NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SIX (Lesson XIX)
It is important to note that one English translation of verse 22 reads, “You have as your fruit, sanctification.”1 Another version renders it, “You have your fruit unto holiness.”2 And the New International Version reads: “The benefit you reap leads to holiness.” When writing to the Galatians, Paul lists these fruits: “But the fruit that the Spirit produces in a person’s life is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”3 And when corresponding with the Philippians, Paul puts it this way: “May you always be doing those good, kind things that show you are a child of God, for this will bring much praise and glory to the Lord.”4 He prays the same thing for the Colossians.5
This was vital for the believers in Rome because such a sanctified lifestyle meant that they were on the strait and narrow path called the highway of holiness.6 This is the one that leads to everlasting life. Jesus taught His disciples that walking this road takes more than words, it also requires action: “Everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children, or farms to follow me will get much more than they left. And they will have eternal life.”7
One of the earliest church scholars, Tertullian, instructs us that throughout this chapter Paul challenges believers to stop using their bodily members for immoral purposes. Instead, yield them to what is moral and holy. This way, they can convert their energy from earning the wages of sin, which is spiritual death, to being rewarded with the gift of God which is eternal life. Tertullian asks, why apply the rules of holiness and doing good to how we live if the reward for such discipline is not attainable? That would be inconsistent with why a believer is encouraged to live a holy life. Nor would baptism have been ordered if it did not signify that restitution had already taken place and the believer was ready to live cleanly before the Lord. Paul himself reveals this concept: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were, therefore, buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.‘8”9
John Calvin focuses on the fact that just as Paul had spoken earlier of a twofold end for sin, he does the same thing now concerning righteousness. As pointed out, sin in this life brings grief, pain, and a tormented conscience which translates into eternal punishment in the world to come. Calvin says that as we gather into the basket of holiness the spiritual fruit of righteousness, we do so with faith that we are thereby worthy of eternal life in the hereafter. Says Calvin: “These things, unless we are beyond measure stupid, ought to generate in our minds a hatred and horror of sin, and also a love and desire for righteousness.”10 To use an illustration from everyday life, as Paul did, it would be just as ridiculous for a person who suffered through the tormenting rash caused by poison ivy, to go back out into the same patch where these weeds grow. Or, who would expect a person who just endured the chills of heat exhaustion, going back out into the hot sun without sustenance or protection?
Robert Haldane offers his reasons why a believer, who is set free from sin, should try their hardest to avoid sin. It should not be played around with, thinking they are forever safe. He points out that Paul has already successfully given his reply to the objection that his doctrine of justification leads to indulgence in sin. Now he assures those, to whom he wrote, concerning the blessed effects that come by surrendering to God as a servant. This is only possible when we are made free from sin, that is, emancipated from a state of slavery under the devil’s rule. By not working for this serpent any longer we can bear the fruit of holiness. The fruit of holiness grows out of holy conduct. That means, all that we say, do, think, or feel is dedicated to God for His glory. Such Fruit of Holiness, or Holy Conduct, in this present life, results in keeping sin from tainting and spoiling our lives. Also, becoming dedicated servants to God ushers us into the world-to-come where we will live to honor Him for eternity. Haldane reminds us that eternal life is a gift of God for our faithful service, it is not a reward on merit.11
Robert Haldane also notes that some interpreters of Scripture have used a play-on-words that in the end only confuses the reader. As he sees it, both here and at the conclusion of the preceding chapter, death is contrasted with eternal life. Paul has told us that sin is a form of slavery, and its reward is death, aka, eternal misery. From Adam’s time onward death became the greatest curse on earth’s citizens. That’s why any future punishment of the wicked is figuratively called, death. We know that both the righteous and the wicked are appointed to die physically.12 However, when they pass from this life to the next they both still live on. The sinner grieving in eternal punishment, and the righteous rejoicing in everlasting joy. Haldane mentions that our Lord spoke of death when He said: “Whosoever believes in Me will never die.”13 Although the wages of sin is death, the Apostle does not add that the wages of obedience is eternal life. Haldane says forcefully, this is not the doctrine of Scripture. Eternal life is a gift from God. You cannot earn it, deserve it, or bargain for it. And God does not parcel it out among His faithful based on their years of service. It is equally given to everyone who believes.14
Haldane then makes a distinction by suggesting that instead of reading: “Eternal life is the gift of God,” we should render it: “The gift of God is eternal life.” He says, the meaning of these two propositions, though nearly alike, are not entirely synchronous. Both propositions might rightly be interchangeable, but as expressed by the Apostle they are not. No doubt righteousness results in eternal life, but eternal life itself comes as a gift, but not as a gift from righteousness.15
Albert Barnes points out that what Jesus said: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them,”16 is echoed here in verse 21. The fact is that both eternal life and God’s wrath are just as long in duration as the other. That’s why those who obey His Word will be blessed with life forever, while those who disobey will be cursed with punishment forever. Never was there an antithesis more manifest and more clear. And there could be no stronger evidence that the word “death,” in verse 21, does not refer to temporal death, but to eternal punishment and separation from God than what Paul gives here.
