NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SIX (Lesson XXI)
The Apostle Paul does not want to end this narrative on a sour note. So he gladly proclaims the benefits of turning to God and serving Him out of love, faith, and trust. On one occasion, Jesus likened it to having a refreshing drink of abundant life: “Anyone who drinks the water I give will never be thirsty again. The water I give people will be like a spring flowing inside them. It will bring them eternal life.”1 Not only that, but Jesus also proclaimed its benefits: “I assure you, anyone who hears what I say and believes in the One who sent me has eternal life.”2 It’s another way of saying, you can’t lose with Jesus on your side.
Early church scholar Origen says that Paul employs a military metaphor here related to wages. Not only is it something a soldier earns, but something they must work for by facing hardship, death, and destruction.3 Early church scholar Ambrosiaster comments on Paul’s statement about wages by pointing out that in this case, the payment is death. Not a very enticing offer for anyone who wants to live freely and joyfully. That’s why those who go AWOL from Satan’s army and join the army of God will be eligible to receive a bonus called eternal life. It’s not something one earns, but something one is rewarded with for making the right decision. Then we have early church scholar Origen insisting that those who turn away from sin, will not have to experience the second death.4 But, those who continually allow themselves to be bitten and injected with the venom of sin are guaranteed that death will result. The only antidote for sin is the blood of Jesus Christ. And the only way this inoculation can be received is through the grace of God, that is, faith in Christ to pardon their sins and receive the gift of eternal life.
It is early church scholar Ambrosiaster who believes those who choose God’s way will end up rejoicing by finding rest for their weary souls. That’s because they know they will ultimately have a life which is free from all care and has no end. This is what the priest Simeon saw ahead of time and asked to be released from this world so he can go to his rest. That means, to rest where there is no disturbance while awaiting the resurrection.5 Paul bears witness that this gift is given to us by God through Christ our Lord. Why should we offer thanks to God through someone other than His Son?6 Why should you thank someone else for what Jesus did instead of expressing your gratitude to Him yourself.? To this Chrysostom offers his thoughts: “Paul does not parallel ‘the wages of sin’ with ‘the wages of good deeds’ because he wants to show that they were not set free by their own efforts, nor had they done anything to earn their salvation. It was by grace alone that all these things came about.”7
Reformist John Calvin sums up his impression of this chapter by saying that from now on we can boldly say that salvation is only possible by grace and the absolute goodness of God. Paul certainly could have used other words. For instance, the wages of righteousness is eternal life. That would then counter with the wages of sin. But he knew that eternal life was a gift from God, not something we earn through our own merits. Calvin does not see this as one single gift. He believes that it comes clothed with the righteousness of the Son. That’s because we have been reconciled to the Father, and by the power of the Spirit, we have been transformed to be holy unto God. Adds Calvin: “For this reason, that He might call us away from every conceit respecting our own worthiness.”8
Revivalist Adam Clarke states emphatically that a person may merit hell, but they cannot merit heaven. He echoes what others have said about Paul not mentioning that the wages of righteousness is eternal life. The reason being is that eternal life, even to the righteous, is a gracious Gift of God. And even this gracious gift comes through Jesus Christ our Lord. Says Clarke: “He alone has procured it, and it is given to all those who find redemption in His blood. A sinner goes to hell because he deserves it; a righteous man goes to heaven because Christ has died for him, and communicated that grace by which his sin is pardoned and his soul made holy.”9 In other words, a person can go to hell on their own without any help. But one cannot enter heaven without all the help that God can bring to their rescue.
