There is a third element Paul mentions, which, in fact, has been the theme throughout Romans, although it is not always called by the same terms. Paul says, “God will not only use my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, but what he will use to establish you is the explanation of ‘the mystery’.’“
“. . . Now to him who is able to set you on your feet as his own sons—according to my Gospel, according to the preaching of Jesus Christ himself, and in accordance with the disclosing of that secret purpose which, after long ages of silence, has now been made known (in full agreement with the writings of the prophets long ago), by the command of the everlasting God to all the Gentiles, that they might turn to him in the obedience of faith . . .” (Romans 16:25-26)
There is the mystery. This is also, the ultimate test of any Christian message: Does it proclaim “the mystery”? We can meet every week in church and sing the same songs and even read from the same Bible as praise God the same way. Yet, in thousands and thousands of those same churches, there is nothing exciting happening, nothing that reaches out and touches the the Lord—or the community around them. Do you know why? Because the mystery is not being proclaimed.
I could go anywhere, even in my own city, and find churches that are dead or dying. There is absolutely nothing happening because they do not understand the mystery. This amazing mystery is the heart of the gospel. The question we need to ask about any church is, “Does it ask the members to live on the basis of that fantastic secret, the secret that was once hidden but is now fully revealed?” Oh, I see you there, wondering what is this ‘amazing’ mystery? I could take you anywhere in the New Testament to find a reference to this, and sometimes it will reference a part of it, and sometimes it will refer to the whole thing. The best place to find in Paul’s letter is in Chapter 11, Verses 25-26:
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited[when Christians become conceited it is because they have forgotten the mystery]: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: (Romans 11:25-26)
Now that is part of the mystery. Paul is referring to the fact that God intends to unite both Jews and Gentiles into one body. For this to happen, the Jews must be partially blinded for a while, in order to allow the Gentiles to see. That is what has been going on for 2,000 years of human history: a partial blindness in Israel. We are never given complete understanding of what is involved here, but it seems to be a necessary step in YHWH’s plan. That aspect of the mystery is also referred to in Ephesians 3:2-6:
For you must have heard how God gave me grace to become your minister, and how he allowed me to understand his secret by giving me a direct Revelation. (What I have written briefly of this above will explain to you my knowledge of the mystery of Christ.) This secret was hidden to past generations of mankind, but it has now, by the spirit, been made plain to God’s consecrated messengers and prophets. It is simply this: that the Gentiles, who were previously excluded from God’s agreements, are to be equal heirs with his chosen people, equal members and equal partners in God’s promise given by Christ through the Gospel (Ephesians 3:2-6)
Now, Paul has given us a very important part of the mystery. The heart of this mystery is found in the opening chapter of Colossians. Here is one of the clearest statements on it (Verses 24-27):
I myself have been made a minister of this same Gospel, and though it is true at this moment that I am suffering on behalf of you who have heard the Gospel, yet I am far from sorry about it. Indeed, I am rejoicing, because it gives me a chance to complete in my own sufferings something of the untold pains for which Christ suffers on behalf of his body, the Church. For I am a minister of the Church by divine commission, a commission granted to me for your benefit and for a special purpose: that I might fully declare God’s word—that sacred mystery which up to now has been hidden in every age and every generation, but which is now as clear as daylight to those who love God. They are those to whom God has planned to give a vision of the full wonder and splendour of his secret plan for the sons of men. And the secret is simply this: Christ in you! Yes, Christ in you bringing with him the hope of all glorious things to come. (Colossians 1:24-27)
There is the mystery. All that God is, wrapped up in a Person and given to you and to me—the only hope we have of ever discovering the glory that God intended for us as human beings: Christ in you, the hope of glory.
We can find another reference to this mystery in I Timothy 3:16. Paul describes it in terms of a hymn of the early church. He says,
Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:
He appeared in a body,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)
That is the Gospel! No one can deny that this religion of ours is a tremendous mystery, because it rests on someone who became Himself a human being, and met every demand of the Spirit in the sight of angels—as well as of men. That’s right, Jesus Himself is the mystery. By means of the virgin birth of Jesus, by means of his holy, sinless life, by means of his substitutionary death on a violent and cruel cross, by means of his startling resurrection from the prison of death, and by means of the gift of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, our God has given Jesus all that he is and all that he has—he then gave it to you and to me!
His resurrection and gift of His Holy Spirit has allowed us to do two things: To deny our natural abilities and strengths, and to rely completely on Jesus’ ability and strength—and to live our lives today as though Jesus himself was living them. That is the mystery. That is the radical, powerful secret of authentic Christianity: Christ in you, the hope of glory.
How about you, do you know that mystery? Oh, not just in your mind, but do you actually live it? I say that because it is the knowledge and the living of it that turns Christianity into an exciting adventure. Yes, it will be demanding, at times it will even be scary, but I can guarantee you one thing: It will never be boring, because the mystery is at work.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome