NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R Seyda
BOOK OF ROMANS
Chapter 4 (Lesson XVII)
John Calvin gives this advice on following Abraham’s example of faith: “If then we would make a right and proper use of sacred histories, we must remember so to use them as to draw from them sound doctrine. They instruct us, in some parts, how to frame our life; in others, how to strengthen faith; and then, how we are to be stirred up to serve the Lord. In forming our life, the example of the saints may be useful; and we may learn from them sobriety, chastity, love, patience, moderation, contempt of the world, and other virtues. What will serve to confirm faith is the help which God ever gave them, the protection which brought comfort in adversities, and the paternal care which He ever exercised over them. The judgments of God and the punishments inflicted on the wicked will also aid us, provided they fill us with that fear which imbues the heart with reverence and devotion.”1
Wesleyan scholar Adam Clarke echoes this same theme: “The mention of this circumstance has a much more extensive design than merely to honor Abraham. It is recorded as the model, according to which God will save both Jews and Gentiles: indeed there can be no other way of salvation; as all have sinned, all must either be saved by faith through Christ Jesus or finally perish. If God, therefore, wills our salvation, it must be by faith; and faith contemplates His promise, and His promise comprehends the Son of His love.”2
Then Charles Hodge adds his insights to this: “Now, this was not written for Abraham’s sake alone, that it was imputed to him. The record concerning the faith and consequent justification of Abraham was not made with the simple intention of giving a correct history of that patriarch. It had a much higher purpose. Abraham was a representative person. What was true of him, was true of all others who stood in the same relationship with God. The method in which he was justified, is the method in which other sinners must be justified. That he was justified by faith, is recorded in the Scriptures to be a perpetual testimony as to the true method of justification before God.”3
Verse 25; Jesus was handed over to die for our sins, and He was raised from death to make us right with God.
Now Paul ties all of this together with Christ’s death on one end of the string and His resurrection on the other. His birth was a miracle, and His resurrection was a miracle. So why should believers have any doubt that there will be miracles in-between? This was no an invention of Paul, it’s roots lie anchored in the prophecy of Isaiah: “It was our suffering He took on Himself; He bore our pain. But we thought that God was punishing Him, that God was beating Him for something He did. But He was being punished for what we did. He was crushed because of our guilt. He took the punishment we deserved, and this brought us peace. We were healed because of His bruises.”4
But Isaiah was not finished: “But the Lord was pleased with this humble Servant who suffered such pain. Even after giving Himself as an offering for sin, He will see His descendants and enjoy a long life. He will succeed in doing what the Lord wanted. After His suffering, He will be revived, and He will be satisfied with what He experienced… I will give Him the rewards of one who wins in battle, and He will share them with His powerful ones. I will do this because He gave His life for the people. He was considered a criminal, but the truth is, He carried away the sins of many. Now He will stand before Me and intercede for those who have sinned.”5
For Paul, Christ’s resurrection was an accomplished fact. It is something that happened and instituted by God as effective for everyone before they even hear about it. Therefore, it leaves them no option other than to accept or reject it as true. This led Paul to tell the Corinthians: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless and powerless [mere delusion].”6 Then the writer of Hebrews tells his readers: “Christ, having offered the one sacrifice [the all-sufficient sacrifice of Himself] for sins for all time, sat down [signifying the completion of atonement for sin] at the right hand of God [the position of honor].”7
The author of Hebrews concludes with this: “For by the one offering He has perfected forever and completely cleansed those who are being sanctified [bringing each believer to spiritual completion and maturity].”8 In other words, what God started in Abraham and finished through His Son Jesus the Christ, will never be repeated, and there was no backup plan in case it didn’t work. It was one time for all time. So these Jewish believers in Rome should not try to offer amendments to God’s plan nor look for a way to improve it. It is what it is! So the choice is simple, accept it and become part of the promise, or reject it and try to survive on your own.
