NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SEVEN (Lesson XIII)
Furthermore, has it not also been documented that believers who stay away from all these things can still be found guilty of gossip, hatred, bias, racism, hypocrisy, and disdain for others? Again, the culprit is knowing that by misusing or abusing such things we are out of God’s will and against His Word – that is a sin. So until we tackle the problem of evil tendencies and sin, all these other things will remain distractions and keep people from finding the real answers they need.
The realization of being misled or falling into sin on purpose was pointed out by Isaiah who spoke of those who turn from reverencing God to worshiping idols. He says: “A deceived heart has led him astray; he is trusting what can never give him any help at all. Yet, he cannot bring himself to say,’This thing in my hand is a fraud!’”1 That is why we find in Jeremiah: “The heart is the most deceitful thing there is and desperately wicked. No one can really understand it all!”2
No wonder Paul told the Ephesians this about those who live as pagans: “Their intelligence has been shrouded in darkness, and they are estranged from their life in God, because of their ignorance, which in turn, comes from resisting God’s will.”3 Paul goes on to tell them that in that immoral state of mind they abandon themselves to impurity, and continue to want more and more of what is not good. But the Apostle warns them: “You must strip off your old nature, because your old nature is thoroughly rotted by its deceptive desires; and you must let your spirits and minds keep being renewed.”4 All of this is necessary in order for believers not to be deceived by imitation gospels or errant lifestyles.
Several early church teachers have interesting things to say about this verse. One theologian, who taught in Alexandria, finds that the word sin does not refer to a particular matter, but to the manner and life of one who sins. In other words, it is internal before it ever becomes external. With that in mind, Paul calls nothing sin except the one who inspires such rebellious and disobedient behavior – the devil.5 Ambrosiaster concurs. He suggests that we take the word sin in this verse a synonym for the author of sin, the devil. Jesus made this very clear when he told the Scribes and Pharisees: “You are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.”6
That’s why the devil is always looking for opportunities, provided through the law, to satisfy his rebellious attitude and hatred of God. When law threatens sinners, Satan is there to tell them it’s all a lie. The devil points out that the law was given without it being requested. As such, it insults a person’s sense of individualism and independence. So they see it as an effort to restrict their access to what pleases them. But what they do not realize is that they are being led into a trap from which they cannot escape on their own.7
Chrysostom is impressed by how Paul blames sin and clears the law of any responsibility.8 And Augustine, from personal experience, knows how treacherous going against the law can be. This sets up one of two conclusions. A person can acknowledge that sin’s power of persuasion is even more compelling when its restrictions include forbidden fruit. Or else, they can try to appease their conscience by saying that if they did abide by the law’s demand, their obedience would be sufficient to cover their evil tendencies. In other words, they did not need God’s help, even if they are not under grace. Were they to do so, they would sin all the more because of their pride.9 It is a well-known saying, that forbidden fruit is the sweetest. That’s often because sins committed in secret are more satisfying because only they know about it. But at the same time, they can also be the deadliest. Not only does the dishonor destroy the reputation, but the fact that it was achieved through deception, leaves a bitter taste that is even more disgusting.10
Reformist John Calvin agrees that while a person may try to live without knowing the will of God for their lives, it keeps the light of truth from exposing the sinful tendencies within them. With this kind of attitude their life is destined to go indefinitely, forever astray, and growing in the accumulation of unintended errors. What happens is that people wander off course, and will continue to do so until the law shows up and points the way to the right path. Once the light of the law shines in a person’s mind, they then can better perceive why they are going in the wrong direction. It is then that the Holy Spirit is sent to admonish the sinner. It’s at this point where the evil tendencies either get their way, or God’ gets His way. In either case, it was the law that made sin evident for all to see.11 In other words, Calvin is saying that the Law points to the right way, but our sinful nature wants to go a different way, and so we are led off course. Again, Paul is building up to an obvious question, how do we get back on the right path?
