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By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons) DD.
Salvation To The Uttermost (5.1-8.39).
The depths of our sin having been revealed in 1.17-3.23, and Jesus Christ’s activity, (His activity in bringing about our salvation through the cross by means of the reckoning to us of His righteousness by faith), having been made known in 3.24-4.25, Paul now sets about demonstrating the consequences of this for all true believers (5.1-8.39). He wants us immediately to recognise that being ‘accounted as righteous’ by God will necessarily result in our becoming alive in Christ (e.g. 6.4, 11, 22-23; 7.4; 8.2, 9-11), in our ‘sanctification’ (6.22) and in the work of the Spirit within us (5.5; 7.6; 8.2, 4, 5-12).
As has been pointed out by scholars this whole section is presented in chiastic form:
Central therefore in the chiasmus is the Christian’s deliverance from the slavery and guilt of sin. This is a reminder that God has not done His perfect work simply in order to make us acceptable to Him. He also has in mind our being perfected, our becoming like Him in His glory. And all this is the consequence of our ‘having been accounted as righteous by faith’ (5.1)
Furthermore all this comes to us ‘through our LORD Jesus Christ’ (the LORD Jesus Christ Who was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead - 1.4). We put LORD in capitals in order to stress that it is expressing the highest form of Lordship, the Lordship of ‘God the LORD’. LORD is regularly found in parallel with God in the New Testament and 1 Corinthians 8.6 makes clear that it is of equal weight. In the Old Testament the Greek translators translated the Name of God (YHWH) as ‘LORD’ (kurios). This phrase, ‘through our LORD Jesus Christ’ and its parallel ‘in our LORD Jesus Christ’ is indeed one of the themes of this section. Being the One Who has been ‘declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead’, it is through His power that we can experience His salvation. It is through Him that we have peace with God (5.1); it is through Him that we boast in God (5.11); it is through Him that grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life (5.21); it is in Him that we receive the gift of God which is eternal life (6.23); it is through Him that thanks for deliverance and victory are due to God (7.25); and it is in Him that we are participants in the love of God from which we will never be separated by any power whatsoever (8.39). He is the file leader of our salvation (Hebrews 2.10), the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12.2), our Perfecter in readiness for that day (Ephesians 5.25-27).
At first sight it might appear, that in spite of the opening phrase, ‘being justified by faith’ (5.1), being followed by a description of the consequences of such justification (5.2-5), chapter 5 continues on with the theme of justification, especially in the latter part (5.6-21). And to some extent this is correct. But this is because in the economy of God justification (the accounting of men as righteous) can never be far away. It is the basis of all other benefits that we receive from God.
On the other hand it should be noted that in what follows 5.1 there is a notable difference in emphasis. Whilst justification by faith is still seen as undergirding the Gospel (5.6-11, 15-19), it now does that as something which results in ‘sanctification’ (6.22). Thus 5.2-5 initially indicates how justification results in a series of experiences whereby God proceeds to ‘sanctify’ His people. And this is required because they are ‘weak’ and ‘ungodly’ (5.6) and ‘sinful’ (5.7). Consequently , this weakness has to be dealt with by means of justification (accounting as righteous) and reconciliation through the cross. But this is not to be seen as the final result. It is to be seen as leading on to a ‘saving by (or 'in') His life’ (5.10).
In 3.24-4.25 the emphasis had been wholly on justification (being accounted righteous) as making men right with God. Now the new element is entering in that its purpose is to result in men being made holy and righteous. Until the doctrine was firmly established, such an addition to it might have provided a misleading emphasis, for it might have suggested to some that it was necessary for justification, but now that it has been made clear that our acceptance with God is made possible by faith alone, without the need for anything else, the idea of sanctification can be introduced, an idea first mooted in 5.1-11. 5.12-21 then continues on with the thought that justification through the gift of the righteousness of Christ (5.15-19) is basic to the reigning life that Christians should now be leading, and to the final reception of eternal life through the reigning of God’s grace through Jesus Christ (5.17, 21).
Thus from 5.1 onwards justification is seen as undergirding subsequent sanctification and the reception of eternal life. This is a new emphasis. And then in 6.1-11 another aspect of justification, that we have died with Christ and risen with Him, is presented, as the basis:
Thus teaching in 5.1-6.11 about justification is to be seen as undergirding the teaching of 5.1-8.39 on the work of the Holy Spirit and the reception of eternal life, both present and future (John speaks of both as ‘eternal life’, Paul thinks of the present experience as ‘life’ and the future experience as ‘eternal life’).
This may all be presented in a summary as follows. Note the continual mention of either the Spirit (of life), or of life, or of eternal life:
We Are Assured Of Reigning In Life And Enjoying Future Glory And The Basis Of This Is What Christ Has Accomplished For Us (5.1-21).
Having been reckoned as righteous through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and are called on to ‘rejoice in hope of the glory of God’ (5.1-2), and this because ‘as sin has reigned unto death, even so will grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life, through Jesus Christ our LORD’ (5.21). Seen as future ‘eternal life’ includes in it the experience of His glory. (The Pauline conception of ‘eternal life’ is in contrast with that of Jesus and John, who speak of it as both present and future. Paul speaks of the present experiences as ‘life’) In this lies our certainty with regard to the glory that is to come, the glory of which we are now constantly coming short (3.23).
But that glory comes at a cost, a cost for us in that God begins His perfect work in us shaping us for the future by His Holy Spirit (5.3-5), and a cost for Him in that He died for us, a death crowned by His resurrection (5.6-10). For although all mankind lay under the penalty of sin (5.12-14; compare 1.18-3.23), Christ has delivered us from that through His gift of righteousness (5.15-17; compare 1.17) obtained for us through His own righteousness and obedience (5.18-19). Sin abounded through the power of the Law (5.20), but where sin abounded grace did much more abound, a grace which reigns through righteousness, with its consequence eternal life through Jesus Christ our LORD (5.20b-21).
The passage splits neatly into two subsections, 5.1-11 and 5.12-21, of which we will now consider the first.
The Direct Consequence Of Our Being Accounted as Righteous Through Faith (5.1-11).
Paul now outlines some of the consequences of our being ‘accounted as righteous’ through faith. These he represents as follows:
Note the centrality of ‘hope’ (confident certainty about the future) in the passage. We rejoice in hope of the glory of God (verse 2). Our tribulations and what results from them fills us with hope (confident certainty) of what God will accomplish in us and of what our final end will be with Him in glory (verses 2, 4-5). For our justification is with a view to eternal life (5.21), which is elsewhere described as our ‘hope’ (Titus 1.2; 3.7).
In this we see the twofold aspect of ‘the righteousness of God’ emphasised in the Old Testament Scriptures (Psalm 24.5; Isaiah 46.13; 51.5; 61.10). It comes to us as His free gift so that we may be judicially acceptable before Him (3.24-5.1), and it comes to us to effect within us His righteousness so that we might enjoy His glory (5.2-5, 17, compare also 6.13-20). Thus His love is shed abroad in our hearts (verse 5) in hope of the glory of God (verse 2), which we had previously forfeited by sin (3.23). We will be saved by His risen life (verse 10). Having received the ‘abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness’ we will reign in life through Him (verse 17). And it is this grace which reigns through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord (verse 21) which will be the basis of our lives. It is thus impossible for us to receive God’s righteousness without the intention on His part of our being made righteous. In no case, however, is it our righteousness. It is His righteousness, accounted to us, and active in our lives, which produces righteousness within us.
5.1 ‘Having therefore been accounted as in the right by faith, we have peace with God (or ‘let us continue to have peace with God’) through our Lord Jesus Christ,’
Paul now explains that because we have been accounted as righteous once for all (made acceptable in God’s eyes through the gift of His righteousness) through believing in ‘our Lord, Jesus Christ’ we have peace with God. His anger at sin is no longer directed against us, the enmity against sin has been removed, and we are reconciled to Him and He to us. No longer do we live in fear of the judgment. No longer are we afraid of the record of sin that stands against us. No longer do we have to fear the pointed finger. God our erstwhile Judge is now our friend, and our Father and is smiling on us. All is at peace between God and ourselves. We enjoy peace with God because we have been accounted as righteous by faith.
This ‘having been accounted as in the right by faith’ is the basis of all that follows. That is why Paul has so emphasised it. The aorist verb points in this context to an act of justification which is permanent and complete. The point is that whereas our spiritual state may vary, our acceptance before God is assured once and for all once we truly ‘believe into Him’. And it is because of that acceptance that we can have and enjoy continual ‘peace with God’. The main idea behind that peace is the peace of reconciliation (verses 10-11), the peace of salvation (Isaiah 52.7). We enter into God’s covenant of peace (Ezekiel 34.25). And as a result there is no more enmity between us and God (verse 10-11). On our part we have laid down our arms and surrendered, something demonstrated by our believing response, and on His part His wrath (His antipathy against our sin which necessitates His acting against it) has been satisfied because He has brought to us His own righteousness. All has been made right between us. And this is all on the basis of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us, as indeed verses 6-11 will emphasise. Our having been justified by faith is thus the rock on which our eternal security is guaranteed. It is the grounds of our continual peace with God.
But being at peace with God will necessarily result in us having peace in our hearts, just as ‘being in the right with God’ through receiving God-given righteousness will necessarily result in a hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matthew 5.6). Thus ‘justification’ is the foundation of both our future righteousness and of our peace. The Hebrew for ‘peace’ means ‘well-being’. Thus from ‘our peace with God’ will flow our peace from God (1.7), the certainty of our spiritual well-being, and the peace of God which passes all understanding (Philippians 4.7).
‘We have peace with God’ or ‘let us continue at peace with God’. This depends on whether we read the indicative or the subjunctive. The latter is supported by Aleph and B (although soon ‘corrected’ to the former), along with D and the Latin versions, but if accepted must be seen in context as signifying that we do have peace with God, for the certainty of that peace continues on through the verses that follow.
5.2 ‘Through whom also we have had our introduction (access) by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.’
And through Him we not only have peace with God, but we also have had introduction/access by faith into the powerful activity of the grace of God, that is, into the sphere of His continual activity of unmerited love towards us. For God’s grace is not a kind of liquid which is poured on us and can be dispensed by a priest, but is God’s active, unmerited love and compassion continually at work in our lives. And we are introduced into it by Jesus Christ. It is within this sphere of grace that we take up our stance and stand firmly by faith so that we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God which will be ours because of His gracious working. For it is by His grace active towards us that we are accounted as righteous (3.24-25; 5.15-16). It is by His grace active towards us that we are made heirs of God (4.13, 16; 8.17). It is His grace which reigns through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (5.21). It is by His active grace that we are saved (Ephesians 2.8-9). It is in accordance with the riches of His grace that we enjoy forgiveness (Ephesians 1.7). All is because we are in His loving hands. And now we learn that it is God’s grace active towards us which will ensure that we enjoy the glory of God. This is the glory of God of which we had previously come short (3.23). Now we have the assurance that God will restore us to a state whereby we will truly know and experience that glory.
Some, however, read ‘this grace’ as signifying ‘His gracious gift of justification’ as previously described, in which we take our stand, thus having the confident certainty of the glory of God. But as that is but one of the gifts that spring from His wondrous activity of unmerited love towards us, although an extremely important one, and we are about to learn of the sanctifying experience taking place in our lives (verses 3-5), we should probably see ‘this grace’ as signifying His overall gracious activity towards us resulting in both justification (being reckoned as righteous) and sanctification (being seen as His in order to be transformed into His image).
‘In hope --.’ Hope as spoken of by Paul is a certain and assured hope. Thus our ‘hope of the glory of God’ is not a wistful longing, but a confident assurance. We know that we will one day be made like Him (8.29; 1 John 3.2-3). We know that we will be presented before Him holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5.27; Colossians 1.22) and will see Him as He is (1 John 3.2). We know that we will one day experience the radiance of His presence (Revelation 21.23; 22.5). This is our continual hope and certainty as 8.39 onwards will make clear.
‘Through Whom also we have had our access (or ‘introduction’) --.’ Compare ‘through Him we both (Jew and Gentile) have access by one Spirit to the Father’ (Ephesians 2.18). ‘In Him we have boldness and access (to God) with confidence through faith in Him’ (Ephesians 3.12). Our access is into the Father’s presence through Jesus Christ by the Spirit (compare verse 5) as we are introduced into the sphere of His unmerited love and compassion towards us through the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ. And this not through any acceptability that we might have as a result of observing the Law or through any deserving that we might have, but solely through our Lord Jesus Christ and what He has done for us, and through His gift towards us of our ‘being accounted as in the right’ (3.24-25). It ensures that we now stand firmly within the stream of His gracious activity, of His loving work towards us (verses 6-11) and in us (8.1-9; Philippians 2.13), as He continually watches over us. We are now, therefore, sure of God’s continual gracious working, even in tribulation, a working which works continually within us in order that we may ‘will and do of His good pleasure’ (Philippians 2.13). We can now be sure that we will be confirmed to the end through His faithfulness (1 Corinthians 1.8-9), being confident of this very thing, that He Who has begun a good work within us will perform it until the Day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1.6). And we can therefore be sure that all the blessings of God (Matthew 5.3-10) will be poured upon us. We are ‘surrounded and caught up in His active GRACE (God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense)’, that is into His totally unmerited compassion and mercy.
‘We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.’ Those who are accounted righteous in Jesus Christ can rejoice in hope of the glory of God in at least three ways;
5.3a ‘And not only so, but we also rejoice in our tribulations,’
But what is the road that leads to the glory of God? It is the road of tribulations. It is because of the joy that is set before us that we endure what comes before it. Just as, for Christ, prior to the resurrection there came the cross, so also for us, prior to glory, will come tribulation. And it because these are closely connected that we also rejoice in tribulation, for that tribulation is the prerequisite to enjoying His glory. We know that if we suffer with Him we will also reign with Him (2 Timothy 2.12). It is ‘if so be that we suffer with Him so that we might be glorified together’ that we are ‘joint heirs with Christ’ (8.17). This was very much the experience of the early church. Paul stressed to them that it was ‘through much tribulation that they would enter under the Kingly Rule of God’ (Acts 14.22). And we are not exempted. For tribulation is a necessary first step towards our final glorification. Whilst we may not experience the same kind of tribulation as they did (Romans 8.35 ff; 1 Corinthians 4.11-13; 7.26-32; 15.30-32; 2 Corinthians 1.3-10; 11.23-27), all who seek to serve Christ faithfully will at some stage experience the hardships that result from being a Christian, whether it be through the taunts of those to whom we witness, or through the consequences of our being fully obedient to Him, something which the world has no time for.
This was an important point to make at this stage, for otherwise some would have wondered why those who were in God’s favour were being so fiercely persecuted. It is a recognition for us that although we are accounted as righteous in God’s eyes, we still have to face our everyday problems, sometimes even accentuated. For we must necessarily remember that we are not walking in a private park (as Adam originally did) but in a battlefield. We are called on to be good soldiers of Jesus Christ, not becoming entangled with the affairs of this life (2 Timothy 2.3-4). We are called on to stand firm in the face of the Enemy and to wrestle with the powers of darkness (Ephesians 6.10-18). And we should not therefore be surprised if the shells of tribulation fall upon us and explode around us.
And this does not necessarily stop with the tribulations peculiar to the Christian life, for Paul here speaks generally of ‘tribulations’. It can therefore also refer to all the sorrows of life to which mortal man is subject, and indeed the travail of the whole creation (8.22), in whose sufferings we have a part (8.23). This includes not only various trials that we may face off and on through life, but also painful and debilitating disease and natural catastrophe in as far as they affect ourselves (we must not be complacent about them as they affect others). And we rejoice in them, not for what they are in themselves, but because they help to shape and fashion our lives and because they remind us among other things that we are not to look at the things which are seen, which are but temporary, but at the things which are unseen, which are eternal (2 Corinthians 4.17). We rejoice in them because they shake us out of our complacency and turn our thoughts towards Christ. We rejoice in them because of what they accomplish in us. We are not, therefore, to see the world as a vale of pointless hardship, but rather as a training ground (1 Corinthians 9.24-25), as a potter’s wheel (9.23; Jeremiah 18.3-6), as a blacksmith’s fire (Zechariah 13.9), as a place where God shapes and moulds us to His will (Hebrews 12.3-12).
5.3b-4 ‘Knowing that tribulation works steadfastness; and steadfastness, refined purity (approval after testing); and refined purity hope,’
Paul now continues to describe the process by which God shapes our lives. For ‘tribulation works steadfastness, and steadfastness brings us to a place of refined purity (approval after testing), and that refined purity (approval after testing) strengthens our hope’, both hope for the future which will enable us to further please God (as with Abraham - 4.18-22), and hope in eternity when we will enjoy and experience the gory of God.
‘Knowing that tribulation works steadfastness.’ For to those whose hearts are set towards God tribulation bears its fruit. It produces patient endurance and steadfastness as, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we grit our teeth and move on to face that tribulation, indwelt by the Holy Spirit and with our hand in the hand of God. We have to remember in this regard that we are in a marathon and not in a sprint (Hebrews 12.1-3), sometimes having to struggle even in order to move on. Indeed at times every step may be painful. But we must remember at all times that at some stage we will pull through it, aided by His Spirit, and that beyond it we will experience a new feeling of strength and exhilaration in Christ, and a new awareness of the graciousness of God (whether in this world or the next). The same lesson is taught by James in James 1.2-4, 12, and by Peter in 1 Peter 1.3-7. It was the common experience of the early church. At some stage it will be ours too.
‘And steadfastness produces refined purity (‘approval after testing’). The idea behind the latter words is that of something which has been refined in the fire and has come out purer and stronger, of something that has been put to the test and has not only endured, but has been ‘perfected’, resulting in consequent approval. Steadfast endurance has its consequence in that it brings us to a state of refined purity. We gain a sense of approval after testing.
And this sense of refined purity or approval after testing produces continuing hope. For just as strenuous and painful exercise can improve our muscle tone, so steadfast endurance and its consequence in ‘coming out refined’ (approved after testing), can strengthen our ‘hope’, the hope of what is to come both in this world (compare 4.18-19) and the next (Titus 2.13). Hope is the confident certainty that because all is in the hands of God, whatever happens the future is assured. Compare Abraham’s hope in 4.18-21, and see also 8.29-39.
5.5 ‘And hope does not put to shame, because the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given to us.’
And our hope of being transformed daily into His image, and of one day being made holy, unblameable and unreproveable before Him is one which will not ‘put us to shame’ and leave us ashamed. For God has made full provision for us. We can have confidence because of what God has done and is doing in us. He has shed His love abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Whom He has given us, the love that was made fully known to us in that Christ died for us (verse 8). He works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.13). Thus we are rooted and grounded in love, and we are coming more and more to know and appreciate the love of Christ which passes all knowledge, that we might be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3.17-19).
‘And hope does not put to shame.’ The idea that God’s people will not be put to shame is constant in the Old Testament. See Isaiah 28.16 LXX, ‘whoever believes in Him will not be ashamed’ (compare its use in Romans 9.33; 10.11); Psalm 22.5, ‘they trusted in You and were not ashamed’; Psalm 25.3, 20, ‘none who wait on You will be ashamed’. God’s people will never end up ashamed unless they cling on to their sin.
‘Because the love of God has been shed abroad (poured out) in our hearts.’ For what delivers us from the possibility of being ashamed is the fact that God’s love has flooded our hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit, giving us full recognition of His love. This is the first mention in Romans of the love of God (although it is of course implicit in His grace (3.24-25) and in the fact that we are ‘beloved of God’ - 1.7), but it underlines all of which Paul writes. ‘God commends His love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us’ (5.8). Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (8.35, 37) and from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (8.39). In this lies our assurance of all His blessings. But note that it does not preserve us from tribulation. Rather it comes to us in the midst of our tribulation giving us power to overcome (8.35-37). We can compare how the Holy Spirit, the gift of His love, is also ‘poured upon us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour’ (Titus 3.6).
‘Through the Holy Spirit which was given to us.’ Compare 2.29 where it was the work of the Spirit in their hearts that made believers ‘true Jews’. Here mention of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit comes almost as a surprise in the middle of the dissertation on justification from 3.24-5.21, but is of course a part of the introduction of the idea of sanctification in 5.2-5, a sanctification which has to be a fruit of justification. It is the Holy Spirit Who floods our hearts with the recognition of God’s love as He oversees His sanctifying work. This work of the Spirit will come to prominence in 8.1-17, and its fruit is revealed in 14.17.
5.6 ‘For while we were yet weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly.’