Early church scholar Origen writes this summary: “Paul says this in order to show that we ought to hate and reject the things for which Christ died. For if we believe that He was sacrificed for our sins, how can we not consider every sin to be alien and hostile to us, considering that our Lord was handed over to death because of it?… If we have risen together with Christ, who is our justification, and we now walk in newness of life and live according to righteousness, then Christ has risen for the purpose of our justification.”9
Origen then goes on to say that if a person has not yet cast off the old man with all his works but instead continues to live in unrighteousness, then, it is as if Christ never rose for their justification, nor was He ever sacrificed for their sins. To this Chrysostom adds the following: “After mentioning the cause of Christ’s death, Paul goes on to make the same cause a demonstration of the resurrection. For why was Christ crucified? Not for any sins of His own – and this is plain from the resurrection. For if Christ had been a sinner, how could He have risen from the dead? So if He did rise, it is clear that He was not a sinner.… Moreover, Christ did not die in order to make us liable to punishment and condemnation but in order to do good to us.”10
In other words, for those who do not accept Christ and believe in His death and resurrection, it is as if it never happened. It makes no sense to argue with them. But for those who do believe, and by faith and trust accept His death and resurrection as effective for their own forgiveness of sin and the gift of everlasting life, it is for real. But to keep it real, that faith and trust must be expressed day after day in word and deed until the day of revelation comes. Only then will those who remained faithful to the end be saved.
John Calvin summarizes his thoughts on the end of chapter four: “Scripture, when it treats our salvation, it dwells especially on the death of Christ, yet the Apostle now proceeds farther: for as his purpose was more explicitly to set forth the cause of our salvation, he mentions its two parts; and says, first, that our sins were atoned for by the death of Christ, — and secondly, that by His resurrection our righteousness was obtained. What he means is, that when we possess the benefit of Christ’s death and resurrection, there is nothing lacking for the culmination of complete righteousness. By separating His death from His resurrection, Paul no doubt does so to point out how ignorant we are of the truth; for it is also true that righteousness has been obtained for us by that obedience of Christ, which He exhibited in His death.”11
John Bengel makes this point: “God is not said to have inflicted death upon Christ; although He inflicted on Him grief; He is said to have delivered up Christ, or else Christ is said to have died (Ch. 8:34). I do not deny the fact itself,12 but the phrases are so chosen as to give special prominence to the passion laid upon Christ by the Father, and the death obediently endured by Christ… He was delivered for our sins; i.e., because we had sinned; He was raised again for our justification; i.e., that we might be justified… Faith flows from Christ’s resurrection and so does justification.13 The ground of our belief in God is that He raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Nevertheless, the obedience and the blood of Jesus Christ justify us.”14 It is clear that Bengel assumes the reader of his commentary is a believer well-versed in the Word of God. But it must be understood that Christ’s death was due to the need for mankind’s sin to be atoned for. And, His resurrection was needed to ensure that those who were destined to die for those sins could now be justified before God as worthy of being granted forgiveness and given eternal life.
Henry Alford also makes it clear: “Our Lord was delivered up (to death) for or on account of our sins (i.e., because we had sinned): – He was also raised up (from the dead) for or on account of our justification (i.e., not because we had been, but that we might be justified). This separate statement of the great object of the death and resurrection of Christ must be rightly understood, and each member of it not unduly pressed to the exclusion of the other, by which our justification (death unto sin and new birth unto righteousness) has been made possible. It may be stated in one word as the Glorification of Christ. But this glorification consisted of two main parts, – His death, and His resurrection. In the former of these, He was made a sacrifice for sin; in the latter, He elevated our humanity into the participation of that resurrection life, which is also, by union with Him, the life of every justified believer.”15
1 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Isaiah 53:4-5
5 Ibid. 53:10-12
6 1 Corinthians 15:17 – Amplified Version
7 Hebrews 10:12 – Amplified Version
8 Ibid. 10:14
9 Origen: on Romans, loc. cit.
10 Chrysostom: On Romans 9
11 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 See Zechariah 13:7
13 Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 1:21
14 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 253-254
15 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. p. 37