NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SIX (Lesson XIII)
John Calvin sees this as the beginning of Paul’s exhortation that the Roman believers adhere to the doctrine he just delivered respecting fellowship with Christ. Paul’s point is this: Although the possibility of sinning is still in us, it is not what God wants, and believers should be vigorous in their fight against it regaining power. The quality of our sanctification ought to be superior to it, so that our life may testify that we are truly part of the body of Christ. Calvin goes on to say, that once sin obtains dominion over our souls, all our faculties fall prey to its sinister service. That’s why Paul describes the reign of sin by what follows once it takes control of our lives. He then clearly shows what we must do to shake off its yoke. He borrows a similitude from the military by calling our bodily members, weapons. Says Calvin: “It’s as though Paul said, ‘As the soldier has his arms ever ready, that he may use them whenever he is ordered by his general, and as he never uses them but at his command; so Christians ought to regard all their faculties to be the weapons of the spiritual warfare.’”1
John Bengel writes that in these verses the character of the Christian is first dealt with. Secondly, man’s actions and duties come into play. If our old-self is dead to sin, it would not be appropriate to suggest that it could yield itself, or offer itself to sin for service. However, the person who is alive in Christ may present themselves to God to be used as a vessel or instrument of love, grace, kindness, and mercy. Sin is considered here to be a dictator. Paul also talks about believers who are now living a Christian life. They were once spiritually dead in sin, but now they are alive in Christ.2 Being alive does not mean sitting a round and waiting for something to happen. It means being alert and active in carrying out a mission and striving toward a goal.
Adam Clarke also makes a valid point by saying, being tempted is not a sin. Sin comes when we yield to temptation. Sin only exists as part of Satan‘s solicitation. It’s the devil‘s sin, not ours until we make it our own. That comes by willingly entering into temptation. We are to resist the devil, and he will flee from us.3 Satan cannot force you to sin until he takes control of your will. He does not have the power to bring you under his subjection. You may be tempted, but yield not to the temptation.”4 Clarke goes on to say, that one of the best ways to fight against the temptation of sin is to yield yourself more and more to God. In other words, turn your will over to God, let Him be the biggest influence on the choices you make. Remember, even though you know it’s God’s will, just like temptation you are the one who is free to choose.
Robert Haldane notes that the Apostle Paul was accused by some of his contemporaries of teaching a form of justification that allowed people to continue living in sin because once you are saved, you are always saved.5 Haldane sees Paul having proven just how unfounded such an objection would be to the doctrine of justification. Thereby, the Apostle exhorts those he addresses to live in a way that agrees with holiness as defined in the Gospel. This is what was really on Paul’s mind, so throughout the rest of this chapter, he asks them to consider various options. He also tries to induce them to walk in that newness of life which comes from being risen with Christ. Haldane says we should take notice that although the Apostle expressly taught that they who are justified are likewise sanctified, yet it pleased God to motivate His people to act in harmony with Him in their sanctification process. That way, they could both will and do what was right and pleasing Him. Says Haldane, “The earnest exhortations to obedience and the motives held forth at the conclusion of the chapter are entirely consistent with what had been declared as to the certainty of their sanctification resting on the power of God, and to be viewed as outward means which God employs to effect this purpose.”6
Albert Barnes offers specific instructions on how Christians can devote every member of their body to God and His service. He begins with their tongue being consecrated to His praise, as well as to the promotion of truth, kindness, and benevolence. Then their hands employed in useful labor for Him and His cause. Their feet being swift in His service, and not walking in the paths of iniquity. Their eyes contemplating His works to excite thanksgiving and praise. Their ears closed to words of deceit, or songs of immoral persuasion that would lead astray. As Barnes advises: “Be open to catch the voice of God as He utters His will in the Book of truth, or as He speaks in the gale, the gentle wind, the rolling thunder, the ocean, or in the great events of His providence. He speaks to us every day, and we should hear Him; He spreads His glories before us, and we should survey them to praise Him; He commands, and our hands, and heart, and feet should obey.”7
Henry Alford reacts to the absurd idea of believers allowing themselves to become subservient to wickedness. He says it is the same way a soldier renders his service to his commander or a servant to his master. He makes the point that our bodily members can become instruments (or, ‘weapons,’ as the [Latin] Vulgate and most of the Greek expositors, and Luther, Calvin, Beza, Tholuck see it. Tholuck defends this rendering by Paul’s fondness for military similitudes, and by the occurrence of Roman soldiers in his writings.8 On the other hand, as in Romans 12:1, such commitment denotes an act of self-devotion to God once and for all, not merely a perfunctory habit. We must consider that it involves not only certain members of our body, but our complete being; body, soul, and spirit, to God, since those members once dead are now alive and available for His use.9”10
