NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TEN (Lesson X)
Robert Haldane echoes this refrain: That Christ, and Christ alone has fulfilled the demands of the Law and, therefore, anyone who seeks salvation and eternal life on their own by trying to comply with every word of the Law will do so in vain. Anyone wanting to live by what the Law requires, as Moses declared, must obey each rule to perfection. Just the term “fallen man” even makes it impossible to consider going that route. The Law knows no mercy; it considers no extenuating circumstances; it does not close a blind eye to even the smallest breach, or any miniscule deficiency. One guilty thought or lustful desire ends the chase for self-righteousness and the effort must start all over again after the proper sacrifice is made to cover the sin.1 This same principle holds sway when people call themselves Christian just because they abide by the laws of their church. A church cannot save anyone, even those who are devoted to its rites, rituals, rules, and righteous sacraments and demands.
Albert Barnes also agrees that the promise of life for following the Law was to be enjoyed down here on earth and then continued on in the world-to-come. I’m sure Moses was thrilled to tell everyone that all they needed was to do what the Law said and they would then be entitled to the rewards of the obedient. The happiness of which Moses spoke was, no doubt, the results which followed obedience. Not only would it produce happiness in this life, but also in the next life.
But there was a catch. The principle on which happiness would be conferred on them in the world-to-come was dependent on their obedience to the Law while in this world. Why obedience? Because the tendency and result of obedience would be to promote order, health, purity, and kindness. Those things were given in order to advance the welfare of mankind and to honor God. This is what is meant by the term “contentment,” in the sense that one’s future is secure. As such, it would produce what Jesus called: life without future judgment.2 So we must believe that the Jews knew what Paul was talking about, by quoting Moses in this verse, as a reference to more than temporal blessings here on earth.3
Charles Hodge hearkens back to what Paul said in the previous verse about the goal of the Law. That its aim was for the Messiah to come and fulfill it with His offer of being right with God if a person would have faith in Him as their Savior. Therefore, salvation comes by faith, this is the heart of the Gospel. And this offer is for everyone, without distinction. When this belief is confirmed, then justification is secured. That’s why it was so important for Paul to connect his description and contrast of the two methods often used for justification. One of them is by works and the other by faith. The one by works is not even designed for justification. By its nature it is impracticable. The other, by faith, is both reasonable and rational. Furthermore, it has been adapted for use by all classes of people, Jews and Gentiles. And that was Paul’s mission, to bring everyone this Good News.4
Hodge also feels that it is important to understand the term “righteousness.” In its legalistic sense, what constitutes a righteous man is meeting all the demands of the Law by satisfying its claims for justification. The individual who possesses God’s righteousness cannot be condemned. The Apostle bases this conclusion on the fact that God is a just God. Therefore, He does not demand that those He justifies must achieve their own righteousness before He forgives. Every person should want this! There are only two possible ways righteousness can be obtained – by works or by faith. To do that, a person must either have their own righteousness or have received righteousness given to them because they have faith and trust in the one justifying them.5 In other words, the choice is ours. Either we can try to be right with God based on our own actions in compliance with the Law, or we can accept the work of Christ as our righteousness. The first is impossible, while the latter is instantaneous.
Charles Spurgeon looks at justification this way: “The message of the Law is: ‘Do and live.’ But the message of the Gospel is, ‘Live and do;’” – two very different things. Those who subscribe to the “do and live” doctrine must live by what the Law says, work hard and you’ll obtain it. However, those who abide by the “live and do” doctrine, actively do what the Gospel says, “You have life freely given to you in Christ Jesus; now work for Him because you live by Him.”6 No wonder that Jesus said that He had come so that instead of us merely existing down here on earth, that we may be able to enjoy life from above with all its unending abundance.7
John Stott sees the natural interpretation of Paul’s words about living right as being different from the way life is fashioned by obedience to the Law. Paul made that clear when he told the Galatians: “This way of faith is very different from the way of Law, which says, ‘It is through obeying the Law that a person has life.’“8 Paul is not just making an arbitrary statement in eliminating the Law as a way to salvation, it’s because no one has ever succeeded in obeying it to the letter. So when someone depends on the Law to save, the weakness of the Law also becomes their weakness.9 The real folly is, no individual successfully lives up to perfect obedience to the Law; everyone has disobeyed the Law on numerous occasions. And by such disobedience, instead of it bringing us life, it places us under its curse – certain separation from God for eternity. And this would have remained our position if Christ had not come to redeem us from the Law’s curse by becoming a curse for us. It is in this sense that Christ put an end to anyone considering the Law as a way to righteousness.10
Douglas Moo contends that Paul cites Leviticus 18:5 to describe righteousness defined by the Law. Paul is not suggesting that Moses purposely taught that one could be saved by doing what the Law said. When the First Covenant speaks of “living,” it generally means: Have a joyful existence in line with what the Law teaches. In doing so, we enjoy all the privileges of being part of Abraham’s covenant with God. It certainly does not always mean eternal life. Paul’s whole point here is that any righteousness based on the Law is, by definition, something one tries to get accomplished by “doing.” And “doing,” is what the Law is all about, as Leviticus 18:5 makes clear11.12 With all these differences pointed out between righteousness by works and righteousness by faith, we can confidently say that righteousness by works is “doing,” while righteousness by faith is, “being.”