Barnes then asks, who could possibly win the argument on the supposition that temporal death is meant here? Their argument would look like this: “The end of sin is to produce temporal death; the end of holiness is to produce eternal life!” But that raises other questions: Will temporal death not come to believers as well? Are Christians exempt from physically dying? Do not all people suffer this, whether they are believers or unbelievers? Barnes concludes that according to Paul’s reasoning it is obvious that the point he is trying to make is this: They were once pursuing a course that ended in everlasting ruin; they are now in a path that goes on into eternal life. It is for this reason that all believers are urged by Paul to be holy in mind, body, and spirit.17
Bible writer Douglas Moo gives us an excellent comparison here:
Condition Status Result Outcome
Before we were Slaves of sin, free fruit bringing death
Christians (v. 21) from righteousness shame
Now that we are free from sin, slaves fruit bringing life
Christians (v. 22) of God sanctification
Verse 23: When people work for sin, their wage is death. But God’s free gift is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Now Paul draws a line at the end of this in-depth teaching on how salvation by grace is far superior to working for salvation by fulfilling the Law’s demands. He points out the rewards that await those who offer themselves as servants to one or the other. This was not a new concept, it all started back in the Garden of Eden.18 It was also reiterated by the prophet Isaiah: “It will be very bad for wicked people, because they, too, will get what they deserve.”19 So Paul was right on point when he wrote the Corinthians: “Don’t you know that unrighteous people will have no share in the Kingdom of God? Don’t delude yourselves.”20 And he makes the same point even sharper to the Galatians: “If you think you can fool God, you are only fooling yourselves. You will harvest what you plant.”21 The Apostle James put it this way: “Your own desire leads you away and traps you. Your desire grows inside you until it results in sin. Then the sin grows bigger and bigger and finally ends in death.”22
This idea of death being a payment for sin was not invented by Paul. As a student of Jewish law and literature, the Apostle was well aware of what the Rabbis taught. For instance, in the Talmud, we read: “Rabbi Ammi said: There is no death without sin, and there is no suffering without iniquity. There is no death without sin, for it is written, The soul that sins, it will die:23 There is no suffering without iniquity, for it is written, Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.”24 This same doctrine is part of the Jewish commentary on Leviticus where it says: “There is no death without sin, no sting without sin.”25
1 Jubilee Bible 2000, loc. cit.
2 King James Version, loc. cit.
3 Galatians 5:22-23
4 Philippians 1:11
5 Colossians 1:9-11
6 Isaiah 35:8
7 Matthew 19:29
8 Romans 6:3 – NIV
9 Ante-Nicene Fathers, Tertullian: On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Ch. 47 (328)
10 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit
11 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc cit., p. 264
12 Hebrews 9:27
13 John 11:25-26
14 Ibid. 3:16
15 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 265
16 John 3:36
17 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 Genesis 2:17
19 Isaiah 3:11
20 1 Corinthians 6:9 – Complete Jewish Bible
21 Galatians 6:7
22 James 1:14-15
23 Ezekiel 18:20
24 Psalm 89:32
25 Vayikra Rabbah: Sec. 37; also see Midrash Kohelet, p. 182