NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SEVEN (Lesson IV)
Bible scholar Robert Haldane also speaks concerning the idea of believers being dead to the Law. He says that by using the term “the law,” here, Paul intended that it be understood as a law which was obligatory for both Jews and Gentiles. By that, he meant the moral law written on the hearts of all mankind. It also meant the Law of Moses which was given to the Jews for them to lean upon to gain eternal life.1 It is law in the fullest sense of the word. That includes the whole will of God that is in any way manifested for both Jews and Gentiles to hear and understand. All those whom the Apostle was addressing in Rome had been under this law in their unconverted state. This did not include the ceremonial laws of the Jews that Gentiles never practiced. It was, therefore, to the moral law only that they had been married.2
Baptist preacher Octavius Winslow was preaching on how in the Old Testament, sanctification had a peculiar meaning, said: “Sanctification has been defined as ‘the work of the Holy Spirit whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God and are enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness.’ Briefly and emphatically, it is a progressive conformity of the whole man to the Divine nature. Under the Levitical dispensation, the term sanctified had a peculiar meaning. People and things were said to be sanctified which were separated, set apart and offered to God. Thus the furniture of the temple was pronounced holy, or sanctified; the ark, the altar, all the utensils of the temple and the vestments of the priests were regarded as sanctified because set apart and dedicated to God. For the same reason, people were said to be sanctified who were solemnly consecrated to the service.”
He then goes on to say: “The dispensation of ritual having passed away, the word, by an easy and natural accommodation, has assumed a more comprehensive and evangelical meaning; and is now employed to set forth the advance of the believer in a conformity of heart to the will and image of God. In explaining the nature of sanctification, we would, first of all, establish from the Scripture the spirituality of the Divine law. There is a sense, as we have elsewhere shown, in which the believer is dead to the law. His union with Christ has delivered him from the law as a covenant of works…3 This then is the deadness to which the Apostle refers. It is a release from the law as a ground of acceptance. The believer is ‘accepted in the Beloved’ – pardoned, justified, and sanctified in Christ. He is married to Christ – is one with Christ.”
Winslow then concludes: “As such, he is delivered from the law under whose condemnation he once rested: being dead to that wherein he was held, it can no longer assert its claims or exact obedience as the condition of life. It can no longer threaten or condemn. Shut up in the faith of Jesus, and receiving pardon and justification through Him, he is beyond the power of the law as a covenant of life and is screened from its vengeance as a source of condemnation. No single truth has the Holy Spirit more clearly written out than this. He has shown, too, that it forms the basis of sanctification in the justified believer. His release from a covenant of works and his translation into the covenant of grace, his deliverance from the law and his union to Christ, form the ground of all holy liberty, relational obedience, and spiritual fruitfulness. Those who are under the law are under the curse – but ‘there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus’4 – therefore, the believer in Christ is not under the law [any longer].”5
Jewish scholar David Stern has quite a bit to say on this subject of death separating us from the demands of the law. For him, it is not the Torah that has been abolished, nor is a believer unresponsive to its truth. Stern sees three aspects of the Torah that no longer have any effect: First, its capacity to make him sin (verses 5–14). Secondly, its capacity to produce guilt feelings that cannot be remedied (verses 15–25). Thirdly, to carry out its penalties, punishments, and curses (8:1-4). No one can say that the Torah made them sin, that responsibility falls solely on the individual. People who are prone to sickness cannot hold up in the same environment that a healthy person can easily survive. In the same manner, the Torah can be beneficial to a believer living by faith, but become an instrument of death to those controlled by their sinful nature. The main problem lies in the fact that the children of Adam have a built-in tendency to sin.6 For Stern, this causes them to misuse the Torah, making it into a framework of legalism instead of what it is, a framework of grace.7
Stern says that Paul’s metaphor seems to switch directions here. First Paul points out that it is through the Messiah’s body, that is, our becoming one with Him in life, that also involves being one with Him in death. That is why believers consider parts of the Torah as no longer being alive to influence their lives.8 And because a death has taken place they are now free to belong to someone else. As Paul puts it in verses 2–3, they are no longer “married” to legalism but free to marry and be united with the One who has been raised from the dead, Yeshua the Messiah.9 This allows them to be fruitful for God’s cause.10 Stern takes this to mean either doing good deeds,11 or proclaiming the Gospel so that the unsaved are born again. This, he says, fits better into the marriage context of verses 2–3.12
Another Jewish writer also comments on the possible misunderstanding by Gentiles of what Paul is saying here. He points out that 7:1-4 is commonly misused to teach that the Torah is invalid to a Christian believer. This happens because Paul’s Pharisaic mindset and rabbinic technique are not taken into consideration. What Paul is saying was directed to those “who knew the Law,” which indicates, “Having a deep understanding of Torah on the part of the recipient – an understanding that is not part of the Christian mindset of modern times.” By the example of a widow and remarriage, Paul appeals to a legal principle from Torah. He goes back to the point he made in 6:14 about “not being under law but under grace,” to explain how trusting in Yeshua makes one free from the law’s condemnation. It must not be misconstrued as making one free from obeying God’s Torah. Not only that, but this writer says that everything Paul said previously in 2:13; 3:19-26; 3:31; 4:14; 5:20, 6:2-11, (as well as what he follows up with in 7:5-6 and chapter 8), must be kept in mind when analyzing this section.