Albert Barnes gives us 5 points to consider in order to understand what the phrase “everlasting life” means. This phrase is the opposite of everlasting punishment and thereby proves that it means eternal death. First of all, one will last as long as the other. Secondly, as there can be no exact measure as to how long one will have the fullness of life to enjoy on earth, neither can there be any exact limit on a sinner’s hopeless march to certain destruction. According to the Scriptures, one will be rich, blessed, and everlasting, while the other will be sad, gloomy, lingering, awful, and eternal. Thirdly, if a sinner dies while being lost, he’s earned that right. Yet, he will still receive a reward. But it will only be what he deserves for serving sin. The sad part is that he will not be considered a martyr because of his supposed innocence or dying for the cause. Also, he will not evoke any compassion from the Creator of the universe. Sadly, he will have no one to argue his case before God. His suffering and torment will be exactly what he has worked so hard for. He will suffer like a prisoner tied to the wall in the dungeon, or as the murderer hangs in the gallows. All because this is the established reward of sin. Fourthly, those who are saved will be transported to heaven, not because they earned it or merited it, but by the rich and sovereign grace of God. Their salvation will be credited to Christ, and they will be given the opportunity to celebrate His mercy and grace before Him forever. And fifthly, it is only fitting for us to flee from the wrath to come. Not to any fortress of our own making, but to the Cross of Calvary. Just as no one is more foolish than a wicked person who is willing to work for death without hope – the wage of sin, none is so blessed as the one who has been the object of God’s mercy, and who openly accepts Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. By doing so, they are guaranteed eternal life.10
H. A. Ironside adds his comments on how Paul concludes this section with a sober yet precious statement: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” This should alert us to the fact that sin is, in one respect, a faithful master. Sin’s payday will come no matter what. And the wages sin pays is punishment. Ironside makes note that it is not divine judgment in view here, but sin’s wages. After this comes Judgment Day. The penalty for sin has yet to be promulgated before the judgment-bar of God. We should never make the error of misinterpreting physical death as the cessation of being, and is, therefore, both wages and penalty. Says Ironside: “Scripture clearly tells of divine judgment after sin’s wages have been paid. On the other hand, eternal life is a free gift, the gift of God. None can earn it. It is given to all who trust in Christ as the Savior of sinners. It is ours now, who believe the gospel. We shall enjoy it in all its fullness at the ‘end.’”11
Then Charles Hodge examines the doctrinal aspect of these last two verses and points out that eternal life is truly the GIFT of God. It is unlike eternal death which flows as a natural consequence of sin. Clarke points out that the holy angels, who have never lost the favor of God, do not have to go through this. But for the rest of us, death is a common factor. Hodge says that this must be counteracted with those blessed characteristics that define life. And these characteristics produce a flow that must be sustained and strengthened by the constant, comforting, and long-suffering grace of the Holy Spirit. Says Hodge: “The life thus graciously produced, and graciously sustained, is at last graciously crowned with eternal glory.”12
Charles Spurgeon said it this way from the pulpit: “The Apostle has in his mind’s eye the figure of a soldier receiving his pay. Sin, the captain, pays his hired soldiers a dreadful wage. The original word signifies ‘rations,’ or some translate it ‘stipend.’ It means the payment which soldiers receive, put in the plural as wages because pay can be given in different forms: soldiers might be paid in meat, or in a meal, or in money, or in part by their clothing, or by lands promised when the time of service came to an end. Now that which sin, the grim captain, pays to those who are under him, is comprehended in this terrible term ‘death.’”13
And Spurgeon has an interesting comment about eternal life when he says that those who preach about a person having been given everlasting life, then loses it, do not understand the force of language. If a person has been promised eternal life, then it is eternal. As such, it cannot end or be lost. To say that it is eternal means it is “everlasting.”’ To end up losing it would prove that it was not everlasting. Says Spurgeon: “No, if you have eternal life, you can never perish; if God has bestowed it upon you, it will not be recalled, ‘for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.‘14”15 To put this another way, since no person can receive eternal life unless they are accepted, in the same manner no person can lose eternal life unless they are rejected. That’s where God’s grace is so precious and invaluable. It is the only thing standing between a wayward person going to heaven or ending up in eternal punishment.
1 John 4:14
2 Ibid. 5:24
3 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Revelation 21:8
5 Luke 2:25-35
6 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, loc cit.
7 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 12
8 John Calvin: On Romans, loc. cit.
9 Adam Clarke: On Romans, loc. cit.
10 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op cit., loc. cit.
11 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 328-327
13 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 See Romans 11:29
15 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.