NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson VIII)
Jewish writer David Stern agrees that God had to send His Son to deal with sin because sin became such a plague in God’s creation that nothing less could, or would, overcome it. We can see this demonstrated in the Book of Job. The main purpose of Job’s story is to show that God is the only One who can solve the problem of sin in the universe. That’s why God gave Satan (the Adversary);1 permission to test Job. It resulted in him losing his possessions, children, and health. Job spends most his time with his friends protesting what happened to him. He didn’t think his punishment was justified based on the moral and righteous life he was living. Many times his friends disagreed. And even when God spoke to him personally it only shut him up for a short while. It was when Job finally perceived that God alone could handle Behemoth,2 and Leviathan,3 (symbolic figures for man’s sinful tendencies), that he “repented in dust and ashes,” and his well-being was then restored.
Stern believes that what Paul is saying here is analogous to the same thinking. That’s why God had to send His Son as a sin offering which was required by law. God did exactly that and carried out the punishment against sin in human nature to meet the requirements of the Torah, namely, any sin against a perfect and holy God must be punished by death. The intent was not only to have this fulfilled in Yeshua but also in those who became united with Him in His death and also in His resurrection.4 Thus, being joined with Christ requires that we no longer let our lives be run according to the dictates of our old sinful nature. That means, instead of allowing it to do what it wants to do, we live according to the dictates of the Gospel and what the Holy Spirit wants us to do. In fact, we literally no longer exist to please our flesh but live to please our spirit. As Stern sees it, this offers a clear explanation of why the Torah’s threats of condemnation hang no more over the heads of believers.5
On this subject of righteousness, as found in the Torah, another Jewish writer states that Yeshua was made subject to the same weaknesses and limitations as mankind in order to redeem them.6 He explains that the scapegoat, mentioned in Leviticus 16, chosen at Yom Kippur represented sin itself, as well as the sin offering. That’s why Yeshua was sent by God, as Paul says here, “in the likeness of sinful flesh,” and as the final, permanent Yom Kippur sin offering and scapegoat for the atonement of sin. This means, that the Torah’s requirement that both the death sentence and carrying away of our sins be fulfilled in Yeshua. This then allowed such atonement to be offered to those who believe and are united with Him as justification to God for forgiveness. That’s why the new believer is made more alive, not only physically but also in spirit because through Christ they have fulfilled the requirements of the Torah.7 The writer points out that the term “might be fulfilled,” does not mean that believers can follow the Torah so perfectly that they never make a mistake and sin. Rather, it means that they have placed their full trust in God by having faith in His Messiah, which turned them in the direction of wanting to obey His Torah as they strive to advance toward perfection. The writer concludes that just as Yeshua is the embodiment of the Torah when we obey Yeshua, we are obeying the Torah. Yeshua instructed us; “Be ye holy (sanctified), as your Father in heaven is holy.”8 This teaching is along the same lines as Paul’s instructions to the church in Roman.9
Verse 5: People who live following their sinful nature think only about what they want to do. But those who live following the Spirit are thinking about what the Spirit wants them to do.
Do not marvel at the fact that the world loves, pays for, promotes, feels happy about, and takes pleasure in their lust to sin. Aren’t you glad, as a believer, you have been liberated from this bondage? So we shouldn’t be astonished when the world rebukes our righteous stand, disdains God’s house, and refuses to hear the message of salvation. It takes a genuine rebirth of heart, soul, and mind through the power of the blood of Jesus to break that possessive demonic dominion that ruins so many lives.
When a Jewish elder and Pharisee named Nicodemus went in search of Jesus to ask Him about the kingdom of God, there is no evidence that he was an evil or immoral man. In fact, he was highly revered by his fellow Pharisees. But Jesus had to point out to him that every person has to deal with those temporary things that pertain to the body and those eternal things that relate to the spirit..10 That’s why our Lord went on to tell him that he needed to be reborn, so that he could begin to understand the things that apply to his spiritual nature. If all things that affect our physical desires were taken away, we would become nothing but spiritual robots. But we are given the choice to put one above the other, to choose good over bad, so that we please God by our righteous decision.
