NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson VII)
Reformed Scottish theologian Robert Haldane has an excellent exegesis on righteousness under the Law of Moses. For him, God sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh so that in Him sin might be punished because He wore the same sinful cloak of human flesh we all wear. This allowed for whatever that the law demanded to be fulfilled through Him. That’s why He obeyed the precepts of the Law as well as suffered the penalty that goes with disobedience. Haldane notes that the original Greek word dikaiōma, translated here as righteousness, is rendered as “judgment,”1 or “justification,”2 Also, in the verse being treated here it is properly used as the “Law’s authority.” Haldane, sees the Law’s authority being twofold: That which belongs to it at all times, as opposed that which belongs to it only in the event of a sin. The first case demands obedience to its commandments; the second case enforces subjection to its penalty. Also, in the first case, it corresponds with its proper goal given to all who obey are guaranteed eternal life. The second is what the law demands beyond its original intent, and that means carrying out its penalty in that all who disobey it are cursed. Placing a curse on mankind was not part of the original purpose of the law. But it ended up having the right to demand it, but only in cases of disobedience. And since Jesus never disobeyed the Law, then the Law lost that power over Him. But in order to take that curse off of us, Jesus took the full brunt of it on Himself and suffered death for us.
Haldane further contends that the Gospel was not given to take away this authority from the Law. As Paul said earlier, This does not mean that we invalidate the Law when we put our trust in Christ Jesus. We continue to accept the Law as an important teaching tool of right and wrong.3 But it cannot save. Therefore, those who are saved are saved by the Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation. They are not saved by fulfilling the Law. And although the Law included all types of sins, every demand of the Law was fulfilled in Christ’s sacrifice. By doing so, it completed what was required by the Law in order to declare those who believe in Christ as righteous before God.4
Haldane also believes that since Christ knew that all people were sinners, that’s why He completed the requirements of the Law for them in order to spare them the punishment of sin, – namely, eternal separation from God without any hope of salvation. At the same time, it made them eligible for the blessings of the Gospel, which include eternal life. Now, if the Gospel supports the Law, it must accomplish that in accordance with its original purpose. It must also do so in order for the intent of the Law to be carried out, namely, bring people to the knowledge of right and wrong so that they will seek to be saved from its penalty. On these accounts, Christ fully satisfied the law by fulfilling all of its righteous requirements. And by believers being united with Him, this allows for the demands of the law to be fulfilled in them through Christ. This is the basis for their justification before God. For Haldane, if they are one body, or one with Him, as the Apostle Paul has been showing, His fulfillment of the law is their fulfillment of it too. And so, by being in communion with Him they will one day sit with Him in heavenly places with Him.5 Also, by the same oneness with Him, His righteousness is all they need6.7
Charles Spurgeon taught that no one seeks to live by the ethics and virtues of the Law when they know it cannot save them. Rather, they renounce all confidence in their own works and accepting the righteousness given by God through faith in Christ Jesus, they are moved by gratitude to a new level of consecration and purity of obedience. This the Law could never accomplish. He goes on to say that a child will obey better without desire for any reward than a slave will under the threat of punishment or a servant in hopes of receiving a wage. The most potent motive for living a holy life comes from God’s grace. A risen Savior provides power over the sin that we strove against with our own power until we learned that Christ was the Way, and then through Him, we are able to conqueror it.8
Frédéric Godet points out that Paul is teaching here the emancipation from the Law that condemned those who sin with a death sentence. He says that what the law condemns in us was condemned in Christ. This then made it possible, that through His Spirit the demands of the law might be satisfied on our behalf. No doubt, while the power of sin is not annihilated within, it must no longer be allowed to control any active part of our being and determine our Christian lifestyle. Godet goes on to say that there remains the second idea: deliverance from the last condemnation, that of spiritual death.9
I like the way Charles Ellicott titles this portion: “Law or Love.” In defense of which he first asks, “How are we to be delivered from the bondage of moral evil?” Mankind is under contract to the law, and any transgression on their part condemns them at every step. The Holy Spirit constantly reminds them through their conscience. The question now becomes, how to loosen their feet from the cords that tie them to the burden of sin they gruelingly drag behind them. How can they exchange their helpless state of despair for a new motivation and desire to be free so they can willingly love and obey God in all they do? How can the constant conflict between their conscience and their immoral desires which makes their soul a house divided against itself ever be settled?10
Ellicott sees such individuals as having been burdened down since birth with their passions brought on by strong inclinations from their carnal nature. They are depraved, having inherited the sin gene in their bloodline passed on from generation to generation. It exposes them to every evil thought, word, and deed, and oppresses them with temptations because they are ignorant, weak, and fallible. By being limited in their power to discover the reason for their inherited sinfulness, which affects the very structure of their bodies and their minds, how can they ever hope to maintain obedience to the moral law? How can they even have any desire to keep it? To do that which I know is right, says Paul, I’m good with that. But how to always do what I know is right, that is my problem.
