NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson V)
German Lutheran Bible scholar John Bengel points out that once again Paul is addressing the weakness of the law. While it could define sin by detailing the error made, it could not offer forgiveness so that the sinner might be justified and made right with God. Only God can condemn and sentence a sinner to punishment for their sins because the sins involved are against Him. Yet the price had to be paid in order for God to pardon and redeem the sinner. As Bengel put it, “…condemn the sin while saving the sinner.” So He sent His Son to take our sins upon Himself which allowed God to carry out the punishment of death on His Son as a sacrifice and then raise Him back to life again. That way, sinners must no longer pay that penalty, just believe in Christ’s death on their behalf, and God will then remove that condemnation so they can then live out their lives on earth to His glory. Bengel is convinced that what the law was powerless to do, God had authority to do. So whatever God does, it supersedes what the Law did and what people’s sinful tendencies’ did in response to the Law. That’s because sin was laid on the shoulders of the Son of God and He was able to carry it to its place of defeat.1
From Adam Clarke’s perspective, had there been a way for mankind to be perfect through their own efforts by obeying the Law’s dictates, the Law would have been applauded and rewarded. However, since the carnal nature and rebellious character of mankind prevailed and transgressions were not stopped, the Law was rendered weak and too inefficient to undo the condemnation that followed and bring the sinner into a state of pardon and acceptance with God. That’s why by God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh did that which the law could not do. It purchased pardon for the sinner and brought every believer into favor with God. In Calvin’s mind, this was carried out by the incarnation of Christ. Just as Paul told the Colossians: “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.”2 And Paul also wrote the Philippians: “He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”3 But while His human body was like ours, it was not subject to our sinful tendencies. Then, as a Sacrifice for Sin, He was able to condemned sin to its rightful end. That is, He condemned sin to be eradicated like a disease, and, thereby, sentencing it to suffer all the death and destruction it brought to the human race.4
Robert Haldane makes the point that this verse confirms and stands connected with what Paul has said before. That both this and the following verse are illustrations of that great truth, that to the believer in Christ there is now no condemnation. Haldane states that there are three principal considerations to ponder here: namely, the misery of our natural condition; the mercy of God in the incarnation of His Son; and the meaning of sending Him into the world to purchase our redemption. With these three factors becoming effective, the Apostle removes any difficulties that might present themselves from the supposition that, on account of some imperfection in the law, it could not bring about justification. In answer to this, it is shown here that the imperfection is not in the law, but in us.
Haldane also notes that the law could justify those who fulfilled it, as it is said, “The man that does them shall live.”5 However, the corruption and frailty of human nature make this impossible because they must all be obeyed to the letter. Some might object to this thinking. Since the law makes every transgressor subject to death, how then could the freedom from its curse by the death of Jesus Christ that Paul preached be tolerated? However, the Apostle proves that the punishment the Law demanded was inflicted upon Christ. Therefore, Paul’s first proposition that there is no more condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus is established.6 That’s because in the following verse it is added that the law, which we were required to fulfill has by Him been fulfilled in us.7 As Haldane sees it, some people fear the judgment of God, but for Christians, it inspires them with increased confidence. That’s because God is a just and fair Judge. He will not over-charge or demand more than what is right. So believers do not panic even when mistakes are made, for God will not penalize a believer for what Christ has already paid the price. John made that clear when he said: “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.”8 And the reason? “Because the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.9”10
Then scholar Charles Hodge’s points out that Paul is trying to say that with sin’s death sentence being removed, the defeated devil is like a toothless lion.11 The law could condemn those who sin, but what it could not do was to free them either from its guilt or power. Neither can it justify nor sanctify. That’s why Hodge believes: it is, for this reason, Paul states in verse 3 that because of the impotence of the law, God needed to send His Son. He points out that the Apostle has taught in the earlier chapters this insufficiency of the law. But this was not due to any imperfection of the law itself. It is holy, just, and good. It requires nothing more than what is right. If people would, or even could, comply with its righteous demands, the law would pronounce them as being righteous. Therefore, because in the Law we have the plan of truth and wisdom.12 Such perfect exhibition of what God wills for His children would be sufficient for them to maintain and advance in holiness. However, since they are already bound by sin under its guilt and power, the law is entirely incapable arranging for their justification and sanctification.13 In Hodge’s mind, this is why the flesh in its weakness made the law ineffective. Yet even after being chosen, redeemed, and born-again, some of the Jewish believers in Rome were intent on keeping up this futile practice of living under the covenant as regulated by the Law of Moses instead of under the Covenant of Grace given by Christ Jesus.
