For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.
Paul concludes the epistle to the Roman church with some simple final instructions that affirm the gospel he has just presented and defended. He warns against those who would distort the gospel and cause divisions in the church (Romans 16:17-20). He reminds them of the beautiful power of the gospel in a magnificent doxology that fittingly sums up the entire book (Romans 16:25-27). This charge in verse 19 carries with it Paul's ongoing prayer for these believers.
The Roman church had a stellar reputation as a solid church (Romans 1:8) and Paul reminds them of this at the end of the book. It is a cause for his personal rejoicing. But Paul also knows that the enemy would love to subvert this testimony to his purposes. And the quickest means to do so would be through heresy and false practice to creep into the church. That is why this prayer request is so important. Discernment and wisdom to "what is good" would help them weather doctrinal controversies. And Paul's words in this book have been used by the broader church now for millennia to settle the important doctrinal issues concerning the gospel. Paul had given them a handbook on doctrinal discernment and the core of the Christian faith essentials. The book of Romans continues in that vital role even now.
The second half of this prayer request is also important. He wanted them to be innocent (not naive) about what is evil. This innocence meant that a charge of sin could not be laid against them. Again, the book of Romans serves as a great means of understanding how to live this way. The salient chapters of Romans 6-8 and Romans 12 are high points in the Christian experience. Even as they detail the struggle with sin that still continues in the life of a forgiven believer committed to the gospel.
I believe that this prayer request at the end of the book of Romans serves as the heart of any true believer for the church. It defines what I should want from myself in my walk with God. It defines what I should want from my church. It defines what others will hopefully see in me. And it is what the gospel produces in us: discerning faith that makes us wise to what is good, and innocent of what is evil.
- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13