NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SEVEN (Lesson XXVIII)
As Bible scholar Charles Hodge understands it, the conflict involving the believer’s soul should never result in a victory for sin, but always end in triumph for grace. As a consequence of such a potential victory, Paul was motivated to exclaim, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Certainly, this comes from a strong and sudden burst of deep gratitude. In thanking God, Paul intends to do so by way of Christ’s mediation at the Father’s right hand. And the reason he chooses this route is because the great blessing of deliverance he received from God came through the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus does for us what neither the law nor our own powers could do. He is, and always will be, the only Redeemer from sin.
Hodge then examines Paul’s words from a doctrinal viewpoint. He emphasizes that it is important to keep this fact in mind: the believer’s victory over sin cannot be achieved by the strength of resolutions, nor by the active force of moral platitudes, nor by any resource within himself. Only by looking to Christ for help was Paul is able to conquer these sinful tendencies using Christ’s strength. This is the same as saying, victory over such sinful inclinations can never be achieved by way of a person’s will, but only by way of God’s Will. This is important because the force and magnitude of these sinful tendencies can be seen in their corruptible influence on the lives of even the most admired people around us. And no matter how much criticism that person receives for their actions, sin retains some power to the end of that person’s life.
This corruptible influence, although its presence and power are acknowledged, must never be used as an excuse for an individual’s offences. It can become one of the greatest aggravation components of guilt. When we say of ourselves what the Apostle Paul said of himself, “I am carnal,” which is another way of saying that he was completely controlled by his immoral fleshly passions, we are using the strongest language of self-condemnation and self-abhorrence. Although believers never reach the level of perfect sanctification in this life, nevertheless, they should keep moving forward and upward. By dealing successfully with this corruptible influence of sinful tendencies, it shows us the value Paul placed on making it to heaven to enjoy its eternal blessings.1
Henry Alford feels that we must not overlook the phrase, “So then.” This will help us better understand this whole passage. It takes us back to the opening question in Romans 7:7, “Is the Law sin?” The Apostle has proven quite effectively that it is not. Rather, that it is right and holy. Paul discusses the relationship between Law and Sin. First of all, without the Law, there would be no sin. Secondly, when the Law expresses itself in forbidding certain actions, mankind’s natural aversion to the Law then causes their sinful tendencies to disobey. Such disobedience to the Law is “sin.” Sin then sets up a conflict in the believer’s life between the soul and the flesh. Paul declared that he was delivered by Christ Jesus from the condemnation of sin long ago, so he need not fear about dying in sin and being eternally separated from God. Nevertheless, this conflict between his spirit and flesh was a constant source of misery. It was like dragging around a dead body that should have been buried a long time ago.2
Preacher Charles Spurgeon marvels at God’s mercy that sent our Lord Jesus Christ to deliver a deadly blow to the serpent’s head, as He promised to do. But the effects of the wounded heel are still with us and has given us our sinful tendencies.3 This was not only needful but was necessary. Spurgeon gives us a very precise explanation in his homily: “Sin is a monster, and has immense vitality; but it is a broken-backed, broken-legged, broken-headed monster. There it is; it lies hissing and spitting and writhing, capable of doing us much mischief, but He that has wounded it will smite it again and again until at last, it shall utterly die.”4 What powerful words from a great preacher. Nonetheless, there are some who know that they have these sinful tendencies but do not hate them. Such individuals are acting like the devil trying to get on the road to heaven. It is not enough just to know that as a Christian these sinful tendencies are still active in the flesh, but proving that you are a Christian can be seen in your hatred for these evil inclinations. And it is your daily battle with these corrupt dispositions that prove you are a true child of God.5
Frédéric Godet feels enlightened by the special feature in the kind of deliverance the Apostle Paul is talking about. It is not just the pardon of sins through the blood of Christ, but the victory over sin through Christ crucified and risen.6 It is important that we see this distinction. Paul’s letter to the Galatians on the Fruit of the Spirit was written on this premise. The bulk of sin was dealt with on the cross, but the residue of sin is an ongoing process in the work of sanctification. Charles Ellicott reaches the same conclusion. He sees the deliverance Paul is talking about here as sanctification rather than justification. The battle for domination of the soul was won once and for all through justification. Now the battle for conquering the sinful tendencies of the flesh is an ongoing conflict. And in order for the believer to be loosed from the forced bondage of these inclinations, they too must be taken to the cross where justification was granted so they can also be crucified with Christ. This means, putting them under the power of Christ through the Holy Spirit.7
However, John Stott sees it from a different perspective. For him, Paul’s confession that he is still a slave to his sinful tendencies activated by the Law is a part of this verse, and it will stand there stubbornly in all the manuscripts, and no one will be given permission to erase or move it. It provides an appropriate conclusion to the whole discussion of the continuing conflict within New Testament believers who are attempting to live under Old Testament rules. This seemed to be the case of some Jewish converts to Christianity who were part of the congregation in Rome. There were still trying to get the Law to do for them what the Spirit had been sent to do. To put it the same way as other commentators, they were justified but not yet ready to move forward in sanctification.
