NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SIX (Lesson XIV)
Verse 14: Sin will not be your master because you are no longer under law. You now live under God’s grace.
What’s makes this possible, the believers in Rome might ask? Paul has the answer. The Law will no longer be able to declare you as sinful as a child of Adam. Any mistakes or disobedience will now be handled by the grace of God as a child of God.1 This same sentiment was expressed in one of the Jewish Temple songs: “O Israel, hope in the LORD; for He is loving and kind and comes to us with armloads of salvation.”2 And the Prophet Micah includes it in his praise for the LORD: “He will come back and comfort us again. He will throw all our sins into the deep sea.”3 So if God was merciful enough to do this under the Law, how much happier will He be to do the same thing under grace. This is available because those in Christ are now free from the condemnation of the Law. It happened because of the price paid by the Son of God. Jesus announced this freedom as follows: “If the Son sets you free, you are certainly free.”4 Not the Law, but the Son.
It is good at this point to offer some clarification concerning Grace’s relationship to the Law. First of all, do not be misled and think that grace replaced the Law making it null and void. It did not. Grace augmented the Law. When Moses received the Law it was intended to show why people are sinners. It was given the power to convict and condemn. But it could then do nothing about it. It could pronounce someone guilty but it could not forgive the guilt. Then God sent His Son to add what the Law was missing. Jesus made it very clear, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”5 Jesus did just that, He fulfilled all the requirements of the Law to cancel the death sentence for sin. Then He accomplished what the Law was unable to do, He added the element of Grace. Therefore, when someone is deemed to be a sinner because they have broken the Law, with this added component of Grace, the sinner can find forgiveness and have that sin removed. The Law is still attributed to what God gave Moses, but Grace is ascribed to Jesus Christ alone. It is His fulfillment of the Law; His sacrifice, blood, and death on the cross that covers sin. That is why, once you become a child of God and you disobey the Word and Will of God, then you are not condemned anymore by the Law, Christ took care of that. You are now convicted by the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit does not take you back to the Law to show you what you did wrong. Rather, He takes you to God’s throne room of grace and mercy,6 where you can confess your sins and He will be waiting there, ready to forgive you your sins and purify you from all your wrongdoing.7 That’s why we no longer live under the Law, but under Grace.
For the Jewish members of the church in Rome, this thought of being held prisoner by evil was not new. They received the same message by one of their own Rabbis. He taught: “There were three to whom the Holy One, blessed be He, gave a foretaste of the future world while they were still in this world. Namely, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham [we know] because it is written of him, [The Lord blessed Abraham] in all,8 Isaac, because it is written, [And I ate] of all; Jacob, because it is written, [For I have] all.9 Three were there over whom the evil inclination had no dominion.10 Namely, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, [as we know] because it is written in connection with them, in all, of all, and all. Some include also David, of whom it is written, My heart is wounded within me.11 And the other authority? — He understands him to be referring here to his distress.”12 So Paul was using a theme familiar to his Jewish brethren.
Paul shared this truth with Titus: “He gave Himself for us. He died to free us from all evil. He died to make us pure – people who belong only to Him and who always want to do good.”13 So, if we are now free from the Law, what will motivate us to follow the lead of the Spirit instead of the flesh. The writer of Hebrews quotes the prophet Jeremiah: “I will put my teachings in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”14 The reason for this change is laid out by Paul to the Galatians: “Before this faith came, the law held us as prisoners. We had no freedom until God showed us the way of faith that was coming.”15 Paul goes on to say: “But when the right time came, God sent His Son, who was born from a woman and lived under the law. God did this so that He could buy the freedom of those who were under the law. God’s purpose was to make us His children.”16 Paul finishes making his point by then saying: “If you let the Spirit lead you, you are not under law.”17
In other words, don’t wait to be indicted for wrongdoing under the Law, let conviction by the Holy Spirit lead you to seek forgiveness from God through grace. The Apostle John articulated this in the opening of his Gospel: “The law was given to us through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”18 This is why Paul wrote the Corinthians: “He made us able to be servants of a new agreement from Himself to His people. It is not an agreement of written laws, but it is of the Spirit. The written law brings death, but the Spirit gives life.”19
So many believers, after having the members of their body freed from the intrinsic control of sin, never follow through and then surrender those bodily members to God for His use. They feel that being cleansed from sin is the completed work. Not so! It is merely the beginning. Any tool, no matter how well made, clean or sharpened, when left on the shelf will ultimately return to its former state of rust and corrosion. We were not saved to be works of art, but workers in action. Jesus sent His disciples out to preach the gospel, heal the sick, and cast out demons. He said the harvest was ripe but the workers were few. What would you think of a son whose father gave him a million dollars to invest in his own future, who then simply ran around telling everybody, “Look at what my dad gave me!” and showing off the money to everyone who would stop to look and listen, as he exclaimed, “Isn’t it pretty? Isn’t it nice?” You’d probably say the same thing about a Christian who goes around telling everyone they are possessors of God’s free salvation; describing how ensuring it is to know that their names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, but never bother to translate that into any investment of helping other lost souls to hear about the kingdom of God so that it can bring them joy in the Lord.
