NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson IX)
Verse 8: God confirmed His love for us by having Christ die for us while we were still living in sin.
Here the Apostle Paul repeats the same thoughts he shared with the Ephesians: “We have forgiveness of sins because of God’s rich grace. God gave us that grace fully and freely. With full wisdom and understanding, He let us know His secret plan. This was what God wanted, and He planned to do it through Christ. God’s goal was to finish His plan when the right time came. He planned that all things in heaven and on earth be joined together with Christ as the head.”1 This echoes the prophecy we find in 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 pain. We had all wandered away like sheep. We had gone our own way. And yet the Lord put all our guilt on Him.”2
What is said here far surpasses the limitation of man’s love as expressed by Christ.3 Paul joins here by giving an even more pointed example. The overwhelming greatness of God’s love can never be explained, only received by faith. Whereas man’s ultimate love is expected to be mutual, Christ’s love was freely poured out upon His haters. As such, love then becomes clearly an act of the will rather than a reciprocal emotional response. God chose to love us; He did not wait for us to love Him first. As such, it accomplishes more than centuries of wrath. It is an outstanding example for us today by way of Jesus Christ. So don’t wait for someone who shows little appreciation for your kindness and generosity to love you as a reward for your good deeds. Make up your mind to love them regardless, and continue to show that love irrespective of any response. You will be amazed at the power of unconditional love.
We have commentary on what Paul is writing here from two early church scholars. Origen makes this point: “By saying that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, Paul gives us hope that we will be saved through Him, much more so now that we are cleansed from sin and justified against the wrath which remains for sinners. The One who so loved His enemies that He gave His only Son to die for us will surely be much readier to grant those who have received this gift and been reconciled to Him the further gift of eternal life.4”5 Then two centuries later, Pelagius offers his insights: “God becomes the object of love when He conveys how much He loves us. For when someone does something without obligation, one demonstrates love in a special way. And what would be less of an obligation than that a master who is without sin should die for His faithless servants, and that the Creator of the universe should be hanged for the sake of His own creatures? Note that when the Apostle says that believers in Christ were once sinners, he means that now they are no longer sinners, so that they may recall how they ought to behave.”6
Robert Haldane points out that in the original Greek, God’s love for us is distinguished as His own love. Says Haldane: “Which takes away all ambiguity from the expression.” In other words, God not only confirmed love for the sinner, but it was His love. Haldane goes on to say that another factor is added to this confirmation because it was given for sinners. Writes Haldane: “This is literally true with respect to all who are saved since Christ’s death, and is substantially true of all who were saved before it. This may be said of Abel as well as of Paul. Christ died for him as a sinner. It was Christ’s death through which Abel was accepted.” Then Haldane makes note that when Paul said Christ died for us, this does not include all mankind but for those believers and himself whom the Apostle was addressing; and this equally applies to all believers, – to all who are or shall be in Christ. In other words, only when a sinner believes and accepts Jesus’ death on the cross for their salvation does Christ’s death for them become valid.7
Verse 8: God confirmed His love for us by having Christ die for us while we were still living in sin.
Charles Hodge makes this comment: “What renders the love of God so peculiarly conspicuous, is His sending His Son to die, not for the good, nor even for the righteous, but for sinners, for those who were deserving of wrath instead of love. The word sinners expresses the idea of moral depravity and consequent exposure to divine displeasure. It was for, or in the place of those who were at once corrupt, and the enemies of God, that Christ died.”8 And by so doing, God did not invent or create His love, but rather, proved that His love already existed and this was undeniable proof.
