NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SIX (Lesson XII)
Paul spells out to the Galatians what he means about maintaining the freedom they have by living in Christ: “I tell you, live the way the Spirit leads you. Then you will not do the evil things your sinful-self wants.”1 He also cautioned the Ephesians: “You were taught to leave your old-self. This means that you must stop living the sinful way you lived before. That old-self gets worse and worse because people are fooled into doing what is wrong.”2 The Apostle also addresses the same problem among the Thessalonians: “God wants each one of you to learn to control your own body. Use your body in a way that is holy and that gives honor to God.”3 And to his young protégé Timothy he writes: “Stay away from the evil things a young person like you typically wants to do. Do your best to live right and to have faith, love, and peace, together with others who trust in the Lord with pure hearts.“4 Then to Titus, whom he appointed as Bishop, he writes: “That is the way we should live because God’s grace has come. That grace can save everyone. It teaches us not to live against God and not to do the bad things the world wants to do. It teaches us to live on earth now in a wise and right way – a way that shows true devotion to God.”5
Then Paul wants these believers in Rome to know that it was an exercise of their will that determined whether or not they yielded to their spiritual nature or to their sinful nature. Paul made this clear to the Corinthians: “Surely you know that your bodies are parts of Christ Himself. So I must never take what is part of Christ and join it to a prostitute!”6 It must be understood at this point that back in Paul’s day the heathen temples were staffed with sacred prostitutes who served as priestesses to honor and do the service of the goddesses they represented. Many of these gods and goddesses were thought to make the land and its people fertile. So they had these fertility rites to urge their gods to make the land and animals abundant. In Canaan, there were pairs of such gods: Baal and Asherah, and later, Osiris and Isis.
The prophet Hosea seems to be warning the people of Israel against having sex with temple prostitutes in rituals honoring these Canaanite fertility gods.7 Sometime later, Judah’s King Josiah (639–609 B.C.) tore down buildings that housed “male prostitutes” who may have served in the worship of Canaanite gods.8 In Jewish Scriptures, Israel’s unfaithfulness is often compared with being a prostitute or chasing after prostitutes.9 In the New Testament, the writer of Revelation calls Babylon, meaning the Roman Empire, a shameless prostitute who tempts people and nations into relations with her.10 However, this principle also applied to prostitutes who provided their pleasure trade for money.
When Paul wrote to the Colossians, he gives this warning: “So put everything evil out of your life: sexual sin, doing anything immoral, letting sinful thoughts control you, and wanting things that are wrong. And don’t keep wanting more and more for yourself, which is the same as worshiping a false god.”11 But the Apostle James was thinking of a person’s unbridled tongue as being one of the most hurtful and dangerous members of the body that can wreck havoc among believers.12 That’s why Paul calls them “tools of wickedness.”
And Paul’s warning is clear and precise: “Don’t you know that those doing such things have no share in the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who live immoral lives, who are idol worshipers, adulterers or homosexuals – will have no share in His Kingdom. Neither will thieves or greedy people, drunkards, slanderers, or robbers.”13 Paul tells the Thessalonians that this evil is twofold: “They will all be condemned not only because they did not believe the truth, but also because they enjoyed doing what was wrong.”14 The Apostle Peter felt the same way: “They think it is fun to do evil where everyone can see them. They enjoy the evil things that please them. So they are like dirty spots and stains among you – they bring shame to you in the meals you eat together.”15
Any yielding of ourselves to powers stronger and higher than we are should be that of God. This call went out centuries ago: “Don’t be stubborn as your ancestors were. But obey the Lord with a willing heart. Come to the Temple that He has made to be holy forever. Serve the Lord your God.”16 Such loyalty to God was praised even by the heathen potentate Nebuchadnezzar: “Praise the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego…These three men trusted their God and refused to obey my command. They were willing to die instead of serving or worshiping any other god.”17
That’s why Paul was not hesitant to say: “You should know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit that you received from God and that lives in you. You don’t own yourselves. God paid a very high price to make you His. So honor God with your body.”18 He reminded the Corinthians of this again when he wrote: “He died for all so that those who live would not continue to live for themselves. He died for them and was raised from death so that they would live for Him.”19 And that’s why Paul also informed the Ephesians: “God gave us back our lives when He raised Christ from the dead—only by His undeserved favor will we ever be saved.”20
Paul spoke earlier about the danger of believer’s allowing themselves to become tools of wickedness. Now he encourages them to become instruments of righteousness. We see this comparison in the wisdom of King Solomon: “Speak without thinking, and your words can cut like a knife. Be wise, and your words can heal.”21 We must understand that God will not forcefully take over a person’s body and make them do and say things like robots or puppets. He gives the inspiration and motivation, but the person by their own will must yield to that stirring by the Holy Spirit. In that way, the spiritual nature will take charge of all bodily members.