This same writer goes on to suggest that when looking at the analogy of Romans 7:1-4, Torah does not represent the husband who dies, thus making it appear that the Torah dies. This is a false teaching. Instead, Torah represents the legal framework by which marriage is instituted. Consequently, a woman is bound to her husband as long as he’s alive. When he dies, those bonds are broken, and she is no longer liable to incur the penalties of Torah should she remarry. So Paul takes this Pharisaic “legal argument,” and uses it to explain how when a person becomes one with Christ, it’s all because the relationship with the Law has died. This happens when they place their trust in God’s provision for salvation through Yeshua. Now, being free from the Law, they are also free from any judgment of the Law. The Law can no longer make accusations against them for judgment. That person is now free to obey God by following that part of His Torah that deals with faith, not with works.13
Verse 5: In the past, we were ruled by our sinful selves. The law made us want to do sinful things. And those sinful desires controlled our bodies, so that what we did only brought us spiritual death.
We should notice that Paul does not say, “you were ruled,” but “we were ruled,” thereby indicting himself along with others. Therefore, Paul can speak from experience. This is not unusual thinking. In His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus pointed out: “Men can only reproduce human life, but the Holy Spirit gives new life from heaven.”14 Therefore, all of mankind’s inclinations, tendencies, and carnal nature go back to Adam. Jesus was pointing this out to Nicodemus so that he could understand why it was necessary to be born again in order to receive a spiritual nature. This was the point of Paul’s argument with the Judaizers who had infiltrated the churches in Galatia and were teaching the union of life through the law with life through the Spirit.15
Paul is quick to point out that it was not the Law itself that was bad, but that the purpose of the Law was to expose this sinful nature so that mankind would realize their need for a Savior. But instead of seeking a redeemer, they tried to bargain with the Law by offering sacrifices. That’s why when Jesus came, the skeptics were so opposed to His being identified as the Messiah and Savior. Paul even told the Corinthians: “If the plan that leads to doom was glorious, much more glorious is the plan that makes men right with God.”16 And to the Galatians, Paul says: “Consequently, it is clear that no one can ever win God’s favor by trying to keep the Jewish laws because God has said that the only way we can be right in his sight is by faith.”17
Understanding this was important enough for Jesus to give this warning: “From the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, lying, and slander.”18 In other words, our sinful nature is inherited. It is not something we are taught in school or master by intensive training. Therefore, it cannot be erased through teaching or training. It will take a cleansing that only God has the power to do so that as God said through Isaiah: “Come, let’s talk this over, says the Lord; no matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can take it out and make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you white as wool!”19
1 Romans 2:7
2 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 279
3 Romans 7:4, 6
4 Romans 8:1
5 The Works of Octavius Winslow, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Romans 5:12-21
7 Ibid. 6:14–15, 8:2
8 See Romans 6:2-11
9 Revelation 19:6-9
10 Matthew 13:8; John 15:1-8
11 Ephesians 2:8-10
12 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 John 3:6
15 Galatians 5:16-17; See Ephesians 2:3
16 2 Corinthians 3:9
17 Galatians 3:11
18 Matthew 15:19
19 Isaiah 1:18