NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER THIRTEEN (Lesson XVII)
Adam Clarke poses this question: “Can anyone suppose that this address is to the Christians at Rome?” Why are they being warned to stop practicing the immoral sins of the heathens? Some of these practices are those of the most deviant and degenerate sinners? If those who called themselves Christians at Rome were guilty of such acts, there would be no difference between them and the most wretched of the Gentiles except their claims of being disciples of the Messiah. It should be unthinkable that such things must be spoken of to the followers of Christ, for the very grace that brings repentance enables those who have repented of their sins to cast aside and abhor all such vicious and abominable vices. The advice to the Christians may be found in the preceding chapter. So we can say with certainty that warnings at the conclusion of this chapter belong solely to the heathens.1 In other words, Clarke believes that Paul is telling the believers in Rome not to be conformed to this world. Do not adopt their habits. Since they have been transformed by the renewing of their minds, these things should never be given any thought or consideration.
Verse 14: But be like the Lord Jesus Christ, so that when people see what you do, they will see Christ. Don’t think about how to satisfy the sinful desires of your inner self.
Paul now ties a knot at the end of this string and challenges every believer to become so absorbed in God’s will and Word that they will begin to resemble His Son, Jesus. He likens it to putting on a cloak, much the same way that a priest going out into the marketplace puts on his robe so that everyone can immediately identify him for who he is and what he represents. Paul told the Galatians that since all of them had been baptized to show that they belonged to Christ, they should now look and act in such a way that they resemble Him in their words, attitude, and actions.2 And to the Ephesians, Paul wrote that they should go out dressed in a fashion that suits their new nature. This way, they will quickly be identified as a believer and respected for what they say and do.3
Nor did Paul leave out the Colossians. He wrote: “You have now become a new person and are always learning more about Christ. You are being made more like Christ. He is the One Who made you. There is no difference in people in this new life. Greeks and Jews are the same. The person who has gone through the religious act of becoming a Jew and the one who has not are still the same. There is no difference between ethnicities. People who are servants and those who are free are the same in Christ. He is everything. He is in all of us.”4 By openly identifying themselves as children of God and followers of Christ, Paul told the Galatians that the Holy Spirit would help them stay on course toward their ultimate destiny.5
The Apostle John agrees with Paul. He wrote: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the Father’s love is not in him. For everything that is in the world does not come from the Father. The desires of our flesh and the things our eyes see and want and the pride of this life comes from the world. The world and all its desires will pass away. But the man who obeys God and does what He wants done will live forever.”6
On the subject of believers conforming to Christ, early church scholar Origen notes that Christ is often spoken of as wisdom, righteousness, holiness, truth, and all the other virtues personified. Therefore, anyone who has put on Christ has acquired these things. For if all these are part of the nature of Christ, then the person who has them must of necessity have Christ in them. This way, they will not put their fleshly desires first but their spiritual desires. The Apostle speaks here with care because he knows that he must acknowledge the daily needs of the flesh. It is the excesses and lusts of the flesh, not its basic necessities, which must be avoided.7
Ambrosiaster thinks that Paul wants everything the Law forbids not to be desired at all. And if it is desired, don’t let it take control. To put on Christ means to keep all sinful tendencies at a distance so that at the wedding banquet of the Lamb one will not be found without a new garment and be shamefully thrown out into the darkness.8 And in his sermon on this text, Chrysostom preached that Paul is no longer speaking of good works, but rather he is cheering his hearers on to greater things. When he was speaking of vice he talked about its works, but now that he is speaking about virtue he does not speak about works but about armor. Even more strikingly, he talks about the Lord Jesus Christ as the garment we are to put on, for whoever is clothed with Him has all His virtues. When Paul says “make no provision for the flesh,” he is not speaking of life’s essentials but of excesses. That is why he adds the qualifying phrase: “to gratify its desires.”9
Augustine gives us a word of advice. Taking care of one’s body is not to be condemned if it has to do with the needs of bodily health. But if it is a question of unnecessary delights or luxuries, a person who enjoys the delights of the flesh is rightly chastised. For in that case they make provision for the desires of the flesh, and “they who sow in the flesh will reap corruption in the flesh.10”11 And Pelagius states that Christ alone should be seen in us, not the old-self, for “one who says they abide in Christ should walk as He walked.‘12”13 Then Bishop Theodore makes this point: what Paul really wants to say is that by regeneration and baptism we have been conformed to Christ and become members of the one body – the church, of which, He is the head and so we must put Him on with the understanding of what He expects of us if we are to share in His resurrection.14
Martin Luther finished his commentary on this chapter by advising that we should not, in our attempt to remain pure and holy before the Lord, destroy our bodies in the process.15 After all, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and should be offered to God for His service. John Calvin feels that Paul is putting a bridle on our desires to remind us that the cause of over-indulgence results when a person is not content with a moderate or lawful use of things. So Paul, therefore, lays down this rule, – that we are to provide for our bodily needs but not its lusts. It is in this way that we will live in this world without abusing our privileges.16
John Bengel calls this verse the summary of all the light and power of the Last Covenant since it is the entire sum of salvation. He writes that this is in light of what Paul said in chapters 7 and 8 related to the care of one’s body. Such care is neither forbidden in this passage as bad, nor praised as good, but it is reduced in order to be fortified against the dangers to which it is liable, as something of a middle character [between bad and good].17 Today we call this “moderation.”