Theologian Albert Barnes notes that by the sacrifice of Christ, God clearly demonstrated His loathing of sin by securing its final overthrow. The Apostle is not speaking here of the sanctifying influence of this sacrifice but of its justifying power. On this basis, Barnes sees God passing a judicial sentence on sin in the person of Christ. It was needed because the Law could not order justification on its own, thereby canceling the sentence of death on all who sin. This means now that all who believe in Him cannot be condemned and punished. They are represented by Him who already paid the price. Since God now requires justification through Christ, Paul does not allow any obedience to the Law as a substitute. Barnes believes that the Apostle has a more immediate design in view of the sacrifice of our Lord. The demand of the Law was to satisfy any injury it suffered and any honor it lost due to being neglected or completely dismissed as unnecessary. As Barnes sees it, the sacrifice of Christ answered every claim. And with believers now united with Him, His work of righteousness, demanded by the Law, has been fulfilled by His being in the believer. So we can see in this passage a beautiful explanation of justification.14
While preaching on the subject of the soul after conversion, preacher Octavius Winslow wants to convince his listeners that no truth shines brighter and with more luster in God’s Word than that of our salvation. From first to last, it is of God, and by God. One thing that makes it convincing is that the work of the glorious Trinity is operating together in unity to provide this salvation. Each person of the Godhead occupies a distinct and particular office. Yet they work seamlessly with one common goal, each having mutual respect for the other’s contribution. The Father is involved as the one who brought His elect and His Son together so they could be one, even as He and the Son are one.15 The Son was given, and graciously accepted, authority as the Father’s emissary to represent Him to those who need rescuing from sin. So when the exact time came, He appeared on earth in human form.16 He fulfilled His mission by carrying the sins of the world to the cross.17 The Holy Spirit is given the ministry of convicting sinners of their sin, opening the heart and mind to have faith, and then leading the repentant sinner to the cross where the atoning blood of the Lamb of God washes their sins away.18 They are in such perfect unity that they need not consult one another before they act. How marvelous is our salvation when we realize that the Godhead is involved.19
And Charles Spurgeon agrees that while God’s law is good, just, and holy, he admits with Paul that it proved too weak to do the job of salvation. Not so much in itself, because it was the best law, but when mankind tried to respond positively to the Law, their innate sinful tendencies caused things to go seriously wrong. It was this weakness of the flesh that made it impossible for anyone to keep the Law to perfection. Trying to live right with God required so much effort, that it was impossible to keep track of everything one needed to do. With such imperfections in mankind, the Law was powerless to make anyone holy. All it could do was say, “Here’s the way it should be done and you will be condemned to death if you don’t do it this way.” But what made things even worse, was that the Law provided no power to enable mankind to do what it commanded. It is like saying to a lame man, “Get up and walk,” or to a blind man, “Open your eyes and look,” but doing nothing to enable them either to walk or see. That’s why when the Law could not do what God desired it to do; He sent His only Son to accomplish what the Law found was impossible to do for sinners.20
Then Frédéric Godet points out that the lack of power in the Law to accomplish this work of justification did not come from any intrinsic imperfection, but from the fact that mankind’s sinful nature resisted it by reason of the weakness in their flesh. The law did have the power in writing to condemn sin because it had been engraved on stone. Yet it could not be actually carried out in human life because it had no authority to forgive. And yet, it was necessary that man’s sinful tendencies be destroyed in order to restore holiness.21 Think of it this way, the Speed Limit sign may tell you what the law wants, and when you pass that limit, you violate the law. But that sign cannot run after you, stop you, and give you a ticket. Nor can it prosecute you if you fail to pay that ticket. So while the sign had the authority to inform you, that’s all it could do. The same with the Law of Moses. Now we know why God sent His Son like a new Sheriff in town. But He came not only to arrest (convict),22 but to forgive and remove that ticket from our record.
1 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 287-288
2 Colossians 2:9
3 Philippians 2:7
4 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Leviticus 18:5; see Galatians 3:12; Romans 10:5
6 See Romans 8:1
7 See Romans 8:2
8 1 John 1:9
9 1 John 1:7
10 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 320
11 1 Peter 5:8-9
12 Romans 2:20
13 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 390
14 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 See John 17:2
16 Galatians 4:4
17 Romans 8:3
18 John 6:44
19 The Works of Octavius Winslow: op. cit., loc. cit.
20 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
21 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
22 John 15:22