NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SIX (Lesson XIX)
Robert Haldane gives his view on the fruit that dedicated believers should produce out of thankfulness to the glory of God. For Paul, besides the exhortations to holiness which he already gave, the Apostle traces for believers the natural consequences of sin. Not only did it prove to be worthless and shameful in character, but the end was even worse – the death of hope. Paul questions, what advantage did they have in the pleasure of their former lifestyle? What could they point to that was so redeeming? But when it comes to those who live in holiness, the fruit they bear definitely has an advantage. It is configured for production, not pleasure. Haldane notes that many Bible scholars interpret this verse as if the Apostle denied that they had any pleasure in their sins when they were committed. Paul would not do that. He knew the reason people served sin was for its momentary gratification. Haldane finds it hard to believe that anyone would say that sinful delights have no pleasure in them at all. It’s all imaginary. That is an abuse of the term “pleasure.” Haldane writes: “All pleasure is a matter of feeling, and a man is no less happy than he feels himself to be; if he imagines that he enjoys pleasure, he actually enjoys pleasure. But what advantage is there in such pleasure? This is the question which the Apostle asks.”1 It is also the question that Paul will soon answer.
Albert Barnes also focuses on the “result,” or “fruit,” of living an immoral life. So he asks, what reward or advantage is there to constantly living in sin? He says that such an argument is drawn from the attempt by some Christians to justify their continued indulgence in sinful passions. Paul discusses that very question throughout this chapter. He is countering the heresy that the Gospel’s plan of justification by faith licenses such permissiveness. Barnes also states that part of this argument can be drawn from the past in which Christians have experienced times of transgression. Says Barnes: “They have tried it; they know its effects; they have tasted its bitterness; they have reaped its fruit.” Therefore, Barnes feels that it is implied here that having once experienced these bad effects, and knowing man’s tendency to sin, they will not indulge in it anymore.2 Having seen their nature and outcome, you are now ashamed of them.3 As Paul stated elsewhere, it is a disgrace to speak of those things which were done in secret.4 For the end – the conslusion, the result of such things, is death.5”6 Not physical death, but spiritual deadness throughout eternity from which there is no recovery.
Charles Hodge points out that when people are in sin, righteousness holds no sway over their lives. Their service is rendered to another master. Hodges cautions that we should not think that Paul was speaking ironically here; that he was suggesting that in their former sinful state freedom was one of their advantages because they could choose to do right or wrong. No, says Hodge, servants of sin did not and could not serve righteousness. Paul offers two choices – sin, or righteousness. Which one should be preferred? This is the question which the Apostle Paul offers for consideration.7 So, Hodge says: “What advantage had you of the service of sin? None; for the end of those things, the final result of the service of sin is death; not physical death, but the death of the soul, final and hopeless perdition.”8
Charles Spurgeon cries out, as a pastor, to remind his members of the old ways from which they have been delivered: “You had such pleasure as sin could give you, but was it worth having? You derived some profit, perhaps, from evil pursuits; but did the profit ever make up for the loss which you thereby sustained? O ye who have had experience of sin to the full, has it, after all, turned out to be the fair and lovely thing that it once seemed to be? No, the serpent had azure scales,9 but its fangs have poured poison into your blood. It came to you with all manner of deceptions of unrighteousness, like Jezebel with her painted face, but it has wrought for you nothing but sorrow and suffering, and it will work your eternal ruin unless God, in his great mercy, shall prevent it.”10
Bible scholar Robert Haldane has his thoughts on the shame that sin can bring to a believer. First, he points out that many scholars interpret this verse as if the Apostle denied that they had any pleasure in their sins at the time they wallowed in them. Says, Haldane, the Apostle knew this was foolishness, everyone knows that sinners have pleasure in sinning. We must keep in mind that pleasure is a matter of feeling, and a person is only as happy as they feel. Even if a person only imagines that they enjoy pleasure, they probably do. Haldane asks again, what advantage is there to such pleasure? This is the same question the Apostle Paul is asking. Says Haldane: “It is a remarkable fact that men in a state of alienation from God will commit sin not only without shame but will glory in many things of which they will be ashamed the moment they are changed by the Gospel. They now see their conduct in another light. They see that it was not only sinful but shameful. For the end of those things is death.” Therefore, it is clear that whatever pleasure sinners might enjoy now, in the end, they will taste the bitterness of death. Not natural demise, even believers must meet life’s end here on earth. But death when described as eternal punishment.11