Paul echoes this same thought when he told the Corinthians: “People born of dirt are like the man of dirt, and people born from heaven are like the man from heaven; and just as we have borne the image of the man of dirt, so also we will bear the image of the man from heaven.”11 As the spiritual side of the believer grows in strength, it places the human side of man under control and makes it subservient to the spirit. As a result, Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians: “For though we live in this world, we do not do battle in worldly ways (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God for the destruction of strongholds).”12 To put this another way, the unconverted depend on therapy and counseling to help them overcome their faulty habits and tendencies, while the converted trust prayer and seeking God’s Word to help them cope and overcome. We see this dichotomy when Peter decided to take things into his own hands so he could protect Jesus from any violence. Our Lord told him: “Your thinking is from a human frame of reference, not from God’s perspective!”13
Paul was anxious that the Romans understand what taught on how God communicates with us through the Spirit. This is important because the Spirit knows the deepest secrets of God. So if you want to know God, it can only be done through the Holy Spirit, not some object of our imagination. Paul told the Corinthians that was why he did not depend on human wisdom to explain spiritual truths. Paul wrote: “People who do not have God’s Spirit do not accept the things that come from His Spirit. They think these things are foolish. They cannot understand them, because they can only be understood with the Spirit’s help.”14
Keeping in mind that this letter to the Romans is directed at times to the Jewish members of the congregation, early church scholar Origen surmises that those who were living secular lifestyles, that Paul was opposed to, were the Jews. After all, Paul called them Israel according to the flesh.15 They know what belongs to the secular laws because they interpret the law according to secular morals. But those Jews who lived saintly lifestyles are the people whom Paul calls spiritually alive Jews, or the true Israel.16 However, another early church writer, Ambrosiaster, sees it along the lines of those who’ve turned their backs on worldly living and now conduct themselves in accordance with the directives of the Gospel. He notes that Paul says this because those who give in to the temptations that come through fleshly desires know what the things of the flesh lusts for. But those who keep the lusts of the flesh firmly under control do so by promoting the needs of their spirit. Although they have turned away from the immoral lifestyle, they still live in a sin-filled world that’s all around them. But they do not struggle with the temptations of the flesh as sinners do, but on a different level. Ambrosiaster is confident that they do not seek applause from their fellow man, but God’s approval for their dedication to living right. Keeping their spiritual nature alive and well implies that they know what things God’s Spirit expects of them, and so they endeavor to follow His leading.17
Then we have the preaching of Chrysostom. He does not blindly criticize mankind’s carnal nature. After all, we are human with all our wants and needs. But he does advocate that such desires must be kept in their place and not allowed to roam around on their own seeking whatever satisfaction they can find. When that happens, these sinful tendencies get out of hand. They then begin to battle with the spirit and seek to breakdown even our strongest moral standards. This does not happen just because these bad inclinations are in us, but when they grow out of proportion to everything good inside us, then disorder will follow.18
Early church scholar Pelagius looks at this from a practical point of view. He points out that mankind is composed of both spirit and flesh. So when a person is absorbed with meeting their physical needs they are called a “carnally-minded” individual. But when they are committed to performing spiritual deeds they are called a “spiritually-minded” person. In Pelagius’ mind, when one of these attributes brings the other under its control, the subordinate attribute loses both its influence and its reputation. For each attribute desires what it favors and best relates to. So we can see why the spiritually-minded believer must maintain control over their carnally-minded tendencies.19
Reformer Martin Luther learned, after his born-again experience, that there was a new force alive in his body that affected his heart, mind, and emotions. After reading what Paul says here in verse 4, Luther concluded that those who are born-again and become new creatures in Christ, are always aware of their spiritual yearnings, namely, the blessings of the Holy Spirit and of God Himself.20 Luther acknowledges that our spiritual nature came alive in us due to the creative power of the Holy Spirit. As such, our spiritual nature is not interested in the carnal things of this world but only of the spiritual blessings that come from God. That’s why the thing that makes us alive in Christ is the joy of knowing that we are now free to do that which is right and pleasing to our heavenly Father.
1 Matthew 4:1
2 Job 40:15 – Behemoth was a large land animal, similar to an Egyptian term for hippopotamus, but some think was used here as a reference to a mythical dragon.
3 Job 3:8; 41:1; Psalm 74:14; 104:26; Isaiah 27:1 – Leviathan was a large sea creature such as a large crocodile, but some think was used here as a reference to a mythical giant eel.
4 See Romans 6:3-6
5 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 See Hebrews 2:18; 4:15
7 Ibid. 8:12-16; 13:8-10
8 Matthew 5:48; see 1 Peter 1:15
9 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 John 3:6
11 1 Corinthians 15:48-49
12 2 Corinthians 10:3-4
13 Mark 8:33 – Complete Jewish Bible
14 1 Corinthians 2:14
15 Ibid. 10:18
16 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 13
19 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
20 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 120