NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SIX (Lesson VIII)
In a letter early church scholar Ambrose wrote to emperor Constantius, he states that the price was paid on the cross for all mankind through the shedding of the Lord’s blood, a price that had to be paid so that the blood of all humanity was not required. Their blood was mandated by the Law and the sacred customs that were followed according to the precepts of their holy religion. Ambrose then writes, “But, since our Lord Christ suffered, seeing that the ransom is now paid for all, there is no longer any need that the blood of every man one by one should be shed by circumcision. In the blood of Christ, the circumcision of all has been solemnized [observed]. On His cross we are all crucified together with Him and buried in His tomb, and planted together in the likeness of His death that we may no longer be slaves of sin.”1 Again, we must remind ourselves that these are figures of speech, they are not to be taken literally.
Martin Luther points out that humankind’s original nature was good and pure, but it was sin that corrupted that innocence, and by doing so mankind was reduced to having an evil nature with wicked tendencies. Keeping this in mind, it is understandable how some who have not yet been reborn can still act morally right and be seen as being good. But that is not enough. The virus of sin must be removed so that the Spirit of Christ can live corrupt free in His new creation.2
John Calvin says this is why Paul declares that such a corrupt nature must be fastened to the cross of Christ so that Christ’s death will render it powerless. This regeneration cannot be accomplished any other way. So by being joined with Christ on the cross, we are then able to bud and grow into the kind of person that resembles Christ more than it does Adam. Adam Clarke then makes the point that no amount of words will confirm that a person has been grafted into Christ, it will take evidence that such a union exists. It is like when antibiotic crème is put on an infection. The rash does not disappear within minutes. Sometimes it takes days, even weeks before it fades away. So when a person declares that they are born again. It may take awhile, but sooner or later evidence of the cure will be clearly seen.3
British Methodist preacher Joseph Benson gives his thoughts on Paul’s assertion that if we are united with Christ in life, we will certainly be united with Him in resurrection. He sees it is a robust and beautiful expression because our complete depravity and corruption, which, by nature, metastasized throughout the human race, and left no part unaffected. This malady is exactly what dies on the cross with Christ. It may die slowly, but our unity with Christ ensures its demise. When we remember the cross and the power it has, along with all the help which the Gospel says is available, designed to destroy all such corrupt passions and sinful habits, it should inspire us to have nothing to do with them under any circumstances. The reason this is so important is that from birth the body is subordinate to sin. Benson compliments the Apostle Paul for personifying sin in a manner similar to animated writers, who make their discourses lively and compelling. They speak of the virtues and vices as individuals. This is not that hard to do because our corrupt passions and evil actions are members of the old nature.4 Such tendencies cannot be overcome by treating the symptoms; they must be rendered utterly useless forever so that we are not obligated to serve sin anymore.5
Robert Haldane points out that the whole purpose of the believer’s crucifixion with Christ was to liberate mankind from being sin slaves. This comes from the fact that all people who do not accept Christ as their Savior will remain enslaved to sin. This was always the case of servants who remained under the power of their masters. Also, the purpose of our crucifixion with Christ, by faith in His death, was that we might be delivered from our own bondage. This is why believers should resist sin in order to avoid being returned to slavery. Since this is the design of Christ’s crucifixion, anyone who is still enslaved to sin cannot be considered as crucified with Christ. Christians are to be known by the way they live just as a tree is known by its fruit. It was the result of Paul’s crucifixion with Christ that caused him to say, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me.”6 Haldane then goes on to say: “These are the grounds on which justification and sanctification are inseparably connected, and the reasons why those who are dead to sin, or, as it is here expressed, justified from sin, can no longer live therein. From all this, we see the necessity of retaining the Apostle’s expression in the verse before us, justified from sin.”7
Charles Hodge points out that Scriptures everywhere define and describe the fall of Adam and native depravity of mankind. Everyone is born subject to the wrath of God. As such, we are aliens to the commonwealth of Israel. We are without God, and without hope. This is the natural state and way of living for everyone born in this world. Says Hodge: “Through the redemption that is in Christ, a radical change is effected; old things pass away, all things become new.8 The old man, our corrupt [human] nature which is prior in time, is crucified, and a [spiritual] nature new and holy is induced.”9