Having briefly demonstrated the fruits of justification, Paul now comes back to its grounds. Verses 2-5 have illustrated the believers’ strength through the Holy Spirit, now we are reminded of the state that they were in before that strength came as a consequence of their being accounted as righteous. They had been ‘weak’, they had been ‘without strength’, they had been unable to help themselves. And it was while they were in that state of weakness that, at the right time as chosen by God, Christ died for the ungodly. He did not die for those who were struggling after righteousness, or those who were looking to their own merits. He died for the ungodly (compare 4.5), those who recognised their own godless state (1.18), and recognised that they could do nothing for themselves. Any hope for such people had to come from God’s grace alone. And it had to come through the death of Christ.
This last fact is now accentuated in the text by the order of the Greek words, for verse 6, 7 and 8 all end with the idea of death. Thus we could translate:
The emphasis is thus being placed in these three verses on the death of Christ for us.
‘In due season.’ Compare ‘the fullness of the time’ (Galatians 4.4); and see Ephesians 1.10; 1 Timothy 2.6; Titus 1.3. The death of Christ took place at the appropriate time, which occurred once God had prepared for what He was coming to do through the prophets and had made ready those who would receive Him
‘Christ.’ This is only the second use of this title on its own (compare 1.16), although we have a similar emphasis in the use of ‘Christ Jesus’ in 3.24. The stress is on Jesus Christ as Messiah, and yet as more than Messiah (1.2-4; Matthew 22.42-45). It was His own Son, the One Whom God had appointed and sent, Who died for the ungodly.
5.7 ‘For scarcely for a righteous man will one die. For peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die.’
And lest it be thought that he is overstressing this description of men as ‘ungodly’ Paul now underlines the fact for us. It was for men who were neither righteous nor good that Christ died. It was for sinners (verse 8). We could, says Paul, possibly have understood someone dying for a strictly righteous man, although it would have been unusual. We could even more have understood a man dying for someone who was not only righteous but truly good, one of those jewels in the world whom all have to admire. But what we cannot comprehend is that Christ should have died for the ungodly, for sinners, while they were yet sinners, that is, for what might be seen as the rag-tag of society.
There is probably in Paul’s mind here a memory of how he, along with many Pharisees, had sought to be righteous, and even good, and had despised those who had failed to conform. And of how some had even appeared from a human point of view to get very close. But he is bringing out that unless such men were willing to align themselves with the ‘sinners’ whom they despised, there could be no hope for them. ‘Sinners’ were those who came short of God’s requirements in the eyes of all. This therefore, of course, removes any temptation to suggest that verses 2-5 somehow represent a way by which sinners can be accepted as righteous in God’s eyes through their own activity. They progressed in the way described because they had first recognised that they were ungodly and sinners, and had come to Christ in order to be ‘accounted as in the right before God’. It was as a consequence of ‘having been justified by faith’ that they progressed, not as contributors towards that justification. For that justification was not for the righteous or for the good. It was for the ungodly, for sinners.
5.8 ‘But God commends his own love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, for us Christ died.’
‘Being accounted as righteous’ has resulted from the grace and love of God (3.24), and we now learn that that love was ‘commended’ towards us by God (drawn vividly to our attention) in that while we were yet sinners ‘for us Christ died’. Note that it is God’s love that is commended, and that it is revealed in Christ’s death for us. In the Godhead all are as One. This verse is drawing attention to the greatness of the cost to God Himself. Jesus once said that ‘greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15.13). But here now we learn of a greater love, a love revealed in that God gave His own Son on behalf of unworthy and rebellious sinners. And what is more, that is the very love which He now spreads abroad in the hearts of His own (verse 5). In other words He loved us and He gave His Son for us so that we might become participants in that love. Consider the greatness of that love. ‘In this was love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ (1 John 4.10). ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life --’ (John 3.16). What greater love could there be than that? And as a result of the cross He spreads it abroad in our hearts so that we might learn to love as He did (verse 5).
5.9 ‘Much more then, being now accounted as in the right by his blood, will we be saved from the wrath (of God) through him.’
And as a consequence of being accounted as righteous by His sacrificial death for us, we will ‘much more’ be saved from ‘the wrath’ (God’s wrath) through Him. 1.18-3.23 had concentrated on the fact that God’s wrath had been revealed towards us as worked out through this present era, bringing about man’s degradation (1.24-27) and making man’s mind go astray and become ‘unfitting’, resulting in deeper and deeper sin (1.28-30), and 2.5 had pointed ahead to ‘the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God’. Thus wrath is both present and future, being experienced to some extent now, but coming to its climax on the day of Judgment. Now, however, Paul emphasises that for those who believe in Him (5.1) the consequences of that wrath have been removed from us ‘through Him’ (Jesus Christ). Thus while we may still be subjected to ‘tribulations’ (5.3), or to chastening (Hebrews 12.3-11; 1 Corinthians 11.30-32), we may be sure that we will never again suffer under the wrath of God. And this results from the fact that we have been ‘justified (accounted as righteous) by His blood’ (compare 3.24-25), that is, as a result of His sacrificial death for us. The Judge of all men thus now ‘accounts us as righteous’, that is as ‘free from all charges’, because of His righteousness given to us through Christ (1.17). It is this that enables God to actively give us ‘life’.
5.10 ‘For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, will we be saved by his life,’
Paul’s language now moves from the law court to the question of our personal relationship to God. In Paul’s day the King/Emperor was both the supreme court and the ‘father’ of his people. Thus transgressing the law was in itself an act of rebellion, both against the law, and against the King’s ‘fatherhood’. So sin, Paul brings out, is nothing less than rebellion against God. It is not just a breaking of the Law but a personal affront to God. It thus reveals us as being at enmity with God. As we were sinners, so were we enemies. But it goes further, for it also results in His enmity towards us, it results in His wrath revealed against us because of sin (1.18; 2.5). That is why propitiation is needed (3.25; 1 John 2.1-2). That is why He ‘gave us up’ to the consequences of sin (1.24, 28). It was because He was ‘angry’ (filled with aversion to our sin). There is no avoiding the thought of a broken relationship on both sides, something which on God’s side could only be remedied by the death of His Son. For in Scripture reconciliation always comes from God’s side. Being accounted as righteous through His blood (affecting God’s attitude towards us - verse 9), we are reconciled though His death (affecting God’s attitude towards us). And this is made possible by the shedding of Jesus’ blood as a ‘propitiation’, for averting of wrath is one of the purposes of sacrifice. Thus, as a consequence of coming to Christ and believing ‘into Him’ and in His death for us (committing our lives to His saving activity), we have now been reconciled to God. His wrath is no longer directed at us. ‘In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself not imputing their trespasses towards them’ (2 Corinthians 5.19). It was God Who reconciled us to Himself (2 Corinthians 5.18), not we who reconciled ourselves towards God, and it is as a consequence that we become reconciled towards Him. Thus there is now total reconciliation.
However, there is not only reconciliation but much more. ‘Much more, being reconciled, will we be saved by his life.’ Reconciliation through His death brings us into powerful contact with the power of His risen life (1.4). The contrasting of His death with His life prevents us from seeing ‘His life’ here as simply indicating His life given up in death. It is clearly a further step forward. But how then are we to be ‘saved by His life’? The initial answer to that lies in 1.4. It is because He was ‘declared to be the Son of God with power’ by His resurrection from the dead, that He is able to save. It is thus this power revealed by His resurrection, ‘the power of God unto salvation’ (1.16), that undergirds the whole letter. His death was certainly essential but it is the risen Christ, in all His risen power (Matthew 28.19; Ephesians 1.19-22), Who finally brings about our total salvation.
It is the risen Christ Who, acting as our High Priest, has reconciled us to God, for He is ‘a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people’ (Hebrews 2.17), and it is He Who continually makes intercession for us as a result of His resurrection (8.34). And it is the risen Christ Who will now save us by His life. This will indeed be the theme of coming chapters (e.g. 5.17; 6.1-11; 8.9b-10; 8.34-35). It is by being made one with Him and being united with Him that we will be saved as a consequence of participating in His life. ‘Because I live, you will live as well’ (John 14.19). For when God comes to us bringing us His righteousness, and we are ‘made the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ’ in the same way as He ‘was made sin for us’ by divine transference (2 Corinthians 5.21), it not only results in our being ‘accounted as righteous’, but has a consequence of giving us ‘a hunger and thirst after righteousness’ that we might be filled (Matthew 5.6). It is not possible to experience the righteousness of God coming upon us without it affecting our whole lives. It is not a legal fiction. And such a hunger and thirst can only be met by Christ’s life being fulfilled through us as we ‘walk in newness of life’ (6.3). ‘Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave His life for me (and now lives in me) (Galatians 2.20). ‘For we (the Father and the Son) will come to him and will make our dwelling with him’ (John 14.23).
5.11 ‘And not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.’
Paul now exults in the glory of reconciliation with and from God. We (Paul and the Roman Christians, but of course including all Christians) ‘rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ because of it. We cannot get over the wonder of it. Sinners, and yet reconciled to God and therefore no longer under His disapprobation and wrath, but with all enmity removed. It is a cause for rejoicing indeed. He emphasises that it is ‘through our Lord Jesus Christ’. It is the coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ, into the world that has made all the difference. It is through God having sent His Son (1.2-4).
Notice the glorious progression that has taken place:
‘Through whom we have now received the reconciliation.’ The reconciliation has been effected by God through the blood sacrifice of Christ and is something that we ‘receive’. Thus as we come under His blood we ‘enter into the sphere of reconciliation with God’ having been accounted as righteous before Him. Both justification (legal acceptance) and propitiation (relational acceptance) are necessary if we are to be acceptable to God. And they are offered to us in Christ.
Paul Now Describes Man’s Oneness With Adam In Judgment And Compares It With The Believer’s Oneness With Christ In Deliverance (5.12-21).
This passage can be seen as summarising all that has gone before, whilst also introducing new concepts that lie ahead. It is transitional. Here Paul enters into the depths of the world’s sin, and of God’s provision for that sin through Christ, as dealt with in 1.18-4.25. But at the same time his words lead into what lies ahead as he considers the reign of sin over men’s lives. These verses demonstrate the sinfulness of all men from the beginning, and contrast it with the remedy that God has provided in Christ (1.18-5.11). They then lead into the idea of man’s bondage to sin, and the way of release through Christ which will be described from 6.1 onwards.
It commences by taking up the earlier theme of 1.18-3.23, and emphasising that ‘all have sinned’. In order to do this Paul goes back into history and demonstrates that all men have sinned, because all are sons of Adam. And they did that in a time when there was no Law. Thus there was at that time no distinction between Jew and Gentile. And the corollary is that the same is true now. Now also there is no longer a thought of a distinction between Jew and Gentile. All participate equally in Adam’s sinfulness and are therefore seen as one in him, for they are descended from him. The whole world thus shares in the same problem, and none can escape it. And that includes Jew as well as Gentile. He will then go on to say that in the same way all who would be saved have to participate in the righteousness and obedience of Christ (verses 17-19; 2 Corinthians 5.21; 1 Peter 1.2). There is no alternative. There is no other way of avoiding sin and death, the two tyrants which lord it over mankind. We must choose between Adam or Christ.
In both cases there is imputation and impartation. Adam’s sin is in some way imputed to us, although it should be noted that that is because we ourselves sin, as is evidenced by the fact that we die (verses 13-15). And yet Adam’s sin is also seen as imparted to us because we were made actual sinners through the sin of Adam (verse 12). It should be noted what imputation here means. It signifies ‘sharing in the blame for sin’. It does not indicate the direct forensic application to men of Adam’s sin. This is evident from the fact that had they had the Law sin would have been ‘imputed’ to them by the Law. (‘Sin is not imputed where there is no law’). The idea of imputation here therefore is that of putting the blame where it belongs, on those who sinned because they were affected by Adam’s sin. It is not saying that they bore the guilt of Adam’s own sin.
In a parallel fashion we can be looked on as righteous as Christ’s righteousness comes upon us (verse 18), and this through our benefiting from His obedience (verse 19). As a consequence we are to ‘reign in life through Christ’, something which requires imparted righteousness, although only through the grace of God (verse 17, 20, 21).
Thus the theme of the second part of this passage is that as in Adam all struggle and die, as a result of their connection with Adam, so in Christ will all who are connected with Him be made spiritually alive, and reign in life. A secondary theme, lying in the background, might be seen as the indication that, when we get down to the foundations, the Law is of secondary (although real) importance. It neither initially caused the condemnation of mankind (5.13), nor could it provide a way of escape from sin (5.20-21). All it could do was bring man’s many transgressions into the open. It was a half way measure.
This passage can thus be divided into three sections:
Adam Brought Sin And Death For All Into The World, Because All Have Sinned (5.12-14).
Having previously proved that all men have sinned (1.18-3.20), Paul now introduces the clinching argument in terms of our descent from Adam. The effect of Adam’s sin is to be seen in that all men subsequently die, demonstrating once more that all have sinned (compare 3.23).
Note how powerfully Paul sets up ‘sin’ as a principle at work in the world, almost as though it was personal, a theme which continues throughout 5.12-8.13. Sin entered into the world (verse 12). Sin was in the world (verse 13). Sin reigns over men (verse 20). Men can be servants of sin (6.16). Sin pays wages (6.23). Sin seizes its opportunity to make men exceedingly sinful (7.8). Sin can beguile us and kill us (7.11). Sin works death in us (7.13). Indeed, as with the snake in Genesis 3, we can see behind ‘sin’ the subtle hand of the great Deceiver. The whole world lies in the arms of the Evil One (or ‘of evil’ - 1 John 5.19). But we must not in consequence confuse the two. In the end it is man who is responsible for what he does, and sin is part of what he has become.
5.12 ‘Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death passed to all men, for that all sinned:—,’
The opening statement is a simple one based on the fall of man in Genesis 3. By this sin entered into the world, with its subsequent penalty of death. In the beginning there was one man (in Hebrew ‘man’ = ‘adam’). And through that one man sin and death entered into the world as a result of his own deliberate choice (1 Timothy 2.14). As a consequence both sin and death passed to all men, for the subsequent death of all men demonstrated that all had sinned. Adam had tainted his seed making all men sinful, something proved by the fact that they died.
‘Sin entered into the world --.’ That is by an act which established within man a certain disposition to sin. Sin had become a principle within man. Note how, in the passages that follow, sin is constantly seen as a pervasive influence, a kind of tyrant, which affects men and drives them to sin. Compare verse 20; 6.16, 23; 7.8, 11, 13-23.
‘For that all sinned --.’ Eph ho pantes hemarton. For pantes hemarton compare 3.23. Paul is once again taking up his theme that all without exception have sinned. ‘Eph ho’ has caused great controversy. If the pronoun is taken as masculine we could translate ‘in whom’, a translation which led on to the idea of original guilt. But eph is an unnatural preposition for signifying such an idea, and taking the pronoun as neuter gives us better sense in the light of Paul’s whole argument that ‘all have sinned’. Compare in this regard the use of eph ho in 2 Corinthians 5.4; Philippians 3.12. Thus we translate as ‘for that, because’.
There is a diversity of opinion in Jewish tradition concerning man’s relationship to Adam’s sin, and the teaching is by no means clear, but it may in the main probably be summed up in the words of 2 Baruch 54.15, 19, ‘Adam sinned first and brought death upon all -- Adam is not the cause, except only for himself, but each of us has become the Adam of his own soul’.
‘Therefore just as (howsper) --’ would normally require a comparison to follow (‘so also’), something which does not obviously occur in the text. Most would see the comparison as occurring in verses 18-19, as Paul again takes up his point (e.g. ‘as by one man sin entered into the world -- even so through the obedience of one will many be made righteous’). Others see the comparison as being taken up by, ‘who is a figure of the one who is to come’. But this is not the only occasion when Paul appears to drop a line of argument when diverted by something important that he wants to say. And it may be that we should leave it there. What is important is that the explanation is finally given.
5.13 ‘For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.’
Sin was in the world from the moment of Adam’s fall. This happened before the Law came into the world, the Law which made sin apparent for what it was. As a consequence men sinned, but as there was no God-given Law by which they could be demonstrated as blameworthy, man could not pass judgment on men. Judgment was very much left in the hands of God, for man was in no position to pronounce on what was sin. Man was unable to ‘impute sin’. Once, however, the Law was there man could impute sin. In other words he was able to demonstrate that it was blameworthy in the eyes of God and could therefore act as judge on God’s behalf. But he had not been able to do that before. We can consider how Cain’s sin was brought home to him by God, not by Adam (Genesis 4).
We cannot really suggest that Paul was saying that God could not impute sin, for he would have been very much aware that God had clearly imputed it to Cain (Genesis 4.7), and had equally clearly imputed it to mankind when He destroyed them by the Flood (Genesis 6-9). Consider also the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah which were clearly imputed to them (Genesis 18-19). In each case God called them to account on the basis of what He and of what they knew to be wrong. How else could He have been seen as the Judge of all the earth Who did what was right (Genesis 18.25)? It was thus man who, in so far as it was so, was left in the dark as to what was sin. And even then he had received various directions from God (e.g. Genesis 9.6; 18.19; 26.5), so that he knew of some things which were displeasing in God’s eyes. Indeed for Paul to suggest that God would not impute sin would be partly to negate his earlier argument about the law written in men’s hearts. The point being made here, therefore, is not that God could not impute sin, but that men were unable to point the finger at each other, and sentence each other on the basis of it. It was they who were unable to identify sin and bring it into condemnation.
The importance of this for Paul’s argument lies in the fact that a Jew might argue against all being seen as having sinned on the basis that sin could not be imputed before the giving of the Law. ‘Nevertheless,’ says Paul, ‘that all sinned is demonstrated by the fact that all died.’
5.14 ‘Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned after the likeness of Adam’s transgression, who is a figure of him who was to come.’
Nevertheless, in spite of men being unable to impute sin before the giving of the Law, the fact that all men had sinned was demonstrated by the fact that all men died. Death reigned over all, even though they had not openly flouted a direct command of God like Adam had. And this of course demonstrated what Adam’s sin had done to mankind. It had in some way tainted all men with sin, with the final result being that all sinned and came under God’s judgment on sin. The universality of death demonstrated the universality of sin. Thus by the trespass of this one man all were made sinners, and all died. The consequences of his sin brought condemnation on all men, and the resulting reign of death (verses 18-20).
Note that Paul does not deny that all men had sinned. He simply indicates that they had not sinned quite as directly as Adam. They had not sinned in such a way that men could point the finger at them as direct God-rejecters. But the fact that death reigned over all, demonstrated that sin also reigned over all, the sin that was the fruit of Adam’s sinfulness. The essence of what Paul is saying is once again that all men, both Jew and Gentile, have sinned.
‘Death reigned.’ Initially this signifies physical death, for that was what was observable by man. But behind physical death, unhealed, lies eternal death. Thus both must be seen as finally included, for the death described is in the end the death of those who do not receive eternal life.
It may then be asked. ‘What of those who died in infancy?’ If individual sin is indicated why should they have died? The answer must lie in the idea that in some way the sin of mankind was accounted to them also. They were also seen as ‘sinners’. And why? Because by nature they were born with the same tendency to sin as all men and would therefore undoubtedly have sinned. ‘The wicked are estranged from the womb, they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies’ (Psalm 58.3). This tendency to sin found in all men is something which can hardly be denied unless we can introduce into the equation men who have never actually sinned, which is of course a total impossibility. It is why the One Who was to save could not be born in the ordinary way.
‘Who is a figure of him who was to come.’ Paul then points out that Adam can be seen as pointing forward to Jesus Christ. Just as Adam, as one man, had brought sin and death into the world, so Jesus Christ, as one man, has brought grace and reconciliation and deliverance. ‘Him Who was to come’ may well in context have in mind the seed of the Man who was to bruise the serpent’s head in Genesis 3.15 (compare Romans 16.20). Or it may prefigure the ‘second Man’, the ‘last Adam’ of Jewish tradition, as interpreted by Paul (1 Corinthians 15.45-47). Or it may have in mind great David’s greater Son, the Messiah (1.2-4; Matthew 11.3 - ‘are you he who is coming’; Luke 7.19-20; John 1.19-22). Or indeed it may incorporate all three.
But why should he add this comment here? The answer would appear to be that it is transitional to the verses that follow. Having temporarily diverted to deal in more depth with the effects of sin, he is now reverting back to his intended comparison with the ‘Coming One’ (compare Matthew 11.3). From now on each reference to sin will be paralleled by a reference to the deliverance that has been made available from that sin through ‘the Coming One’.
In Direct Contrast To Adam Who Introduced Sin and Death Jesus Christ Has Brought Into The World The Gift Of Righteousness And Life In Abundant Measure (5.15-19).
