I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER SEVEN (Lesson V)

When it came to dealing with those pesky fleshly desires that believers must cope with almost daily, Paul strongly encouraged the Colossians to: “Deaden the evil desires lurking within you; have nothing to do with sexual sin, impurity, lust, and shameful desires; don’t worship making a fortune in life, that is idolatry.1 Even the Apostle James warned his readers: “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn’t it because there is a whole swarm of evil desires within you?2 This is why Paul urged the Roman believers to dethrone the sinful nature and make Christ the Lord of their lives. Jesus will not share His reign with Satan. It’s one or the other. So each believer must make that decision and commitment to put God and His Word first in their lives each and every day.

Early church preacher Chrysostom notices a play on words in what Paul says here. The Apostle does not say, “when we were in the law” because that would only lend a helping hand to all those who want to say that the Old Testament means nothing to us anymore. However, by saying, “when we were in the flesh,” that is, when we were living a sinful and carnal life, he puts the emphasis on the flesh, not on the law. And in order not to falsely accuse the flesh of what was being done, Paul that our sinful tendencies were at work in our flesh. This was to clearly show that the origin of the trouble was not in the law or in our flesh, but in our sinful tendencies that reacted to the law and then used our fleshly members to get back at it because it forbid certain pleasures. Look at it this way, consider our sinful tendencies as a soloist and the flesh as a harp which produces sound according to the artist’s performance. If the song is all out of tune, the fault is not with the instrument, but with the performer.3

Another early church Bishop offers his explanation by using a paradox. He declares that a person living in the flesh, and obeying the will of the flesh, is unable to obey the law of God because they cannot serve two masters.4 But once a person is taught by the grace of the Holy Spirit how to overcome their immoral desires, they no longer live by the dictates of their sinful nature. So in a sense, the Law that defines those desires has lost all its power. In other words, it’s dead! This is necessary because the Law does not operate in the Doctrine of Grace5.6 According to Bishop Theodore, the holy Scriptures sometimes calls our human nature “flesh.” That’s because our sinful nature exercises all its power and influence on our fleshly members. To make it even more restricted, the Scriptures also uses “flesh” to include our mortality as well. Not only can the flesh not deal with our spiritual needs, but it is also on the road to death. That’s why the flesh is never projected to inherit, or to be capable of inheriting, eternal life in the world to come.7

Reformer Martin Luther talks about how the old-man (our sinful nature) dies, and the Law is unable to influence him again. This makes it impossible for the Law to continue its rule over us. For all intents and purposes, the Law died to us. As such, it can no longer condemn us for failing to live up to its demands. This does not do away with the Law itself, for we must continue to meet God’s demands for doing what’s right and holy. But when, and if, we do wrong, it’s not the Law that condemns or judges us, it is the Holy Spirit. Even if the Law did have the authority to condemn us, it has no power to forgive. But the Holy Spirit can access God’s throne of grace and mercy to secure forgiveness and cleansing for our souls.8

It is necessary, at this point, that we discuss the difference between the “Law,” and the “law.” The “Law” can be taken to refer to the legal method by which salvation is obtainable by good works. Therefore, “law” is a reference to the commandments of doing right and wrong. So in Luther’s mind, these laws of ethics and virtues are still valid for everyone, including believers. However, the Law of salvation by works is what has died, or to which believers have died, and is no longer the deciding factor in saving grace. Now that is governed by God and Christ’s sacrifice. Some scholars are divided on Paul’s reference to the law. There are those who believe it was meant to describe a person’s status before conversion, and those who feel it talks about believers after conversion.

John Calvin draws our attention to the effects of the law by helping us see that the law made the sinful emotions inside us to erupt, which then radiated throughout all our fleshly members. There is no physical part of mankind that is not the target of these depraved passions. What the law does, in the absence of an inward teacher, is to increasingly inflame our feelings so that they boil up with lusts. Calvin says it must be observed here, that the law deals with the barbarous nature of mankind. And the more perverse its lusts are, the greater will be its desire and hunger to be satisfied. But for the believer, the more these passions try to get out-of-hand, the stronger will be the restraints of righteousness. This is part of what Paul meant when he said that where sin abounds, grace abounds much more.9 Paul further adds, that as long as the emotions of the flesh were subject to the law’s demands, ironically they only brought on disgrace and destruction. This shows that the law in itself is destructive. So it follows that those who are infatuated with this lifestyle, willingly yield themselves to bondage which leads to death.10 In Calvin’s mind, the law has an effect on both believers and unbelievers.

