NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XX)
Scottish theologian Robert Haldane now offers his understanding of the doctrine of Sanctification as espoused in verse 13. He says this shows that sanctification of the believer is progressive. Some object to the doctrine of progressive sanctification, however, and say it is a grave error to believe in such a thing. They state that sanctification is no more progressive than is justification. That both are complete at once when a believer accepts the truth. Then there are some who say that it is a second work of grace, and when it occurs, it is complete. However, there are barely enough Scriptures to make a case for such doctrines. We all accept that there is a sense in which believers are initiated into sanctification from the moment they believe. However, that sanctification is not as complete in the believer as it is in Christ in the same way as justification is complete through Christ. So as Christ and His influence grow in the believer after justification, so does the influence and power of sanctification.
So the questions at the moment we believe are this, are we justified in Christ and perfectly righteous in the same moment? Are we perfectly sanctified in Him because He is perfectly holy? Also, when a believer is viewed as being in Christ, are they “complete” because Christ is complete? To get the answers we must first acknowledge that although Christ is completely holy, and the believer’s spirit is holy, yet the believer’s body is not completely sanctified from fleshly desires at the moment of conversion. Many passages of Scripture support this doctrine. The following prayer of the Apostle Paul is explicit and decisive: – “May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.”1 The Greek word holotelēs that Paul uses here means, perfect, complete in every respect. So we must ask, does that happened instantaneously or over time? The Apostle Peter requests that believers desire the pure spiritual milk, so that by it they may grow up in their salvation.2 And in his second Epistle Peter prays that they will grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ.3 As the writer of Proverbs said: “The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.4”5
Albert Barnes adds his thoughts to this by pointing out that as believers we are not involuntarily bound to indulge in corrupt tendencies and passions. We know that the end of such indulgence is death and ruin. Rather, we willingly commit ourselves to live for God, and to follow the leading of His Spirit. The reason for this is stated when Paul says: You will live a saved life. Either your sins must die, or you must die. If they are allowed to live, you will die. If they are put to death, you will be saved. No person can be saved in their sins. They are saved from their sins. This closes the argument of the Apostle for the superiority of the Gospel to the Law in promoting the purity of man. By this train of reasoning, he has shown that the Gospel has accomplished what the Law could not do – the sanctification of the soul, the destruction of the corrupt passions of our sinful nature, and the recovery of mankind for God.6
Charles Hodge feels that not only are we not debtors to the flesh, but the reverse is the case, we are debtors to God. To use an illustration, it is like a Jewish person who became a vegetarian but still lives in a society where pork, blood sausage, shrimp, crabs, mussels, and lobster are a common part of most people’s diet. They may see other people doing it without any visible consequences, and the aroma and advertising may be tantalizing. They may be tempted to go back to what they used to eat, but they know it is against their religion. They must still stay committed to their belief. As Hodge sees it, holiness is absolutely necessary to keep the progress going. In his mind, no matter what professions of faith we may make, or what hopes we may hang on our justification, or the manifestation of the divine through the Spirit, they are separate from sanctification as a process.1
Preacher Octavius Winslow speaks about the subduing and conquering of the flesh and it’s passions and concludes this great work is not to be undertaken in our own strength. It is above all the result of God the Holy Spirit working in, and blessing the cooperation of the believer. Paul makes it clear here in Romans that if through the help of the Spirit the sinful tendencies of the body are starved to death, we will live. This becomes an example of the believer’s own exertions, powered by the working presence of the Holy Spirit. It is a shared responsibility between the pursuit of the believer and the power of the Spirit of God. Winslow illustrates this way: Take your discovered sin to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit then will bring the crucifying power of the cross of Jesus into your soul. This will help you see your Savior suffering for your sin in ways you may have never seen before. The Spirit will help you nail that sin to the cross so that your slain enemy will end up at your feet.