Paul now provides us succintly with a number of contrasts between Adam, the first man, and Jesus Christ, ‘the coming One’. Elsewhere he can describe Jesus as ‘the Second Man’ (1 Corinthians 15.47) and ‘the Last Adam’ (1 Corinthians 15.45). Adam brought to mankind gloom and death, Jesus Christ has brought to man joy and life. The reason for the introduction of Adam here has not only been in order to demonstrate that ‘all have sinned’, but also in order to establish that God has provided a remedy. It is in order to bring out the contrast between sin and death, and the abundance of the grace of God revealed towards man in Jesus Christ in His providing the gift of righteousness. To look back to our origins is to look back to what brought sin and death. But our hope lies in looking forward on the basis of what God offers to do for us in Christ. It is now Jesus Christ Himself Who is being thrust into prominence as the greater than Adam.
The consequence of this is clear. All who do not respond to Christ, the ‘second man’, are still ‘in Adam’, whether they be Jew or Gentile. There is no salvation outside of Christ (Acts 4.12). Any who are not ‘in Christ’ are still ‘in Adam’.
It will be noted that here in this second section there is a progression of thought concerning the consequences of sin as we advance through the statements:
The progression reveals that through what Adam had done many died, that his sin resulted in condemnation, that this caused death to reign in the world, that as a result condemnation came on all men, because through one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.
The second progression of thought is that:
God’s gift by grace abounded to many, it came for the purpose of men being accounted as righteous in the face of many offences, it results in men reigning in life through Christ, its consequence is the justification which results in life, and its final result is that many will be constituted righteous.
We note also how this passage continues the theme of wrath being revealed (1.18-3.20), and in contrast the righteousness of God being revealed (1.17; 3.24-5.11). Thus we have here in microcosm the teaching of 1.18-5.11, but now presented in such a way as to accentuate God’s grace (His gracious unmerited activity) and God’s gift of righteousness in Christ, and in order to stress that what Paul has described has its roots in things as they have been since creation. It should be underlined that God’s grace and its success is the underlying theme of the latter part of this passage (verse 15 twice, verse 17, verse 20, verse 21), in parallel with His gracious giving of the gift of righteousness (verse 15 twice, verse 16 twice, verse 17, verse 18 by inference). It is these which lie at the root of man’s salvation.
5.15 ‘But not as the trespass, so also is the free gift. For if by the trespass of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound unto the many.’
Paul begins by emphasising that God’s gift was not like the trespass. For while the original trespass was simply the one thoughtless act of the one which resulted in many dying, a grim prospect indeed, in the case of God’s response God’s gracious and unmerited activity of love, and the gift of true righteousness which came to men by the gracious and unmerited activity and love of Jesus Christ, ‘abounded’ to many. It flowed over in abundant measure. It was carefully planned, and there was no stinting when it came to God’s activity and the activity of Jesus Christ. The gift was basically of Himself, bringing His atonement (in respect of many trespasses), and His saving righteousness, to men, as a result of which they would have eternal life.
It should be noted that the exact parallels as we might see them do not come until verses 18-19, where they are expressed in terms of one act of trespass (paraptoma - a slip, a lapse, a false step), as compared with one act of righteousness (verse 18), and of Adam’s disobedience as compared with Christ’s obedience (verse 19). In verses 15-17 the emphasis is more on the fact that what God does is far greater than what Adam brought about, although then accompanied by comparisons in explanation. Thus here in verse 15 the emphasis is on the fact that the free gift (which is the gift of Christ’s righteousness - verse 17) is far superior to the trespass that made it necessary, although this is then followed by the comparison of the ‘many’ who died through the trespass of one, and the ‘many’ who benefit by the grace of God and the gift by grace of One. What Paul is apparently attempting to do is to prevent us from seeing the things that are being compared as being on the same level. Here, for example, he is comparing ‘the trespass’ (demonstrating man’s truculence) with ‘the gift by grace’ (demonstrating God’s beneficence), to the great advantage of the latter. The continuing reference to ‘the many’ almost certainly reflects Isaiah 53.11-12 where the Servant of the LORD ‘justifies the many’ as a result of His previous humiliation, and where He bears the sin of ‘many’.
So having established the fact of the superiority of the free gift Paul now contrasts the trespass with the free gift. By the one trespass of ‘the one’ the many died. This was a cold, sad fact of history. But in contrast to it is the grace of God and the gift arising from the grace of ‘the One’ Man, Christ. This offers a gift of righteousness which ‘abounded’ to many, something which was far better. One man had trespassed, and therefore through One Man God responded in gracious and unmerited love, and this as especially revealed in the gift of righteousness which has been brought to us by the grace of One Man, Jesus Christ. All Adam could gloomily bestow on us was his trespass. What Christ has bestowed on us ‘abundantly’ is His gift of His righteousness. And in contrast with the trespass, that gift ‘abounds to many’. Its results are positive and good and widespread. There is nothing stinting about it. The whole emphasis is on God’s abundance of grace.
5.16 ‘And not as through one who sinned, so is the gift, for the judgment came of one unto punishment after sentence, but the free gift came of many trespasses unto justification.’
Again Paul’s ‘not as’ emphasises the superiority of the gift, this time the contrast being between Adam’s one act of sinning resulting in punishment following sentence, and the free gift of righteousness (possibly seen as inclusive of many acts of righteousness in the life of Christ) which covers many trespasses, and results in many being ‘declared righteous’. In the one case punishment following sentence came for many as a result of the one trespass (because that one trespass permeates all men), in the other the free gift of His righteousness covers many trespasses with a declaration of righteousness. When we recognise that the ‘many trespasses’ covers both ‘the sins done aforetime’ of 3.25, the sins of all God’s Old Testament people who found salvation, and the sins of all who have become God’s people since, we recognise its huge coverage. And all these people have been covered with His free gift of righteousness, so that they have been accounted as righteous by God.
5.17 ‘For if, by the trespass of the one, death reigned through the one, much more will they who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, even Jesus Christ.’
Having established that through the free gift of righteousness we can experience ‘justification’ (being accounted as righteous before God), Paul now declares that through it, and the grace of God, we can also triumph in life, and experience eternal life. Through the trespass of one death reigned. All died under the reign of death. Man may think that he is free, but he has no control over death. Rather death has control over him. Death reigns. But those who receive the abundance of grace (of God and of Christ - verse 15), and of the gift of righteousness, will escape from the reign of death. They will enjoy new life, a reigning life, and that through Jesus Christ. This reigning life, which begins now and goes on into eternity will be exemplified in 6.1-8.16. Note that it is not said to be life which reigns. It is the believer who reigns. There is an active choice whereby men and women respond to Christ, and as a consequence it is they who reign in life through Him. Nevertheless we may gather the implication that the life of Christ does reign triumphant, enabling us to reign in life. Christ lives in and through us (Galatians 2.20; Ephesians 5.17; John 14.23).
Such a life of triumph results from the abundance of God’s grace shown to us continually in and through Jesus Christ, as He works salvation in us (Philippians 2.13), and from our having received the gift of righteousness, the free gift that makes us confident of our acceptability to God (verses 16, 18). That the righteousness described is the righteousness of Christ is made clear in verses 18-19. Through this One Man death is defeated and we experience life and immortality (2 Timothy 1.10), reigning in life, both now and hereafter, through Him.
Sometimes in practise we may not feel that we are ‘reigning in life’ but the fact that we are doing so comes out in the fact that we persevere in the way of righteousness, however inadequately, and that in our stumbling we are constantly upheld by Christ.
5.18 ‘So then as through one trespass (the judgment came) unto all men to punishment following sentence; even so through one act of righteousness (the free gift came) unto all men to justification of life.’
The words in brackets are not in the Greek, but the sense is clear. The one trespass began the process which resulted in the condemnation of all men. In contrast the ‘one act of righteousness’ resulted in the declaration of righteousness on all who truly believe.
The ‘one act of righteousness’ may either see His whole life as one act resulting from His act of coming into the world (Philippians 2.5-11), or may specifically indicate His obedience unto death (Philippians 3.8). Either way it contrasts with the one trespass. Alternatively we might translate dikaioma as ‘the one declaration of righteousness’, which resulted in the offer of the free gift of His righteousness, which came to ‘all men’. But the ‘one act of righteousness’ provides a better parallel to the ‘one trespass’.
‘All men’ may signify ‘came to all types of men’, thus including both Jew and Gentile, or it may mean ‘came to all men as an offer’. Once accepted it brings about their acceptance before God, through Christ’s righteousness (their ‘justification’), on their believing in Him, an acceptance which results in ‘life’, both now (John 5.24) and in eternity (John 5.28-29).
5.19 ‘For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were constituted sinners, even so through the obedience of the one shall the many be constituted righteous.’
It will be noted all through that Paul never states quite how the one man’s trespass/disobedience constituted many as sinners, only that it did so, as something evident from the facts of history. The most reasonable explanation is that it did so by passing on the taint of sin so that all men sinned as verse 12 declares. Here again then we are reminded that the one man’s disobedience resulted in many being constituted sinners. In contrast through the obedience of the One many will be ‘constituted righteous’. That this refers to our being ‘reckoned as righteous’ has been the emphasis of 3.24-5.11. Thus because Jesus Christ was fully obedient in all things (Hebrews 10.5-10), and especially in relation to His death (He was ‘obedient unto death’ - Philippians 2.8), He is able to put that obedience to our account. Through it we can be ‘constituted righteous’, that is, ‘accounted as righteous’. The idea is taken from Isaiah 53.11, ‘by His humiliation will my righteous Servant make many to be accounted righteous’. (The Hebrew word yatha‘, normally translated ‘knowledge’, also at Ugarit signifies ‘humiliation’).
The Effect Of The Law And The Consequence Of Christ’s Obedience (5.20-21).
In case anyone may question how the giving of the Law came into the equation Paul now explains. All that the Law accomplished was to make the trespass abound. By laying down God’s requirements in great detail it increased the number of deliberate offences against the Law. And, because of man’s perverse nature, it actually also encouraged him to sin more. It caused sin to ‘abound’. While its purpose was good in seeking to guide men, and enlighten them, it did in the end simply result in sin abounding. And after that it could do nothing. But however that might be, the grace of God has abounded ‘more exceedingly’. And as a consequence, in contrast with the reign of sin which brought death, the grace of God reigns through His gift of righteousness unto eternal life, and that through Jesus Christ our LORD.
5.20 ‘And the law came in besides, that the trespass might abound, but where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly,’
The emphasis here is on the fact that the Law could not save, it could only condemn, and indeed on the fact that it ‘multiplied sin’, partly because its detailed requirements, by their very nature, increased the number of indefensible sins, and partly because it even provided an incentive to sin. For the more men are told not to do something, the more they tend to do it. Thus the consequence of the coming of the Law was that ‘the trespass’, which resulted in all men’s trespasses, abounded.
But fortunately for mankind God did not leave them in that situation. Where sin abounded, God’s grace abounded even more, so much so that He provided a remedy for the situation. He provided for man a righteousness which would cover his trespasses, and could enable him to be presented as ‘not guilty’ in the eyes of the eternal Judge, thus making him fully acceptable to God.
5.21 ‘That, as sin reigned in death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’
For God came to a world where sin reigned in death, where all men were subject to death because of sin, and He acted in totally unmerited favour. He provided a means of righteousness, a gift of righteousness, freely given to the undeserving, so that He was able through His grace to give men and women eternal life as a consequence of that gift. He was able to give them ‘justification of life’ (verse 18). And all this was through what our LORD Jesus Christ has wrought for us and provided for us.
Thus the end result is that His people can reign in life now (verse 17), and can, through reigning grace, enjoy eternal life in the future in all its fullness. These two aspects will be underlined in what follows.
But as we come to the end of this passage let us pause to consider the wonder of these words, ‘grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life, through Jesus Christ our LORD’. The whole hope of eternal life for all God’s people is the result of the grace of God (God acting towards men in unmerited favour) ‘reigning’ on behalf of men, a reigning which is made possible by the righteousness of Christ being made available to us. And it is all ‘through Jesus Christ our LORD’.
Christians Have Been Freed From The Tyranny Of Sin By Dying With Christ And Rising With Him And Are Therefore To Triumphantly Seize The Opportunity Of Being So Freed From Sin (6.1-23).
Having ended the previous chapter with the thought of sin ‘reigning in death’, this whole chapter now deals with the question of this tyranny of sin, and how the Christian can be delivered from it so that he can reign in life (5.17). The implication of to such a deliverance is that the whole world lies under such tyranny. Thus the world continues in sin (verse 1), and sin reigns in men’s mortal bodies (verse 12). This is because sin has dominion over them (verse 14). They are servants of sin (verse 17). And sin pays poor wages for it results in death (verse 23). But it is not to be so with Christians, for they have been delivered through the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. In consequence they are to rise above sin. They are to yield their members as instruments of righteousness to God. This will result in the process of their being made holy (verse 22), and finally in their enjoyment of eternal life ‘in Christ Jesus our LORD’ (verse 23).
Reigning In Life Through Christ By Dying With Christ, And Rising With Him (6.1-14).
The question is asked in verse 1, ‘What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?’. This brings home the fact that what is now to follow does not just deal with the question of how men and women can be accounted righteous through Christ, but also with the question of how they can become actively righteous. It was necessary to make a reply to the calumny that Paul could be seen as teaching that being ‘accounted righteous through faith alone, freely and without cost’ encouraged sin. Indeed, there were claims that he actually taught that it was good to sin because it brought out the grace of God (compare 3.8). But that is not the main reason for Paul’s argument. Rather his purpose is to call on Christians to realise their potential, and to reign in life through Christ (5.17). He therefore answers the calumny by pointing out that his very doctrine, of dying with Christ and rising with Him, is in fact the greatest argument against sin and in favour of living righteously, that it is possible to have. For as he says in verse 2, ‘we who died to sin, how shall we any longer live in it?’ And the remainder of the passage expands on that question.
6.1 ‘What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?’
The question is put in Paul’s terms but probably had in mind charges that had been made against his teachings, or arguments that had actually been put forward by people who made it an excuse for sin. Either way it is a distortion of Paul’s teaching. As he will now stress, it is far removed from what he actually taught.
6.2 ‘Certainly not. We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live in it?’
His reply is firm and strong. ‘Certainly not!’ Literally, ‘let it not be’. Nothing was further from his thoughts. His teaching was rather that we have died to sin once or all. That being so how can we possibly continue to live in it? And that we have died to sin is what he now demonstrates. By becoming Christians and responding to the crucified One Who ‘died for our sins’ (1 Corinthians 15.3) and ‘bore our sins in His own body on the tree’ (1 Peter 2.24), we have recognised and acknowledged the heinousness of sin. And by being united with Christ by faith we have committed ourselves to ‘having died with Him’, thus turning our backs on sin and all that it involves. We have become sin-repudiators. How then can we continue to live ‘in the realm of sin’, the sin that crucified Christ? It would be a repudiation of all that we have claimed.
6.3 ‘Or are you ignorant that all we who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?’
For the truth is that when as believing Christians we are baptised, we are baptised into Christ’s death. Baptism is intended to be not only a symbol of dying with Christ, but also a deliberate commitment to participation in Christ’s death in union with Him (just as the partaking of the bread at Communion (the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper) is seen as making us participants in Christ’s own heavenly body - 1 Corinthians 10.16-17; 12.12). Here, of course, he has the baptism of adult men and women who were baptised as soon as they became believers in mind, those who have ‘believed and immediately been baptised’ (Mark 16.16; Acts 2.38). It thus in our terms indicates the moment of commitment to Christ as our Saviour. By being baptised they were openly indicating, through their responsive faith, their desire to participate in the death of Christ by being ‘crucified with Him’ (Galatians 2.20). And this was because they were becoming united with Him in His death by being united with Him in His glorified body (1 Corinthians 12.10 onwards). They were thereby passing their verdict on sin as something to which they were dying. They were indicating the end of their old lives (see verse 6), and the commencement of a new (2 Corinthians 5.17; Ephesians 4.22-23). They were indicating their union with Christ in His spiritual body (1 Corinthians 12.10-11), to live as He lived and lives.
(We must beware of seeing ‘the body of Christ’ as signifying the church on earth. That is a misrepresentation of Scriptural teaching. It is doubtful if in the New testament it ever has that meaning. In Scripture ‘the body of Christ’ is the glorified body of Christ into which all true believers both on earth and in Heaven are incorporated as they are united with Him, in spirit, in His glorified body. Thus in 1 Corinthians 12.10 onwards the ‘body’ includes the head, parts of which represent believers. Where mention is made elsewhere of Christ as ‘the Head’ it is not as in contrast with the body, but as Lord over His people. As 1 Corinthians 12.12 makes clear ‘the body (including the head) IS Christ’).
Some, however, see baptizo here as signifying ‘drenching, inundation, full involvement’ and as not involving baptism. They see ‘baptised into Christ Jesus’ as indicating involvement in a genuine union with Him through the Spirit’s working (the ‘baptism in the Spirit’ - 1 Corinthians 12.13; Matthew 3.11). Thus they see it as saying that by their commitment of themselves to Christ as their Saviour they were ‘fully involved in (inundated into) Him and in (into) His death’ through the work of the Spirit. Compare here 1 Corinthians 12.13 where a similar reference is primarily to ‘baptism in Spirit’ into the glorified body of Christ, resulting in drinking of one Spirit. Certainly whether water baptism is seen as in mind or not, this ‘drenching in Spirit’ must be seen as an essential part of what is being described. Indeed no one who was baptised in water in the early days would have seen it as any other than confirmation of such a work of the Spirit taking place, or having taken place, within them. Baptism was closely associated with the Spirit coming in power and uniting believers with Christ.
6.4 ‘We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life.’
Thus Spiritually as those who are ‘in Christ’ they were ‘buried with Him through baptism unto death’, dying and being buried with Him in Spiritual union with Him that they might also rise with Him. They have been united with Him in His burial so that they might experience His true death. That Christ ‘died and was buried’ was fundamental to the early church (1 Corinthians 15.3) so that His burial is the final seal on His death. Being buried with Him was proof that they had died with Him. Burial is death intensified. Thus they have ‘put on Christ’ (Galatians 3.27) in His death.
In the same way our recognition of our burial ‘with Him’ is the final seal on the fact that we recognise that we have died with Him. And this so that ‘like as Christ was raised from the dead for the glory of the Father, we also might walk in newness of life’. This newness of life can only signify life in the Spirit ‘in Christ’ (compare 8.3-4; 2 Corinthians 5.17; Galatians 5.16, 24-25). It is the new life by which we were ‘made alive’ when all our trespasses were forgiven (Colossians 2.13), when we were ‘raised with Him through faith in the working of God Who raised Him from the dead ’ (Colossians 2.12). It is indicative of the new man who has been created in righteousness and true holiness (Ephesians 4.24; contrast the ‘old man’ in verse 6 below), of the fact that in Christ we are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5.17).
‘Through the glory of the Father’ indicates the glory of the Father as revealed in what He accomplished. We might paraphrase as ‘through the Father’s glorious act whereby He revealed His glory’. It indicates the Father’s glorious power as revealed in resurrection (see Ephesians 1.17 onwards where it is the Father of glory Who raises Christ from the dead and exalts Him above all), something which brings glory to Him in His omnipotence. It indicates the demonstration of His life-giving power and righteousness (righteousness because Christ’s resurrection demonstrated both the Father’s righteousness and His own righteousness. It was because He was wholly righteous that He could be righteously raised). Compare John 17.5 where Jesus was to be raised again in order to be restored to His former glory, the glory which He had with the Father before the world was. And even to see Lazarus raised from the dead would to some extent be to see the glory of the Father (John 11.40, 23). The raising of Lazarus was possible because Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11.25). It thus revealed the glory of the Father. Note here also the implied connection of sinlessness with the glory of the Father. Compare 3.23. To sin is to come short of the glory of the Father. So to be involved in the glory of the Father is to be sinless, and to repudiate sin.
6.5 ‘For if we have been conjoined with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also (in the likeness) of his resurrection,’
In verse 4 our entering into Christ’s death resulted in the fact that ‘like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life.’ This verse continues that thought and associates ‘walking in newness of life’ with being partakers in Christ’s resurrection. The use of the particular verb, which means being ‘conjoined with in the same way that one plant grows together with another’, is particularly apposite. What is ‘foreign’ is conjoined with the base plant so as to make it one with the base plant. (Compare 11.16-24 where the Christian is conjoined with the Olive Tree of the Messiah). In this way are we, who are ‘foreign’ to Him because of our sinfulness and imperfect humanity, made one with and conjoined with the One Who is sinless and perfect.
We are first conjoined with Him in the likeness of His death, something that is said to have been already demonstrated (‘if we have been’). The ‘likeness of His death’ (and not just ‘in His death’) may be intended to be an indication that our death and His are not quite the same. He died physically. We in contrast have died with Him by being spiritually conjoined to Him. Or it may be indicating the close association of our death with His (‘in the image of His death’). Or it may be stressing the reality of our death through His (‘in the form of His death’). The point in the end, however, is that we died as He died. Thus we have died to sin.
