NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XII)
Charles Hodge takes a similar view as Robert Haldane by agreeing that sinful mentality leads to futile living. By nature, it is opposed to God, our Life of the soul. Since His favor brings life, therefore, opposition to Him results in having no reason to live. As said by others, the carnal mind is hostile to God because it refuses to subjugate itself to the law of God. The sinful mind is afraid because the law of God is a revelation of His divine nature. Therefore, opposing the Law means opposing God. Hodge points out that this opposition by the carnal mind is not casual, occasional, or in search of virtue. It is, what it is. It cannot change itself. If it could, that would lead to life, not a futile existence. But it is useless to think that a corrupt mind and rebellious heart can transform themselves for the better. Not only is this unthinkable, but it also implies hopelessness which brings the word “death” into real focus.1 It is important to remember that if a person could convert their own mindset from that of being sinful-minded to one of being spiritual-minded, the Holy Spirit’s help would be of little value.
British preacher Octavius Winslow has quite a bit to say about the subject of there being hostility between man and God. As he sees it, the Apostle Paul makes a strong statement by advocating that mankind’s carnal mind is not only alienated from God and averse to Him, it is actually at war with Him. Had Paul merely represented the carnal mind as having a disagreement with God, that would, in itself, have sounded startling. But the Apostle goes further and describes it as “belligerent.” Here we have the most vivid and atrocious idea of man’s sinful nature. An enemy may be reconciled with, but open hostility cannot. The Apostle then states that the cause of this antagonism is “the law of God.” This hatred of the Law refuses to be governed by the law of God. That’s because the carnal heart is against God as the moral Governor of the universe. Let no one doubt that sinful people are controlled by carnal thinking. This is an important fact that cannot be overlooked by those who feel insulted by such an idea, especially those who believe they are morally righteous in their own eyes.
Winslow continues his warning that there is danger in turning a blind eye to the true cause of man’s hostility to God. If a person refuses to submit to God’s sovereign authority, they become sworn enemies of God. Some people claim that they would admire and love God if He were anything other than a Lawgiver. But this makes no sense. If we do not love God and adore and obey Him as a Lawgiver, He cannot, without denying Who He is, and showing contempt for His own Law, accept the supposed love and adoration of those who reject Him as a Lawgiver. God’s divine character and essence require that He must be truly loved as KING of Kings and LORD of Lords. We know that among mortals, the person filling the office and the office itself may be separable. This is often expressed in the military when those who feel unfairly treated by a high ranking officer say: “I respect the uniform, but I don’t respect the person wearing the uniform.” It is the same in politics. A man may be the personal friend of the President or Congressman but an enemy to their government or political party. The same goes for a person who may be loved as an individual but hated as a judge or policeman. But Winslow is adamant that when it comes to God, the moral Governor of the world. His nature and His office, His attributes, and His government, are inseparable. No one can possibly be a friend of God who hates His government and refuses obedience to His law.
Winslow sees this as a serious problem. If sinners, because of their carnal minds, are hostile to God because of His moral government, then who is in charge, God or the sinners? This must be resolved if there is to be peace between mankind and God. It this question is decided in favor of sinners, then for them, the controversy is over. God might as well drop the reins of His government – let Him descend from His throne, lay aside His scepter, give up His law – and the hostility of the carnal mind ceases. No doubt sinners would applaud God for His goodness, admire His wisdom, and adore His decisiveness. But God might as well not exist anymore. Were He to surrender His authority, power, and sovereignty, He would have no influence in the world. The only way God can be taken seriously is when He asserts His claim to the throne of heaven. He is sworn to maintain the dignity of His position as Creator, King, and Lord of all. He must protect the purity and support the honor of His law. It would be better that heaven and earth cease to exist than that one dot over an “i” or cross on a “t” be erased from His Word and cause it to fail. This is what troubles the carnal mind and something it cannot bear to accept. So it is no wonder that it is belligerent to God and His Word.