As Albert Barnes makes note Paul’s term, “body of sin.” He takes this expression to mean what Apostle Paul described as, “our old man.” But Barnes questions why the term “body” is used. It has been a point of disagreement among interpreters of Paul’s writings for a long time. Some say it is the way that Jews denoted intensity or emphasis. Others purport that it is to be taken as a reference to our flesh, identifying our sinful propensities and lusts. However, for Barnes, it is merely another form of conveying the idea contained in the phrase “our old man.” It is a way of personifying sin in living form. This is how it is put to death on a cross. Barnes goes on to say: “It refers to the moral destruction of the power of sin in the heart by the Gospel, and not to any physical change in the nature or faculties of the soul.10 Sin becomes debilitated, weakened, and finally annihilated, by the work of the Cross… That we should not be subject to its control. The sense is, that before this we were slaves of sin but now we are made free from this bondage because the moral death of sin has freed us from it. Sin is here personified as a master that had dominion over us, but is now dead.”11
Preacher Octavius Winslow offers something for all of us the think about with regard to remarks on how what Paul says here affects the direction and encouragement of Sanctification. He cautions that we should not misunderstand the true nature of sanctification. First of all, it is an internal and radical change. Secondly, any personal mortification of external sinful habits does not rise to the level necessary to qualify for what the Gospel defines as sanctification. It is understood that external transformation of lifestyle and attire is part of real holiness, but it means nothing without first having a clean heart and cleansed soul. People may eliminate what they consider as sinful, but fail to remove the principle that causes such sin, allowing it to operate with impunity. Winslow illustrates it this way: “We may visit a forest, and level a tall cedar to the earth; yet, if we leave the root deeply embedded in the soil, the vital principle yet remaining in all its vigor, what marvel if, in the course of time, that root shall again shoot forth, and branch out as before?” Genuine sanctification, therefore, requires daily expunging of the root from which sin springs. This requires a continuous effort to eradicate the virus that causes the disease of sin. Says Winslow: “The Word of God bears us out in this: ‘And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.’12 ‘Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.’13 Do not rest short of this. Would you be holy as God is holy and happy as the saints in glory are happy? – then must you reach after this and rest not until you attain it.”
I also like when Winslow says that as a result of sanctification, we are motivated to seek higher ground in holiness. He tells us that we should never be satisfied with a limited measure of grace, or with an inferior faith. We should not be satisfied with just enough Christianity to get us into heaven. Winslow laments that there are too many Christians who are content with this. They seem satisfied to wait and see if they make it into heaven in the end. They leave the great question of their acceptance to be decided in another world, and not in this one. They rest on what little information they have, evidence that is weak and questionable. They point to some early experience, some impression, or sensation, or short-lived joy that long ago disappeared. They are content to live and die this way.
Winslow makes it clear that we should never become satisfied with anything less than making Jesus Christ, Lord of our lives. As Paul said, we are to forget everything that is behind us and look forward to that which is ahead of us,14 to advance in our sanctification. To do so, we must seek to have the daily witness of communion with God. Not just for our sake, but for the sake of others and for Christ’s sake. This allows us to follow Peter’s advice: “Give all diligence to make our calling and election sure.”15 Winslow concludes with this warning: “Beware of self-dependence in this work. Remember the words that Jesus once spoke to His disciples, and now speaks to you, ‘Without me, you can do nothing.’16 Self-trust, self-complacency, self-boasting, all must be crucified; and, strong only in the strength that is in Christ Jesus, must the believer gird himself to the work. Our wisdom is to go in our weakness and folly to Jesus. In this lies the great secret of our victory: ‘When I am weak, then am I strong.’17 ‘My grace is sufficient for you.’18 ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.‘19”20
Charles Spurgeon gives us an eloquent treatment of this subject: “God has driven the nails through the active powers of our sin, both hands and feet are fastened to the cross of Christ, and although the heart and the head may sometimes wander, yet our old man is crucified with Christ that the body of sin may be destroyed; and we are looking forward to that happy day when the old man shall be dead altogether, and we shall be made ready to enter into the inheritance of the saints in light. We believe that our old man will never die until we die, but we thank God that the death of our body will be also the death of the body of sin.”21
1 Ambrose: Letter 72:9, p. 423; In this letter, Ambrose deals with the question of the rite of circumcision, and explains to Constantius why it was established in the Old Testament and yet done away in the New. He also speaks of the true and spiritual circumcision which belongs to Christians.
2 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 102
3 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Colossians 3:5
5 Joseph Benson: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Galatians 2:20
7 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 247
8 2 Corinthians 5:17
9 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 303-304
10 Cf. Colossians 2:11
11 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Galatians 5:24
13 Romans 6:6
14 Philippians 3:13
15 2 Peter 1:10
16 John 15:5
17 2 Corinthians 12:10
18 Ibid. 12:9
19 Philippians 4:13
20 The Works of Octavius Winslow: op. cit., loc. cit.
21 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.