NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SIX (Lesson XV)
Reformer Martin Luther put a particular twist on how the desire to do wrong can end up benefiting the believer. He says that since all things work together for good to them who love God,1 then any temptation a person may encounter to commit a sinful deed or have impure thoughts only ends up making the believer’s soul all the more pure and their mind all the more certain. In the same way then, the temptation of pride should make the believer even more humble. The invitation for inactivity should make us all the more industrious. Greed should make us all the more generous. Anger makes us all the more gentle. Gluttony makes us all the more moderate. Says Luther: “In this way, temptation turns out to be a great blessing. Sin will indeed rule in our mortal body if we yield to it, but we must resist it and make it our servant.”2 To this, we add that Luther was implying that as righteousness fights back against unrighteousness, the end result will leave the believer’s heart, mind, and body more sanctified than ever.
John Calvin seems to have the same view when he said that it appears to him that Paul was offering here a special consolation by which the faithful are to be strengthened. That way, they will not faint in their efforts to become more holy. It is done by their becoming more aware of their weaknesses. Paul exhorted them to devote all their bodily members to the service of righteousness. But as they carry on with the wounds left by their sinful nature, they cannot help but walk with a limp. Says Calvin: “The meaning is now clear. The Apostle wanted to comfort us, lest we should become weary in trying. It comes from striving to do what is right because we still find in ourselves many imperfections. However, no matter how much we may be harassed by the stings of sin, it cannot yet overcome us, for we are enabled to conquer it by the Spirit of God.”3
Robert Haldane sums up his thoughts on what Paul says here by saying that the assurances given to believers that sin will not have rule over them cannot be fully appreciated unless you are one of those who are unresponsive to sin and alive to God. Each believer who is convinced of this will feel motivated to stay on course and not be distracted by sin. Such blessed assurance will put their minds at ease knowing that sin cannot have dominion over them. That is quite the opposite from looking for any reason, excuse, or pretext to allow living in sin to continue. Says Haldane: “On the contrary, they are thereby bound by every consideration of love and gratitude to serve God, while, by the certain prospect of final victory, they are encouraged to persevere, in spite of all difficulties and opposition, either from within or from without.”4
Albert Barnes makes an interesting point by saying that if justification came with no attachments of surrender and submission to check evil tendencies, that would leave every believer to the ravages of uncontrolled passions. They would have no motivation to abandon their sins. That is why grace comes with mercy because it is designed to help the believer subdue sin and destroy its influence so they can move on to being sanctified tools and vessels of God’s Spirit.5
Charles Hodge also advises that we should all yield ourselves to God because sin has no right to dictate our destiny. The believer is not engaged in some hopeless struggle. What they are fighting for is a complete victory over that which is trying to enslave them. Says Hodge: It is a joyful confidence which the Apostle expresses here that the power of sin has been effectually broken, and the triumph of holiness effectually secured by the work of Christ.”6
Jewish scholar David Stern speaks of how a Jew would see what Paul says here about no longer being under the Law. He points to Paul’s use of this phrase in Galatians 3:23. The Greek word “nomos,” literally means, “law.” It is often translated as “Torah” in the Jewish New Testament.7 But here it must be rendered “legalism,” which is defined in Romans 3:20 as perverting the Torah into a system of rules for earning God’s praise without trusting, loving, or communing with God the Giver of the Torah. He goes on to explain about what it means to be “under legalism” and “under grace.” He notes that the Greek word “hypo,” is translated twice here in Chapter 6 as “under.” It means: “controlled by”8 or “in subjection to.”9 This makes it possible to use the slavery metaphor in the following verses.
Then David Stern asks in what sense are believers “in subjection to” grace? He replies that it can be seen in the sense of accepting Yeshua’s “yoke,” which is “easy” and “light” to “restful.”10 This is in contrast with the weary “harness” of legalism.11 Therefore, being “under grace” involves a relationship that, because of the nature of grace, does not have the usual oppressive characteristics of slavery. Says Stern: “God’s people are to live within the framework of Torah, but they are not in subjection to legalism. God’s giving Torah was itself an act of grace which the New Testament compares with His sending Yeshua. God’s people, the people who are in a trust relationship with Him, are and always have been under grace and under Torah, but never under legalism.”12
Another Jewish Bible scholar offers his view. For him this verse is often stripped by commentators of its context, thereby promoting the erroneous doctrine of, “grace verse law.” As he sees it, Paul is telling the Gentile believers to follow God’s ways as taught in Torah, and not the way of the world because they are now under grace. For him, the term “not under law” does not mean, “not having to follow God’s Torah.” Such an idea would be considered heresy by a Jewish rabbi such as the Apostle Paul and would contradict many New Testament Scriptures.13 The Hebrew word “Torah” is misunderstood when translated into English as “Law.” It actually means, “set of instructions.” Even though it is often used as a reference to the Ten Commandments, or the first five books of the Bible, it is, in fact, the whole Old Testament.