Charles Hodge uses a theological approach in his commentary by saying that Paul does not teach that the body is the source of sin, nor does it serve as sin’s throne. Rather, the body and its members are the organs used in its manifestation. This is how the inward dominion of sin is outwardly manifested. If one’s body is under the influence of sin, the Apostle encourages them to resist giving in. This is important because a person’s immoral bodily appetite tends to enslave their soul. Hodge notes that body and soul are so united in common ways so that when the Bible says, “Let not sin reign in your mortal body,”11 it’s the same as saying: “Let not sin reign in you.” Says Hodge: “When we speak of sin as dwelling in the soul, we do not deny its relation to the body; so neither does the Apostle when he speaks of sin dwelling in the body, mean to deny its relation to the soul.”12
Charles Spurgeon also preached that it is in the body that sin tries to reign. He exhorted: “These poor things, these mortal frames of ours, have so many passions, so many desires, so many weaknesses, all of which are apt to bring us under the dominion of sin unless we watch with great care.”13 He goes on to say that by yielding members of our bodies to sin’s influence we then make them instruments of unrighteousness. This includes our eyes, ears, hands, feet, etc. Why not keep them sanctified and submit them only to God for His use? Spurgeon offers this: “He is not the God of the dead; He cannot use the dead, but He is the God of the living, and as you profess to have received a new life in Christ, yield up all the faculties of this new life unto the living God.”14
Karl Barth gives an excellent exegesis of these verses. He writes that the relationship between his body and who he is must make clear that he is not always what his body makes him out to be. He contends that he and his body do not work together to provide an unchallenged domain in which sin rules. Rather, Barth makes the point that we are the battlefield in which sin has to fight for every victory. Says Barth, “I am the warrior under grace, the new man, who can neither admit nor submit to the tyranny which sin exercises over me and over my mortal body.”15 Barth goes on to explain that by “tyranny over the body” he is speaking of how sin reigns over the circumstances in which the body lives. It is not something we should make peace with but should be in full revolt against. Believers are not to be passive observers of the conflict between grace and sin in their being. Sinful temptations should be considered as an invasion by foreign forces. Unfortunately, too many believers accept their sinful weaknesses and hope to God that He will have mercy and save their souls from judgment and punishment.
John Stott emphasizes the fact that if we have all died to sin, it is unthinkable that we should allow sin once again to direct our thoughts and actions. Also, since those who are dead to sin are now alive to God in Christ, it is only befitting that we offer our heart, mind, soul, and body to Him, which is our reasonable service.16 Says Stott: “This theme of life and death, or rather death and life, runs right through this section. Christ died and rose. We have died and risen with Him. We must, therefore, regard ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God. And, as those who are alive from death, we must offer ourselves to His service.”17
One Jewish writer offers his insights on how believers can remain unyielding to sin. He notes that the Apostle Paul repeats the message again and again throughout these ten verses, describing the “walk in the newness of life,18” as the opposite of following sin. The writer remarks that the only place this “walk” is outlined for the Roman believers to learn and follow, is in the Old Testament. This was given by God so that they would know what sin is and flee from it. Then in Chapter 8, Paul makes it very clear that those who are still “of the flesh” are not ruled by God’s Torah. This is because they still live under condemnation. He makes the point that this repetitive message would be old news to a Jewish audience. They already knew about sin and its consequences because of Torah.19 That’s why we must see this message as being directed toward new Gentile believers who had little knowledge of what the Torah called “sin,” and the command to obey God’s Word.20”21
1 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Cf., Ephesians 5:14; note Revelation 3:1-3
3 James 4:7
4 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 See Romans 6:1
6 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 254
7 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 See verse 23
9 See verse 4; cf., Ephesians 2:1-5
10 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 49
11 Verse 6
12 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 314
13 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, loc. cit.
15 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 Romans 12:1
17 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 Verse 4
19 See Romans 3
20 See Romans 1:5
21 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.