And in the same way we will be raised as He was raised. This may refer to our ‘walking in newness of life’ with our spiritual resurrection being in mind (verse 11; John 5.24; Ephesians 2.6; Colossians 2.12-13). Or, while including that, it may be adding to that the idea of the physical final resurrection. Compare the similar combination of the two in 8.10-11 (compare John 5.24, 28-29). But if so it is because the physical resurrection is the final evidence of the spiritual resurrection, bringing it to its perfection (Colossians 1.22; Ephesians 5.25-27), for it is the spiritual resurrection that is overall prominent in this passage, undergirding the arguments that follow.
6.6 ‘Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin,’
He now reverts back to stress that we are no longer under bondage to sin. And this is because we know that our ‘old man’ was crucified with Him. Our ‘old man’ is ‘what we were in ourselves before we came to Christ’. This has died with Jesus on the cross. That is what our commitment to Christ as our Saviour has involved. And the purpose was that the old body (our old self) which was controlled by sin (our body which was then ‘the body of sin’) might be done away/rendered powerless, so that we might no longer be under bondage to the tyrant sin. For while we still live in the same body it is a renewed body, and is no longer a body of sin. Sin no longer controls it. Rather sin fights a rearguard action within it (7.14-25). Our body is now one which is submitted to Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
6.7 ‘For he who has died is justified from sin.’
And this is because, having positionally died with Christ (read in on the basis of the previous verses), we are ‘accounted as righteous’ from sin. Sin has lost its power over us. Its penalty has been fully paid by Christ. As those who have died with Christ we are accounted as righteous through the gift of His righteousness (5.16-18). In consequence sin has lost its hold on us. It has to recognise that we are dead, and therefore freed from the penalty of sin. We are counted as righteous as far as the tyrant sin is concerned and as far as God is concerned.
Some, however, see these words as referring to Jesus Christ Himself (note the change from ‘we’ to ‘he’) Who, having died, was vindicated (seen as in the right) by His resurrection. On the other hand the change to ‘he’ could just as well be indicating a kind of ‘off the cuff’ comment by the writer.
6.8 ‘But if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him,’
For as we have already seen (verses 3-5) Christ did not just die. He rose again from the dead. And therefore if we have died with Christ, we know and believe that we will also ‘live with Him’, we will share in His resurrection life both now, enjoying newness of life (verse 4), and in eternity. Having been conjoined with Him in His death, we are, and also will be, conjoined with Him in His resurrection (verse 5), both now (8.10; John 5.24; Galatians 2.20) and in eternity (8.11; John 5.28-29).
Note On ‘We Shall Also Live With Him.’
For a fuller outworking of the idea of ‘living with Him’ as the Risen One in the present age see Ephesians 2.1-10 where Paul reveals to us something of life in the spiritual realm. There we learn that God, having raised Jesus up with an act of mighty power (Ephesians 1.19 onwards), has in the riches of His grace also made us alive in Him and has raised us up and seated us with Him in the spiritual realm (Ephesians 2.4-6). There we share His throne (as He also shares His Father’s throne - Revelation 3.21). Thus we learn from this that in our spirits we are already seated with Christ in heavenly places, operating there with Him, simply awaiting our resurrection body (Ephesians 2.6). This description is, of course, using physical ideas in order to convey spiritual reality.
It brings home to us that as Christians we live in two realms. We live in our bodies in this material world, but we also live in our spirits, as transformed by the Holy Spirit because we are ‘in Christ’ (2 Corinthians 5.17; John 3.1-6), as those who are thrust out into a spiritual world. Whilst our spirits do not operate beyond our physical bodies in the material world, they do reach out ‘outside’ our physical bodies into the spiritual realm as we pray (2 Corinthians 10.4-5; Ephesians 6.18), and stand fast against the assaults of the Evil One by using the armour of God (Ephesians 6.10-18).
‘Living with Him’ we are therefore to live as citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3.20) in partnership with Him (verses 4, 11; John 14.23; Galatians 2.20; Ephesians 3.17; Hebrews 2.10-11) as we await His coming (Philippians 3.20), because we have been transferred under the Kingly Rule of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1.13). We are to recognise that we are partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light (Colossians 1.12). For whilst what has been described with regard to dying with Christ in verses 3-7 has been largely ‘positional’, although including within it the conception of the ‘death’ of our old life, it has been reinforced as regards our rising with Christ by the life of the Spirit. It has in mind not only future resurrection, but our present life in the Spirit.
End of note.
Our having died with Him means that we need no longer live in the bondage of sin. Through His death and resurrection He has delivered us from ‘the house of bondage’, and from the slavery of sin, as we are accounted righteous and then share His resurrection life. He has by the latter lifted us up into the spiritual realm. And thus, having been freed from the condemnation of sin by our being ‘accounted as righteous’, sin has lost its hold on us. In consequence, by positively reckoning on the fact that we have died with Him, we can now be free from sin’s grip and power. It need no longer have dominion over us (verse 14). And we can live in newness of life (verses 4, 11).
But from where can we obtain the power to have this victory over sin? It is by recognising that we can rise over sin by His risen power, by us ‘living with Him’. The life which we now live in the flesh we can live by faith in the Son of God Who loved us and gave Himself for us (Galatians 2.20). With Christ dwelling within us (Ephesians 3.17; John 14.23; Colossians 1.27), we must allow Him in His risen power to live out His life through us in this earth, whilst we also enjoy our experiences in the spiritual realm. That is the glory of our new life in Christ. That is what ‘living with Him’ means while on earth.
6.9 ‘Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies no more, death no more has dominion over him.’
And what is more, we can live in this way knowing that death has been defeated. Knowing that Christ has been raised from the dead, we know that He will die no more. Death has been vanquished. We recognise that death no longer has dominion over Him because He is the victor over death. Consequently, having been raised with Him we recognise that for us also sin and death have been defeated once and for all. For once we have died in Christ, death has lost its sting for us too (1 Corinthians 15.55-56). The price of sin has been paid (1 Corinthians 6.20; 1 Peter 1.18-19). We are freed from the chains of sin and the fear of death (Hebrews 2.15) in order to serve Christ.
6.10 ‘For the death that he died, he died to sin once, but the life that he lives, he lives unto God.’
For Christ’s death was once for all. It was a once for all event in order that, being made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5.21) He might die to sin on our behalf. ‘He died’ on our behalf once for all. In contrast His living is a continual event. He now lives continually unto God. And He will do so for evermore, calling on us to live similarly with Him (verse 8).
6.11 ‘Even so reckon (count as a fact) you also yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus.’
In the same way we as Christians are to count ourselves as dead to sin, but alive to God, ‘in Christ Jesus’. This is what our response to what has been described must be. It must be a recognition of the fact that we are truly dead to sin. Compare Galatians 5.24, ‘but those who are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its affections and desires’, and that in a passage where practical living is very much in mind. This is because we, as the man we were, have died with Christ. And it must be an acceptance of, and response to, the fact that we as the man we now are (the new man) share in His resurrection and life (John 11.25) because we are ‘in Christ Jesus’. Through Him we are ‘alive to God’. And we are therefore to live to God as He does.
That this is to be a practical experience, and not just positional, comes out in the fact that we are made ‘alive to God’ and in its description as a ‘newness of life’ in which we have to walk (verse 4). This is confirmed by the references to yielding our bodies as instruments of righteousness (verses 12-14), and is further confirmed in 8.1-17 where it is seen as due to the work of the Spirit. We have experienced a new birth of the Spirit (John 3.1-6). We have been begotten again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1.3). Christ lives in us (Galatians 2.20; Colossians 1.27). How can it not be experiential?
6.12 ‘Do not therefore let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its strong desires,’
In consequence of the fact that we are dead to sin through our association with Christ’s death we are not to let sin 'reign' in our mortal bodies. Sin has been ejected from its throne. It no longer has a right to reign in a Christian. Now grace reigns through Christ’s gift of righteousness (compare 5.21). Sin, along with its strong desires, must therefore now be repudiated. It must not be obeyed. It must be recognised as no longer reigning. For we have died to it. It no longer has any rights in our lives.
Paul recognises that there are within himself, and within all men, ‘strong desires’ (compare 7.14, 18, 21). And these were what led men into sin. But they are now foreign to us. They are intruders. They are to be repudiated. In so far as they are desires to sin they have been crucified with Christ, and by becoming Christians we have denied their right to control over us. Thus by the Spirit we are to overcome them and refuse them any part in our lives. We are to put ourselves under the control of the Spirit. This is an essential part of our spiritual battle (Galatians 5.16 onwards).
‘In your mortal body.’ There is in this a reminder that as we now are our 'mortal bodies' are still to be recognised as subject to death, this in contrast with ourselves being ‘alive from the dead’ (verse 13). Thus to succumb to the desires of your mortal body is to encourage death. But we are not to do so. The mortal body is here to be distinguished from what we call ‘the soul’ which has 'risen with Christ'. It does not represent the whole person. It is that part of a Christian which is still 'mortal' and subject to sin and death (7.18, 24). Sin may force itself in on our mortal bodies as an intruder but it must not be allowed to reign in us. It is grace which is reigning in us (5.21), and the mortal body must not be allowed to take over. If it does so for a time we become backsliders, and subject to God's chastening.
6.13 ‘Nor go on presenting your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God, as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.’
So we are no longer to ‘go on presenting’ our ‘members’ (the parts of our body) to sin as instruments of unrighteousness. That was part of the old life. We must control the eye, the ear, the mouth, the hand, the foot, the mind, the will. If they cause us to offend we must metaphorically ‘cut them off and cast them from us’ (Mark 9.43-47). Rather we are to present ourselves to God, as alive from the dead, and to present our members as instruments of righteousness to God. We must recognise new ownership. In contrast with sin, which took us over as a tyrant, God waits for our personal response. God is not a tyrant. There is thus to be a positive presenting of ourselves to God as those who are now alive in Christ.
And along with this will go the presentation of our members to Him as instruments, no longer of unrighteousness, but of righteousness. There is an encouragement here to present each part of ourselves to God part by part. First ourselves, and then each part of us specifically (eyes, ears, mouth, hand and foot). Note how ‘lived out righteousness’ has now become the practical outworking of our having been ‘reckoned as righteous’. The righteousness of God, having made us acceptable to God, is to produce righteousness within us, although it should be noted that Paul nowhere directly makes this application when speaking of ‘the righteousness of God’, for from his point of view ‘the righteousness of God’ is a righteousness which can be accounted to us. But because He has accounted us as righteous through His righteousness, righteousness in God’s eyes is to be our business.
6.14 ‘For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.’
And all this because we have now come under a new regime. We have been transferred out from under the tyranny of darkness so that we may come under the Kingship of His beloved Son (Colossians 1.13). Sin therefore no longer has dominion over us. Its power has been defeated, and its main weapon, the accusatory Law, has had its fangs drawn. For whilst the Law could make its demands, it could not draw alongside to help us. It was thus rendered powerless by sin, and could only leave sin in control. But now Christians are ‘under grace.’ What that means has been described in 5.15-21. It means that we are under a new regime. It means that God has stepped alongside to help. It means that we are reckoned as righteous through Christ’s righteousness (5.15, 17). It means that we have experienced resurrection life through the Spirit (5.5; 6.4, 11). It is the unmerited, freely given love of God acting on our behalf which is abounding towards us (5.20) and is acting to deliver us (7.24-25). This unmerited, freely given, gracious activity of God thus frees us from sin’s dominion, and reigns in us to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (5.21).
We Are Therefore No Longer To Be Servants Of Sin, But Servants Of Righteousness And Of God, No Longer Earning Death As Our Wages, But Receiving The Free Gift Of Eternal Life In Christ Jesus Our Lord (6.15-23).
The question now is, ‘If we are not under the Law but under grace, does that mean that we can sin freely?’. This was a very similar question to that in 6.1 and continues the same theme. To those who understand what it means to be ‘under grace’ the question answers itself. As has already been emphasised to be ‘under grace’ is to be within the sphere of the loving activity of God which is at work to deliver us from sin (5.2). It is to be accepted as righteous before God through the righteousness of the One Who died for us (5.15). It is to be enjoying the new life that He has given us (5.17). It is to be under His formative care (5.20). It is to have died with Christ and be living with Him in newness of life (6.1-11). It is to acknowledge His rights over us. How can someone who is in that position easily sin? To sin easily would simply indicate that we are not God’s servants at all. For what we are ‘under’ is demonstrated by whom we obey.
So Paul answers the question in terms of servitude. The test of what you are under is determined by ‘who’ you obey, whether sin (which results in death) or obedience (which results in righteousness); whether uncleanness and deep iniquity, or righteousness; whether sin or God. And the end of the one is death, whilst the end of the other is righteousness and life.
6.15 ‘What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? Certainly not!’
Once again Paul poses a question. He had once been under the Law and he had discovered that it was a parlous situation to be in. The Law had in practise been his be all and end all. But as he had struggled to obey it, it had put him under a huge burden, and had only resulted in his sinning more. It had not freed him from sin, but had rather involved him in it. It had made him more and more deeply aware of his sinfulness. And it had made him despair. He thus knew that being ‘under the Law’, seeing it as the main determinant which controlled his life, did not stop men from sinning. Rather it contributed to sin.
In contrast, when he had come ‘under grace’ and had discovered that he could become acceptable to God through the righteousness of Christ, he had been full of gratitude. This had become the main determinant which controlled his life. He had wholeheartedly devoted himself to God. From that moment he had only wanted to be pleasing to God. Far from making him feel free to sin, it had delivered him from sin’s power and control. And then the Law had become what it had always been intended to be, an indication of what was pleasing to God (James 1.23-25). No wonder then that he cries out, ‘Certainly not!’
6.16 ‘Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves as servants unto obedience, his servants you are whom you obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?’
For the test of whom we are under is the test of whom we obey. All of us present ourselves to obey either sin or obedience. And if we choose to be servants of sin we should recognise that its end is death. Whereas if we choose to be servants of obedience, with our desire being only to please God, it will result in out-lived righteousness, both now and in the world to come. Notice how ‘death’ is contrasted, not with life, but with righteousness. To have life is to be lifted into the sphere of righteousness, and thus results in behaving righteously. And if we see ourselves as dead to sin we clearly have no option but to do the latter. Note how closely Paul follows the teaching of his Master. Jesus had said, ‘He who commits sin is the bondservant of sin’ (John 8.34). Here Paul is declaring the same thing.
6.17-18 ‘But thanks be to God, that, whereas you were servants of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were delivered, and being made free from sin, you became servants of righteousness.’
But Paul now thanks God that while his hearers had been the servants of sin, they had responded from their hearts to the ‘form of teaching’ that they had received. There is possibly an indication here that even by this stage there was a ‘form of teaching’ delivered to new Christians, possibly prior to or immediately following baptism. Or it may have reference to the body of tradition about Jesus Christ that had been put together by the Apostles (possibly called ‘The Testimony of Jesus’ compare Revelation 1.2, 9; 12.17; 19.10; and see 2 Timothy 1.8). And they had become ‘obedient from the heart’ to it. Thus they had been freed from sin’s servitude, and had become servants of righteousness. Experiencing the righteousness of God when they had been ‘accounted as righteous’, they had then become servants of righteousness, living it out in their lives.
Paul clearly considered that it was important that they recognised what obedience to God meant. It did not mean following their own inclinations and ideas about God. Rather it meant responsive obedience to His revealed truth. Today that ‘form of teaching’ is found substantially in the New Testament. We do well to ensure that we live according to it.
6.19 ‘I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh. For as you presented your members as servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity, even so now present your members as servants to righteousness unto sanctification.’
Paul then points out that they must not take his illustrations too literally, always a danger with certain types of people. He was using illustrations from life to depict spiritual situations, and depicting sin as though it were a slave-master. And he was doing it because they might not be able to understand anything put more deeply. The development of a spiritual mind could take time. Thus he was speaking in terms of life as they knew it (most of them were slaves or servants, and a few were masters) so that they would understand.
He therefore clarifies exactly what he has meant. They had previously presented their members as servants to uncleanness, and to continuing iniquity. Now therefore they are to present their members as servants to righteousness, to cleanness and continuing goodness, resulting in their being made holy and set apart to God as God works within them. ‘Sanctification’ means ‘making holy, setting a man apart as separate to God and His ways’ and so in the end ‘making Godlike’. Just as the reception of the free gift of righteousness results in justification (5.16), so does the submission of our members as servants of righteousness result in sanctification, as God responds to our submission with the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit (5.1-5; 2 Corinthians 3.18).
6.20-21 ‘For when you were servants of sin, you were free in regard of righteousness. What fruit had you then at that time in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.’
They had once been servants of sin. And in those days they had had little regard to the claims of righteousness. True righteousness had not been their concern. But what fruit had they had then in the way that they had behaved, doing and partaking in things of which they were now ashamed? The answer expected is ‘none’. And what was more they were things that resulted in death.
6.22 ‘But now being made free from sin and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end eternal life.’
But now that they had been made free from sin and had become servants of God, their lives were producing a different kind of fruit, fruit that resulted in their being separated to God and made holy to Him, in them becoming ‘sanctified’. It was the fruit of obedience to God. And the final consequence of such fruit was eternal life.
We note here what ‘freedom’ means for the Christian. It involves becoming ‘servants of God’. It involves ‘knowing the truth’ through abiding in Christ and responding to His words (John 8.32). It involves looking into the perfect law of liberty and obeying it (James 1.25). It involves obedience to the word of God. It involves being sons in the Father’s household, and therefore submissive to the requirements of the Father (John 8.35). It involves walking after the Spirit rather than the flesh (8.4). This is what provides true freedom. If the Son makes us free, we are free indeed (John 8.36).
6.23 ‘ For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
For the only wages that sin paid was death, and what lay beyond. That was the consequence of serving sin. But in contrast God’s free gift to His own was eternal life, a life which was found in Christ Jesus our LORD. Note the contrast between ‘wages’ and ‘free gift’. The one was earned, but the other was freely received without merit. It could not be earned whatever men did. It was abundantly given as a free gift under the reign of God’s unmerited love and favour (5.21). And it was wholly based on what Christ Jesus our LORD has done for us, and in the provision of His righteousness. Thus the life that he is now describing is a life based on the fact of being ‘accounted as righteous by faith’.
What Then Of The Law? Is The Law Good Or Bad? And How Does The Christian Stand In Relation To The Law. How Can It Be Fulfilled? (7.1-8.4).
Whereas chapter 6 has concentrated on our deliverance from the tyranny of sin, this chapter brings out the position of the Christian as regards the Law, deliverance from which is found in our dying with Christ and living in Him in the new life of the Spirit (7.1-6).
This question concerning the Law might not seem so important to us, but for the early church at the time that Romans was written it was a vital question. There were many Judaising Christian teachers going around claiming the need for believers to be ‘subject to the Law’. And the church in Rome had almost certainly initially first been established by Jews who had returned from the Feasts at Jerusalem where they had heard both the teaching of Christ, and later that of the Apostles (Acts 2.10), and would have had to reconcile it with their own belief concerning obedience to the Law, which they had on the whole learned from the Rabbis.
Furthermore many of these probably remained in fellowship with the synagogue, and we note that when Paul was brought in chains to Rome the Jewish leaders were quite ready to listen to what he had to say (Acts 28.17). In Rome Jews and Christians were at peace. Thus among many of the Jewish Christians in Rome there would have been a strong allegiance to the Law.
And whilst the church in Rome had now expanded so that the majority of the church (i.e. the churches which were scattered around Rome) were of Gentile origin, they would initially have joined in with a church which was very Jewish. After all the church was seen as the continuation of the true Israel (2.28-29; 11.17-28; Acts 4.24-27; Galatians 3.29; 6.16; Ephesians 2.11-22; 1 Peter 1.1; 2.9; James 1.1), in contrast with those who ‘say they are Jews and are not’ (Revelation 2.9). The question would thus be asked, ‘How then could they not be bound by the Law?’
Paul answers the question from three viewpoints:
Paul is not denigrating the Law (3.31; 7.12). He is simply indicating that it provides no means by which men can be saved from sin. As he says in Galatians, ‘if there had been a Law given which could make alive, truly righteousness would have been of the Law’ (Galatians 3.21). He sees it as providing an adequate means of demonstrating that all men are sinners (2.12-16; 4.15; 1 Timothy 1.9), and as being such that men are unable through weakness to keep it (2.21-26), so that it then points them to Christ (Galatians 3.23-24). But, as he has pointed out previously, it cannot make them ‘accounted as righteous’ before God (3.19-20), nor can it enable them to grapple with sin within themselves, because of the weakness of the flesh (7.4, 7-25). Thus he speaks of ‘what the Law could not do because it was weakened by the flesh’ (8.3a).
In chapters 2 to 5 being ‘under the Law’ had mainly had in mind the Law as accusatory, as it brought those who failed to live up to it under condemnation, but now Paul is adding to that the Law as a supposed means of being delivered from the power of sin, something in which it failed because of man’s weakness.