Adam Clarke contends that when it comes to sin’s actions, which were defined by the law, that became the passions of the flesh because of sin’s tendencies. Each and every particular type of sin had its own inclination. That’s why, with different dispositions, not all sinful acts get aroused at the same time. This is what caused the Apostle Paul to use a plural number, the Passions or Tendencies of Sins. As such, each type of sin exerts its influence in the unregenerate heart. These propensities together constitute the fallen nature. They are the disease of the heart, the pollution, and corruption of the soul.11 For this Wesleyan theologian, Paul’s opening line in this verse refers to people before their conversion, and how that old nature continues on living in the believer and must be contained and defeated again and again until it loses all suggestive ability.

Robert Haldane adds that the sinful nature of man since the fall, when left on its own strength, possesses no regenerating principle of holiness. It is essentially corrupt and entirely debased. Because of this, the word “flesh” signifies man in his depraved condition. It is in this state of total corruption into which all Adam’s descendants are born. On the other hand, the word “spirit” has come to be recognized as referring to that holy and divinely inspired principle within mankind. It was brought to life through the new birth, and, therefore, represents our new nature in Christ. So, because it is not part of any of the conceptions of mankind, it must flow from God’s omniscience. He communicates it by the living and permanent influence of His Holy Spirit. That’s why the Apostle Peter addresses believers as “partakers of the Divine nature.1213

Then Albert Barnes tells us that the illustration used in this verse, and the following, is designed to show the true effect of the law whenever and wherever it is applied. This can be when one is in a fallen state of nature or unfallen state of grace. It was always the same. For instance, it could become an occasion for agitation and conflict in a man‘s own mind. This is true when a sinner is under conviction by the Law of Moses, or a believer is under conviction by the Law of the Holy Spirit. In all circumstances where law is applied to the corrupt mind of man, it produces this agitation and conflict. Paul points this out in Romans 7:7-12 and 14-24. Consequently, there is no hope of release except by the delivering and sanctifying power of the Gospel14.15 This is the perspective of many other evangelical scholars.

Charles Hodge believes that since Paul is writing to the Jewish believers in Rome, that they would take what Paul said as denouncing their dependence on Jewish rites and rituals, especially circumcision, as the basis for their righteous relationship with God.16 And great preacher Charles Spurgeon once explained it as a case of our sinful tendencies being the thing that went against the law. That’s why it is said that the law gave rise to sin by reason of our corrupt nature. So we can see that back when we were sinners, sinning proved to be very fruitful. It grew very fast in our flesh’s members. But the fruit it produced just made us ready for separation from God. In other words, just as a believer dies to the law, so a sinner dies to God. They don’t hear Him, talk to Him, listen to Him, or follow Him anymore. In other words, Paul continues to describe the war within him between his sinful nature and his spiritual nature. The old nature is responding to the law while the new nature is responding to grace.17

Frédéric Godet makes the observation that Paul declares that the affections of sins are excited by the law. The Greek noun pathēma is neuter, which may be rendered by affection or passion and denotes that such inward or external conflict exists in an, essentially, passive state. And, indeed, our external senses, which correspond to certain external stimuli fitted to satisfy them, are less likely to generate a spontaneous determination of the will, than the effect of the inner impressions we received.18 In other words, these sinful tendencies of the old nature lie dormant within the believer and are only brought to the surface when confronted by the law. He goes on to say that it must be explained what is meant by excited by the law. Think of it this way, all our instincts are at rest. But when they collide with the law they immediately wake up, and some quickly develop into an active, and sometimes, violent state of desire. So the next question is why do people degrade themselves so quickly and so often? Why can’t they be satisfied with the simple satisfaction of their needs, not go beyond for their wants? This only plunges them into excessive involvement from which they are unable to free themselves.19 There is only one answer, and that is to be sanctified through the Holy Spirit, where God’s influence is greater in one’s life than the influence of sin.

1 Colossians 3:5

2 James 4:1

3 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 12

4 See Matthew 6:24

5 See Galatians 5:24-25

6 [Pseudo-]Constantius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

7 Theodore of Mopsuestia: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

8 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 109

9 Romans 5:20

10 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc, cit.

11 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

12 2 Peter 1:4

13 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 282

14 Romans 7:25; 8:1-3

15 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

16 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 336

17 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. Cit., loc. cit.

18 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

19 Ibid.

1 Colossians 3:5

2 James 4:1

3 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 12

4 See Matthew 6:24

5 See Galatians 5:24-25

6 [Pseudo-]Constantius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

7 Theodore of Mopsuestia: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

8 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 109

9 Romans 5:20

10 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc, cit.

11 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

12 2 Peter 1:4

13 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 282

14 Romans 7:25; 8:1-3

15 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

16 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 336

17 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. Cit., loc. cit.

18 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

19 Ibid.

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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