The context of Paul’s theology here strikes a crippling blow to the roots of social gospel and universal salvation. Such phrases as, “dead to sin,” “buried with Christ,” “united with Him,” “crucified with Him,” and “died with Christ,” completely destroys the congenial and benevolent ministry of those who disdain any further involvement other than shaking a hand or signing a card. It frightens the weak-kneed modernist who faints at the idea of having to tell some heathen or sophisticate that they are sinners, lost, and without hope unless they accept Christ as their personal Savior. But Paul found that message to be the “power of God unto salvation.” It’s like a neighbor who hears the family next door is celebrating because they just won a big sweepstakes prize. But he’s afraid to disappoint them by showing them the fine print on the announcement: “You may be a winner!”
This section contains the first answer to the question of the role of grace in our salvation, and whether we should continue in sin so that grace may keep overcoming our sin to the glory of God. A similar question is asked about grace again in verse 15. Anyone sensitive enough to the power of the Gospel will plainly see that this genuine salvation of which Paul here speaks is sorely missing in parts of Christendom today. Many times sinners are made sorrowful through the preaching of the love of God and a few tears of remorse brings momentary relief, but this in no way corresponds with the new life which Paul declares here. Much of the sinner’s reaction and consequential behavior depends on how the Gospel they heard was presented. A light, compassionate offering of a motivational gospel will bring the same result and sense of feeling good. But a deep, powerful preaching of the Gospel slices all the way through to separating the marrow from the bone. A swift, strong blow of the God’s two-edged sword can sever in one stroke all ties to the Adamic nature and bring about the death of the old man and the birth of the new one.
Early church scholar Ambrosiaster shares his understanding of Paul’s message that if we are obedient to the commandments God gives, then sin will not rule over us, for it only rules over those who are disobedient. This is revealed by the fact that if we do not live according to God’s Word, then we are under the condemnation of the law. By obeying God’s Word and keeping ourselves from sin, we are no longer under the Law but under Grace. Each believer must be aware if they disobey they fall back under the Law. That’s when sin will being ruling over them once more because every sinner is a slave to sin. Ambrosiaster wrote that a person is required to remain under the arm of the law as long as he does not receive forgiveness through Christ. It is by the law’s authority that sin makes the sinner guilty. Then Ambrosiaster writes this: “Thus the person to whom forgiveness is given and remains free by not sinning anymore will neither be ruled by sin nor be under the law. For the authority of the law no longer applies to him; he has been delivered from sin. Those whom the law holds guilty have been turned over to it by sin. Therefore, the person who has departed from sin cannot be under the law.”20
1 See Romans 5:20
2 Psalm 130:7 – Complete Jewish Bible
3 Micah 7:19
4 John 8:36
5 Matthew 5:17
6 Hebrews 4:16
7 1 John 1:9
8 Genesis 24:1
9 Ibid. 33:11
10 This evil inclination was understood to be mankind’s tendencies to yield their bodies to sin
11 Psalm 109:22
12 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Baba Bathra, folio 17a
13 Titus 2:14
14 Hebrews 8:10 (Jeremiah 31:33)
15 Galatians 3:23
16 Ibid. 4:4-5
17 Ibid. 5:18
18 John 1:17
19 2 Corinthians 3:6
20 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, loc. cit.