NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XXIII)
Two early church scholars had some things to say about God’s Spirit awakening and molding our spirit. Bishop Cyril noted that regenerated people have been enriched by God’s Spirit. When His Spirit came to dwell in our hearts, it allowed us to take our place in the family of God. It is a position that we did neither earn, merit or buy. It had been paid for in advance by the blood of the Lamb of God. And even though we are now children of God, we find that our Adamic nature still pesters us. Yet, what a privilege for us to look up and call out: “Abba! Father!”1 In other words, never forget who you are and where you came from to get to where you are with God. Early church scholar Niceta, focuses on the Holy Spirit as the One who facilitates the adoption. Some called Him inferior to God. But how can He be considered any less than God since only God can approve an adoption?2
Augustine gives his view of how the Old Testament and New Testament periods are so different. Old Testament Law distributes fear; New Testament Grace spreads love. In this case, you may ask, “What is this spirit of slavery that Paul talks about?” After all, if the life principle of our adoption as children of God is the Holy Spirit, He certainly has the power to help us live a free life. But if the spirit of slavery is allowed to nurture fear, then it has the power to hinder the freedom our spirit was given. The reason for such a spirit of fear is because those who live under the law and not under grace are condemned as slaves of sin. So we should not be surprised that those who run after worldly pleasures bound by the spirit of slavery. For Augustine, this is not a case chance or bad luck, it is part of God’s divine program for progression toward holiness. This spirit of slavery can bring no one under its power unless God allows it to happen in order to teach us a lesson. The righteousness of God through Christ was earned by our Lord under similar conditions3.4
Then Pelagius tells us that the Jews received a spirit which forced them to do good deeds out of fear. Failure to do those righteous deeds would meet with reprisals from God. It is only natural for slaves to fear their masters, while sons and daughters love to do the bidding of their father. The prophet Malachi told us: “A son honors his father and a servant his master.”5 Therefore, instead of working for God out of fear like a slave, let’s us respond to Him willingly so that we behave like children. As Pelagius sees it, if anyone calls another person their father, then they ought to resemble their father in spirit and character. However, if they falsely call Him their Father, then they will incur an even greater penalty for having assumed His name under pretense6.7
A number of early church scholars have commented on the fact that the Spirit bears witness that we are the called, the justified, and the glorified. For instance, Origen comments on the Spirit of adoption by saying that we have the witness of the Holy Spirit who assures our own spirit that we are children of the Most High God. This comes after we have been regenerated from having the spirit of slavery and have been given the spirit of adoption. Once this happens, then all fear of God should be gone. And because of this we no longer act out of fear of being punished, but out of love for the Father.8
Then Bishop Diodore notes that Paul showed we can call our soul “spirit” (with a lower case “s”), but must refer to the indwelling presence of God as “Spirit” (with an upper case “S”).9 So when you see spirit and Spirit in the text you’ll know the difference. Then Theodoret confirms his understanding that Paul uses the word “spirit” in two senses. The first is the Spirit of God, the second is our spirit.10 To this, we add that Ambrosiaster sees any witness the children of God have that He is their heavenly Father is that they have the life of His Spirit dwelling in their spirit.11 This is similar to what Chrysostom preached that the Comforter bears witness with the gift which He has given us. For it is not merely the gift which speaks but the Comforter who gave the gift as well.12 And then Pelagius notes that the evidence of our adoption is that we have the Spirit, through whom we pray. For only true children of God could receive such a noticeable sign in their spirit.13
Reformation leader Martin Luther points out that we are not children of God by nature, nor because of our merits, but alone because of our gracious adoption by God as His children through Christ. This is important to remember because you cannot call yourself a child of God unless you are in Christ and Christ is in you. Paul compares this adoption as God’s children through our new birth in Christ, with the enslavement we had in sin. Luther points to what is said by Jesus: “I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”14 Rather, we are now free to serve the One who called, redeemed, sanctified, and glorified us as His children. We no longer serve our slave master in fear as we did under sin. In fact, says Luther, when we call God our Father, it is not a cry of the mouth, but one of the heart15.16
John Calvin interprets these verses as Paul confirming with certainty the confidence we should have as God’s children. Today we can to say it with the song, “It is well with my soul.” Calvin does this by mentioning the special relationship produced by the Spirit. He has not been given for the purpose of harassing us with with anxiety, but on the contrary. Having calmed every agitation, and restoring our minds to a tranquil state, He stirs up courage to call on God as our Father with confidence and freedom. Calvin goes on to say that this confidence is made certain by God’s adoption through the work of the Holy Spirit as a seal to our pardon. So instead of the spirit of bondage under the law, we now serve God by the spirit of adoption found in the Gospel. Not only that, but the Spirit constantly witnesses to our spirit that this relationship with God as His adopted child continues on a daily basis, not once a year as it was under the law at the Feast of Yom Kippur17.18
This same idea is carried forward by Adam Clarke who refers to the spirit of bondage as being the Jews obligation to the rites and rituals they were commanded to perform on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. The sad part was that such ceremonies only enhanced the sense of guilt and corruption but offered no assistance in removing such guilt. Their tendency to transgress the laws of God made it even more necessary that they continue these sacrifices through fear of dying as unforgiven sinners. But Clarke points out that as believers we have been adopted by God through the Holy Spirit as His children. This then gave us the right and privilege of crying out to God as Abba, Father. In his Gospel, Mark points out that the term “Abba” is an endearing Aramaic word for father that children use.19 It is very much like our English “Papa.”
