NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SIX (Lesson I)
Verses 1-2: So do you think we should continue sinning so that God will give us more and more grace? Of course not! Our old sinful life ended. It’s dead. So how can we continue living in sin?
The Apostle Paul now formulates a buffer against any misinformed response to his teaching that since the law was given in order to show us that we were sinning and in need of a Savior, that the more sin there was, the more grace there would be in order to cover such sins and lead more people to salvation. So the question then becomes, should we continue sinning so that more and more grace can be made available? That would be like someone saying today that because the President of the United States has the power to offer pardons, we should all become criminals so that He will have more and more pardons to give out.
Paul covered this same subject in his letter to the Galatians: “My brothers and sisters, God chose you to be free. But don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do what pleases your sinful selves.”1 The Apostle Peter came to the same conclusion: “Live like free people, but don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil.”2 Even the Apostle Jude, in his letter, touches on this topic: “They have used the grace of our God in the wrong way – to do sinful things.”3 So Paul was speaking about a spiritual malady already existing that infected believers in his day.
As an example, we can go back to Joseph in the Old Testament to see how he was tempted to misuse the grace of God that delivered him from a pit into which his brothers threw him, and then sold him into Egyptian slavery. He ended up in the house of a wealthy Egyptian whose wife tempted him to commit adultery.4 But Joseph refused to make such a compromise, and God rewarded him. The wise Psalmist who wrote the longest psalm made this point: “I gain understanding from your instructions, so I hate anything that leads people the wrong way.”5 That’s why Paul answers his own question by saying what a ridiculous idea it was to conclude that more sin is good because it results in more grace.
Martin Luther sees this chapter as the Apostle Paul’s effort to show that true believers have no interest in continuing in sin. Even though, earlier, Paul stated that where sin abounds God’s grace abounds, even more, this was not an attempt to excuse sin but to glorify divine grace.6 In his commentary, Luther quotes Augustine who said: “This grace, indeed, appeared more obvious and manifest in his [Paul’s] case, inasmuch as, while he was pursuing such vehement measures of persecution against the Church of God as made him worthy of the greatest punishment, he found mercy instead of condemnation, and instead of punishment obtained grace. Very properly, therefore, does he lift voice and hand in defense of grace, and care not for the envy either of those who understood not a subject too profound and difficult for them, or of those who perversely misinterpreted his own sound words.”7
John Calvin believes that Paul’s statement here is in response to those who imagine that righteousness by grace can be given by God without the need then to walk in the newness of life. This, says Calvin, is shamefully tearing Christ apart because it does not make sense to say that the best opportunity for grace to be displayed is for people to continue bound in sin. So Paul’s intent is to disprove such nonsense.8
John Bengel gives his introduction to this chapter: “Up until now Paul treated the past and the present: now he proceeds to treat the future; and the forms of expression are suited to those, which immediately precedes, while he speaks respecting the ‘abundance of grace.’ In this passage, the continuing in sin is set before us. In other words, going back into sin which has been overcome. The man, who has obtained grace, may turn here or there, but must always turn his back to sin.”9
Adam Clarke surmises that such thinking could have come from a newly converted Gentile. He says: “Having as yet received but little instruction, he is just brought out of his heathen state to believe in Christ Jesus. From the manner in which God had magnified His mercy, in blotting out his sin [based] simply on his believing on Christ, that, supposing even if he gave way to the evil propensities of his own heart, his transgressions could do him no hurt now that he was in God’s favor. And we need not wonder that a Gentile, just emerging from the deepest darkness, might entertain such thoughts as these; when we find that eighteen centuries after this, persons have appeared in the most Christian countries in Europe, not merely asking such a question, but defending the doctrine with all their might; and asserting in the most unqualified manner, ‘that believers were under no obligation to keep the moral law of God; that Christ had kept it for them; that His keeping it was imputed to them; and that God, who had exacted it from Him, who was their surety and representative, would not exact it from them, inasmuch as it would be injustice to require two payments for one debt.‘10”11
Robert Haldane sees it this way: “Many expound this objection as coming from a Jew, and imagine a sort of dialogue between him and the Apostle. For this, there is no basis of fact for such supposition that dialogue in different parts of this Epistle gives life and interest to that argument. There is no necessity for the introduction of an objector. It is quite sufficient for the writer to state the objection in his own words.” Haldane then goes on to say: “Paul, in his usual manner, and on similar occasions, strongly rejects such circumstances as the question in the first verse supposes, which implies the absolute incongruity of the assumption that Christians will be emboldened to continue in sin, by the knowledge of their being freely justified. On the very grounds on which this objection rests, Paul shows that this is impossible.”12
Jewish writer David Stein notes: “These verses, reiterating what was said at 3:5–8, introduce the theme of Chapters 6–8 and are Paul’s answer to all who accuse the New Testament of offering ‘cheap grace.’ He is more radical than those who merely exhort us to subdue our sinful impulses; for he asserts that by virtue of being united with the Messiah our old self and its sinful inclinations have actually died.”13 Stein then points out that since dead people don’t sin, therefore, those who are dead to temptation and misbehaving should also be dead to sin.