Charles Spurgeon preached it this way: “We were without any attraction, without any righteousness, without any goodness, yet Christ loved us. Out of the graciousness of His own heart He loved us, according to that text, ‘I will love them freely.’9 And that is the glory of His love. While we were rebels against His authority, He redeemed us. While we were far off from Him by wicked works, He sent His Son to die and bring us near. Free grace, indeed, was this – not caused by anything in us, but springing freely from the great heart of God.”10
Then Frédéric Godet makes this point: “The words: Christ died for us, in such a context, imply the close relation of essence which unites Christ and God, in the judgment of the apostle. With man sacrificing himself, Paul compares God sacrificing Christ. This parallel has no meaning except as the sacrifice of Christ is to God the sacrifice of Himself. Otherwise, the sacrifice of God would be inferior to that of man, whereas it must be infinitely exalted above it.”11 In other words, even though Christ died for us, He sacrificed Himself to God the Father. Had God not approved of it, there would be no redemption, forgiveness, salvation, or everlasting life. That’s why His death on the cross should be most precious to all of us.
Verse 9: We have been made right with God by the blood sacrifice of Christ. So how much more through Christ will we be saved from God’s punishment.
Paul now continues his assault on the self-righteous idea that man can assist God in providing for his own salvation by being good without God’s help. If this were true, then God must give him some credit and assign to him righteous points that will lower the total number needed from what Christ did on the cross. So the Apostle now establishes the proper understanding of how it was done by God so that it would apply to everyone, not just the Jews. In fact, that’s the way he explained it to the Gentile members of the church in Ephesus.12
And the writer of Hebrews addresses the same misunderstanding by some Jewish members among the readers of his letter: “The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a cow were sprinkled on those who were no longer pure enough to enter the place of worship. The blood and ashes made them pure again – but only their bodies. So surely the blood sacrifice of Christ can do much more. Christ offered Himself through the eternal Spirit as a perfect sacrifice to God. His blood will make us completely clean from the evil we have done.”13
Early church scholar Origen says: “Paul shows by this that neither our faith without Christ’s blood nor Christ’s blood without our faith can justify us. Yet, of either of these Christ’s blood justifies us much more than our faith. That is why, in my opinion, having said above that we are justified by faith, Paul now says that we are justified by His blood ‘much more.’14”15 Then, another early church writer pens this: “Paul says this, because if God allowed His Son to be killed for sinners’ sake, what will He do for those who have been justified except save them from wrath, that is, preserve them unharmed from the deception of Satan so that they will be safe on the day of judgment, when revenge will begin to destroy the wicked. For since the goodness of God does not want anyone to perish, He has shown mercy on those who deserved death in order to increase the honor and glory of those who understand the grace of God.”16
Adam Clarke places great emphasis on our justification through Christ. He says: “If Jesus Christ, in His endless compassion towards us gave His life for ours while we were yet enemies; being now justified by His blood – by His death on the cross, and thus reconciled to God, shall we be saved from wrath – from punishment for past transgression, through Him – by what He has thus suffered for us.”17 What makes this so powerful is that Christ did not need to suffer for anything He had done, He was pure and without guilt. So He voluntarily did it for those who deserved punishment the most. This fact surely puts power in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
For Robert Haldane, what Paul says here sets up the same truth to be repeated over and over again. He writes: “If God’s love for us was such that Christ died for us when we were sinners, much more, when we are perfectly righteous through that death will He save us from future punishment. The meaning of the expression much more in this verse, which is repeated in the 10th, 15th, and 17th verses, is not at first sight obvious in these different occurrences, since the things, which are compared to what follows, are complete in themselves. The sense appears to be, that in using these expressions, the Apostle, though inspired, reasons on the common principles that commend themselves to the mind of man. Having stated one thing, he proceeds to state another as still more clear to our perception.”18
How true and vital this is for every believer to grasp. Christ did not die for us, then have the Holy Spirit call us so He could redeem us, and choose us as His very own, and then walk off and let us struggle like an infant being born without any help or provide for themselves. Once He commits to us, it is an everlasting commitment.
1 Ephesians 1:7-10; 2:7
2 Isaiah 53:4-6
3 John 15:13
4 Romans 6:23
5 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 193
8 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Hosea 14:4 – Complete Jewish Bible
10 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Ephesians 2:11-13
13 Hebrews 9:13-14
14 Colossians 1:19-20
15 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 193