However, the things that are strictly forbidden are outlined with no allowances for participation at any level, such as orgies, getting drunk, sexual immorality, etc. Perhaps that’s why Robert Haldane cried out for those who claim to be Christians to raise their spirits in praise; to delight in Him, and let His love satisfy them at all times. Why should we look for contentment anywhere else? Anything we try to add to Christ will only make us poorer. It will take away from the enjoyment He brings us.18 So what good does that do us? Put on the Lord Jesus, and then view yourself, and why you no longer look like a slave to sin.19
Albert Barnes notes that the gratification of the flesh was the main object among the Romans. Living in luxury and licentiousness they made it the main target of their endeavors so that they could multiply and prolong their involvement in ungodly indulgences. In respect to this, Christians were to be a separate people and to show that they were influenced by a higher and purer desire than this submissive tendency to seek sensual gratification. It is a Christian’s duty to labor to make provision for all the real needs of life. But the real bodily needs are few. So with a heart inclined to be pure and restrained, the necessities of life are easily satisfied so that the mind may be devoted to higher and purer purposes.20 Sad to say, the Romans had nothing on the excesses we see today in the world’s major cities. That is why the principles Paul laid down here are just as relevant today as they were back then.
Frédéric Godet writes that Christian holiness is represented here as the highest decency to be compared with the assured sense of dignity and self-respect that every believer has when they start each new day. Worldly conduct, however, resembles those indecencies that sinners are embarrassed to exhibit during the day but which come out in full bloom at night. Such a mode of acting is, therefore, incompatible with the conduct of a person who has been enlightened by the pure light of the Gospel.21 Godet goes on to say that Paul does not forbid taking care of one’s body, but do not become preoccupied with it because it can easily lead to sensual practices. Charles Spurgeon agrees by saying, living a life of luxury and self-indulgence only leads to excite those sinful tendencies which each Christian is dedicated to keeping under control. Paul, therefore, warns the Romans not to give into thinking about such things.22
Charles Spurgeon then ends his message on this text by exhorting his congregation to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, for He is coming, the beloved of our souls! From over the hills, we hear the trumpet sounding! The angelic heralds are crying out, “The bridegroom is coming! The bridegroom is coming!” Though He seems to be waiting for the Father’s signal. He has been ready to return at any moment. Today we may hear His chariot wheels in the distance. They advance nearer and nearer. Let us not sleep as others do. Blessed are they who will be ready for the wedding when the Bridegroom comes!23
1 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 262
2 Galatians 3:27
3 Ephesians 4:24
4 Colossians 3:10-11
5 Galatians 5:16-17
6 1 John 2:15-17
7 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 24
10 Galatians 6:8
11 Augustine on Romans 77
12 1 John 2:6
13 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Theodore of Mopsuestia: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. p. 192
16 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 359
18 See 1 Peter 1:8
19 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 593
20 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
21 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
22 Charles Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, “Christ Put On,” #2132, Vol 36, Delivered on Sunday morning, February 23, 1890
23 Ibid. p. 8