Jewish theologian David Stern states that there shouldn’t be any doubt whether or not the righteousness that results from obeying God’s statutes and judgments leads to eternal life. The verse here says they must live according to everything the Law demands. Renown Jewish Rabbi Rashi quoted the Sifra,13 a fourth-century collection of midrashim14 related to the Book of Leviticus,15 and he made the point that if we say our righteous living only refers to this world and not the world-to-come, doesn’t every righteous person die sooner or later?16
That’s why Stern prefers the following translation of this verse: “He will attain life through them – eternal life.” The phrase for “to live” or “attain life” is the same as that used in Romans 8:12–13 to describe what will happen to the believer who “by the Spirit” keeps “putting to death the sinful practices of the body.” So Stern concludes that Paul affirms that the Torah and the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit)17 offer one and the same eternal life. This may also be derived from the fact that the Holy Spirit came to the first believers on Shavu‘ot (Pentecost), the same day in Jewish history when the Torah was given to Moses.18
Stern also points out that the two most important of the “statutes and judgments” referred to in Leviticus 18:5 are stated by Yeshua in Mark 12:28–31. The first is to love ADONAI with all ones’ heart, soul, understanding, and strength.19 And the second is to love one’s neighbor as oneself.20 Both of these are based upon on putting one’s full trust in God. After all, if you can’t love God with your whole heart and believe in Him with your whole mind for who He says He is and what He is, you will have little chance of loving your neighbor if you can’t love God and love yourself. Not as the world might prescribe it, but as the Scriptures define it. So by quoting Leviticus 18:5, Paul, backs up his point that obeying the Torah requires trust, not trial.21
The long and short of Stern’s point is that the Word of God is divinely inspired whether it be in the First Covenant or Last Covenant. The difference is that in the First believers were expected to do all the things demanded of them in the Law – which was impossible, whereas in the Last all that is required is to trust God to provide all the blessings promised for obedience – which by faith is possible.22 No one should try to righteousness on their own through works.
Preacher Charles Simeon observed that once we are convinced to give up our attempt be righteous before God by our own works, and are willing to submit ourselves to Christ in order to receive His righteousness, a strange thing happens. The thought of total submission to the power of another is not something that our proud heart accepts easily. We become a lot like Naaman when he was told by the prophet Elisha to go dip in the Jordan River seven times in order to be healed of his leprosy.23 He thought the prophet’s request was an insult to his dignity. It didn’t seem to be an adequate remedy for the disease that was killing him. People want something more practical. They want to be told what to do, how to do it, and why it will make them feel good about their salvation. Simple faith in Christ just doesn’t seem like enough to get the job done. However, we are commissioned to say that if an angel comes preaching any other method to be saved, reject them.24
Simeon concludes with this prayer: O let your hearts be humbled before God. I’m sure that when Jesus told the ten lepers, “Go and show yourselves to the priests;”25 or, when to the blind man, “Go and wash in the pool of Siloam,”26 they were not reluctant to comply. Why then should we? Can we cleanse ourselves from the leprosy if sin? Can we open your own blinded eyes to the truth? Can we bring about our own salvation? No assuredly, we cannot. We should have the same attitude as that of the Apostle Paul who desired to be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness, but the righteousness of God by faith in Christ.27 So my brothers and sisters, be like-minded with Paul; then you may, like him, be “always triumphing in Christ,” and be assured, that, “when Christ, who is your life, shall appear, then shall you also appear with Him in glory.28”29
1 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 504
2 John 5:24
3 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 523
5 Ibid., Hodge
6 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 John 10:10
8 Galatians 3:12
9 See Romans 8:3
10 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 See also Galatians 3:12, where Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5 with a similar application
12 Douglas Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 Sifra is Aramaic for “Book.”
14 Midrashim is the genre of rabbinic literature which contains early interpretations sigh stories and commentary on the Written Torah (Written Law) and Oral Torah (Spoken Law), as well as non-legalistic rabbinic literature
15 Torath Kohanim 18:134
16 The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary, Leviticus 18:5
17 This term Ruach HaKodesh is also used in Judaism to mean “Divine Inspiration,” and generally refers to the inspiration through which attuned individuals perceive and channel what is divine expression through action, writing or speech.
18 David H. Stern: op. cit., loc. cit.
19 Quoted from Deuteronomy 6:4-5
20 Quoted from Leviticus 19:18
21 Ibid., Stern
22 See Mark 9:23
23 2 Kings 5:10
24 Galatians 1: 8-9
25 Luke 17:14
26 John 9:7
27 Philippians 3:9
28 Colossians 3:4
29 Charles Simeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 385