Stott believes that when this is seen from a New Testament orientation, we find that under the Old Testament believers were married to the law, controlled by the flesh, and bore fruit of the flesh. However, under the New Testament, believers are married to the risen Christ, liberated from the law, and bear fruit of the Spirit. That’s why believers must stand guard so that they cannot be led away from the new order back to the old, from a person to a group, from freedom to slavery, from the indwelling Spirit to an external code, from Christ to the Law. When Paul talks about the Law, he is not suggesting that believers should be Old Testament Christians. They are regenerate for sure, but still living in slavery to the law and in bondage to indwelling sin. Instead, believers should be New Testament Christians. Having died to sin and risen with Christ in spirit, they are living in the freedom of the indwelling Spirit.8
Jewish writer David Stern makes us aware of an important factor in the English rendering of this verse from the Greek. The Greek text reads: “I am thanking to God through Jesus Christ, the Master.” To put this in a more readable form, it says, “I give thanks to God through Yeshua the Messiah, our Lord.” In other words, while Paul was thanking God for his salvation, he did so through his Lord Jesus Christ. So our question would be, should we do the same? In a way we do. When we pray, “Father, I thank you in Jesus’ name.” Or when ending a prayer, we say, “Father, this we ask you in Jesus’ name.”9
Another Jewish writer takes a different path in identifying what Paul is attempting to explain here. For him, a believer is never totally free of his Yetzer Hara (sinful tendencies) until he physically dies. That tells us then that even those who follow Yeshua are, to some degree, still slaves to sin. But because of Yeshua’s death on the cross, we are free from the mastery of sin and its potential separation from God for eternity. King David was saved by the same faith. Although his sin with Bathsheba was terrible and unforgivable under the Law, yet he could claim what was said in Psalm 119: “Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord. Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart – they do no wrong but follow his ways.”10
For British Methodist preacher Charles Simeon, he was tired of hearing Christians complaining about troubled times, be they civil, domestic, or personal. At the same time, he had seen this same crowd rejoice together when some great occasion came, or some victory was announced. But he confesses that never once had he heard even one believer cry out: “O my inward wretchedness, what a burden they are to my distressed soul!” At the same time, he had also never seen one of them rejoicing and declaring Christ to be their beloved and all-sufficient Savior. In fact, even to suggest such thinking to them would cause some to turn away in disgust. Does anyone need more proof of how widespread unbelief and faithlessness is among those who call themselves children of God?
It was Pastor Simeon’s prayer that God would somehow make all of them aware of this horrible condition so that it would bring upon them a spirit of conviction and drive them to the altar seeking forgiveness and renewal. There is no reason for Christians to feel more sorrow in their faith than joy. But it’s because they refuse to be comforted. They are snug in their misery. It gives them grounds to cry and complain. Yet, if they would only consider their tendency to sin an occasion for repentance, and their repentance an occasion for joy, while they still may cry: “O wretched man that I am,” they would have just as much reason, if not more, to declare: “Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ.” So let this attribute of praise be our expression down here on earth until someday it will become our uninterrupted song of joy up in heaven forever.11
1 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 368, 380-381
2 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 62
3 Genesis 3:15
4 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Charles Simeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
END OF CHAPTER SEVEN