NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SIX (Lesson XI)
Albert Barnes follows the same vein of thought as Hodge by saying that the design of Christ’s death was to destroy sin; to make atonement for it, and thereby put it away. Just as His death was designed to bring this about, so it follows that by believers being baptized into His death, with the intent of destroying sin in their lives should no longer have anything to do with it. The whole force of the motive, therefore, drawn from the death of Christ is to induce Christians to forsake sin and take hold of the holy life Christ died to make them free to live for Him.1 Says Barnes: “The argument of Paul is this: Christians by their profession are united to Him. They are bound to imitate Him. As He now lives only to advance the glory of God; as all His mighty power, now that He is raised from the dead, and elevated to His throne in heaven, is exerted to promote God’s glory; so should their powers, being raised from the death of sin, be exerted to promote the glory of God.”2
Frédéric Godet advises us that after showing believers how they are to regard themselves in light of their union with Christ. Paul tells them not to let this new position be in theory only, but let it work out in reality by making their aim moment by moment to be all He can help them to be for His glory. As Friedrich Philippi says, “Christians ought to begin with discerning what they are, and then labor to manifest it.3”4 John Stott gives us an illustration to make this clear: “Can a married woman live as though she were still single? Well, yes, I suppose she could. It is not impossible. But let her remember who she is. Let her feel her wedding ring, the symbol of her new life of union with her husband, and she will want to live accordingly. Can born-again Christians live as though they were still in their sins? Well, yes, I suppose they could, at least for a while. It is not impossible. But let them remember who they are. Let them recall their baptism, the symbol of their new life of union-with Christ, and they will want to live accordingly.”5
Douglas Moo also draws on history the make this same point by saying: “[To] be constantly looking at ourselves as people who really have died to sin and been made alive in Christ will we be able to live out the new status God has given us.”6 Paul often used the imagery of a slave, and, as we know, in America the slaves were freed through the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln. Some of those who were liberated took some time before this truth sunk in. But once it did, they changed their behavior. So it is with those freed from the slavery of sin by Christ Jesus. At first, some old habits are hard to break, but with the help of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Word, it becomes more and more possible each and every day. Sticking to it, that’s the key. What if Christ had given up halfway through His trial, or His beatings, or on His way to Calvary, or while hanging on the cross? All of us would be lost forever. If He could do that for us, how can we do any less for Him?
Verses 12-13: But don’t let sin control your life here on earth. You must not be ruled by the things your sinful-self makes you want to do. Don’t let any part of your bodies become tools of wickedness, to be used for sinning; but give yourselves completely to God – every part of you – you for you are back from death and you want to be tools in the hands of God, to be used for His good purposes.
Now Paul goes from the delight of being alive in Christ to the danger of letting the old slave master, sin, return to and reign once again in one’s life. However, sin will no longer be defined by the Law, but by the grace of God. There is an interesting story in the Old Testament that illustrates this concept. When the children of Israel crossed the Jordan to take possession of the Promised Land, they were told that they would encounter heathen tribes that had moved in while they were down in Egypt. Here is the warning they were given: “You must force these other people to leave the country. If you let them stay in your country, they will bring many troubles to you. They will be like a needle in your eye and a thorn in your side. They will bring many troubles to the country where you will be living.”7 So it is when the Spirit takes up residence in a believer’s life. The old ungodly inhabitants must be expelled in order to live in peace with God.
Later on, God again had to warn the Israelites: “The Lord your God will put these nations under your power. And you will defeat them. You must destroy them completely. Don’t make an agreement with them or show them mercy. Don’t marry any of them, and don’t let your sons or daughters marry any of the people from those other nations. If you do, they will turn your children away from following me. Then your children will serve other gods.”8 Even though God was talking about the Canaanites, Hittites, etc., in the spiritual sense we can call them bad habits, tendencies, inclinations, abuses, and so on. If they are allowed to take over our hearts, minds, mouths, and limbs, we will begin to obey them rather than the Spirit.
That’s why, as they were settling in the Promise Land Joshua gave them this challenge: “Maybe you don’t want to serve the Lord. You must choose for yourselves today. Today you must decide who you will serve… You must choose for yourselves. But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”9 That’s why later on David would send this request to God: “Don’t let me do what I know is wrong. Don’t let sin control me. If you help me, I can be pure and free from sin.”10 No wonder Paul wrote the Corinthians: “Don’t be fooled: ‘Bad friends will ruin good habits.’ Come back to your right way of thinking and stop sinning.”11
Paul’s question is drawn from the fact believers must recognize and take seriously that although they feel secure in God’s grace, they cannot go on contentedly living just as they lived before conversion. Rather, they must now fight, they must not let sin go on reigning unopposed over their daily life. They must revolt against sin usurping rule from their rightful ruler – Almighty God. We must not limit these references to the physical body, but apply them to the whole man in his fallen state (v. 6). It is not only the physical body that is mortal: the whole man, as the fallen human being that he is, is subject to death. It is over our whole fallen nature that sin has established its rule.12 That’s why we must let the Holy Spirit take control of our lives by releasing the reins into His hands.
1 Cf., 2 Corinthians5:15
2 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Friedrich Adolf Philippi, a Jewish convert to Christianity in 1829 who became a Lutheran minister. This translated quote from the German in his 1856 commentary on Romans: “Die Gläubigen sollen sich als das erkennen, was sie sind; daran schliesst sich dan die Aufforderung, es auch im Leben darzustellen.” p. 214
4 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, loc. cit.
5 John Stott: On Romans, loc. cit.
6 Douglas Moo: On Romans, loc. cit.
7 Numbers 33:55
8 Deuteronomy 7:2-4
9 Joshua 24:15
10 Psalm 19:13
11 1 Corinthians 15:33
12 C. E. B. Cranfield: On Romans, A critical and exegetical commentary, New York: T&T Clark, 2004, pp. 316-317 International.