NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SIX (Lesson XXII)
Frédéric Godet also offers his interpretation of what Paul says here, in that there are some scholars who think that in verse 23, as well as the whole passage it summarizes, the wages of sin only applies to the unconverted when he speaks of their service to sin and its fatal outcome – death. Godet makes note: “The tenor of Romans 6:15 proves how erroneous this view is. What is the aim of this passage?” This leaves little doubt that Paul conceived the possibility of a believer freed from sin returning to serve sin – a return which will lead them to eternal death if not repented of. This is as certain for the backslider as it is for the sinner.1
Godet says this follows the question Paul poses in verse 15: Do we sin because we are not under the Law but under grace. This question is answered in verses 16-23. Such a relapse back into sin may arise from a single voluntary concession to the continual solicitations of the old master – sin. But a single affirmative answer to the question is as follows: Can I commit such an act of sin while I am under grace? If the answer is yes, then this will have the effect of placing the believer back on the inclined broad way which leads to the abyss. Godet points to a striking example in Romans 14:15, 20, where Paul declares to the man who induces a weak brother to commit an act of sin contrary to his conscience, may thereby cause that brother for whom Christ died to perish and destroy in him the work God started. Says Godet: “Such will be the certain result, if this sin, not being quickly blotted out by pardon and restoration, becomes consolidated, and remains permanently interposed between him and his God.”2 As we can see, Spurgeon and Godet represent two strong points of view on the eternal effectiveness of grace that the church has struggled with for centuries. This has been the cause of weakening the bond between Christians on both sides of this doctrine.
Swiss theologian Karl Barth has a stark view of the difference between sin and grace. For him, sin and grace cannot be placed side by side, or arranged in a series of events, or treated as if both have the same importance. That’s as impossible as death and life being given the same value. Just like life and death, there is no bridge across the gulf which separates grace and sin. They are not configured to fit together as one. An impassable abyss runs like a crevice between good and evil, between what has value and what is of no value; between what is holy and what is profane.3 In other words, sin and grace are not to coexist in the same heart and mind, just like you cannot be alive and dead at the same time. One is positive, the other negative. They are out to defeat each other. We know that medicine is designed to get rid of sickness. That’s why they do not live happily together supporting each other in the human body. The same goes for sin and grace. One must choose which to follow to its destiny.
John Stott has the same view when he points out that Paul drew a stark antithesis between sin and God, whom he characterized throughout as competing slave-masters. In serving either one, a person is put into a type of subjection. Those who are in Adam serve sin, while those who are in Christ serve God. Stott notes that Paul repeats the warning that these two forms of willing service are so diametrically opposed to each other that the ultimate destinies to which they lead are either eternal punishment or eternal life. Jesus portrayed one as a broad way leading to destruction and a narrow path leading to everlasting life. From birth, we are all in Adam, destined to become slaves of sin. However, by God’s grace and our faith in Christ, we are set free to become willing servants of God. Says Stott: “Bondage to sin yields no return except shame and ongoing moral deterioration, culminating in the death we deserve. Bondage to God, however, yields the precious fruit of progressive holiness, culminating in the free gift of life.”4
Douglas Moo offers his summary of what Paul teaches in this chapter. As he sees it, Paul illustrates the believer as one who transfers their allegiance from one ruler to another. They have given up being citizens of the world to become citizens of heaven. As such, they now live by a different set of rules and guidelines. That means, they now respond to a different power and authority. However, when we look at this through the eyes of New Testament prophecy, it means while we have escaped the dominion of one force and come under the control of another, that battle for our soul is not over. There is always the possibility that we can still be influenced, even harassed, by the master we forsook in order to serve our new Lord and Master Jesus Christ.5 So the struggle goes on. Reflecting on the parable of the five wise and five foolish bridesmaids, there are those who carry enough oil to make it through to the arrival of the groom. But they don’t have enough to get up and go out to meet him when He calls them to the marriage supper of the Lamb.6 That’s why every believer should check their oil reservoir to make sure it remains full.
Jewish scholar David Stern also gives a summary of these last seven verses where Paul expounds on Yeshua’s saying, “No one can be a slave to two masters.”7 He points out that the slaves of sin here in verse 17,8 get no benefit in verse 21. But they do earn wages, which is death in verse 23. However, those who freely serve righteousness in verse 18, are guaranteed eternal life which they receive as a free gift from God in verse 23. That kind of slavery is true freedom. Stern points out that in verse 23 Paul renders his classic expression that hell is the only place you can work your way into. Getting into heaven is another story because you must go a different way. To reach heaven, you must give up the idea of getting there on your own without any help from God. You must be willing to accept the fact that eternal life is God’s free gift to those who believe. Not only that, but it is offered in union with the Messiah Yeshua our Lord by His grace when one responds with faith or trust.9
In 1534, William Tyndale wrote a preface to the Epistle to the Romans. In that prologue he writes these words at the end: “Now go, reader, and according to what you find in Paul’s writing, do it. First, look at yourself steadfastly in the law of God, and you will see there what you deserve. Secondly, turn your eyes to Christ, and see there the overwhelming mercy of your most kind and loving Father. Thirdly, remember that Christ did not make atonement for you so that you should make God angry again; neither did He die for your sins, so that you continue living in them; neither did He wash you clean so you could once more return like a pig to your old mud puddle; but that you might become a new creation, and live a new life after God’s will of God, and not according to your carnal desires. So be steadfast in your commitment, lest through your own negligence and unthankfulness you lose His favor and mercy again.”10 This was the mindset of the Reformers. They did not want formalism, rituals, rites, and church laws to be substituted for a personal experience and relationship with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit. That’s why Paul is so intense on Christians fighting against sin and the devil to maintain what they believe. In the end, that victory will be rewarded with an everlasting triumph, never to be fought for again.
1 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Karl Barth: On Romans, loc. cit.
4 John Stott: On Romans, loc. cit.
5 Douglas Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Matthew 25:1-13
7 Ibid. 6:24
8 Cf., John 8:34
9 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 I have paraphrased the Elizabethan English in which it was written for better understanding.
THE END OF CHAPTER SIX