But Winslow notices more that needs to be addressed. He cries out against hostility against God. He calls it an awful thought. How can anyone be hostile to the best of beings, the dearest of friends! How can they be hostile to Him whose nature and whose Name is Love! – the One who is Holy, yes, holiness itself – Good, yes, goodness itself – True, yes, truth itself! How could anyone be hostile to Him out of whom nothing but good streams? Why be against Him who is the Essence of Truth, the Fountain from which Living Waters flow, the Sun from which all the rays emanate? Why be hostile to Him, who gave His Son to die for sinners! Yes, to die for His enemies. Did not Paul declare that when we were His enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son?2
As Winslow sees it, if this hostility continues, then what does it do to Jesus, the one who died for sinners; who flew on wings of love to the rescue and the redemption of fallen man; who took their place, bore their sins, endured their curse; all this for rebellious mankind? Yes, the One who gave His life, His obedience, everything He could give – Himself; all this for the poor, the vile, the worthless of this world. He came, He suffered, He bled, and He died – was this not enough? Could He have done any more? After our Lord died and rose again, the Law said, “it is enough!” Justice declared, “I am satisfied!” Even Jesus Himself cried out, “it is finished!” Who can possibly estimate the cost? And all of it for worthless sinners, for wretched rebels, for wicked enemies! O Son of God, is it for this they hate You, despise You, reject You? Oh, the hostility of the carnal mind to someone so loving, so good, so kind, so merciful, so gentle, and so caring. When God and Jesus are rejected, who is there then for the Holy Spirit to seek out and save from hell’s fire? No one! They are the only Ones who care.3
Charles Spurgeon joins in by pointing out that the old nature will never obey God’s guidelines for holy living because it cannot do so. So what is then to be done with it? Improve it?. Not possible, says Spurgeon, the best thing to do is let it die then bury it. He points out that in baptism we have a significant symbol of what is to be done with the flesh; you treat it like a dead object, you bury it. Likewise, we should regard the old sinful mindset as having died and no longer active. Otherwise, according to Spurgeon, a person can be converted simply by deciding to repeat a prayer of repentance and say they accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior of their own free will without any conviction brought on by the Holy Spirit. But this contradicts what Paul says here that the carnal mindset cannot subject itself to God’s will. There are those who say that people should only repent if they feel like it. While that may be something to consider, if we wait for sinners to come to the place where they convince themselves to repent, it will never happen. That is not part of their sinful tendency. Except for the grace and mercy of God, there would never be repentance and forgiveness on the part of sinners.4
Reverend Rowland Hill (1744-1833), a popular English preacher, wrote in one of his works about some villagers sitting around one winter evening with some hot tea and talking about how ordinary people can be made more rational in their thinking. One of the men, named Mr. Considerate, says to Mrs. Toogood: “See, madam, how your cat is licking and cleaning herself all over.” Madam Toogood replied, “Oh, Sir! She is a lovely delicate creature.” Then Mr. Considerate said to another individual sitting nearby named Mr. Wisehead, “Then I suppose the cat has a will to be clean, and she proves the point, she may be clean if she will.” Then Mr. Considerate, says to Miss Polly, “Now, Miss Polly Littleworth, did you ever see any of your father’s hogs sit upright, and wash and clean themselves with their front paws like that cat? And however awkwardly they might do it, yet they certainly may if they will; but alas, they lack the will.”5 How appropriate that metaphor is to what Paul is saying here. Our dirty, sinful nature may want to clean itself in order to be accepted by God, but it lacks the will to do so.
At this point in Paul’s text, the Jewish writer of the Messianic Bible speaks about his understanding of this verse and notes that from his experience this is probably one of the least preached on verses in the New Testament. His reason is that it contains one of the clearest messages that those who truly follow Yeshua the Messiah must submit themselves to studying and obeying God’s Torah. He states that although we as believers are not subject to the “curse” of the Torah (which is condemnation), as children of God we are encouraged to study and obey our Father’s instructions as found in His Torah. We can find this expressed as a decree for Gentiles in Acts 15. They received several fundamental Torah commands to allow for fellowship with Jews who followed Yeshua. The whole purpose of which was that they would learn more while attending synagogues where Moses’ Torah was preached.6
Methodist preacher Joseph Benson does not mince words when it comes to how he sees what Paul is saying here. Paul has made it crystal clear up to this point that those who think they can fool God and others by pretending to be believing Christians are in for a rude awakening. Their lord and master is not Jesus Christ, they are governed by their flesh and sinful tendencies. They have no hunger for God’s word, their animal appetites drive them to seek satisfaction through evil passions. Their minds are not set on things above, their carnal-mindedness is on the things of this world. Do they think they can please God by living that way?
Nothing pious they can do will bring them into a state of acceptance with God. No matter how they try by changing their ways, or adjusting their temperament, or using nice words, or doing charitable works. That will not please Him. And no matter what rites, rituals, or ceremonies they participate in, it will not change His mind. Here’s an important and alarming declaration they need to hear: All you who profess to be Christians and have settled for a form of godliness, attention to outward appearance, seeking grace through sacraments, having no concern about repentance, forgiveness, and the remission of your past sins, nor the renovation of your sinful nature, remaining attached to worldly pleasures and sensual in your desires, wants, and wishes, there is only one thing waiting for you at the end, and that is dying lost and undone, dying in your sins and being eternally lost. Unless you consider repentance, regeneration, being born-again, and clinging to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are forever hopelessly lost.7 What chances do you think there are of hearing a message like this preached today?
1 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 396-397
2 Romans 5:10
3 The Works of Octavius Winslow: op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Village Dialogues Between Farmer Littleworth, Thomas Newman, Rev Mr. Lovegood, and others. By Rev. Rowland Hill, 29th Edition, in three volumes, London, Printed by J. Haddon, Castle Street. Finsbury, 1833, Vol. Dialogue XVI, p. 288
6 Acts of the Apostles 15:21
7 Joseph Benson: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.