Albert Barnes weighs in on this subject as follows: “The objection refers to what the Apostle had said in 5:20. What shall we say to such a sentiment as that where sin abounded grace did much more abound? If sin has been the occasion of grace and favor, should we not continue in it, and commit as much as possible, in order that grace might abound? This objection the Apostle proceeds to answer. He shows that the consequence does not follow, and proves that the doctrine of justification does not lead to it.”14
H. A. Ironside asks: “’How shall we who have died to sin live any longer therein?’ In what sense did we die to sin? If actually dead to it we would not be concerned about either the question or its answer. That which perplexes us is the fact that while we hate sin we find within ourselves a tendency to yield to it. But we are said to have died to it. How and where?”15 Ironside asks these questions because while it would seem that we should be dead to sin, why, then, does our mind and body come alive again so quickly when sin is present? Let’s imagine this another way: when sin shows up, shouldn’t at least play dead until it goes away? But we know it doesn’t work that way. James said we are to resist the devil, not act as if he isn’t there.16 Yet Paul is not finished with his argument, so we must read on.
Charles Hodge rightly points out that Paul poses this question for the purpose of using it as a mode of presenting an objection. He intends to show that the consequence of the abundance of grace does not justify the increase of sin to show off its power and glory.17 And for Frederic Godet, he follows the same theme: “The meaning of this question: What shall we say then? can only be this: What consequence shall we draw from the preceding? Only the Apostle’s object is not to draw a true consequence from the previous teaching, but merely to reject a false conclusion which might be deduced by a person still a stranger to the experience of justifying faith. It need not, therefore, be concluded from this that the Apostle is now passing from the principle to its consequences.”18
Charles Spurgeon makes it a target in his sermon: “It is one of the vilest suggestions of Satan that could possibly come to men. If the sinfulness of man has really given an opportunity for the display of divine mercy, then the devil’s logic would be, ‘Let us commit more sin, that there may be more room for grace to work.’ But Christians have learned their reasoning in another school, and to such diabolical arguments they answer in the words of the Apostle – see verse 2.”19
Then Charles Ellicott gives a doctrinal exposition: “In previous chapters, Paul dealt with one of the two great root-ideas, ‘justification by faith;’ he now passes to the second, ‘union with Christ.’ The one might be described as the judicial, the other as the mystical theory of salvation. The connecting-link which unites them is faith. Faith in Christ, and especially in the death of Christ, is the instrument of justification… It involves an actual identification with the Redeemer Himself. This, no doubt, is mystical language. When strictly compared with the facts of the religious consciousness, it must be admitted that all such terms as union, oneness, fellowship, identification pass into the domain of metaphor. They are taken to express the highest conceivable degree of attachment and devotion. In this sense, they are now consecrated by the use of centuries, and any other phrases substituted for them, though gaining perhaps somewhat in precision, would only seem poor and cold.”20
1 Galatians 5:13
2 1 Peter 2:16
3 Jude 1:4
4 Genesis 39:8-9
5 Psalm 119:104
6 Martin Luther: On Romans, loc. cit.
7 Augustine: Of the Spirit and the Letter, Ch. 7
8 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 268
10 Clarke attributes this to the Antinomians. Antinomianism comes from the Greek meaning lawless. In Christian theology, it is a misleading term for the teaching that Christians are under no obligation to obey the laws of ethics or morality. Few, if any, would explicitly call themselves “antinomian,” hence, it is usually a charge leveled by one group against an opposing group.
11 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. p. 239
13 David H. Stein: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 James 4:7
17 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 Fredric Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
19 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
20 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, loc. cit.