NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SEVEN (Lesson XXVII)
As far as Scottish theologian Robert Haldane is concerned, this language used by Paul is suitable only for a regenerate person. Any unregenerate individual is indeed deplorable, but they do not feel the wretchedness Paul expresses here. They may even sense their misery and might be burdened with anxiety that paints the picture of a bleak future, but it’s not the same. The person Paul is describing here feels wretched because of the sinful tendencies ruling inside their body’s members. Such a feeling no unregenerate person has ever possessed. It is true, an unregenerate person may wish to be spared the pain of punishment and fear of danger, but instead of wishing to be completely delivered from their sinful tendencies they want to return to them as soon as possible. They get so much pleasure indulging in sin that they are willing to risk whatever consequences may be waiting.
In reference to the term, “body of this death,” some understand this as Paul referring to his natural body and is making a wish to physically die. But this would go against everything we know about the Apostle’s principles of living for Christ. We must see it as an expression on Paul’s part as wanting to be free from the control and the addictive nature of sinful tendencies that are causing him heartache and frustration. Here Paul refers to it as his “body.” Earlier, he referred to the same entity as his bodily “members.” And the reason he calls it a body of death is that its end is certain demise both physically and spiritually. Were it not for the coming of the Christ into the world, all hope would have been lost and all mankind being sent into eternal separation from God.1
In the words Paul uses here, Albert Barnes recognizes an agonizing struggle between good and evil; a struggle which allows no peace and makes it a living nightmare. This can either produce despair or humility. To the believer, who is still under the influence of sinful tendencies, it is humbling. It is also degrading to their spiritual nature; a stain on their sanctification, and an ugly mark on their reputation as a child of God. How can anyone explain being under the control of such sinful inclinations when they are supposed to be under the control of the Holy Spirit? Furthermore, how can they continue to indulge in such sinful practices and still fold their hands in prayer or raise them in praise and worship to Almighty God? The resulting guilt and conviction are often too much for them to handle. They are overwhelmed with their wretchedness, and either want to give up and quite or instinctively cry out for relief. Is there something the Law can do? Can a family member or friend do anything to help? Will they be able to muster up enough strength from their conscience to form a plan that will deliver them? All such suggestions are vanity. They’ve been tried and failed. So this person should do what the Apostle Paul did. Turn to Jesus and throw themselves on the altar of His grace and mercy. He is the only One with the wisdom and power to deliver.2
Charles Hodge acknowledges that the burden of indwelling sinful tendencies was a load the Apostle could neither bear up under or lay down. He could only groan under its pressure, hoping he could find relief through a power greater than his own. “Who shall deliver me” is more than a courteous request. This is a desperate cry for help. There were no inner resources, so he had to appeal to an outer source beyond himself.3 In Charles Spurgeon’s estimation, the more sanctified a person gets, the more they cry out for help in this fashion. Even though they may feel low because of their addiction to sin and truly disgusted with what they look like, yet when they get their eyes on Jesus they see the One they must emulate. And the closer they grow to Christ, the more they begin to resemble His image. And the more they look and act like Him the less and less do sinful tendencies tempt and horrify them. If they keep going, they may never want to look at sin again; never have the slightest inclination to indulge in it. And when they pick up their cross to follow Him, the more they become dedicated to His will and purpose for their lives. So, the happier they are in Christ, the less joy they will find in sin.4
For Jewish scholar David Stern, this sounds like the anguished cry of a defeated person torn apart by an inner conflict that leads to a desperate question usually addressed to a blank wall or an empty sky: Who will rescue me? (“real me” or “my mind.”)5 The real me is irretrievably bound together with the “old nature” (verse 18). This makes it hopelessly feeble in opposing the old nature’s obedience to sin’s “Torah,” and from this body bound for death?6
In another Jewish writer’s eyes, being apart from God leaves no one with the capability to master their Yetzer Hara (sinful inclination) and free themselves from their body’s imprisonment to the desires of evil and the resulting wages of sin. He makes the point that Paul does not say, “Who will set me free from the Torah?” Rather, Paul pleads with God to deliver him from the bondage to his Yetzer Hara. This can only happen through the righteous work of Yeshua on the cross. This will now allow him to cooperate more fully with God’s Torah according to the Spirit of truth and holiness. That will make it possible for him to crucify the “spirit of the flesh” so that the Spirit of God can rule in his life.7
Verse 25: I thank God for His salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, in my mind, I am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful-self, I am a slave to the law of sin.