It is significant that there are close parallels between chapters 6 and 7.1-6, between the Christian’s relationship with ‘sin’ and his relationship with ‘the Law.’ Thus in 6.2 the believer has ‘died to sin’, and in 7.4 the believer is ‘dead to the Law’. In 6.18, 22 the believer is ‘freed from sin’, whilst in 7.6 he is ‘freed from the Law’. In 6.14a sin no longer rules over the believer, and in 7.1 neither does the Law. In 6.22-23 freedom from sin results in bring forth fruit to God, whilst in 7.4 the same results from freedom from the Law as a result of being ‘joined to Another’. Thus sin and the accusatory Law are seen as parallel ‘adversaries’ of the Christian which have to be dealt with by the believer dying to them 6.2, 11; 7.4. No wonder Paul then asks the question that might be on his reader’s and hearer’s mind, ‘is the Law then the equivalent of sin?’ But the answer is ‘certainly not’. For whilst sin is a direct enemy seeking to keep men in slavery, the Law is good and holy, with its problem lying in our sinfulness. So there is in fact a direct contrast between sin and the Law.
But in considering the verses that follow, about which there has been much controversy, it is necessary to recognise exactly what we should compare with what. For it is important to recognise that it was not Paul who introduced our chapter divisions. Instead he used other means in order to indicate what should be seen as part of the same argument. In our Bibles chapter 7 ends at verse 25. But there is a good case for arguing that it should also include 8.1-4. But what is that case? It is threefold:
But brining out the importance of this is the fact that a similar contrast is then found in 7.14. There ‘the Law is spiritual’ (pneumatikos) whilst Paul (and all men) are ‘fleshly’ (sarkikos). Here we have a similar contrast of ‘spirit’ (pneuma) with what is not comparable with spirit because it is inferior to it, or is even opposed to it. In the previous examples it was ‘the letter’. In this case it is ‘the flesh’ (sarx). This continued comparison could then be also seen as being made in the contrast of ‘the law of the mind’ with ‘the law of sin’ (7.23, 25). It is certainly being made in 8.1-12 where the Spirit is constantly contrasted with the flesh. Thus the theme of ‘the spirit (Spirit) as compared with something inferior can be seen as continuing on from 7.6 to 8.12.
These indications should warn us against trying to interpret the meaning of chapter 7 without taking into account a part of chapter 8, for the simple reason that the initial verses of chapter 8 are required in order to finish off two of the themes which are found in chapter 7, and because the use of ‘I, we, us, continues from 7.7 to 8.2.
Deliverance From Under The Law (7.1-6).
Paul now declares that the Christian is delivered from the dominion of the Law because he has died to it in the death of Christ, and this in order that he might be conjoined with the Risen Christ like a widow is conjoined with her new husband (compare Ephesians 5.25-27). In other words salvation is not to be found in the keeping of the Law, but in responding to and experience the power of the risen Christ. This contrast is so important that we will look at the passage as a whole prior to examining in more detail (albeit briefly) the interpretation of the analogy or allegory in verses 1-3, making the assumption that the main intention of the analogy or allegory is to bring out one example of the important way in which death releases men from the demands of the Law. The example is that the death of one side of the marriage relieves the other party to a marriage from being blameworthy if they marry again. This thus makes them ‘free (through death) from the injunction of the Law’.
But this is then applied to the relationship between Christ and His church. Through dying with Him His people are delivered from being subject to the Law in its domineering aspect, so that they can be ‘married’ to the risen Christ, thereby enjoying His life and vitality and bringing forth fruit unto God in righteous living, thus actually contributing to fulfilling the Law (2.27; 8.4; 13.8-10; Matthew 5.17-20; Galatians 5.14; 6.2; James 2.8).
7.1 ‘Or are you ignorant, brothers (for I speak to men who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man for so long time as he lives?’
The ‘or’, and the argument, both look back to 6.14, ‘you are not under the Law but under grace’. In dealing with this Paul expresses his confidence that the Roman Christians were not ignorant of what the Law taught. This would be true, 1) because many of them were Jewish Christians; 2) because even more had probably been God-fearers before they became Christians, attending the synagogue and listening to the reading of the Law without actually becoming Jews by circumcision; 3) because the remainder, while being Gentile Christians, would have become aware of the teaching of the Law due to the fact that the Old Testament Scriptures were the Scriptures of the early church, and would be studied as such. Thus they all ‘knew the Law’. And the emphasis that he is bringing out is that, outside of Christ, the Law has dominion over a man while he lives. It seeks to control every aspect of his life. Thus the man is bound by the Law until he dies. Deliverance from the Law can only come about through death. And he is about to demonstrate that that is precisely what has happened.
We should note that the Law that he is mainly talking about is the Law as it was known to the Jews through the teaching of the Rabbis, a Law that was laid out in a series of demands and which commanded obedience to even its minutiae. To come short of that Law in any way was to be rendered ‘a sinner’, and that meant to the Jews being in danger of not enjoying eternal life and having to start again on the endless road of Law-keeping. It was a Law which put men under a burden that they could not bear (Acts 15.10; Philippians 3.6 with Romans 7.7-10). Life became an endless attempt to observe the Law, an attempt which eventually had to fail, and meanwhile kept the mind from such ideas as mercy, compassion and justice (Matthew 23.23). It was a Law from which Christ came to set us free. Paul probably also had in mind that many of the Christians in Rome were subject to Judaising tendencies (14.2-6, 15, 20), although he does not attack them for that, presumably because they did not put them forward as ‘necessary for salvation’. What he is against is the Law presented as essential for salvation.
It could be argued that for Gentiles ‘the law’ in question was the law written in their hearts as they revealed a sense of right and wrong (2.14), but that the main emphasis is on the Jewish Law comes out in the illustration that follows.
7.2-3 ‘For the woman who has a husband is bound by law to the husband while he lives, but if the husband die, she is discharged from the law of the husband. So then if, while the husband lives, she be joined to another man, she will be called an adulteress, but if the husband die, she is free from the law, so that she is no adulteress, though she be joined to another man.’
He now gives an illustration of the dominion of the Law and of how someone can be delivered from the Law through a death, in an illustration clearly based on Jewish Law. ‘A woman who has a husband is bound by law to the husband while he lives, but if the husband die, she is discharged from the law of the husband.’ Whilst both are alive both are under the dominion of that Law. On the other hand if the man dies then the dominion of the Law over them on that point is broken. The woman is free from that particular aspect of the Law, and is free to marry again. She is ‘discharged from the Law of her husband’. And the same applies vice versa. A death provides freedom from the Law, indeed from all law.
7.4 ‘On which basis, my brothers, you also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ; that you should be joined to another, even to him who was raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God.’
In the same way the sacrificial death of Christ (‘through the body of Christ’; compare ‘He bore our sin in His own body on the tree’ - 1 Peter 2.24) has made us ‘dead to the Law’. While Jesus was alive on earth men were bound by the Law. Indeed in Galatians 4.4 Paul tells us that Jesus Himself was ‘born under the Law’. (And the fact that the Pharisees never directly accused Jesus of breaking the Law demonstrates that He adhered faithfully to it, even by their standards). But when His body was suspended on the cross His body offered in death made us ‘dead to the Law’ because there He died to the Law and we died in Him. As a result we can now ‘be joined to (married to - verse 3) another’. We can become conjoined with the risen Christ, something which will result in our bringing forth fruit unto God in righteous living because we are freed from the Law’s constraints, and experience His risen power. Thus the ‘first husband’ could be seen as Jesus Christ in His life on earth, and the second husband as the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
Many, however, see ‘you were made dead to the Law’ as signifying that the Law was her first husband. She was married to the Law, but as a result of its ‘death’ at the cross (Colossians 2.14), she (the true church) can now marry the risen Christ. And the result will be fruit unto God, the fruit of righteous living (see Galatians 5.22). But that is to read in what Paul deliberately does not say, for he does not mention the Law in this regard and that in verses where the Law is mentioned four times. In the light of verse 6 ‘dead to the Law’ simply indicates a death that freed from the control of the Law. (See below for a brief discussion of different interpretations).
However, we must not, because of the detail, lose sight of the wonderful situation that is revealed by this, and that is that our union with the risen Christ is like that of a wife conjoined with her husband. In other words we are as closely united with Him as it is possible to be. As the hymn says, He ‘walks with us, and talks with us, and tells us that we are His own’. He ‘dwells in our hearts by faith’ (Ephesians 3.17). He has come to make His dwelling in us (John 14.23). He says, ‘I will come to you’ (John 14.18). Christ lives in us (Galatians 2.20). Our eyes are thus on Him, and not on the Law. (We must not let the work of the Holy Spirit blind us to the fact that Jesus Christ Himself and the Father also live within us. We can become too fond of splitting up the Triune God). And as Ephesians 5.25-27 brings out, He not only dwells within us but is also at work on our lives. ‘He loved the church and gave Himself up for it, that He might sanctify it, having cleansed it with the washing of water with the word, that He might present the church to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish’.
7.5 ‘For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were through the law, wrought in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.’
For when we were living our old lives under the Law (we were in the flesh, following the ways of the flesh, compare 8.5-9) the sinful passions within us were stirred up by the Law, and the Law therefore worked within us making us produce fruit which could only result in death (compare 1.32; Galatians 5.17, 19-21). Here is one example of why the Law failed. It failed because rather than curbing sin, it aroused it in men’s hearts. And it failed because we were ‘in the flesh’.
7.6 ‘But now we have been discharged from the law, having died to that in which we were held; so as to serve in newness of the spirit, and not in oldness of the letter.’
But now we (our ‘old man’) have died with Christ, and we are therefore now discharged from the Law, having died to that in which we were held (note that here it is seemingly ‘the wife’ (we) who has died in Christ’s death). The coroner has, as it were, declared us dead and therefore untouchable by the Law. And the consequence is that we are free to serve in newness of Spirit, as our ‘new man’ responds to and obeys the Spirit and walks step by step with Him (Galatians 5.16-24), and not in the oldness of the letter (by our old man striving to keep the written Law). That we are to see ‘the Spirit’ as mentioned here as being the Holy Spirit, rather than our spirit (or included with our spirit), comes out in the contrast with the flesh (verse 5). This is a contrast continually made by Paul (8.4-14; Galatians 5.16-17). We can compare the difference between ‘the Law written in the heart’ (Jeremiah 31.31-34), that is, by the Spirit on the fleshy table of the heart (2 Corinthians 3.3), and the Law written in stone.
Note. Suggested Application’ Of The Analogy/Allegory In 7.2-3.
It will have been noted that one of the problems that we have in regard to the application of the illustration in 7.2-3 is that Paul keeps switching from the death of Christ Himself, to the death of His people in Him. Who then does he see as having died? His answer, of course, is ‘both’. Thus in verse 4 ‘the body of Christ’ points to Christ’s violent death, which is followed by mention of His resurrection, whilst it is Christians who, through His death, have been made ‘dead to the Law’. That this latter signifies their death is made plain in verse 6, ‘we -- having died to that in which we were held’. But that does not obviously tie in with seeing verses 2-3 as an allegory, for in the supposed allegory the woman does not die.
This has caused scholars to seek for other interpretations. But if these interpretations were correct we would have to ask, why then did Paul not make it clearer? Some suggested possibilities are as follows:
The real truth is that having the woman die in the application while she does not die in verses 2-3 really cancels out the idea of a full-scale allegory. That being so verses 2-3 are therefore best seen as simply providing an illustration of the fact that death releases someone from being ‘under the Law’, a death which results in our case from our dying with Christ, with a further partial application then being found in the idea of remarriage.
End of note.
Paul’s Personal Experience Of The Law, Used As An Illustration In Order That The Roman Christians Might Also Apply It To Themselves, Demonstrating Both The Holiness And The Powerlessness of The Law; The Sinfulness Of Our Flesh, Even Though Redeemed; The Transformation Of The Redeemed Mind; And The Way Of Release Through Jesus Christ Our Lord And The Law Of The Spirit Of Life In Christ Jesus (7.7-8.2).
Paul now gives what we might see as a personal testimony (note the singular personal pronouns which continue on to 8.2 where they abruptly cease). His purpose, however, is not in order to inform them about his own problems, or to excuse himself, but in order that they might think along with him and see its application in their own lives, and recognise the way of deliverance by Jesus Christ our LORD (7.25), and the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (8.2). His purpose is to teach, and make them think about the Law in relation to themselves, rather than to confess on his own behalf. He is using himself as an illustration. We should end up, not by saying ‘now isn’t that interesting about Paul’, but by saying, ‘this is so illuminating. It is the story of my Christian life’.
The first thing to notice here is the change in Paul’s address to ‘I’ (ego). Previously he has spoken of ‘we, us’ and he will return to speaking of ‘we, us’ in chapter 8.3. But in 7.7 to 8.2 he speaks of ‘I, me’. Note especially the change from ‘we’ to ‘I’ in 7.14 which emphasises this. It is clear therefore that what he has to say is very much to be seen as an aspect of his own experience. We must remember when interpreting this that he was expecting his letter to be read out to the churches, and to be understood by his hearers as they heard it, so that any subtle meaning to ‘I, me’ must be ruled out. This is not a piece of Greek literature, intended to be read by the intelligentsia, and ruminated over in order to discover hidden meanings, but a down to earth letter intended for all. Nor are there any good reasons why the hearers should have seen him as using ‘I’ to mean ‘we Jews’ (it might have been different had he used ‘we’). In view of the sudden transition any hearer would immediately assume that Paul was talking about himself. After all, if he meant ‘we Jews’, why did he not say so? And this is especially brought out in the cry of his heart, ‘O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me --.’ This the cry of an individual in pain, not of a hypothetical nation.
It is true that a close examination of the text does reveal that Paul probably has in mind more than just his own experience, and that he possibly sees his own experience as reflecting both the experience of Adam, and the experience of Israel in the wilderness. In other words as reflecting the experience of all men. But he does it by speaking about is his own experience, as one who participates in the run of history. Thus he considers that both the experience of Adam and the experience of Israel are reflected in his own life and the life of his hearers. We must remember in this regard the Jewish belief that their own history was a continuation of the past to such an extent that they actually saw themselves as involved in the past. Thus when they met at Passover they were not just remembering what had happened to their forefathers long before, they actually felt that they were themselves were becoming a part of that wonderful deliverance. They were themselves partaking in it. It had happened to them.
In the same way, Paul, as he outlines his own experience, possibly does so in terms of the history of his forefathers. It may be (although it is questionable) that when he said, ‘I was alive apart from the Law once’, he saw himself as having been innocent and as having himself sinned with Adam. It may be (although again it is questionable) that when he said, ‘when the commandment came sin revived and I died’, he saw himself as receiving the revelation of the Law. In other words that he saw his life as a reflection of his forefathers. This would help to explain the vivid language that he uses in the initial verses. But the experience that he is describing is not theirs but his, and that of all men. We should remember in this regard that the vivid references to being dead and being alive are also referred to sin (verses 8, 9). Thus the vividness is no indication of literalness.
But we may ask, why does Paul switch so unusually to speaking of himself? It was certainly in order to convey a message, but why else?
So there may have been a number of reasons for him making it personal, although in the end we can only surmise, for we do not know of a certainty why it was.
Paul’s Initial Experience Of The ‘Slaying’ Power Of The Law (7.7-13).
Having demonstrated that much of what sin does in chapter 6, the Law does in 7.1-6 (see introduction to chapter 7 above), Paul now faces up to the shocking question as to whether that means that he equates the Law to sin. And, knowing what the horrified reaction of his hearers would be he immediately says, ‘Certainly not!’ For many of them saw the Law as something to be greatly revered, both because it had come from Moses (and therefore from God), and because they had been taught its huge religious importance. And this would be equally so among his wider readership. (He expected his letters to be passed on to other churches to be read. See Colossians 4.16). So he then points out to them from his own experience that it is not that the Law is sinful (it is holy and just and good), but nevertheless that it stirs up sin, and as a result brings us under sentence of death.
7.7a ‘What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not.’
The vital question is put. If the Law has to be treated in the same way as the principle of sin within, by our being put to death to it (6.2; 7.4); by our being freed from it (6.18, 22; 7.6); and by our being delivered from under its rule (6.14a; 7.1); does this make the Law sin? Does it equate the two? And his immediate response is, ‘certainly not.’ Indeed he brings out that they were to be seen as opposites. Sin was to be seen as an enemy, a master tyrant, and as on the side of evil, whilst the Law exposed sin as what it was, and was thus on the side of good, although being manipulated by sin. But the problem then lay in the fact that the Law had to apply its own standards. It had to bring under condemnation those who were in subjection to sin. And that includes all of us.
7.7b ‘However, I had not known (egnown) sin, except through the law. For I had not known (edein) coveting, except the law had said, “You shall not covet,” ’
For it was through the Law that Paul had come to ‘know sin as a personal experience’ (egnown). The Law had taught him intellectually the essential nature of ‘coveting’ (following illicit desire) in such a way that he had come to understand it in his mind (edein), as found in Exodus 20.17, and as a consequence he had come to recognise it personally in his own experience. For once the Law had taught him the essential nature of coveting he had soon had brought home to him that it was prevalent in his own life. He had begun to recognise his own covetous nature and his own illicit desires. And as a consequence he had thus found himself guilty as a Law-breaker. He who had so earnestly striven to keep the Law, had suddenly found himself condemned by the Law. It had been a time of great, but devastating, illumination. But it did mean that the Law, which had once been his seeming friend, had now become in some way his adversary. And once this had happened he had suddenly began to see more and more of the sins that the Law exposed, and to recognise thereby his own increasing guilt. We are not told at what stage in his life this illumination had come, although it was probably pre-conversion. But it had clearly been very vivid. And it would explain why he had redoubled his efforts to achieve ‘righteousness’ by persecuting the hated Nazarenes (the church).
Paul is no doubt expecting his hearers (as the letter is read out) to apply this to themselves on the basis of the ten commandments as interpreted by Jesus in the sermon on the mount, commandments which they no doubt knew well, and some of which they had broken. But he does not press the application.
7.8a ‘But sin, finding occasion, wrought in me through the commandment all manner of coveting.’
And from that time of illumination onwards he had found himself coveting more and more, because the principle of sin was at work within him. Sin had taken the opportunity of his new knowledge, which in itself was so worthy, to arouse within him his fleshly desires and cause him to covet more and more. To a man who had striven so earnestly to be perfect by the standard of the Law it must have come as a huge shock. And it had then made him recognise that, in accordance with that Law, he was now under sentence of death.
Sin is like that in us all. For a long time there can be a certain sin at work within us of which we are unconscious, until the word of God speaks to us, either through a preacher or in our private reading, and we then suddenly recognise how awful it is. But we do not necessarily immediately abjure it. Rather we may become obsessed by it, and find ourselves indulging in it more and more because it has become a habit in our lives, with ‘sin’ driving us on as a result of our sinful desires. Many Christians have been caught up with indecency on the internet, where they can keep it under cover, only to be convicted of it, and then, rather than abjuring it, to continue enjoying it more and more because it has been exposed to them ‘by the Law’ (by God’s word) as a desire of the flesh, even as they fight against it. That is the nature of man, even of Christians.
7.8b ‘For apart from the law sin is dead.’
For until the Law comes on the scene sin is able to continue its work unnoticed. It is as though it was dead. It lies there unnoticed and seemingly dormant, yet working all kinds of things within people, until suddenly it is exposed. And then they are faced with the decision as to whether they should repent and seek God’s mercy. This activity of sin of which they are unaware, is something experienced by all people, although sadly in many cases they die with it unnoticed, and therefore die without hope. But most of us can look back to sins that we had committed for years without recognising that they were sins, and to the moment of illumination when we said, ‘God forgive me, what have I been doing?’. Without the intervention of the Law sin remains unexposed and seemingly ‘dead’.
7.9 ‘And I was alive apart from the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died,’
This was what had happened to Paul, while he was still Saul. He had been striving with all his might to obey the Law, and had prided himself on how well he was doing (Galatians 1.13-14; Philippians 3.4-6), so much so that he had seen it as ‘making him alive’ (‘the man who does these things will live in them’ - Leviticus 18.5; Galatians 3.12). He had been confident that he was on the way to eternal life. The Law had not been speaking to him. He had been ‘apart from the Law’. (Some, however, see this as referring to his early life before at the age of around 13 he became committed to observe the Law at his Jewish ‘coming of age’ ceremony)
And then the commandment had come and had spoken in his heart, and this had brought his sin ‘alive’ (had revived it), and the consequence had been that he himself had ‘died’. He had recognised that the Law, instead of giving him life, because by his obedience to it he was ‘living in it’, was instead pronouncing a sentence of death. It was pointing out that he was not alive at all. The result was that all his hopes of eternal life had collapsed, and he had recognised that all that awaited him was death. Spiritually he was stultified. (The rich young ruler who came to Jesus must have experienced something similar. Having observed the commandments from his youth up he had come to recognise that something vital was missing, which was why he had come to Jesus - Mark 10.17-22; Luke 18.18-23).
