By Jason Harris
Studying the Word of God inevitably results in some hard questions. Paul the Apostle gives us an excellent example of how to handle things that are hard to comprehend. In Romans chapter eleven, Paul has just finished almost eleven chapters of deep doctrinal material—things like election, free will, sovereignty, justification, sanctification, and glorification—but Paul does not end this doctrinal section of Romans with a final apologetic exhortation. The way he ends this section of Romans is very instructive for us in dealing with these same issues.
First, Paul acknowledges God’s knowledge and wisdom in positive praise to God. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33) Paul does not feel that he has successfully captured God in his little theological box, rather he admits that God’s ways are “unsearchable” and “past finding out.” However, the past-finding-outness of God does not scare him or threaten him. Paul is rejoicing in this past-finding-out God! In the first part of the verse, one can almost see an admission that there are aspects of these doctrines that Paul doesn’t quite comprehend, but instead of feeling theologically insecure, Paul lifts his voice in solemn praise to the God who is right in His “wisdom” and in His “knowledge”!
Second, Paul turns the focus off of the controversy and back to Christ. “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36) How easy it is to get caught up in the issue and forget the real point. Paul brings everything back into perspective by pointing out that God is the source of all things, that He is the sustainer of all things, and that all things exist for the end of pleasing Him! The heart-felt desire of Paul is that glory would forever be given to God—especially in these issues! This kind of attitude only results from genuine humility in the heart.
Finally, Paul spurs the believers toward active obedience to understood truth. “I beseech you therefore, brethren” (Romans 12:1) Paul understood that a right position is useless if it does not stir us to right living. On this basis, he begs his brothers in Christ at Rome to live in total surrender, to walk in holiness, to be filled with humility, and to love God. When we ask ourselves the practical implications of our position, we find that we are often making much of the little things, and little of the big things. Sure, we may not understand how everything fits together into a coherent, systematic theology, but we must obey what we do understand! The right stand will always propel us on to an obedient life that lifts up Christ.
A quote from The Journals of Jim Elliot summarises it well. “Be careful how you tie down the Word to fit into your set and final creeds… Don’t get it down ‘cold’ but let it live, fresh, warm, and vibrant, so that the world is not binding ponderous books about it, but rather it is shackling you for having allowed it to have free course in your life. That’s the apostolic pattern!” (14).