I like the way Winslow phrased it when he cried out to those distressed souls who were listening, not to yield to despair! Were they longing for a gracious revival of God’s work within them? Were they mourning in secret over their fallen souls? Had they searched and discovered the hidden cause of their failure? And was there a real desire for spiritual healing? They should look up and hear the comforting words of their Lord: “I am the Lord who heals you.”2 Yes, the Lord is your healer; His love can restore you; His blood can heal you; His grace can subdue your sin. Do what the Prophet begged Israel to do: “Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him, ‘Take away all sin, and receive us in kindness, that we may praise You with our lips.’” Then listen to what the Lord will answer, “I will bring My people back to Me. I will not hold back My love from them, for I am no longer angry with them3.”4
Another preacher, Charles Spurgeon, makes the point that we owe our immoral flesh nothing that satisfies its passions only for a moment. They can quickly become an every growing addiction that demoralizes us and hampers our walk with the Spirit. As Spurgeon sees it, you can either bury the flesh in baptism so that it can be raised anew so that life in the Spirit can be experienced to the fullest, or you can end up being buried with it in the ground and have no hope for a future life in God’s presence. Spurgeon then exhorts his listeners that if they seek by the Holy Spirit’s power to kill sin; if they try to crush all sinful desires; if they tie a rope around evil’s neck; if they subdue it by putting it to death, then they will live. Holiness is the clothing of Christian living that adorn believers on the road to everlasting life. Sin is the fashion of sinful existence that sinner’s wear on the highway to death.5
Frédéric Godet says that life in the Spirit is not realized in the believer without their agreement. It takes more than just the fact that the Spirit has been communicated to them. There is a need on each believer’s part to live up to the agreement by yielding to the guidance of the Spirit. For the guidance of the Spirit always tends rule against the desires of the flesh. Now, if the believer refuses to follow it on this path, they forfeit their life in the Spirit and its glorious privileges.6 For Godet, it is not enough to say “yes” to the Spirit to receive Him, it is also necessary to say “yes” to His work, and “yes” to His guidance.
Karl Barth has an extended commentary on these two verses that is too extensive to reproduce here, but he opens with the fact that the Spirit, and its equivalent, the Truth, have made it possible for us to state with certainty that a resurrection already awaits us. This raising to life goes beyond anything that humans are capable of on their own. And yet it is available to all who are living now, and who will live in the coming days. Therefore, it involves all of us to immediately take a more critical attitude towards our bodies and all that it does.7 In other words, the transformation of our body into that which becomes a vessel in God’s presence does not wait until the resurrection. It begins the moment that our spirit inside is made alive by Christ through the Spirit. When we are born-again, we are not all we want to be, but that is no excuse for sitting idle until God makes the change at the resurrection. It should give us all the motivation we need to become what God wants us to be while here on earth.
Douglas Moo puts these two verses in context by saying that some commentaries and translations insert a paragraph break at the end of verse 11, and then combine verses 12–13 with verses 14–17 to make the next paragraph.8 However, the “brothers and sisters” in verses 12–13 are not the introduction to the “children of God” theme of verses 14–17. Instead, verses 12-13 contain the conclusion to Paul’s teaching about life in Christ through the Spirit in verses 1–11. Paul said that the “Spirit of life” in verse 12 is what sets us free from condemnation so that we can now enjoy new life. And because of “the Spirit is life” in verse 10 we are also assured of eternal life in a resurrected body. We must also recognize that the gift of new life through His Spirit carries with it an obligation. That obligation is not to “the flesh”’ (NIV sinful nature), that old regime from which we have been delivered, but it is now to the spirit. In other words, born-again believers are now under the new divinely inspired management of the Holy Spirit.
Moo goes on to make three points: First, that Paul is serious about the need for everyone to put into effect the new life God has given them. A “No response” is not optional. Immediate action is necessary. Secondly, this response is not possible without the Holy Spirit’s help. No one can stop sinning by their own initiative. This can only be done “by the Spirit.” Thirdly, Paul is not suggesting that the inheritance of eternal life does not depend on our being required to stop immediately. What Paul demands in these verses is that we must be willing to make a certain, long-term, commitment to becoming less like the world and more like Christ.9
Evangelical scholar Handley Moule observed that we as children of God must never be satisfied with a mere relationship with God as His creation, nor by a mere exterior sanctification, nor by a mere membership in the Visible Church. We must meet sin with the power of the Spirit because we are led by the Spirit. This is a true sign of God’s children. The term Holiness has been practically banished because the incline of spiritual growth is too difficult to climb and it takes away some of the joy of living as a believer. Then he says: “His mercy brings it home to His children that ‘this is His will, even the sanctification’ – not of some of them, but of all. Far and wide we are striving to see, as the fathers of our faith saw before us, that whatever else holiness is, it is a sacred and binding debt. It is not an ambition, it is a duty.”10
1 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 409-410
2 Exodus 15:26
3 Hosea 14:2, 4
4 The Works of Octavius Winslow: op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 For example, see New American Standard Bible (NASB) and New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
9 Douglas Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Handley Moule, On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.