” Answer: nobody has known his mind in such a way as to be his counselor. We know something of his mind because of revelation. Paul has given us 11 chapters of the mind of God. We are meant to understand it. But no one knows the mind of God in a way that can become his counselor.
So the specific thing you cannot give to God here is counsel. And this is the one thing that sinners presume most often to give God: counsel. They don’t offer love or delight or faith or hope. They offer counsel. They tell God outright or by implication: “I don’t like the way you run the world; I think you should do it like this.”
“Don’t advise. Don’t threaten God. Trust him. All else is suicide.”
The world is filled with God–advisers. The one thing Paul explicitly says we cannot give, and dare not give, is what proud sinners most often give: they tell God how he should run the world, and warn him that if he doesn’t run it their way they won’t believe in him. As if a diabetic child should say to his pediatrician: Don’t give me any more shots. And if you stick me with that insulin needle again, I’m never coming back. As if that were a threat to God! Don’t advise. Don’t threaten God. Trust him. All else is suicide.
4. His Ways and Judgments Are Unsearchable and Inscrutable to Our Finite Minds
Fourth, since all is from God and through God so that we can’t give him what is not already his and can’t be his counselor, therefore (according to verse 33b), no wonder we are often confounded and perplexed by the ways and the judgments of God. “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” This does not mean that God is totally unintelligible. The mysteries of God are being revealed in Scripture. And the Holy Spirit is given to us to illuminate our understanding (1 Corinthians 2:14-15). But “now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:2).
5. To God Be the Glory Forever
Which leads us finally (fifth) to the conclusion of the whole matter — the paragraph and the 11 chapters. Not only are all things from God and through God, but, as verse 36b says, “To him are all things. To him be glory forever.”
Do you love the thought that you exist to make God look glorious? Do you love the thought that all creation exists to display the glory of God? Do you love the truth that all of history is designed by God to one day be a completed canvas that displays in the best way possible the greatness and beauty of God? Do you love the fact that Jesus Christ came into the world to vindicate the righteousness of God and repair the injury that we had done to the reputation of the glory of God? Do you love the truth you personally exist to make God look like what he really is — glorious? I ask again: Do you love the fact that your salvation is meant to put the glory of God’s grace on display? Do you love seeing and showing the glory of God?
This is why God created the universe. This is why he ordained history. This is why he sent his Son. This is why you exist. Forever to see and savor and show the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. The question at the end of Romans 1–11 is. Do you embrace this calling as your treasure and your joy?