Dr. Robert R. Seyda



At this point, Martin Luther asks the question: “How can anyone resist the attack of sin and passion?1 He explains: You can keep sin from having dominion over you and denying it any victory by simply not yielding to it. Sin cannot control you unless you give it permission to do so. In other words, neither sin nor Satan has enough power over any Christian to make them do anything they are unwilling to do, no matter how fiercely and he may assail and tempt them. The old adage, “The devil made me do it,” belongs to the unbeliever, not the believer.

German scholar John Bengel speaks of the benefits of those who willingly submit to what is right. He states that Paul is pointing out that when anyone is willing to become a servant, then obedience is expected as a consequence.2 He also notes that the Greek word eis (“to” or “unto”) used here, is best understood as “submitting” and occurs twice in this verse. That’s why absolute obedience should be taken in a positive sense. Not only that, but claims of righteousness can be promptly claimed by those who act obediently. Says Bengel: “Righteousness unto life is the antithesis of death.34

Adam Clarke reminds us that in order to be considered a sinner one must be living under the law. But since believers are no longer judged by the law, does this mean anything they do that is clearly against God’s word and the teachings of Christ no longer labeled sin? Of course not! But Clarke then asks: “Shall we abuse our high and holy calling because we are not under the law which makes no provision for pardon, but are under the Gospel which has opened the fountain to wash away all sin and defilement? Shall we sin because grace abounds? Shall we do evil that good may come of it?5 Clarke cautions that we must not think this way. Rather, while the Law may condemn but not forgive, the Grace of God convicts and pardons when such forgiveness is sought with true repentance. Clarke then says: “Can you suppose that you should continue to be the servants of Christ if you living in sin? We all know that the person to whom we submit ourselves for service is the real master. Sinners are in the service of Satan, while saints are in the service of Christ. Therefore, if you surrender yourself to sin, you become the servant of Satan, and no longer the servant of God.6

Robert Haldane offers his insight on what Paul says here. He notes that Paul has been trying to prove that the doctrine of free justification by faith without works gives no one the license to continue living in sin. Just the contrary. The death of Jesus Christ for sinners and His resurrection for their justification allows them to walk freely and willingly on the highway of holiness.7 We see that in verses 12 and 13, Paul urged believers to accept their duty of obedience to God. Then, in verse 14, that God’s blessings would give them strength to stay obedient, Paul then proceeded to caution them not to abuse this offer of grace. Says Haldane: “If a man voluntarily sins, on the pretext that he is not under the law, but under grace, it is proof that the grace of God is not in him. ‘Whosoever is born of God does not commit sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin because he is born of God.89

Albert Barnes also comments on this combination of righteousness and death being the consequence of obedient servitude. For Barnes, since the same law covers holiness, then the person who becomes the servant of holiness will feel bound by the law to obey it and keep it. Barnes also notes that this expression of holiness is contrasted with death, No doubt this signifies that the person who voluntarily submits to a life of holiness, will feel bound to maintain it until their justification and life are complete and eternal. As Barnes sees it, this proposition is based on what the Christian understands as the very nature of obligation. He would obey Him to Whom he has devoted himself. Then Barnes remarks that some might see this as implying that justification is the effect of obedience. However, obedience does not signify justification no more than works suggests faith. When Paul speaks here of righteousness, he is talking about personal holiness. This shows that while service to sin leads to death, obedience to God results in holy living and eternal life. Barnes agrees with Haldane10 who said: “Death is the wages of sin, but life is not the wages of obedience.1112

Charles Hodge wants us to know that works are not the basis for our justification because we are justified freely by God’s grace. However, we are not at liberty to sin without fear and without restraint. That would mean that the doctrine of salvation by grace gives license to unrestrained indulgence in all kinds of evil. Some have made it their point of objection to the doctrine of free grace for ages. And the fact that some objected to Paul’s teachings on that point proves that his doctrine is that which they are so passionately against today.13 Hodge goes on to make the point that sinners have no choice who they will serve, for as children of Adam they are servants to Satan. But a born-again Christian does choose whom they wish to serve. So Paul’s question then is, “Why serve Satan, when the wages of such service is death?” Don’t be a fool. Serve God because the gift received for such service is everlasting life.