I like the way Clarke defines this blessed assurance. It should be a matter of serious concern for every Christian that God has been merciful enough not to leave our relationship with Him up to conjecture, assumption, or inductive reasoning. He has authenticated to it by His own Spirit with the spirit of the person He adopted through Christ Jesus. This is one of the finest and most noticeable cases in which communication is established between heaven and earth. A genuine believer in Christ Jesus is not left to be interrogated by doubters who then decide. The proof and testimony of that relationship is immediately confirmed by God Himself through the stamp of His Spirit. As far as Clarke is concerned, if we had not been given the witness from God that we are indeed His children, no one could possibly feel assured of their salvation which is needed to produce confidence and love for the Father.20
Then, on the subject of how the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are related to God as His children through adoption, Clarke feels that every born-again person has been communicated to by the Holy Spirit. This then becomes part of their own understanding. This is done so that they might possess the clearest evidence possible of the work which God has formed in them. By this, believers can have the most concrete and possible evidence of their adoption into the family of God. They then have the word and Spirit of God, and the word sealed on our spirit by the Spirit of God. So for Clarke, this is not a momentary inflow: If we take care to walk with God, and not grieve the Holy Spirit, the witness we have been given will continue to abide in us. Then, as we continue to be faithful to our adopting Father, the Spirit that witnessed that adoption will continue to testify that it is real. This way, we will know that we belong to God by the Spirit which He put in us.21
Robert Haldane insists that it is of great importance for believers to be assured that they are indeed the children of God. Without knowing this for sure, it would be difficult for them to serve Him out of love with newness of spirit. The Apostle, therefore, expands on his earlier declaration that as many as are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. To confirm this, he reminds the believers in Rome that when they were chosen for adoption by God, He did not make them feel like they were in bondage again so that they became afraid. No! Instead, they were given the assurance of their adoption by telling them to call on God as their heavenly Father as “Papa” like most children do.22
Haldane then adds that having said we received the Spirit of adoption, Paul indicates that the Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we truly are children of God. Haldane explains that every person God adopts will have their adoption confirmed by His Spirit dwelling in them. That way, the Holy Spirit in the heart of a believer joins His testimony with their spirit that their adoption is real. By this they know that they are a child of God. However, it is not only the fruit of the Spirit produced in the lives of believers that further corroborates this testimony, but the confidence it brings inspires the heart to believe it’s true. As far as Haldane is concerned, this is a testimony designed for the assurance of individual believers, not something we need to be affirmed by what others think.23
1 Cyril of Alexandria: Letter 135
2 Niceta of Remesiana: Power of the Holy Spirit 4
3 Hebrews 4:15
4 Augustine: On Romans 52
5 Malachi 1:6 – Complete Jewish Bible
6 See Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11
7 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Diodore: Pauline Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Theodoret of Cyr: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 14
13 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit, loc. cit.,
14 John 8:34
15 See Galatians 4:6-7
16 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 121-122
17 Yom Kippur is known as the Day of Atonement. This is the one day out of the year that the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies to sprinkle blood on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant. The day Jews ask God for forgiveness of sin.
18 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
19 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
21 Ibid. p. 150
22 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 353
23 Ibid. Haldane, p. 362