However, we must not read too much into Paul’s life and death language here. For parallel with Paul being ‘alive’ and then ‘dead’ we have sin being ‘dead’ and then becoming ‘alive’. Yet it is quite clear that sin was not dead, it was still doing its evil work. And it is clear that it did not come alive literally. The language is all metaphorical. Thus we must not let our interpretation be swayed by trying to make the thoughts of ‘being alive’ and dying’ literal.
On the other hand it is, of course, very possible that Paul had seen in his experience a throwback to the Garden of Eden, and to the experience of Adam when he first sinned. He too had been alive apart from the Law, for the Law had not yet been given (although we may argue that he was under God’s Law, for God had said of the tree of knowing good and evil, ‘you shall not eat of it’. That was Paul’s argument in 5.12-14). But God’s commandment that he should not eat of the Tree of Knowing Good and Evil had brought sin to life and he had succumbed to it and had died. And now the same thing had been repeated in Paul’s own life. In typically Jewish fashion he could be seeing his own experience as involved in that of Adam (just as the Jew at Passover saw himself as again being redeemed). He may also have seen himself as echoing the experience of Israel when the Law had come to them, but only with the consequence that it resulted in their condemnation. The same had happened to him. ‘When the commandment came, sin revived and I died’. Thus it may be that he saw himself as very much involved in salvation history, not only that of Israel, but also that of Adam, and therefore mankind.
Note that in these few verses ‘the commandment’ is the equivalent of ‘the Law’, for the commandment was the part of the Law that had spoken to Paul. It is spoken of as ‘the commandment’ because at this stage Paul has one commandment in mind.
7.10 ‘And the commandment, which was unto life, this I found to be unto death,’
And the result was that the commandment which was found in the Law, the commandment which was supposed to be giving him life, was found by him to be ‘unto death’. He had recognised that his hopes of eternal life had gone. He was under sentence of death, and had like Adam felt himself as having been thrust out of the presence of God.
7.11 ‘For sin, finding occasion, through the commandment beguiled me, and through it slew me.’
And what was to blame for what had happened to him? It was sin (not the Law). Sin had taken advantage of the commandment so as to beguile him and then to slay him. It had brought home to him his sinfulness, had then encouraged him to sin even more as he had sought to deal with it, and had finally made him recognise that his disobedience could not just be put aside. It had rather brought him under sentence of death.
7.12 ‘So that the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and righteous, and good.’
Thus he had recognised that ‘the Law was holy, and that the commandment was holy and just, and good’. They were from God and were instruments of God set apart for His holy purpose, and they were both righteous and good. It was not the Law that was to blame for man’s sins. The Law had simply revealed them for what they were.
7.13 ‘Did then that which is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might be shown to be sin, by working death to me through what is good; —that through the commandment sin might become exceeding sinful.’
Did this then mean that what was good had brought about death in him? By no means. It was not the Law which had done it, but sin. Sin, that it might be shown to be what it was, had worked death in him through what was good. What the commandment had done was to reveal the awful sinfulness of sin, and to make it even more sinful by arousing human passions so that they sinned even more. But the commandment itself was good, even though it was being misused by sin.
The Law Which Was Spiritual Was Limited By The Fleshliness Of Men (Including Christians) Whose Desires Often Caused Them To Do What Was Bad Rather Than What Was Good (7.14-8.4).
When looking at this passage we have to see it in the context of the whole letter. We must ask, is it just a parenthesis, or is it part of a constructive, ongoing presentation? Chapter 6 has dealt with our oneness in Christ in relation to dying to sin and living with Him, resulting in our need to be yielded to righteousness. 7.1-6 has demonstrated that we have died to the Law as an accusatory agent and have been conjoined with Christ. Together they seem to have made the Christian life so straightforward. But as they heard it read many Christians would have found that their lives did not measure up to this high standard, and there might have been the danger that they may be caused to lose faith through it. It was therefore necessary to introduce a counterbalance in order to indicate that in practise sin within still had to be coped with at times, even though for the Christian triumph was available through Jesus Christ our LORD (7.25) and through the powerful work of the Holy Spirit (8.2-12). 7.14-8.4 thus enables the oft-times struggling Christian to recognise that his repeated failures, occurring alongside his successes, do not disqualify him from being a child of God. They are rather a sign of the fleshliness still within him. Most Christians who live in trying circumstances or in spheres of great temptation know this experience only too well. It is therefore perfectly consistent with Paul’s theme that this chapter deals with failures at times in the Christian’s struggle to die to sin in practise, preparatory to announcing the grounds on which he can overall have confidence for the future, and the way that he can achieve an overall victory. Indeed chapter 8 demands something like chapter 7 in order to highlight the importance of the work of the Spirit in overcoming the flesh, whilst at the same time acknowledging that there may at times be periods of failure.
So while the experience described below is in one sense the experience of all men, as all men struggle with conscience and often fail, it would appear to have in mind especially the Christian (that is why it is placed here), for it is only the Christian who ‘delights in the Law of God after the inward man’ and who ‘serves the law of God with his mind’ (7.25, 27). To the Jew the Law was a burden heavy to be borne (Acts 15.10). It is the Christian who delights in God’s Law even though he often fails to fulfil it. He wills to do good, even though he often does not do it. And it was clearly Paul’s experience too, as the use of the first person singular implies. Furthermore it is only the Christian who seriously wars against the law of sin, finding himself taken captive by it (7.25) until he is delivered by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (8.2). Non-Christians have ‘the mind of the flesh’ even if they do have struggles with conscience. They fulfil ‘the desires of the flesh and of the mind’ (Ephesians 2.3). Thus their mind does not war with their flesh. Their motives are always carnal.
But can we really see Paul as living what appears at first sight to be such a defeated life? The answer is probably both yes and no. Initially, of course, we have to recognise what he is saying. There are two possibilities:
We should note that Paul does not spell out any particular sin in spite of the fact that he had done this in 7.7-13. He wants his hearers to read into his words their own sins. What troubled him may not have troubled them, and vice versa. And he may also be reflecting on earlier days. As with us all, when Paul began his Christian life he may well have been subject to the constant trouble and defeats of one or two of the grosser sins, and there were no doubt times in his later life when he might have appeared to himself, if not to others, to have relapsed with regard to them, in his thoughts if not in his actions. While others may have witnessed an exemplary life, he may well have been conscious of battles within of which they knew nothing. But later in his life the sins of which he would have been most aware may not have been what we see as the grosser sins, but may well have been those which related to his own heavy responsibilities in Christ, a sense which would come upon him of not always having done what he could have done. His sense of what was sin (coming short of the glory of God) would be highly tuned. That was no doubt why towards the end of his life he could speak of ‘sinners, of whom I am chief’ (1 Timothy 1.15). As sin battles within us we are all at times on the edge of such defeats, indeed we all constantly ‘come short of the glory of God’. For who can even conceive of such a standard?.
For as we are in ourselves this passage does describe what life would be more obviously like if we did not have the Spirit active along with us, and indeed it still is like this for most of us some of the time. So Paul deals with this aspect of his life, partly in order to encourage the weak, and partly in order to illustrate the spirituality of the Law, which even he finds himself unable at times to keep. But thankfully Paul then launches into the overall remedy. Victory is attainable through Jesus Christ our LORD, as the law of the mind triumphs over the law of the flesh (7.25), even though sin is still active; and it is obtainable by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus which sets us free from the law of sin and death (8.2); with the full explanation of that victory through the power of the Holy Spirit being then described in 8.3-17. So it is very probable that we are to see in this description in 7.14-23 a deliberate portrayal of the human side of the Christian’s battle for victory over sin, which sometimes breaks through in the way described, but which is supplemented by the activity of God through the Spirit, which then transforms the whole situation. And that this is so is confirmed by verse 25 where even the intervention of Jesus Christ our LORD still leaves the person with the struggle between mind and sin , ‘with the mind I serve the Law of God, and with the flesh the law of Sin’.
But having said all that we also need to recognise that the truth is that because of our fleshliness we do all sin all the time. How many can say that they love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength all the time? We may at times in periods of high exaltation feel that we do so, but even then it is very questionable. We do not know what such love is capable of. But the truth is that we do constantly come short of the glory of God, and the ‘practical sins’ about which these verses speak arise out of our failure in this central issue.
It cannot, however, be denied that some of the arguments for seeing these verses as referring to unregenerate men are fairly strong. They have convinced many. And those arguments are partly based on expressions which would appear to be inconsistent with a reference to someone who was regenerate. Thus, for example, the person being spoken of is described as ‘sold under sin’ (7.14). And the question is asked, could such an expression be used of a person who in Christ had died to sin (6.2) and was therefore no longer ‘under sin’, one who was now ‘free from sin’ (6.18) and was no longer a slave to sin.
We have, however, to remember in this regard that such statements as the latter depict a theological position. They are not literally true in experience. They have to be ‘reckoned on’ by faith (6.11), whilst here Paul is speaking of individual practical experience. While theologically we have died to sin, and are no longer ‘under sin’, and as such are dead in the sight of God, it is not always so practically. All of us experience present sin (even perfectionists if they remember that to come short of the glory of God is to sin) and find ourselves acting as servants of sin, not because we are willing servants, but because we find that we do not have the power to resist. At such times we can truly cry out, ‘I am carnal, sold under sin’. Our slavery is an unwilling one. But the unregenerate man is not ‘sold under sin’. He willingly presents his body to sin in order to be its slave (6.13). He willingly presents himself to sin, not to obedience (6.16). He may live respectably in order to soothe his conscience and satisfy his pride, but he still resists yielding to God. His whole life is thus carnal. It is the true believer who constantly fights against sin, even though he can regularly find himself defeated. He is not a willing slave. He is ‘sold under it’, a captive taken by force. He knows that he ‘has sin’, he does not deceive himself (1 John 1.8). But he thanks God that he always has a way of cleansing and forgiveness (1 John 1.7, 9).
7.14 ‘For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am fleshly, sold under sin.’
If we consider the passage from 7.14-8.4 we discover an interesting fact. It commences with ‘we’ and then immediately moves into ‘I, me’, and with the exception of ‘our’ in verse 25 (easily explicable in a phrase which is commonly found throughout the letter). The use of ‘I, me’ then continues until 8.2 with the passage finishing in 8.4 with ‘us’. Thus ‘we’ and ‘us’ form an inclusio for the passage, which is on the whole based on Paul’s personal experience. And it commences with the idea that the Law is ‘spiritual’ (pneumatikos) and ends with that same Law being fulfilled by those who walk after the Spirit (8.4). In between, however, is a vivid description of times when the ‘fleshly’ part of the Christian comes out on top.
Paul begins by defining the problem, and at the same time exalting the Law. The problem lies in the fact that the Law is ‘spiritual’ (of the Spirit), and its commands thus cater to what is truly spiritual. It is too high in its standards for fleshly man. It assumes a perfect man. The wholly spiritual man, if such existed, would no doubt have no problem with it. Indeed, we have one such example in Jesus Christ Himself. And those who come nearest to fulfilling it are spiritual Christians (2.29; 8.4). It is intended for those who ‘walk by the Spirit’ all the time. No doubt the angels in Heaven would not have found it too difficult to observe due to their spiritual natures, but that is not true of us. For men, even the best of men, are not wholly spiritual (pneumatikos). On the contrary, they are ‘fleshly’ (carnal), something which from time to time reveals itself.
Thus our flesh rebels against obedience to the Law. Whilst with our minds we want to fight our flesh, we at times find ourselves giving way, defeated by sin which takes advantage of our fleshly disposition. Our ‘flesh’ (verse 18) provides a place from which sin can launch its attacks. Thus ‘as we are in ourselves in our fleshliness’ we as Christians are at times the unwilling slaves of sin, sold under sin against our will. We at times serve the principle of sin, albeit reluctantly. We may have been redeemed (3.24), but that, though real, and resulting in a genuine spiritual experience (6.1-7.6), is not always effective in outward living, precisely because of the flesh. The fleshly side of man (and the context suggests that fleshly must signify sinful weakness) is still contrary to what is spiritual. This is as true for the Christian as the non-Christian. That is why there is such a struggle between flesh and spirit in the Christian, a struggle described in Galatians 5.16 onwards. It arises because the Christian is fleshly as well as being spiritual. Sin still seeks to bring him into subjection. He is still in that sense ‘under sin’. That is why it must therefore be ‘put to death’.
In this regard we should note that the statement is in the first person, and is in the present tense, ‘I am fleshly.’ Paul does not exclude himself from those who by nature have a ‘fleshly disposition’. Indeed he thrusts himself forward as such. None among men (save the One Who was supernaturally born) can be excluded. It is the very nature of man. And that it refers to Paul’s present state would also appear to be confirmed by the following verses, also in the present tense, and also in terms of ‘I’. Those who see what follows as the description of unregenerate men, or as representing the Jews, have to find some explanation for some of these clear declarations in the first person singular and in the present tense, (note especially the ‘I myself’ of verse 25, and the heart cry of verse 24) and we know of none that is satisfactory. Such interpreters have to invent something which is not in the text, and is certainly not apparent from it. But what they cannot do is see them as meaning what they say, that is, as Paul referring to his present state, even though on the face of them that is what they do, and would certainly appear as doing so to the hearer.
The problem lies in thinking that Paul was referring to gross sins. But once we recognise that he has in mind spiritual sins, of failure to be totally Christlike, we recognise that he was conscious of, and convicted by, things which we would not even call sins. His conscience was highly attuned.
Our view therefore is that Paul is referring to himself as having the fleshly disposition that is common to man, a fleshly disposition which has to be brought into subjection by the Spirit (8.2; Galatians 5.16 onwards), and which is still subject to sin, even though from the point of view of acceptability with God we can count it as ‘dead’. That this is so would seem to be confirmed by the experiences which follow which are all the common lot of Christians whenever they allow ‘the flesh’ to prevail.
7.15a ‘For what I do I know not.’
Here begins Paul’s description of the human moral struggle that is experienced by most good people, but is especially the lot of the Christian whose moral sense has been heightened. He has constantly to battle with himself. And we have, of course, to recognise that what would appear as sin to Paul would appear to many not to be sin at all. As our consciences develop and are purified through our knowledge of God, things are seen as sin which had previously been seen as acceptable.
The words in this verse could mean that the first effect of being carnal and held captive by sin is that ‘we know not what we do’. We sin unwittingly, not realising that what we are doing is sin. How many of us daily mourn over the fact that our love for God is not as total as it should be? But as we grow older in the Christian life more and more things become recognised as sin which in the beginning we did not realise were sin. We realise then that we have been sinning all the time. And this is a continuing process because we are so sinful. ‘If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves’ (1 John 1.8). We have to learn more and more the depths of what is really sin. Thus ‘what we do we know not’.
But more possibly it means, ‘what I do, I do not acknowledge’. Here Paul would be saying, ‘What I do which is bad, is something that is, as a Christian, alien to me. I am, as it were, forced to do it against my will because of the fleshliness of a certain disposition within me, but I do not acknowledge it as right, nor am I proud of it.’
7.15b ‘For I do not practise what I would, but what I hate, that I do.’
‘For,’ he says, ‘I do not (always) practise what in my heart I want to do’, (i.e. what he recognises to be right in accordance with the Law), but rather find myself doing what I hate’ (what is contrary to that Law). The fleshly man described appears to be a very contrary creature. But when we recognise that that Law admonishes that we ‘love God with heart, soul, mind and strength’ (Deuteronomy 6.5) and that we ‘love our neighbour as ourselves’ (Leviticus 19.18) we can see why even a good man feels that he falls short of it constantly. True love is very demanding. What is described here is not, of course, to be seen as Paul’s experience all the time. What he does and hates is not in accordance with his normal practise. Indeed it is not anyone’s experience all the time. It is the experience which comes at times of difficulty and temptation.
7.16 ‘But if what I would not, that I do, I consent to the law that it is good.’
‘Thus’, says Paul, ‘if I at times do what I in my mind do not want to do, doing what I know to be contrary to God’s Law, but hating it even while I am doing it, I am by my very hatred of what I am doing demonstrating that I consent to the Law that it is good. I am upholding the Law as good by my very condemnation of my disobedience to it’. So his very moral struggle is seen as bringing out his great admiration for the Law.
‘For I do not practise what I would, but what I hate, that I do. If what I would not, that I do --.’ Compare Galatians 5.16, ‘that you may not do the things that you would.’ In Galatians it is spoken of Christians and is because the Spirit is lusting against the flesh, and the flesh against the Spirit. Here in Romans it is because of the lust of the flesh against the mind. There can be no doubt that what is spoken of in Galatians referred to Christians. Why then should it not here?
7.17 ‘So now it is no more I who do it, but sin which dwells in me.’
But why, says Paul, do I sometimes behave like this? What explanation can there be? His reply is that it is because what he does is not done by his true self, his inward man, his regenerate nature. It is rather done by ‘sin which dwells in him’ (this in contrast with the indwelling of the Spirit - 8.9). It is done as a result of a carnal disposition which is the home of sin, which is a part of his old self. Here then we have the first indication that verses 15-16 are not to be seen as the whole of his experience. They are rather his experience when the fleshly side of him takes over. It is not he who is doing it but the sin which dwells in him. Thus he is leaving room for a part of his life when it is he who is in control, and not the flesh. At those times he ‘fulfils the Law’ (8.4).
Indeed he sees this as so serious a situation that he repeats it again in verse 20. But he is not hereby denying responsibility for the sin. He is simply saying that it is not done by his ‘new man’ (the man that in intention he is now) but by the ‘old man’ (the man whom he once was, who still lingers on, even though crucified with Christ).
Here we see the importance of God’s method of making us right with Himself. Had we not been able to recognise that this sinful part of us has in fact been put to death on the cross so that it has already been punished, we would be in total despair. We would see our situation as hopeless. But as it is we can hate the things that we do while still retaining our confidence that God sees us as acceptable in Christ, because He knows that we only do them through weakness.
On the other hand, in the case of the unbeliever, much of what he does he revels in. He can even boast about his sins. But for the Christian his sins are a pain and a heartache. He hates them even while he does them. This is one evidence that demonstrates that he really is a Christian, even though ‘weak’.
7.18 ‘For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing, for to will is present with me, but to do what is good is not.’
While up to this point what he has been describing has been of the flesh (‘I am fleshly’) and not of the Spirit (‘the Law is spiritual’), technical terms have been avoided. But now he begins to introduce them. Initially he speaks of ‘my flesh’ as something in which nothing good dwells (thus confirming that ‘fleshly’ means ‘of the flesh’, and therefore that ‘spiritual’ means ‘of the Spirit’). As a consequence of what he has said, Paul recognises that in his flesh, that part of him which is carnal, there dwells no good thing. He recognises that within himself is a fleshly tendency which has nothing good about it. That is why, at times, even when he wills to do good he finds himself not doing it. He can will to do what is good, but finds it impossible to do it all the time. And this is because of his ‘desires which spring from the flesh’. The ‘flesh’ is not his body as such. It is the principle of illicit desire which lies within him which affects the whole of him (‘in me’). Thus up to now with a casual reading we might have thought that Paul was simply ‘fleshly’.
However, he now makes clear that ‘the flesh’ is not all that there is to him. ‘In me, that is in my flesh, there is no good thing.’ He may be fleshly (verse 14), and no good thing might dwell in his flesh, but the qualifying phrase ‘that is, in my flesh’ indicates that we must watch out for other aspects of what he is which have not up to this point been dealt with. And he will now begin to describe these. The flesh does not have all its own way. This makes it clear that in his analysis he is concentrating on different aspects of his behaviour as they are affected at times by his make-up and situation, not with a chronological sequence. He wants initially to establish his fleshliness so that he can then deal with what counters that fleshliness.
So up to this point the thought has been based solely on the contrast between ‘spiritual’ and ‘fleshly’ (verse 14), with the emphasis being on the effects of his own fleshliness. As a whole Paul has studiously avoided supplying any technical word to describe what is in him which is contrary to ‘the flesh’, (the whole passage is based on Paul’s fleshliness - verse 14). The first instances to the contrary will be found in verse 22 where he speaks of ‘the inward man’ (verse 22), followed by references to ‘the mind’ (verses 23, 25).
7.19 ‘For the good which I would I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I practise.’