Adam Clarke takes this as part of Paul’s personal testimony. Even though the opportunity to sin came from a confrontation with the law, and that opportunity was accompanied by the threat of separation from God. Yet its allure was so deceptive that it overpowered all reason and drew Paul into an act of disobedience, promising him gratification, honor, and independence. It was the same trick that Satan used on Eve. Scholars say what Paul says here has a strong allusion to Eve, and uses the very same expression, “deceived me.”12 From Clarke’ perspective, Paul then became subject to the death which the law pronounced as a curse on all transgressors. As a result, that rendered him miserable as he tried to deal with such a reality. This is a discernment every sinner must make in order to be saved. Sin cannot only ruin your life here on earth but ruin it for eternity. I like the way Clarke puts it: “By the influence and the effects of sin a person either lives a dying life or a living death.”13
Robert Haldane finds that by sin blinding Paul’s mind as to what the law was really demanding, it convinced him that he could still fulfill it. By doing so, he could obtain justification and life. He only came to see the deception involved when he met Christ. When Paul saw beyond the legal aspect of the law into its spiritual heart and soul, did it dawn on him that sin had never been confronted this way before so as to help Paul see its real power to victimize? But once he saw that in the light of truth, and finally understood it, he realized that instead of the law bringing him together with God, it was contributing to his eternal separation from God. He then realized that he was not only a transgressor of the law but deserving of the condemnation of the law. All along he thought it would bring him life, but it was just the opposite. So when those evil tendencies came to life, it signaled Paul’s spiritual death. Every high and respectable opinion he had of himself as a self-confident Hebrew and Pharisee, were swept away and destroyed. In fact, Paul himself would call it all trash14.15
Albert Barnes suggests that perhaps Paul was being reminded of this story he read in Jewish wisdom literature:
One day, I was looking out my window at some foolish teenagers and noticed one who had no sense at all. He was walking through the marketplace and came to the corner where a certain woman lived. He then turned up the road that goes by her house. The day was ending. The sun had set, and it was almost dark. Suddenly, there she was in front of him, dressed like a prostitute. She had plans for him. She was a wild and rebellious woman who would not stay at home. She walked the streets, always looking for someone to trap. She grabbed the young man and kissed him. Without shame, she looked him in the eye and said, “I offered a fellowship offering today. I gave what I promised to give, and I still have plenty of food left. So I came out to find you, and here you are! I have clean sheets on my bed—special ones from Egypt. My bed smells wonderful with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let’s enjoy ourselves all night. We can make love until dawn. My husband has gone on a business trip. He took enough money for a long trip and won’t be home for two weeks.” This is what the woman said to tempt the young man, and her smooth words tricked him. He followed her, like a bull being led to the slaughter. He was like a deer walking into a trap, where a hunter waits to shoot an arrow through its heart. The boy was like a bird flying into a net, never seeing the danger he was in. Now, sons, listen to me. Pay attention to what I say. Don’t let your heart lead you to an evil woman like that. Don’t go where she wants to lead you. She has brought down some of the most powerful men; she has left many dead bodies in her path. Her house is the place of death. The road to it leads straight to the grave.16
However, in Paul’s case, he sees the woman as representative of the Law playing the role of a temptress to his sinful tendencies and was, therefore, led astray, just as the young man in the story. Charles Ellicott agrees. The cause of this young man’s failure could not be laid at the feet of the Law. It belonged to the sinful tendencies within that had not been conquered. In this case, sin played the temptress. It made use of the law to awaken the contrariness and contempt for authority that lay hidden inside. It not only made a victim out of the young man but did so with the intent of destroying him. All this time, however, the Law and the Commandments remained perfectly good in themselves. This was guaranteed since they came from the hand of God. Sin is a deadly and fatal power. The Law and the Commandments are passive instruments which can be used for good or bad. When used for good it is seen as holy, but when used to deceive it identifies sin as the real culprit.17
1 Isaiah 44:20
2 Jeremiah 17:9
3 Ephesians 4:18
4 Ibid. 4:22-23
5 Didymus the Blind: On Romans, loc. cit.
6 John 8:44
7 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, loc. cit.
8 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 12
9 Augustine: Questions 66.5
10 Augustine: On Romans 39, loc. cit.
11 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Philippians 3:8
15 Robert Haldane: On Romans. op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 288-289
16 Proverbs 7:6-26
17 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.