Verses 15-16: So what should we do? Should we sin because we are under grace and not under law? Certainly not! Surely you know that you become the slaves of whatever you give yourselves to. Anything or anyone you follow will be your master. You can follow sin, or you can obey God. Submitting to sin brings spiritual death, but submitting to God results in being right with Him.
Once again, the Apostle Paul perceives a retort from his critics who think that by eliminating the Law from having any influence in a believer’s life, that this gives them the right and freedom to live any way they want. His opposition to such thinking was expressed in his letter to the Corinthians: “Dear friends, we have these promises from God. So we should make ourselves pure – free from anything that makes our body or our soul unclean. Our respect for God should make us try to be completely holy in the way we live.”14 Paul seems to be referencing the same idea of taking advantage of grace in his letter to the Galatians when he rejected any thought that the freedom we receive from Christ has unintentionally made us all sinners.15
Apparently Titus faced a similar problem and so Paul wrote to him: “The free gift of eternal salvation is now being offered to everyone; and along with this gift comes the realization that God wants us to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures and to live good, God-fearing lives day after day, looking forward to that wonderful time we’ve been expecting, when His glory shall be seen—the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. He died under God’s judgment against our sins so that He could rescue us from constantly falling into sin and make us His very own people, with cleansed hearts and real enthusiasm for doing kind things for others.”16
Now Paul hammers the proverbial last nail in the coffin as to what happens whenever a person yields their will to another. This was the dilemma Joshua faced, and the reason why he challenged the people to chose once and for all who they were going to serve.17 As it was then it is the same today. The choice is given to the individual. Jesus made this very clear when He said: “You cannot serve two masters at the same time. You will hate one and love the other, or you will be loyal to one and not care about the other.”18
The problem with many who desire servanthood with Christ is that they still have not taken themselves out of the market that deals in selfish interests. Many worked hard as slaves of sin, impurity, and lawlessness, now their only desire is to take it easy as freed slaves in Christ. Before, they were only too willing to put out for the devil and sacrifice anything to get their thrill; but now they are unresponsive to the needs of the Kingdom and will give no time at all to do the work that needs to be done. The fundamental problem is not that Christ refused to pay the highest price to redeem them, but that they refuse to let Him get full interest on the investment in their lives that He bought with His own blood.
Early church scholar Theodore tries to explain what he understands Paul is saying to the Jews. It is the whole purpose of the law to explain what we should and should not do. If we choose to live outside the confines of the law, there is nothing to stop us from doing what we like. But when we accept what the Law says about right and wrong, then we start living under the law. So what Paul says here easily applies to us. What Paul expresses here may seem contradictory because it looks like since we are free of sin we are no longer under the law. But, says Theodore: “He does not mean that the outpouring of grace has given us license to sin.”19 This is another way of saying that before we were converted our sins were against the law, but the law offered no forgiveness. After we become believers, then our sins are against God’s grace, who in His mercy, offers us forgiveness through the power of the blood in the sacrifice of Christ.
1 Romans 8:28
2 Martin Luther: On Romans, loc. cit., pp. 104-105
3 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 258
5 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 316
7 Matthew 5:17
8 As in Romans 3:9
9 Cf., 7:14; Also see 1 Corinthians 9:20-22
10 Matthew 11:28–30
11 Acts of the Apostles 15:10
12 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 See Romans 3:31, 7:12, 14a; 22, 25; 8:4,7; 13:8-10; Matthew 5:17-19, 19:17; John 14:15, James chapters 1 & 2, 1 John 2:1-7, 3:4, 5:2-3 and 2 John 4-6.
14 2 Corinthians 7:1
15 Galatians 2:17-18
16 Titus 2:11-14
17 Joshua 24:15
18 Matthew 6:24
19 Theodore of Mopsuestia: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.