NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson III)
Scottish theologian Robert Haldane offers his take on how we can be assured that there remains no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. As he sees it, every believer should assimilate all the comfort this verse provides for true believers. This will allow them to say with Paul, “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” Yet, many will question and say that this would be nice if true, but what assurance do they have of ever being freed from certain condemnation? Also, how can we know for sure that Christ is living in us when the flesh is so strong and our spirit so weak? We all know that we are still prone to acts of disobedience, and exhibit many defects. Haldane warns, that if anyone is satisfied to remain in sin and surrender to their carnal desires, and has no desire to turn from their permissive ways, they will be given no assurance that they are, in fact, free from the sentence of condemnation. No believer should live like that. However, if they groan because they get no joy out of sinning, and cry out with the Apostle, “O wretched person that I am,” then God will deliver them, and they can have that blessed assurance of salvation.
But Haldane believes we have more to learn on this subject. No Christian is every totally free from temptation and unrighteous thoughts. Paul made that clear in the preceding chapters. Nevertheless, a person should resist and fight against these desires and turn to God in repentance. They can do so by praying earnestly because of being convicted of such sins and begin meditating on God’s Word. By doing so, their heartfelt desire to be holy and to grow in grace is proof of their regeneration. Because, if their sinful tendencies are under the control of the renewed spirit within, they would not be tempted by these inclinations as often. Whoever strongly resists the desires of the flesh, with the help of the Spirit of God, will, in the end, obtain victory. The Holy Spirit in us is greater in goodness and power than all the forces against us, – Satan, the world, and the flesh. All this should inspire the believer with enough courage to fight the good fight of faith, to follow the directions of the blessed Holy Spirit, and be open to the spiritual instructions the Spirit delivers to their soul and conscience1.2
Albert Barnes sees what Paul says here as another way of saying: While the law is not abolished, the influence that it once had over our sinful nature, producing a vicious cycle of sin, confession, and eventual death, has been broken by the Holy Spirit, setting us free to serve God willingly. In Barnes’ mind, Paul is not claiming that he is perfect. This would go against his whole train of thought and reasoning in this passage and others. As God designed it, the power of the Gospel was to produce knowledge of this freedom, and proclaim that it can be obtained by faith. That is something the Law could never deliver. In his former condition, Paul struggled under an old plan that consisted of a bitter and annoying bondage to his sinful tendencies.3 But now he lives under the influence of a new plan proclaiming the freedom it so competently produces.4
Charles Hodge notices that since Paul is writing to the Jewish leaders in the church in Rome, he contrasts the Law of Sin and Death with the Law of the Spirit of life. This is why Paul was able to start this narrative by saying that they need no longer to live under condemnation, namely, the death penalty. Hodge concludes that for a better understanding we should connect this verse with the preceding one so that together they read: “There is now no condemnation awaiting those who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the life-giving Spirit – this power that now is mine through Christ Jesus – has freed me from the vicious circle of sin and death.” Now, having been freed from the curse of the law, and no longer required to fulfill all its demands, we live as free and willing servants of God. We no longer see living for God as a legal obligation. We have been pardoned by God’s grace through Jesus Christ for whose sake we now live and in whom we have our being. Furthermore, having been made partakers of the Spirit of God, we are transformed more and more into Christ’s image. These are the ones God has pledged to preserve unto eternal life.5
I like the way Charles Spurgeon expresses it: “Sin and death cannot govern me – cannot condemn me – and cannot destroy me.” That’s because we now live under another law called the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. I prefer the word “principle” instead of “Law.” This new principle has ushered us into another kingdom, under a new Ruler who took us under His personal care. That’s because the death sentence has been vacated and it can never be imposed on us again. That would be double jeopardy, something God’s new principle does not allow. Not only am I not a bond-slave to the old slave master called sin, I am now his enemy. I am free from any claim he may have over my life. I fight against him, struggling like a free man against the one who seeks to drag me back into captivity. And even if there are times my flesh makes me feel like sin still holds sway over me, my spirit cries out, “You are free! And whom the Son sets free is free indeed!”6
Dr Thomas Chalmers, Scottish minister, and professor of theology, in a remarkable sermon on this subject makes this point in his powerful message: Once we are released from the spirit of bondage, with which love cannot dwell in harmony, and are admitted into the fold of God’s children through faith Christ Jesus, the spirit of our adoption into the family of God is announced. It is like anointing oil poured upon our heads. That’s when our heart is brought under the mastery of one great and predominant affection, our unconditional love for God and His Word. We celebrate our deliverance from the tyranny of its former fleshly desires, knowing that this is the only way in which deliverance is possible. We celebrate this in baptism, and we begin to walk by faith revealed to us from heaven. It is our faith in the truth that it is only through Christ a sinner can be justified in the sight of God. This becomes a weapon that provides a defense and the necessary power to resist all attempts by our sinful tendencies to regain control.7
Douglas Moo gives us the important insight on what Paul means here by “law.” He notes that in verse 2 Paul explains why we need no longer worry about condemnation: “Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Moo points out that there are two other places where Paul opposes one law (nomos) Romans 3:27, to another law Romans 7:22–23. He also makes mention that in each case scholars are divided over whether Paul is comparing one function of the Mosaic law to another function of that same law. Or, whether one or both occurrences of the word “law” might refer to something in addition to the Mosaic law (e.g., a principle or authority).8 In other words, Paul was not indicting the Law of Moses per se by calling it the law of sin and death, but rather using the term “law” much the same way we use it in the “law of gravity.”
