NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XVI)
Anglican Bishop Handley Moule (1841-1920) had something interesting to say on this subject. When we look in the Bishop’s commentary on Romans we find where he explains that the presence of the Spirit of Christ in our lives is such that when He dwells inside it can rightly be declared as, “Christ in you.” This provides the believer both a word of caution, and reveals the truth of the richest positive blessing a believer can enjoy. The warning issued is for us to remember that there is no separate Gospel called the “Gospel of the Spirit.” Not for a moment should we think that we can go beyond our status in the Lord Jesus Christ to a higher or deeper region ruled by the Holy Spirit. Everything the Holy Spirit does or says is eternally and organically connected with the Son of God. After all, it was Christ who asked the Father to send the Holy Spirit to be an invisible guide to His followers once He physically disappeared from the scene. So the Holy Spirit did not come to do His own will, but the will of Christ.1 Besides, how could anyone expect to be baptized in the Spirit for special service if the Spirit was not already in them to make those special gifts work in honor to Christ and to the glory of God?2
Douglas Moo also gives us valuable teaching by pointing out that now Paul turns to directly addressing the readers of his letter. He congratulates them on not being controlled by carnality, but by the Spirit. This is part of, what Moo calls, Paul’s “two-regime theology.” That is, people are either ruled in their lives by their flesh or by the Spirit. Flesh and Spirit represent two main powers that operate in concurrence with the old person in Adam or the new person in Christ.3 It is by God’s grace in Christ that the new person has taken over the realm once dominated by the old person. It takes them from the narrow human outlook on life that leads to sin, to the spiritual vista dominated by God’s Holy Spirit. As far as Moo is concerned, it is clear, then, that when speaking of the flesh and the Spirit, Paul’s language is metaphorical. In other words, using figures of speech. It was his way of illustrating that people are dominated by one of two forces that control their behavior. One involves their sinful tendencies to satisfy the passions of their mind and flesh, and the other their spiritual tendencies to fulfill the yearnings of their soul and spirit. These two natures cannot live in harmony. One must surrender to the other.4
The author of the Messianic Bible shares something we all must take into consideration. He says that the “Spirit of Messiah” in the New Testament is equivalent to the “Torah of Messiah” in the Old Testament. The two should not be separated. That’s why, if anybody claims to know and love God, but willfully disregards His Torah, they will face judgment. The Apostle John agrees with Paul by saying: “The way we can be sure we know him is if we are obeying His commands. Anyone who says, ‘I know Him,’ but isn’t obeying His commands is a liar — the truth is not in them. But if someone keeps doing what He says, then truly love for God has been brought to its goal in them. This is how we are sure that we are united with Him. A person who claims to be continuing in union with Him ought to conduct their life the way He did.”5 When John spoke of “His commands” the only thing he could have meant is God’s Torah. As John says, the same Torah that guided Yeshua is the same Torah that guides us6.7
Verse 10: One day your body will die because of sins’ curse. But if Christ is in you, then your spirit will live on because Christ made you right with God.
Paul points to a dichotomy that was brought on by the original sin of Adam and Eve. When they were cast out of the Garden of Eden, their natural body and instincts took over while their spiritual nature died because of sin. After that, everything was controlled by man’s sinful nature. But when a person is born-again in Christ, their spirit is resurrected while their sinful nature is crucified and no longer holds sway over their heart, soul, and mind. By using the term “dead,” Paul is not referring to physical death, but death in the sense that our sinful nature should be treated as a dead body. So why should anyone consult a dead person? You don’t go to the graveyard and seek answers and help from those buried there. Paul uses the body here like a vacant house with nothing spiritual living inside.