With all this in mind, Paul cries out: “Who shall deliver me from this dead body?” In other words, as Ellicott sees it, who shall deliver me from this spiritual deadness of the soul, this corruption of the affections, this impotence of the will, this unwillingness to love and obey? That is the need of those in temptation. That is the cry of every heart that ever struggled to lead a clean and noble life. Jews were well acquainted with the Law, and all their religious teachers made sure they grew in their understanding of it. But this is not the main trouble, the problem is how to generate the willingness, the desire to obey the law. For Ellicott, Paul answers that question. The Gospel is the answer. It was while people were still without any moral strength that Christ died for the ungodly. And by doing so, the power of the new life in Christ Jesus delivers us from the old power of sin and death. So if Christ now lives in us, the flesh is under His control when it comes to sin. The believer’s spirit is alive with respect to living right for God in obedience to His will. And to make that happen, Christ created the motive of, “doing it because of love.”11
John Stott also has an interesting approach to understanding the great importance and need for Christian holiness. Holiness is the triumphant goal of Christ’s incarnation and atonement. What God had in mind when He sent His Son was not only for our justification – to be free from the condemnation of the Law but also for our sanctification. Stott sees that holiness consists in fulfilling the just requirements of the Law. This is the final answer to those who feel that once they are saved, they no longer need the law, and those who are adherents of the so-called “new morality.”12 Since the moral law was never abolished for us, it must be fulfilled in us. Although obedience to the Law is not the ground of our justification, it is the fruit of it which is the very meaning of sanctification. As Stott sees it: Holiness is Christlikeness, and Christlikeness is fulfilling the righteousness of the law. Furthermore, holiness is the work of the Holy Spirit. While Romans chapter 7 insists that we cannot keep the law as long as our flesh is in charge, Romans 8:4 insists that we can and must because of the Holy Spirit that also resides in us.13
Douglas Moo offers some important points for exegesis of this verse. He sees the purpose of this work of God in Christ spelled out here in verse 4. Moo feels that the NIV translation is misleading. Instead of reading: “That the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us,” it should be rendered: “That the righteous requirement of the law was fully met in us.” Moo explains that Paul is not claiming that all the righteous requirements of the law are fulfilled in us. Rather, that the righteous requirement of the law was fulfilled in us. He bases this on the fact that the Greek word dikaiōma (righteousness or doing what’s right) is singular. It may be a different story if Paul is thinking of how the Holy Spirit enables Christians to obey the commandments of the law. But this singular word “righteousness,” along with the passive form of “fulfill or be obeyed,” gives the whole verse a special meaning. It tells us that Christ has fulfilled the entirety of the law’s demand on our behalf, and it is His fulfillment that is offered to God for our justification.14 In Moo’s mind, Paul’s purpose is to show that we no longer live under the threat of death as part of sin’s punishment. We are by way of Christ living in us fulfilling the demands of the Law. We do this by yielding our lives to the power of the Holy Spirit. As such, we no longer live bound by the dictates of the realm of legalism, but we live freely in the realm of the Spirit. Not free to do as we please, but free to do as God pleases.
1 See Romans 1:32
2 Ibid. 5:16
3 Ibid. 3:31
4 Ibid. 10:4
5 Ephesians 2:6
6 2 Corinthians 5:21
7 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 325-326
8 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Matthew 12:25
11 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 The new morality Stott sees running through our society replaces the traditional Judaeo-Christian morality with a humanistic one. In order to accomplish this, the Christian church and its message of the Gospel, which empowers sinners to keep the law of God, is being undermined. Now it all depends on the situation.
13 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Douglas Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.