John Stott points out that Paul is continuing the comparison and contrast between the two forms of compulsory service – sin, and righteousness. However, this time the Apostle denotes that each form of subjugation contains a certain kind of freedom; one of which is authentic and the other spurious. At the same time, while one form of freedom while under subjection is degrading, the other is ennobling. Stott goes on to state that this spurious freedom to sin is better termed, license. While the freedom we have in righteous living is better called, liberty. What irony this brings into view. Sinners think they are free because they can do anything they want without any consequences, while Christians seem to remain bound by righteous rules and moral manners. What sinners don’t know is that what they think is freedom is actually a choice that will bring them under even more bondage to sin, and will eventually take them out into eternity where there is no repentance or forgiveness. But those who’ve become servants to righteousness in order to please the One who redeemed them, freed them and gave them a new reason for living, look forward to everlasting life with their God, their Savior, and their comforting Holy Spirit.12
H. A. Ironside gives a summary of what Paul has said here:
There are fourteen distinct counts in this indictment or summary of evidence. 1- “There is none righteous, no, not one.” All have failed in something. 2- “There is none that understands.” All have become willfully ignorant. 3- “There is none that seeks after God.” All seek their own. 4- “They are all gone out of the way.” They have deliberately turned their backs on the truth. 5- “They are together become unprofitable.” They have dishonored God instead of glorifying Him. 6- “There is none that does good, no, not one.” Their practices are evil. They do not follow after that which is good. 7- “Their throat is an open sepulcher,” because of the corruption within. 8- “With their tongues they have used deceit.” Lying and deception are characteristic. 9- “The poison of asps is under their lips.” It is the poison inserted into the very nature of man by “that old serpent the devil and Satan” at the very beginning. 10- “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness” for “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” 11- “Their feet are swift to shed blood.” Hatred produces murder, and, alas, in how many ways it is manifested! 12- “Destruction and misery are in their ways,” because they have forgotten God the source of life and blessing. 13- “The way of peace have they not known,” for they have deliberately chosen the ways of death. 14- “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Hence there is no wisdom in them.
Ironside then asks: “Can any plead ‘Not guilty’ to all of these charges? If so, let him speak. But none can honestly do so.” And so he concludes, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.13”14
Verse 22: But now you are totally free from sin. You have become full-time servants of God, and the fruit you produce is wholesome living, which brings you eternal life.
With all this wrestling with the Law behind them, Paul now commends them for conducting themselves as slaves freed from the condemnation of sin and their wholehearted and unconditional surrender to the Will and Word of God. This is what Jesus promised would happen: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”15 And this is what Paul emphasized in his letter to the Corinthians: “The Lord is the Spirit who gives them life, and where He is there is freedom. Freedom from trying to be saved by keeping the laws of God.”16
But this freedom is not to be wasted or abused. Rather, freed slaves are to work hard in order to produce fruit so that the one who saved them can be proud. Did not Jesus say: “I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you stay joined to me, and I to you, you will produce plenty of fruit.”17 Therefore, to be free does not mean having no connections to anyone. Instead, they are an extension of the One who saved them. That’s why Jesus told His disciples: “You did not choose me. I chose you. And I gave you this work: to go and produce fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you anything you ask for in my name.”18 So no believer should feel once they are freed from the tyranny of sin that they must read their Bible, they must pray, they must go to church, they must pay their tithe, and they must deny themselves anything that brings them joy and excitement in order to maintain a stoic sense of holiness. Instead, to embrace the new reality and relationship they have to the Living God and delight in His blessings that brings peace the world cannot give, and joy that is unspeakable and full of glory. That will, in turn, excite the believer to read, pray worship, give, and surrender their talents and abilities to the One who made them whole.
1 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. p. 264
2 Cf. Romans 7:5
3 Cf. Romans 1
4 Ephesians 5:12; 2 Corinthians 4:2; Jude 1:13; Philippians 3:19.
5 See verse 22
6 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. it.
7 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 323
8 Ibid., p. 324
9 Azure scales is a reference to witchcraft, by which the sky-blue color of the serpent’s scales are alluring and draw the victim into its grasp.
10 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, loc. cit.
11 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 264
12 John Stott: On Romans, loc. cit.
13 Romans 3:19-20
14 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 John 8:32
16 2 Corinthians 3:17 – The Living Bible
17 John 15:5
18 Ibid. 15:16