At His last meal with the disciples, Jesus pointed to the matzo bread and said that it represented His body, then to the wine, and said it was a symbol of His blood. So, just at they ingested these items to be on the inside giving nutrition, by accepting Him as the bread from heaven, the wine of the spirit, He would be in them giving them spiritual nutrition to grow and be fruitful.8 So just as the bread and wine promoted life in the body, so Christ as the spiritual bread and wine would promote life in the spirit. Based on this truth, Jesus was able to tell His followers about His return: “On that day you will know that I am in the Father. You will know that you are in me and I am in you.”9 As a result of this spiritual union, Jesus was able to tell His disciples: “I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you stay joined to me, and I to you, you will produce plenty of fruit.”10 Then Jesus thanked the Father and promised: “I will be in them, and you will be in me. So they will be completely one. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you loved them just as you loved me.”11
This gave Paul a basis for telling the Corinthians: “Look closely at yourselves. Test yourselves to see if you are living in the faith. Don’t you realize that Christ Jesus is in you? Of course, if you fail the test, He is not in you.”12 Then to the Ephesians, he wrote: “I pray that Christ will live in your hearts because of your faith. I pray that your life will be strong in love and be built on love.”13 And to the Colossians, he wrote: “God decided to let His people know just how rich and glorious that truth is. That secret truth, which is for all people, is that Christ lives in you, His people. He is our hope for glory.”14
In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul points out that there is no need to be anxious and feel deprived because our sinful nature is treated as a dead body. In the end, it will be destroyed to make way for a body to live in a new home Christ has prepared for us on His heavenly Father’s estate.15 So in effect, by dying to sin and announcing that our sinful nature is deceased, we are freeing ourselves early of the heavy baggage we must carry if the old sinful nature is kept alive. That way, our spiritual nature is then free to move and grow and produce fruit to the glory of God.
Paul explains it this way: “There is a physical body. There is also a spiritual body. As the Scriptures say, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living person.’16 But the last Adam is a life-giving spirit. The spiritual man did not come first. It was the physical man that came first; then came the spiritual.”17 So he encourages the Ephesians: “Think only about what is up there, not what is here on earth. Your old-self has died, and your new-life is kept with Christ in God. Yes, Christ is now your life, and when He comes again, you will share in His glory.”18
It is not clear if all of the early church scholars understood Paul’s metaphor of how, like a dead body being raised to life, those who willingly crucify their fleshly nature will be revived and made alive with a vibrant spiritual nature. Some think of the resurrection, while others see it as part of being born-again. For instance, early church scholar Pelagius believes that if you are able to live a Christian life, then the carnal mind should not interfere because it is effectively dead. Your spirit was made alive in order to produce righteousness, for the aim is not just to stop doing carnal things but to do what is spiritual and pleasing to God.19
Then, early church Bishop of Cyrrhus20 says that he sees Paul making something that may not have been very clear at first glance. That is, he was not attacking the flesh, but sin. After all, the born-again believer is alive in the Spirit but treats sin as a dead thing. So why would any Christian even contemplate sinning? That would be like wanting to kiss a skeleton’s lips or hold the decaying hand of a corpse. The Bishop also believes that when Paul speaks of the spirit, he means the soul since the soul is now spiritually alive. That’s why Paul commands the soul to follow after righteousness, whose fruit is the hope of eternal life.21
John Calvin sees a twofold purpose in God’s Spirit abiding in us. He says that God’s children are determined to be spiritual. Not on the basis of having reached full and complete perfection, but only because of the new creation that is now living in them. He also sees Paul anticipating some doubt as to how the Spirit can possess part of us, while another part is still under the power of death. So Paul gives this answer: The power of the quickening Spirit of Christ, which will be effectual in swallowing up our mortality, has taken control. That’s why the Apostle concludes that we wait patiently until all traces of sin are eradicated.22 This would certainly concur with the promise Jesus made to all who believe that they will have an abundant life in this world and eternal life in the world-to-come.
Adam Clarke sees the same thing and assumes that the Apostle Paul is trying to say that although the life of mankind has been forfeited, the sentence: “You were made out of dirt, so you will return to dirt,”23 must be fulfilled on every human being. Yet, with their souls being made alive by the indwelling Spirit of Christ, it enables them to live a life of righteousness until they are given new body. That’s why they receive full assurance that their bodies, which are now under condemnation, because of sin, won’t matter. Having a spirit that will never die, they will be raised again to a new life of immortal glory.24 How different this is from what the sin has to offer, which is confined to this world with nothing beyond death but being forever separated from God in eternal torment.
1 John 14:26
2 Expositors Bible: The Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, by Handley C. G. Moule, Ch. XVII, p. 206
3 See 7:5-6
4 Douglas Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 See I John 2:3-6 – Complete Jewish Bible
6 Matthew 22:36-40
7 Messianic Bible: op. cit., loc. cit.
8 John 6:53-58
9 Ibid. 14:20
10 Ibid. 15:5
11 Ibid. 17:23
12 2 Corinthians 13:5
13 Ephesians 3:17
14 Colossians 1:27
15 2 Corinthians 5:1
16 Genesis 2:7
17 1 Corinthians 15:44b-46
18 Colossians 3:2-4
19 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
20 Cyrrhus was an ancient town in northern Syria. It was the base for the 10th Roman Legion Fretensis
21 Theodoret of Cyr: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
22 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
23 Genesis 3:19
24 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.