Jewish scholar David Stern gives his point of view on the Torah (Law of the Spirit) and torah (Law of Sin and Death.) But first, we must ask: “What are there two Laws?” Stern feels that some have given this wrong reply: “Yeshua gave a good Torah of the Spirit which produces life, in contrast with the bad Mosaic Law (torah) that produces only sin and death.” Why is this wrong? He says that such an interpretation not only contradicts Paul’s arguments in Romans Chapters 3 and 7 but is implicitly antisemitic.9 Now comes what he feels is the right answer: “The Torah of the Spirit is the Mosaic Law properly apprehended by the power of the Holy Spirit in believers.” Elsewhere, when Paul refers to “The Torah’s true meaning, which the Messiah upholds,” it is often rendered, “the law of Christ.”10 For Stern, the second “torah” (with a small “t”) is “sin’s torah.”11 In other words, not a God-given Torah at all but an anti-God Torah. To be more specific, “It is the Mosaic Law improperly understood and perverted by our old, sinful nature into a legalistic system of earning God’s approval by our own works.”12 What this suggests for us Gentiles is that there is but one Torah, the one given to Moses. When that Torah is misinterpreted it becomes salvation by works, which reduces it to a “torah,” but when rightly interpreted, it becomes the Torah of salvation by faith. Even though Moses taught it this way, Christ came to teach it the better way and called it the Gospel.
The author of the Messianic Bible also has quite a bit to say about the Jewish understanding of what Paul says here concerning the Law of the Spirit and the Law of Sin and Death. He believes that both can be tied to the original Torah. First, he tells us that God’s Torah given through Moses when properly understood, and rightly applied, should not be called the “law of sin and death.” For him, God’s Torah of the Spirit, is the same Torah given through Moses but it points to the Messiah. So who points us to true Torah?13 None other than Yeshua. He is both the giver of Torah and the embodiment of Torah. John tells us that Yeshua was, “The Word made flesh.”14
This same Messianic writer goes on to point out that God never changes. That’s why God directed Moses to teach “salvation by faith,” that is, being “born-again.” This reveals the connectivity of the Torah to Yeshua.15 God says that the Torah He has given is both a blessing and a curse.16 A blessing to those who follow it in faith,17 and a curse to those who do not.18 Thus, “Circumcision of the heart”19 is equivalent to “being born-again.”20 Although being spoken of as an event, the command to circumcise the heart can also be taken in the present tense as well. The writer concludes that this is why Yeshua reprimanded Nicodemus in John, Chapter 3. Nicodemus should have known this, as a “teacher of Israel.” God says He wants us to love Him with all our heart, our soul, and our mind.21
1 See 2 Corinthians 12:9; Psalm 16:2
2 Robert Haldane; On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 319
3 Romans 7:7-11
4 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 389
6 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Dr. Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847): The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” on 1 John 2:16-17, p. 20
8 Douglas Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 See Romans 3:20
10 Galatians 6:2
11 See Romans 7:21-23
12 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 Matthew 5:17-21
14 John 1:1ff
15 See Deuteronomy30:1
16 Ibid. 11:26-28
17 See Hebrews 4:2
18 Ibid. 30:6
19 Deuteronomy 10:16; cf., Romans 2:29
20 Colossians 2:11
21 Ibid. 30:11-14