Meanwhile he continues to describe the effects of his fleshliness. ‘(At times),’ says Paul, ‘I find myself failing to do the good that I want to do.’ The doing of that good is the aim of his life. But sometimes (and in some ways all the time) he finds himself failing, and practising the evil that he does not in his heart want to do. Perhaps he has in mind times when he had intended to pray, but had allowed himself to be diverted, or to sleep over. Or when he would have spent time with God and His word, but had instead found himself doing something else. Or when he had wasted time in trivialities. Many a time he must have regretted having failed to heed the signs which had demonstrated a soul in need whom he had overlooked because he was too busy on spiritual affairs. The judgment of the use of time is a constant problem for the mature Christian in the face of all the possibilities, and in the face of a lost world, and we all fall short in our use of our time, and sometimes feel guilty about it. And the same can apply in our use of money. What should we allow ourselves to spend on ourselves when so many in the world are starving? It is a difficult question. Indeed the truly righteous life presents many problematic decisions that have to be made, and we all fall short at times because of the effects of the flesh.
So at times Paul found that he had to pull himself up because he was doing ‘the evil that he would not’. He was falling short of his own high standards, and more importantly of God’s high standards. Even Christians who are seeking daily to please God can at times catch themselves out as being lazy, or greedy, or casual, or lustful, or wrongly judgmental, and so on. They fall short of the glory of God.
7.20 ‘But if what I would not, that I do, it is no more I who do it, but sin which dwells in me.’
And the explanation for all this was the sin that dwelt in him that lay at the root of his fleshly disposition. It was because he was ‘a sinful man’ that he found it so impossible to live up to his own ideal of perfection, an ideal built up through spending time with God and His word.
7.21-23 ‘I find then the law, that, to me who would do good, evil is present. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man, but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members.’
So he recognises that he has discovered a certain principle at work, that when he wanted to do good evil was present. However, he now introduces a new element as he builds up his picture of the Christian life. In his ‘inward man’ he was not like that. In his inward man he delighted in the Law of God. For within him is ‘the law of his mind’ which is at war with ‘the law of sin’. His ‘mind’ is totally set on good (unlike that of the unregenerate man - Ephesians 2.3). This demonstrates that he saw nothing bad in the Law. His will and intent was to live it out fully. In principle his mind was set on it. But he found another law or principle within him (something permanent and unceasing) which ‘warred against the law of his mind’, and which, as a result of his fleshly disposition, often made him captive to the principle of sin which was within him. Life was thus a constant battlefield. Compare Galatians 5.17. He is not, of course, denying responsibility for his sin. He recognises that it is he who does it. But nevertheless he wants it to be recognised that he does not ‘willingly’ do it. It comes from his sinful disposition and from ingrained habit which are both at work through his body with its many ‘members’. The fact that it is ‘another’ law makes clear that he is not in this instance referring to the Law of God.
Thus Paul is building up here to his statement in 7.24- 8.2 where the problem is to be resolved by the introduction of ‘Jesus Christ our LORD’ and ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’ (note the continued use in 8.2 of the singular personal pronoun ‘me’, its last use) which defeats the law of sin and sets him free. Our chapters separate chapter 7 from chapter 8, but there were no chapters in the Greek text. 8.2 is a vital part of the argument as the continued use of the singular personal pronoun makes clear.
‘The inward man.’ This description occurs also in 2 Corinthians 4.16 and Ephesians 3.16, and it is surely in mind in 2.29 where Paul speaks of ‘being a true Jew inwardly (hiddenly)’, and goes on to refer to ‘the spirit’. In 2 Corinthians 4.16 it is in contrast with ‘the outward man’ (the body which decays), and is renewed day by day. In the latter it is ‘strengthened with might by the Spirit’. All these references point to the inward man as being a description of the regenerate man who experiences the work of the Spirit (particularly important in the light of 8.1-16). This is especially so as it ‘delights in the law of God’. Certainly unregenerate men respected the Law and even had a zeal for it. But we are never given the impression by Paul that they ‘delighted’ in it. Indeed they found it somewhat of a burden (Acts 15.10). The Psalmist who so delighted in it was himself a regenerate man (there was always a remnant of Israel which was regenerate, necessarily so, or the truth would not have survived).
‘The inward man’ is also referred to in classical literature where it refers to ‘man -- according to his Godward, immortal side’, and therefore as the equivalent of the term ‘spirit’. But to Paul the spirit of unregenerate men was ‘dead’ (Ephesians 2.1, 5). It would hardly therefore have been seen as delighting in the Law of God.
‘The law of my mind (nous).’ To Paul the unregenerate mind was ‘unfit’ (1.28). That was why ‘those who are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh’ (8.5). And ‘those who are in the flesh cannot please God’ (8.8). In contrast the Apostles had their mind ‘opened’ in order to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24.45), and Christians have to seek ‘the renewal of their mind’ in order to escape being conformed to the world (12.2). Both with their mind served Christ. But both needed the Spirit’s help in order to satisfactorily fulfil that service. Thus ‘the mind’, illuminated and acting rightly (becoming the mind of the Spirit), and seeking to serve the (spiritual) Law of God (verse 25) is an important aspect of the Christian. All this must be seen as indicating that ‘the law of my mind’ relates to the illuminated, and therefore regenerate, mind. Indeed it is difficult to see how there could be a law within which warred against the law of his mind, unless his mind had come over to God’s side. Whilst the unregenerate man uses his mind, it is in collusion with the law of sin, not at enmity with it. It is the mind of the flesh. Unregenerate man follows the desires of the flesh and of the mind (dia-noiown). See Ephesians 2.3. His battles are between two forces both controlled by sin.
Note that this very teaching confirms what we saw in 5.12 onwards, that as men we have inherited a tendency to sin. We do not start with a clean slate. We are born having within us a carnality which drives us to sin, which is the final explanation as to why all men sin.
Deliverance Is At Hand (7.24-8.2).
7.24 ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me out of the body of this death?’
The thought that he has not wholly and continually been able to overcome sin caused Paul great anguish so that he cries out in his wretchedness. His very recording of the facts had awoken in his memory a great sense of how dreadful it had been. And so he cries out, ‘Oh wretched man that I am!’ He is ashamed of what he has had to confess. If anything reveals that Paul is speaking from personal experience it is this. And like what has gone before it is expressed in the present tense and in the singular. This is what he knows himself still to be when he ceases to let the mind of the Spirit have precedence.
He could still hardly believe that after all these years of serving Christ, and with all that he owed to Christ, he should still allow his members sometimes to do what they should not. We do not know of course what his temptations were. Perhaps he was aware of sexual stirrings within him that he was finding hard to control, perhaps it was the battle not to allow his prominence to make him proud and a little arrogant, possibly it was a tendency to slacken off a little in his physical exertions because of his physical problems, perhaps it was a tendency sometimes to be a little harsh and lacking in understanding for the weakness of others. But it is clear that they were there. They were not what the world would call gross sins, but they were gross sins to him. And he hated them. And so he cried out, ‘Wretched man that I am! who will deliver me out of the body of this death?’
Some have argued that the Christian would not speak with such despair. But they must be privileged. I have myself often at times cried out in precisely such despair because I felt that I was losing the war when I found that sin had somehow been exercising its mastery over me and I felt totally ashamed and aggrieved that I was not pleasing my Lord. And Paul’s words have then been echoed in my prayer. It is precisely the awakened and tender conscience of the Christian who loves and wants to please God which feels the impact of sin so deeply.
And Paul then draws attention to how much he wants deliverance from it. ‘Who will deliver me out of the body of this death?’ He hates what is in him which has caused this situation. ‘The body of this death’ signifies the body as controlled by indwelling sin which causes it to be sentenced to death. It is the body under sentence of death. Within it is ‘the flesh’. It is dying because of the presence of sin, and meanwhile causing him great pangs of anguish. And all men die, even the most godly. (The exception at the coming of Christ is precisely that, an exception. For them death is overridden by the grace of God through the cross).
He knows, of course the answer to his own question. (Like many of Paul’s questions it is postulated in order to establish a point). Indeed that will be his message in chapter 8. Deliverance will come initially through the work of the Spirit in his daily life and finally as a result of the work of the Spirit through the resurrection or final transformation. He knows that the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made him free from the law of sin and death (8.2), a freedom which will eventually be fully realised at the resurrection (8.9-11). He knows that one day we will be delivered by the transformation of our present bodies (1 Corinthians 15.42-44, 52-53). That one day we will be presented before God holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5.27; Colossians 1.22). But here he wants the answer to be made clear immediately. He wants to reveal the source of our deliverance. We should note that his question simply awakens the question in the mind of his hearers in a vivid way. He is not really seeking the information. He is using literary method. And the answer is ‘Jesus Christ our LORD’. For some of us this is precisely the answer that we were expecting. But in Paul’s day it was spoken to people who lived in a world of many gods, and came as an illumination out of the darkness. It was the Christian Lord and Saviour Who could deliver men from sin.
7.25 ‘I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then I myself (I as I am in myself) with the mind, indeed, serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.’
It is a mistake to see this verse as concluding the argument. The ‘so then’ (often translated ‘therefore’) in 8.1 refers back to it, and Paul is still speaking of ‘me’ in 8.2. It is precisely because ‘Jesus Christ our LORD’ has intervened and has died for us, and because He has set our minds to serve the Law of God, that we are free from the ‘punishment following sentence’ (eternal condemnation) which should result from of our sins. And chapter 8 will tell us that this setting of our minds is the work of the Spirit.
Note the distinction between Paul ‘as he is in himself’ and Paul being influenced by the flesh. The true Paul served the Law of God, the Law which was spiritual (7.14), suggesting therefore that he was assisted by the Spirit. It was only a weakness in his make-up, his ‘flesh’, that sometimes caused him to do otherwise. The fact that this comes after the reference to deliverance by Jesus Christ our LORD indicates that this is a part of his saving experience, thus confirming that the mind which serves the Law of God is the regenerate mind.
‘I myself’. In these words Paul underlines that he is speaking of his own experience. It leaves us in no doubt that what we have heard has been autobiographical.
‘So then I myself (I as I am in myself) with the mind, indeed, serve the law of God --.’ In other words he serves the Law of God with his mind because of the intervention of Jesus Christ our LORD, in his case on the Damascus Road and in what followed that.
‘Jesus Christ our LORD.’ For this title and its equivalent in ‘Christ Jesus our LORD’ see 5.1, 11, 21; 6.23; 8.39. As a result of it we have peace with God (5.1), we are alive to God (5.11), we have eternal life (5.21; 6.23), and we experience the saving love of God in action (8.39).
8.1 ‘So there is now no punishment following sentence to those who are in Christ Jesus.’
This is literally ‘so no punishment following sentence now to those who are in Christ Jesus.’ The English versions translating ’ara as ‘therefore’ can give the impression of a decisive break as in 5.1, but in 5.1 the ‘therefore’ was ’oun, here it is ’ara, and an examination of the use of ’ara in Romans demonstrates that it does not carry the same force as ’oun in 5.1. See 5.18; 7.3, 21, 25; 8.12; 9.16, 18;10.17; 14.12, 19. Rather it refers back in the main to what has just been said (as ’oun also often does). And this is what we would expect here because we are still in the ‘I, me’ section (verse 2). The reference in the plural to ‘those who are in Christ Jesus’ refers to the whole of the believing church worldwide. It does not therefore conflict with this view. Compare how in 7.14 ‘we’ is used to refer to the Roman recipients of his letter, and in 7.25 he can speak of ‘our’ Lord, referring again to his Roman recipients and to all Christians.
The ’ara then refers back in the first instance either to ‘I thank my God through Jesus Christ our LORD’ or to ‘so then (’ara ’oun) I myself with my mind serve the Law of God --.’ Or indeed to the whole verse. Thus indicating that 8.1-2 at least is a part of the ‘I, me’ section. The change back to ‘us’ occurs in verse 4, and from then on ‘I’ and ‘me’ no longer occur. However, the reference to the fulfilling of the Law of God in verse 4 would appear to indicate that that too is a part of this whole section about the Law, commencing at 7.1, but with the ‘I, me’ sections (7.7-8.2) contained within it.
And why is there now no ‘punishment following sentence’? (which is the literal meaning of katakrima in external literature). It is because, like Paul, Christians have found the solution in Jesus Christ our LORD, both through His death for them and in His bringing the minds of His own to ‘serve the Law of God’, as a consequence of their having been accounted as righteous (3.24-4.25; 5.15-19), and as a consequence of their being ‘in Him’ (chapter 6). What the Law could not do, He has done (verse 3). By delivering them from the condemnation of the Law, He has enabled them to delight in the Law and fulfil it (verse 4; 7.22, 25). They are thus those who have become servants of obedience (6.14). For them there is now no sentence, or punishment following sentence, for, as we shall soon see, as a result of the Spirit’s work they ‘fulfil the Law’ (verse 4).
‘To those who are in Christ Jesus.’ To be ‘in Christ’ is a popular Biblical phrase, but what precisely does it signify?
Thus being ‘in Christ’ is firstly the basis of our being accounted as righteous (5.12-21;2 Corinthians 5.21). And secondly it is the basis of successful living as a consequence of spiritual transformation and abiding in the risen Christ (6.3 following; 7.4; John 15.1-6). This is why there is no punishment after sentence for those who are ‘in Christ Jesus’.
The idea of being ‘in Christ was developed further in Ephesians and Colossians. Thus:
However, looking at the broader picture we can also see the ‘no punishment following sentence (katakrima)’ as looking back to 5.16, 18, (the only other references in Romans to katakrima) as will now be explained in verses 2-4. In 5.16, 18 punishment following sentence came on all men because of the judgment that had come on Adam, but for believers it was then countered by God through the free gift of righteousness resulting from the obedience of Jesus Christ. This was the necessary basis for deliverance from the Law. The Law could no longer condemn the one who was in Christ. As a result the intervention of Jesus Christ our LORD has resulted in minds set to serve the Law of God, confident of no ‘punishment following sentence’ from that Law. Verses 2-4 will now take this wider reference up.
8.2 ‘For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and of death.’
Here we have an explanation of the deliverance by ‘Jesus Christ our LORD’ in 7.25. It was wrought by ‘the law of the Spirit’ (paralleling ‘the law of my mind’ - 7.23), ‘of life in Christ Jesus’. As a consequence of the ‘law (effective power, principle) of the Spirit’ acting upon him in contrast to ‘the law (the effective power, principle) of sin’, Paul (‘me’) has been ‘made free’. He had found himself ‘brought into captivity by the law of sin in his members’ (7.23) at those times when ‘his flesh’ caused his members to serve the law of sin. But now he is seen as being ‘made free from the law of sin and death’ as a result of the work of ‘the Spirit, of life in Christ Jesus’. He is partially ‘made free’ from his captivity to it at the present, although sadly discovering that sin will go on seeking to make him captive, and sometimes succeeding. But best of all he will one day be made free from it totally at the resurrection (8.11). ‘Has made me free’ has in mind the potential fulfilment of the hope (he will actually not be freed from the possibility of death until the resurrection). Thus the imparting of Christ’s life by the Spirit potentially annuls the power of sin and death. In consequence his ‘serving of the Law of God with his mind’ (7.25) results in his members serving the Law of God, with him in his higher nature in the main fulfilling it (no one, not even the most righteous, fulfils it totally for its demands are too high for someone who still has within them the fleshly disposition), although sometimes failing because of the flesh. Note the addition of ‘death’ so as to contrast with ‘life’. The struggle between what was spiritual and what was fleshly (7.14) still continued.
‘Of life in Christ Jesus.’ It is through His life, imparted to us through our response of faith, that we are made free. As we have seen this is the theme of the whole of 5.1-8.4 (and indeed beyond), that ‘life’ or ‘eternal life’ has come to us through our LORD Jesus Christ. See 5.10, 17, 18, 21; 6.4, 8, 11, 23; 7.4, 24 (by inference). Paul knows that the law of sin and death within him has been countered and defeated by the law of the Spirit through the power of Christ’s death and resurrection, something Paul had already experiencing to some extent, and wanted to experience even more (Philippians 3.10). But the final triumph of ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’ will take place when our mortal bodies are ‘made alive’ by Him Who raised Christ Jesus from the dead (8.11).
‘The law of sin and death.’ Some have sought to equate this with the Law of Moses, but in a passage where the Law is described as ‘spiritual’ (7.14) and ‘holy and righteous and good’ (7.12) it is hardly likely that Paul would call it the law of sin and death, and the Law is never said to kill (see 7.13). It is sin which takes advantage of the Law so as to kill (7.11). Indeed in 7.23 the Law of God is seen as in opposition to ‘the law of sin in my members’. How then can it be identified with it? Thus this does not refer to the Law of Moses.
Note that it is at this stage that Paul ceases to speak autobiographically and again reverts to ‘us’. He has not openly included the Roman Christians in 7.14-8.2, he has left it for them to consider the matter in the light of his own experience, but he certainly wants to include them openly in the final conclusion. [Aleph; B have se (thou) but it would be unique in the passage. A; W have me).
8.3 ‘For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh,’
Once again we learn of the weakness of the Law because of man’s fleshly disposition (7.14 onwards). The ‘spiritual’ Law failed because man was ‘fleshly’ (7.14). So what the Law could not do, make men acceptable to God and deal with the problem of sinful flesh, God did. He intervened. And He did it by ‘sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin’. He Who was the only Son (1.3) was ‘born of the seed of David according to the flesh’ (1.2), and thus came ‘in the likeness of’ sinful flesh, although Himself not sinful (2 Corinthians 5.21; Hebrews 4.15; 1 Peter 2.22; 1 John 3.5). And He suffered for us on the cross, thus being made an offering for sin (3.24-25; 4.25; 5.6-10, 18-19; 6.3, 5-6, 10; 7.4; compare 2 Corinthians 5.21). And as a consequence of His obedience both in life as the Son of David, and in the offering of Himself in death, He ‘condemned sin in the flesh’. His life was a constant condemnation of sin, which was why He was hated by so many. And He condemned sin by His teaching. But above all He condemned sin by dying for it, demonstrating thereby that it was worthy of death. Once He had ‘borne our sin in His own body on the tree, that we being dead to sin should live to righteousness’ (1 Peter 2.24), the power of sin was broken. It could no longer point the finger at those who were Christ’s. All it could do was fight a rearguard action so as to affect people’s lives. Thus this has in mind both the possibility of present victory over a ‘sin in the flesh’ that has been condemned (verses 4, 10) and final resurrection when the ‘sin in the flesh’ will have been got rid of once for all (verse 11).
‘For sin.’ This may indicate that He was being offered up as a propitiatory sacrifice. See 2 Corinthians 5.21 where he was ‘made sin for us, He Who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.’. Consider also that ‘He gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, in accordance with the will of God and our Father’ (Galatians 1.4). There may be a reflection here of Isaiah 53.10 LXX where peri hamartias (‘for sin’) is similarly used, although the same phrase is used regularly in Leviticus for a sacrificial offering. We need not on the other hand limit ‘for sin’ to a sacrificial offering here. The main point is that He was sent to deal with sin as a whole.
‘For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh.’ More literally we could read, ‘The powerlessness (impotence) of the Law being this that it was weak through the flesh -’, or alternatively ‘on account of the powerlessness of the Law in that it was weak through the flesh, God sent His Son --.’ The point is that the Law was impotent. Having revealed God’s requirements it could only stand by helplessly. And this was because of man’s fleshliness.
8.4 ‘That the ordinance (requirement) of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.’
And the consequence of what He has done is that the ordinance of the Law is fulfilled in us as is revealed by the fact that we walk after the Spirit (compare Galatians 5.16, 25). But how is the Law fulfilled in us?
1). is certainly true, and is the basis of everything else, but it cannot be seen as the full explanation as the fulfilment in this verse is connected with the ‘walk after the Spirit’ which is very much a matter of practical righteousness (Galatians 5.16 ff). The mood and tense would strongly support 3). with the idea being that God brings His righteousness to His people thus transforming their lives. The consequence of both 1). and 3). is then revealed in 2).
So as God acts upon us by His Spirit He communicates to us not only justifying righteousness (3.24-4.25), but also sanctifying righteousness (5.1-6.23), resulting in His Law being fulfilled. He comes with salvation and with righteous deliverance (see on 1.16-17). And the consequence is that we ‘walk after the Spirit’. This means that we look off to the Spirit continually for His guidance, especially through God’s word and prayer, seeking for Him to be renewed in us constantly (‘be you being filled with the Spirit’ - Ephesians 5.18) and walking step by step with the Spirit day by day (‘if we live in the Spirit let us walk step by step by the Spirit’ - Galatians 5.25). This is the opposite of responding daily to the clamour of the flesh. As a consequence the ordinance of the Law will be fulfilled in us as we live out the Sermon on the Mount, which is Jesus Christ’s commentary on the Law.
The ordinance (declaration, requirement) of the Law will thus be fulfilled in a number of ways. Firstly by Jesus Christ’s full obedience to the Law being put to our account in His gift of righteousness (3.23-4.25). In this way the Law is completely fulfilled. Secondly by God’s righteousness being active within us by the Spirit, producing righteousness in our lives , enabling us to reject the flesh and fulfil the Law (8.1-18). And thirdly in the outworking of our lives when we walk after the Spirit, with our lives submitting and responding to His direction step by step (Galatians 5.25). The concluding ‘who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit’ puts the emphasis on the latter. Thus we find that the Law does triumph in the end as the standard by which the Christian ‘walks after the Spirit’, something which results from God’s inworking (Philippians 2.13; compare James 1.25).