Origen has an interesting question to ask, and that is: Why does Paul add that the body is “mortal,” when this seems so obvious? Origen believes that the reason for this is the fact that Paul wants to show how impossible it should be for sin to reign in our bodies. Origen points out that once we realize that our body’s desires can be put to death, making it dead to sin, we can shorten sin’s reign. But it can only be declared dead once we are justified through Christ. After all, does a dead man lust or get angry or have passions or steal what is not his? Says Origen: “Therefore, if we suppress all these desires in our bodies they may be said to be dead to sin. This is what the Apostle appears to be telling us by adding the adjective ‘mortal’ in this context.”22
In his sermon on this topic, Chrysostom thinks it is absurd for those who are part of the Kingdom of God to allow sin to rule over them. Furthermore, it is ridiculous for those who are the called and plan to reign with Christ, to choose to be captives of sin instead. Chrysostom puts it this way: “It’s as if one would throw down the crown from off your head and choose to be the slave of a hysterical woman who comes begging and covered in rags… How is it that sin can reign in you? It is not from any power of its own but only from your laziness.”23
Augustine offers this advice: We must engage in a constant, daily struggle to keep those desires which are forbidden or improper to conqueror us. This can happen if the believer’s eyes are turned in the wrong direction, looking where they should not look. If this fault is not corrected, the situation can grow worse, and once temptations take over, even adultery becomes a possibility. If adultery is already committed in the heart, and thought is much quicker than action, then little can hinder or delay it from taking place. Says Augustine: “The body, like a military weapon, is not in itself inclined to either vice or virtue. It can go either way, depending on the user… The flesh becomes either good or evil according to the mind’s decision, not because of its own nature.”24 To this, we add the words of Caesarius of Arles: “Paul did not say: ‘Let sin not exist,’ but ‘Let it not reign.’ Sin is within you if you take delight in it; it reigns if you consent to it.”25
Early church commentator Ambrosiaster sees Paul wanting us to know that the devil fights against our holiness by using the desires of the body. We often give him this opportunity when we entertain sin. So when God seems to abandon us, this gives the devil the advantage he needs to deceive and destroy us. That’s why we must guard our bodies against the intrusion of sinful thoughts and actions. This will ensure that our enemy is left defenseless and subdued. Ambrosiaster points out that Paul did not say here: “Present your bodies,” but “Present your members.” A person can go wrong when his members and not his whole body lead him to wherever sin is beckoning.26 Ambrosiaster believes that when we maintain modesty in our conduct, our behavior will lead to what is good, not what is bad. When we make the members of our body available for doing good, then God is ready to aid us in our efforts. The reason is that God’s assistance is not accessible to those who have not proven themselves worthy. Says Ambrosiaster: “Where God’s righteousness is, there the Holy Spirit dwells and helps our infirmity. Just as we yield our members to sin when we act wrongly, so we yield them to righteousness when we behave rightly, protecting them from all wickedness.”27 Therefore, We should all agree with Ambrosiaster. Some Christians want God to do all the work. So they pray for His Holy Spirit to take over without their having to lift a finger. And since the Spirit of Christ lives within them, that tell our Lord to help them act the way they should but give Him no helping hand. As Jesus told His disciples: “Keep watch and pray so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”28
1 Galatians 5:16
2 Ephesians 4:22
3 1 Thessalonians 4:5
4 2 Timothy 2:22
5 Titus 2:11-12
6 1 Corinthians 6:15
7 Hosea 4:10-19
8 2 Kings 23:7
9 See Isaiah 23:16; Jeremiah 3:6; Ezekiel 16: Nahum 3:4
10 Revelation 17
11 Colossians 3:5
12 James 3:5-6; 4:1
13 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – The Living Bible
14 2 Thessalonians 2:12
15 2 Peter 2:13
16 2 Chronicles 30:8
17 Daniel 3:28
18 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
19 2 Corinthians 5:15
20 Ephesians 2:5
21 Proverbs 12:18
22 Origen: On Romans, loc. cit.
23 Chrysostom: Homily on Romans 11
24 Augustine: On Nature and Grace 38:45
25 Caesarius of Arles: Sermon 134:3
26 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
27 Ambrosiaster: Ibid.
28 Matthew 26:41