Frédéric Godet makes an important point here. If we understand that sin is the first master we are naturally subject to from infancy, then its yoke must be broken in order to live for God. This can only happen through faith. Every believer must keep in mind that if they ever make one concession to sin, they would place themselves again under its dominion. This would also put them back on the road they walked in their old life, and that ultimately will lead to death. But Godet makes it clear: “The word death here cannot denote physical death, for the servants of righteousness die as well as the servants of sin… The matter in question, therefore, is death in the sense of moral corruption, and consequently of separation from God here and hereafter; such is the abyss which sin digs ever more deeply, every time that man, nay, that the believer, even gives himself over to it.14

Theologian Karl Barth has much to say on this subject, and it is worth reading. But his conclusion is: The person who has been freed by God’s grace can no more adjust himself comfortably to a life of sin than the sinner can play around with grace as an option when needed. They both exist at the same time, yet they do not cohabit. The sinner has no interest in grace, just as the believer should have no curiosity for sin. Each possibility of grace does not exist to serve sin. Barth goes on to say that from both emerges a power for obedience. They are not like a teeter-totter or seesaw. When we were servants of sin, we did not fear that grace might conceivably take over our lives. Writes Barth: “Under sin’s authority we were already sold and given in to it. Much more obvious would be this incompatibility if we were servants unto obedience to God. The two slaveries are, therefore, altogether mutually exclusive, and a man’s existence in Adam cannot be congruous with his existence in Christ… Because we are under grace and not under law, we are not free to sin and are confronted with all either – or, which no bridge can span.15

F. F. Bruce also discusses the role obedience plays. Paul takes his narrative in verse 1 about living in sin, and rewords it in verse 14 by saying “No!” This implies that people who talk like this have no understanding of what divine grace actually means. Believers who live under grace live their lives in Christ. And life in Christ exhibits a spontaneous and willing obedience to the Father’s will. Therefore, life in Christ will be characterized by the same obedience Christ had to His Father’s will. Says Bruce: “‘Love and do as you please’ is a maxim which, in those who have God’s love poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit, can only result in their doing those things which please God. To treat being ‘under grace’ as an excuse for sinning is a sign that one is not really ‘under grace’ at all. Obedience, which leads to righteousness. One might have expected ‘… leads to life’, to balance the preceding sin, which leads to death, but righteousness (justification) and life are two sides of the same coin.1617

Verses 17-18: In the past, you were slaves to sin because sin controlled you. But thank God, you have now obeyed with all your heart the teachings God has given you. You were made free from sin, and now you are slaves to what is right.

In this section let us ask the question: Was the Apostle Paul complimenting the believers in Rome for their complete faith and trust in Christ, or was he having to remind them of what they initially believed but now have doubts about? It seems clear that Paul is referencing the past by saying that at one time they “were” slaves to sin. But that’s over. That’s why they should have confidence that whom the Son sets free, remains free.

Paul is equally thankful that the Corinthians were no longer doing things that were wrong. He said: “In the past, some of you were like that. But you were washed clean, you were made holy, and you were made right with God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.18 He told the Ephesians: “God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us new people so that we would spend our lives doing the good things He had already planned for us to do.19 But Paul’s greatest joy was his own testimony: “In the past, I insulted Christ. As a proud and violent man, I persecuted His people. But God gave me mercy because I did not know what I was doing. I did that before I became a believer. But our Lord gave me a full measure of His grace. And with that grace came the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.20

So with that liberation from the Law’s condemnation, all believers are then free to offer their unconditional love and dedication to the one who redeemed and saved them. To do otherwise, would be the greatest form of disrespect, contempt, and rudeness. The Apostle Peter explains the benefits of being entirely dedicated to the truth: “You have made yourselves pure by obeying the truth. Now you can have true love for your brothers and sisters.21 Not only that, but Peter goes on to say: “Even those who have refused to accept God’s teaching will be persuaded to believe because of the way you live. You will not need to say anything.”22

1 Martin Luther: On Romans, loc. cit., p. 105

2 2 Peter 2:19

3 See Romans 3:20; 6:20, 22

4 John Bengel, On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 272

5 Adam Clarke: On Romans, loc. cit.

6 Clarke: ibid.

7 Isaiah 35:8

8 1 John 3:9; 5:18

9 Robert Haldane: Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, William Oliphant & Co., Edinburgh, 1874, loc. cit., p. 260

10 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 258

11 See verse 23

12 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

13 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 318

14 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, loc. cit.

15 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

16 Cf., Romans 5:18, 21

17 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, pp. 144–145

18 1 Corinthians 6:11

19 Ephesians 2:10

20 1 Timothy 1:13-14

21 1 Peter 1:22

22 Ibid. 3:1

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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