Now Paul announces the solution to the problem of the internal conflict between right and wrong, good and evil, spirit and flesh. It is none other than the liberating power of Christ Jesus. And for this, Paul thanks his Father in heaven. One Psalmist has a similar expression of freedom: “Oh, that mankind would praise the LORD for His loving-kindness and for all of His wonderful deeds! For He broke down their prison gates of bronze and cut through their iron bars.”8 And later we read where another Psalmist exclaimed: “O LORD, you have freed me from my bonds, and I will serve you forever.”9 And God made this statement to Isaiah: “Through you, I am saying to the prisoners of darkness, ‘Come out! I am giving you your freedom!’”10
For early church scholar Origen it appears that Paul is teaching us that the crucifixion of the flesh does not happen overnight. It is an arduous and gradual process. That’s because the grasp of old habits is so strong and the attraction of sin so powerful, even though our mind wants to do what’s right and has decided to serve the law of God, the lusts of the flesh continue to urge them to serve sin and obey its laws instead.11
Martin Luther has an interesting view: Saints are sinners serving God. As he sees it, they are right with God because they believe in Christ whose righteousness covers them and is imputed to them. However, they are also are sinners in that they are unable to fulfill the Law and still have sinful lusts. They are like an ill person being treated by a physician. They are truly sick but hope that with the doctor’s help they can be made well again. Although they have not fully recovered, they still go on their way. It would be catastrophic if such a person would arrogantly claim they are now well and fully restored and refuse to continue their medication. Certainly, they would suffer a relapse that is far worse than what they had before they started treatment.12
John Calvin takes this one step further. The believer’s conversion and regeneration are never in doubt, but they are still undergoing the process of growing in their faith. The only thing that could make them impatient and want to give up is if this was not being directed by God. That’s what makes it possible for them to succeed in the end to become fruitful in His kingdom. This allows them to keep holding on to their sure hope of an eternal inheritance. Although the promise of the glory of heaven has not yet been delivered into their hands, they can be content with the measure of peace and contentment they already possess. This should give them every reason to have joy in their hearts.13 In other words, Paul’s cry for rescue was not that he become more perfect in himself, but become more and more sanctified in Christ.
Albert Barnes hears Paul saying that he thanks God for effecting a deliverance that he was too incapable and incompetent to complete. The rescue needed totally depended on the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ. What Paul’s conscience could not do, what the Law could not do, and what unaided human strength could not do, had been accomplished through the power of the Gospel. That is the only place where one can expect to find complete deliverance. After seeing that the Law was insufficient to effect such deliverance, it only stood to reason that something greater than the Law was needed. So Paul is now prepared to give all glory and honor to God and His Word. The superiority of the Gospel to the Law can be seen in that the Gospel can help the believer overcome the sinful tendencies that plague them day after day. Once they obtain control, they can enjoy the victory that Paul identified to the Corinthians: “God is the One Who gives us power over sin through Jesus Christ our Lord. We give thanks to Him for this.”14
Robert Haldane believes that in every believer, and in no one else, these principles are at work — sin and grace, flesh and spirit, the law of the members, and the law of the mind. Some may take this as a reason to trash the claims of the Gospel. Others may use them as an alibi for sin. But neither one of these has any credence. Every Christian knows this is true and accepts whatever the Word of God has to say about it. Anyone who tries to misuse these principles as an excuse for their mistakes will, in fact, be profaning God’s Word. No one has the right to make the Word of God read as they want it to. There are many who twist what the Word says to serve their own purpose. They may be able to fool others and mislead the weak, but God cannot be fooled or taken advantage of. Never will the day come when God approves as righteous what He has always called sin. Some Christians may be so bold as to claim that they are still serving God even though they still play around with sin. Living the Christian life is not a game, it is a life and death reality. Adam and Eve thought they would only take a bite of the forbidden fruit, but ended up eating the whole thing. If God were not serious about obedience to His Word and Will, there would be no such thing as the Day of Judgment.15
1 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp.298-299
2 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 367
4 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 See Romans 8:1
6 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Psalm 107:15-16
9 Ibid. 116:16
10 Isaiah 49:8-9 – Living Bible
11 Origen: On Romans, loc. cit.
12 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 115
13 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 300