The Contrast Between Flesh And Spirit Is Considered, Leading Up To The Assurance Of Life Through The Triune God And A Declaration Of Our Sonship And Heirship (8.5-17). Reference to ‘walking not after the flesh but after the Spirit’ now leads on to a deeper examination of what it means to be responsive to the Spirit in contrast with the flesh. It is the battle of Galatians 5.16 ff. continued, with the Spirit and flesh being in constant opposition. This contrast is prominent verse by verse in 8.5-13. With reference to ‘the flesh’ we note that:
This is the condition in which the world find themselves. Because they are fleshly their concentration is on fleshly things, an attitude which results in death both in this world and that which is to come (contrary to popular belief they are not going to Heaven). It also results in enmity against God, and their being in a position whereby they are unable to please Him. They are at odds with God. Note the constant emphasis on death. That is all that awaits those who are in the flesh. Their state is a parlous one indeed.
In contrast is the life of the Spirit:
Here we note immediately the emphasis on life (eternal life). To have the mind of the Spirit is life. To have the Spirit indwelling is life. God will give life to our mortal bodies. If by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body we will live. If we are led by the Spirit of God we are the sons of God (and will thus be alive forevermore). Through the Spirit we therefore enjoy ‘eternal life’ both now and after the resurrection (John 5.24, 28-29).
8.5 ‘For those who are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh, but those who are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.’
The test of whether we walk after the flesh or after the Spirit is revealed by our mind set. Those who walk after the flesh have their minds set on the things of the flesh. Those who walk after the Spirit have their minds set on the things of the Spirit. Compare Colossians 3.1-2, ‘if you then be risen with Christ (6.1-11), seek those things which are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth --’. If our minds are not set on things above, perhaps we ought to reconsider our position.
Note the use of the third person, continued until verse 9, in order to facilitate the comparison between those who are after the flesh and those who are after the Spirit.
8.6 ‘For the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace,’
The consequence of having ‘the mind of the flesh’ is death. If we set our minds on fleshly things we will reap our reward. God is not mocked. He who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption (Galatians 6.7). In contrast the one who sows to the Spirit, and sets his mind on the Spirit and is ‘after the Spirit’, will enjoy life and peace. He will enjoy peace with God (5.1). He will ‘reap eternal life’ (Galatians 6.7), because thereby he will be proving that he is a true child of God, who is acceptable in God’s sight through the righteousness of Christ (verse 3).
8.7-8 ‘Because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can it be, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.’
And this is because having the mind of the flesh is to be at enmity with God. That which is fleshly is not subject to the Law of God, nor indeed can it be, for the Law is spiritual (7.14). This underlines the fact that the descriptions in 7.22-23 were of regenerated men and women. That a battle was taking place was because the Spiritual mind was being applied rather than the fleshly one. As a consequence of all this, those who are ‘in the flesh’ cannot please God. God cannot look with pleasure on one who is deliberately dwelling in the realm of the flesh and walking in deliberate disobedience. They are enemies of God. They are not subject to God’s Law (they are criminals and rebels). They cannot please God. And the reason why this is so, is because all that they do, even if it has to do with high level morality, is done out of fleshly motives.
8.9 ‘But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if it be that the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.’
In contrast those who have the Spirit of God dwelling in them are ‘in the Spirit’ and not ‘in the flesh’. They dwell and walk in the realm of the Spirit. They are upheld by the Spirit. They are illuminated by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2.9-16). In this is the crucial test of whether someone is a Christian. Are they indwelt by the Spirit? For Jesus came as the ‘inundator in Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 3.11; 1 Corinthians 12.13). Indeed if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ he is ‘none of His’. Note the change to ‘Spirit of Christ’, important in context because the point is that central to being a Christian is our relationship to Christ. But the Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of God, for Christ is God. God is seen in general as represented in men’s hearts by ‘the Holy Spirit’. And yet we must beware of being too dogmatic, for God is such that it is impossible for the Holy Spirit to be present without the Father and the Son. They too dwell within us (John 14.23). And Paul demonstrates this by immediately speaking of ‘Christ in you’ (verse 10). Compare how in John 14.17-18, having promised the coming of the Holy Spirit Jesus said, ‘I will come to you’. Note that Paul is now once again addressing the Roman Christians (as representing all Christians).
8.10 ‘And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.’
Quite easily Paul can slip from having the Holy Spirit in us, to having Christ in us, thus illustrating Their total equality. It is because Christ is in us that the body is dead because of sin, for it is due to our having been crucified with Christ. However, some see this as indicating ‘the body is subject to death because of sin’. Both are, of course, true. If we take the first the verse is linking up with the fact that we died with Him and rose with Him (6.1-11). If we take the second then Paul is indicating that we are still subject to death because of sin dwelling in us, but are certain of resurrection because we have life through the Spirit. So in our oneness with Him we have died with Him, and we live in Him. And it is because of His righteousness applied to us that we enjoy the Spirit of life. For this was the purpose of His coming, to give us life (a theme of chapters 5-8), and we learn now that this is through the Spirit.
Translations are divided on whether to translate as ‘spirit’ or Spirit. But in a context so rich with the work of the Spirit a capital S would seem appropriate, especially as we immediately learn that it is the Spirit Who gives life (verse 11, compare verse 2). It makes little difference. The Spirit works by making alive our spirits, which had been previously dead.
8.11 ‘But if the Spirit of him who raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised up Christ Jesus from the dead will give life also to your mortal bodies through his Spirit which dwells in you.’
The Triune God is now seen as in action. ‘Him Who raised up Jesus from the dead’ (the Father) is now introduced, and is also seen as indwelling us. Involved in our salvation are Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And we learn that having raised Jesus from the dead by His mighty power (Ephesians 1.19 ff), we can be sure that He will also raise us from the dead (Ephesians 2.1 ff), giving life to our mortal bodies. The assurance is of physical resurrection. And it will be accomplished through His Spirit Who dwells in us. Then will ‘the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’ have finally set us free from the law of sin and death (verse 2).
8.12 ‘So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh,’
So, says Paul, we must recognise that we are debtors. We owe it to God to be what we should be and yield our lives to His Spirit. On the other hand we own no debt to the flesh, by pandering to it and in consequence living in accordance with its demands. Indeed it has no rights over us. To ‘live after the flesh’ is to own the right of the flesh to dictate our lives. It is those who happily follow their own desires without recourse to God who ‘live after the flesh’. They are at enmity with God (verse 7). In contrast the true believer’s aim is to follow after the Spirit, looking to God for guidance and help in the way we live. Thus aim and motive are of vital importance. Compare the mind serving the Law of God (7.25), even though the flesh serves the law of sin.
8.13 ‘For if you live after the flesh, you must die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.’
Indeed if we do live after the flesh we ‘must die’, both in this world and the next. It is a certainty. The contrast with ‘live’ indicates that this means more than just physical death. For those who live after the flesh there is no eternal life. On the other hand, if we live by the Spirit, following His leading and responding to Him, and if we by His power put to death the (sinful) deeds of our body, we will ‘live’ (a verb only used of believers). In the light of the first part of the verse we may see the deeds done in the body as referring to those wrought by the flesh which operates in our body.
8.14 ‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.’
And one reason why we can be so sure that we ‘will live’ is because, by being led by the Spirit in this regard we are demonstrating that we are ‘sons of God’. The assumption is, of course, that in the same way we will follow all the Spirit’s leading. And the fact that we can sense His leading is confirmation of the fact of our sonship. The warning is, however, elsewhere given that we can be misled (1 Corinthians 12.3; 1 John 4.1 ff). We must therefore ensure that our leading is a true leading of the Spirit (there are other spirits which will try to lead us astray including ‘the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience’ - Ephesians 2.2). In John 1.12-13 those who receive ‘the Word’, that is those who believe on His Name, are given the right to be ‘called children of God’. Here that advances to adult sonship. And the idea is that God could never allow His sons, who are destined to be made like His Son (8.29), to ‘die’ eternally. They are sons for ever (John 8.35).
The term ‘son of God’ is never unambiguously used of believers in the Old Testament. It rather refers in the plural to the bene elohim (sons of the elohim - angels - as in Job 1-2), but Israel as a whole is called ‘My son’ (Exodus 4.20; compare also ‘Ephraim is my firstborn’ - Jeremiah 31.9), and individually Israel are seen as ‘the children of the LORD your God’ (Deuteronomy 14.1). In Isaiah 43.6 God also speaks of the people of Israel as ‘My sons and My daughters’, and in Hosea 2.1 LXX (cited by Paul on 9.26) God speaks of His people as ‘sons of the living God. In a similar way God is seen as the father of Israel rather than of individuals. The kings of Israel were seen as His adopted sons, ‘you are My son, today I have begotten (adopted) you’ (Psalm 1.7). Compare also 2 Samuel 7.14 ‘I will be his father and he will be my son’. So the seed thought was there, but not the full reality. Jesus illuminated the idea and took it further, regularly speaking of God as ‘our Father’ (see especially the first half of Matthew’s Gospel, e.g. Matthew 5.45, 48; 6.1, 4, 6, 8 etc.) and less often referring to believers as ‘sons’ (Matthew 5.45). Jesus Himself was, however, called ‘the Son of God’ and ‘the Son’ and the probability is that our adopted sonship primarily derives from Him as a result of our union with Him (Hebrews 2.10-13), supplemented in terms of the further background.
8.15 ‘For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, “Abba, Father”.’
This is a call for them to recognise that they have not been called as servants (who were often beaten) but as sons (something made clear by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son - Luke 15). Left to their own ideas they might well have seen themselves as ‘slaves of God’, cowering before a despotic Master ( a regular feature of life in those days), but the fact that Jesus taught them that they could call God ‘Father’ demonstrated otherwise. His point was that God did not want them to look on Him as a stern Master, but as a loving Father. This idea is thus firmly rooted in the teaching of Jesus about God as a loving Father. It is further supported by the idea lying behind ‘no longer do I call you servants, but I have called your friends’ (John 15.15) and by His stress on the fact that it was He Who had chosen them (John 15.16). God did not see them merely as servants, but as those who had been chosen by Him.
In Galatians 4.1-4 reference is made to ‘being held in bondage under the rudiments of this world’ as a situation which is remedied when God ‘redeems those who are under the Law that they might receive adoption as sons’. In that case both bondage and adoption are therefore mentioned. But simply to apply this would seem to miss the main point of the verse which has in mind previous bondage to the Law..
‘Adoption as sons’ (huiothesia). This has reference to the Greco-Roman practise of the ‘adoption’ of a son, in some cases when he became full grown, and therefore able to take on responsibility, so that he might be the heir (the idea actually lies behind Genesis 15.2-4).
Despite Galatians 4 then, there is good reason here for seeing ‘bondage’ as referring to the bondage of the Law from which they have just escaped by being accounted as righteous. The point is that the Spirit Whom they receive will not take them back again under the bondage of the Law so that they once more live in craven fear under that Law. Rather He will bring them into a state of adoption under their Father in which they cry ‘Abba Father’, the tender cry of a child to its father, and live openly and joyfully in His presence. The freely open cry of ‘Abba father’ is deliberately in direct contrast to the quivering slave who fears to say anything. It is a hugely significant cry, a cry of trust and confidence, and of assurance that the Father will hear.
‘The Spirit of bondage.’ This term is basically a term describing what is non-existent as it is describing what the Holy Spirit is NOT and what we have NOT received. He is not a Spirit of bondage but a Spirit of adoption..
8.16 ‘The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God,’
And all this is because the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, making us aware of the privilege and joy of such a position. It is through the Spirit’s illumination and encouragement that we take up and maintain our new position, continually rejoicing in it as the wonder of it is brought home to us more and more.
8.17 ‘And if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him.’
Furthermore the Spirit bears witness to even more. He bears witness to the fact that as children we are heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. He brings out that we are to share with Christ in all the gifts and glory of the Father. Thus will we receive the inheritance promised to Abraham (4.13-14; Genesis 12.3ff. and often), an inheritance that will be received, not in this earth, but in the new Heaven and the new earth (Hebrews 11.10-14; 2 Peter 3.13). But Paul then enters a caveat. Such a privilege can only be ours if we share in His suffering. Those who would share the glory must share the cross. For it is the destiny of believers to experience suffering on the way to glory. ‘If we die with Him we will also live with Him, if we suffer with Him we will also reign with Him’ (2 Timothy 2.11-12). It was not that Paul doubted the Roman Christians (any more than he distrusted Timothy). It was rather that he wanted them to be prepared for what might come (and soon did come).
The Whole Of Creation Is Groaning In Expectation Of Its Redemption. And God’s People Also Groan With It, As Does The Spirit Of God Himself On Our Behalf (8.18-27).
In spite of the division necessarily made this passage very much connects up with the previous one and it is only the change in subject matter which causes us to make the division, for verse 18 takes up verse 17. Paul has just been speaking of the fact that we who are sons of God will also share in His sufferings. Now we learn that the whole of creation is also undergoing anguish (is groaning) as it waits for ‘the revealing of the sons of God’. Thus prior to the final summary in 8.31-39 the portrayal of redemption described from chapters 1 to 8 ends with a glance into the future when the whole of creation will be transformed and the people of God will experience full salvation as they are made like to His image.
The passage presents this in a remarkable way as it portrays salvation history in terms of groaning, for not only does it see the whole creation as groaning in hope of deliverance, and all God’s people as groaning as they await the redemption of their bodies, but it also portrays God Himself as groaning through His Spirit as He fulfils His role in our salvation. Thus this present age is summarised as one of groaning prior to our deliverance into ‘the liberty of the glory of the children of God. It is a time of suffering and tribulation. That is why Paul will go on to emphasise the certainty of the fulfilment of God’s plan of salvation and give the guarantee that amidst the groaning God will uphold his children (8.31-39).
This passage is in fact of vital import in Paul’s outlining of God’s plan of salvation. It helps to bridge the gap between justification and glorification. The Question can be put, Why in view of man’s redemption does he have to suffer and endure, and be allowed to be a prey to ‘sin and death’? The answer lies here. It is a part of the fulfilment of God’s purpose from creation to consummation. As Adam sinned and brought sin into the world (5.12-14), so did his sin bring corruption to God’s creation. Thus not only has man to be delivered, but the whole of creation is to share in that deliverance. And in the process of this redeemed man must play his part. Indeed we can parallel 7.14-8.4 with this passage, the one depicting man groaning in his bondage to sin (‘O wretched man that I am’ - 7.24), the other depicting the whole creation as groaning in its wretchedness, subject to the curse. Both are a necessary part in God’s answer to the problem of sin.
8.18 ‘For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which will be revealed towards us.’
Paul now gives the assurance that no matter how great the sufferings of this present time they are not ‘worthy to be compared’ with the glory which is to be revealed towards us. ‘Our light affliction, which is for the moment, works for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory’ (2 Corinthians 4.17). This is why our minds must be set on things above (Colossians 3.1-3), in order that we might not be discouraged by what happens to us on earth as we await the glory that is to be revealed to us. That indeed is what should take up our whole thoughts and determine how we live. As Jesus Himself said, ‘do not lay up your treasures on earth -- lay up your treasures in heaven ---for where your treasure is there will your heart be also’ (Matthew 6.19 ff.).
‘The sufferings of this present time.’ This is a theme of the remainder of this chapter, and verse 35 makes quite clear that all sufferings of His people are included, not just persecution (e.g. famine). But having said that, both Jesus and the New Testament writers make clear that we must not be taken by surprise by persecution, for it is a part of the battle for the salvation of God’s elect.
‘The glory which is to be revealed towards us.’ Something of that glory is brought home to us in Revelation 21.22-23; 22.5 where, because of the outshining of the glory of Father and Son, then openly revealed to His people in ‘the New Jerusalem’, no further light will be needed in the City of God. Believers will then view His unabated glory. But included within the glory which is to be revealed towards us is the first glimpse of that glory when we will experience the glory of His appearing (e.g. Matthew 24.30; 2 Thessalonians 1.7, 10), in which we are to have our part (1 Thessalonians 4.16-17; 1 Corinthians 15.52-54; with Philippians 3.21). Paul probably has both in mind, the one moving into the other. Our trek-leader is leading us to glory (Hebrews 2.10), and it will be revealed when we behold Him in His glory. But that glory will then be experienced for all eternity.
However, as the verse speaks of ‘glory towards us’, there is clearly here also a recognition of the glory which will be bestowed on us, tying in with the idea of the ‘revealing of the Sons of God’ in verse 19 (verse 17; 2 Corinthians 4.17; Ephesians 5.27; Philippians 3.21; Colossians 1.27; 3.4; 2 Thessalonians 2.14), and with our final glorification (8.30).
8.19 ‘For the earnest expectation of the creation waits for the revealing of the sons of God.’
Paul vividly presents the whole of creation as waiting, as it were, with bated breath, for the time when the sons of God will be revealed. In Jewish tradition ‘creation’ can refer to either the whole of creation, animate and inanimate, or be seen as a term for mankind as a whole But while it is true that only mankind can wait with ‘earnest expectation’, (if we take what Paul says literally), it must be seen as very probable that Paul is here speaking metaphorically (compare Isaiah 24.4; 35.1; 55.12; Jeremiah 4.28; 12.4). He rather pictures the whole of the universe as waiting with earnest expectation for the time of redemption. Only sinful man is unaware of it so as to be taken by surprise.
‘The earnest expectation.’ Literally ‘the waiting with outstretched head’, thus a ‘straining forward in anticipation’.
8.20-21 ‘For the creation was subjected to frustration (emptiness, vanity), not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope, that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.’
And the reason why it waits with bated breath is because it had been subjected to frustration and emptiness (‘vanity’). The thought here is of Genesis 3. Creation had been ‘very good’ even in God’s eyes (Genesis 1.31). It had flourished and prospered. But it had been transformed as a consequence of man’s sin into something that suffered corruption, death and decay, into something that was greatly marred. What had flowered in such glory had been subjected to frustration, futility and emptiness as it sought to propagate. Instead of positive fruitfulness, left to itself it produced weeds. And the animal world likewise was subject to struggle, death and decay, in total contrast to Isaiah’s vision of the new earth (Isaiah 11.6-9). It too had entered into the struggle for existence. And that not by its own choice (thus excluding man who did make his choice). It had rather been at the will of the Creator, Who had so subjected it (‘cursed be the ground’) because it belonged to rebellious man who had been given rule over it. This had not, however, left it without hope, for just as it was involved in man’s sin and failure, so would it be involved in his final redemption. Whilst therefore it is now in the bondage of corruption (a prisoner of corruption), it will one day be set free to enjoy the freedom of the glory of the children of God, part of which is incorruption (2.7).
The idea behind this is, of course, the ideal of the new heavens and the new earth in which dwells righteousness (2 Peter 3.13; Revelation 21.1; compare Isaiah 65.17). In that new earth, a spiritual earth, will be literally fulfilled all the promises to Abraham and his heirs, of the land that was to be theirs (see Hebrews 11.10-14), for this earth is a ‘prototype’ of what is to come. Just as man’s resurrection body will somehow be connected with our present bodies, so will the new earth somehow be connected with the old earth. But in contrast with the present earth, the new earth will be spiritual, everlasting and incorruptible.
The Groaning Of Creation, Of God’s Children, And of God Himself In Carrying Out His Saving Purpose Through The Spirit.
Nothing is more moving than this picture of a groaning creation, a groaning church, and a groaning Spirit, as God’s purposes move forwards. It confirms, and is intended to confirm that we are part of a suffering creation, which is why we also must expect to suffer, because God carries out His purpose through suffering.
8.22 ‘For we know that the whole creation groans together and suffers birthpangs together until now.’
Thus just as Christians are groaning within themselves over their temporary enslavement by sin which is not of their own will (verse 23; 7.14, 24), so does the whole creation groan together and suffer birthpangs together even to this present time, because it has been subjected to frustration not of its own will. Note the emphasis on togetherness (emphasised in the Greek of both verbs). The whole suffers as one. The fact that it ‘suffers birth pangs together’ not only indicates that all parts suffer together, but also that what creation suffers is in fact only the first agonies which precede eternal bliss. Once the new creation has sprung out of the old the birth pangs will be forgotten. Ongoing history may seem a long time to us, but in the household management of God (Ephesians 1.10) it is but the brief initial suffering which leads to glory ahead. Compared with eternity the present ages are simply a brief passage of time.
8.23 ‘And not only so, but ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.’
Creation groans, and so also do Christians. We have received the firstfruits of the Spirit. We have thus experienced something of God’s work in producing a new creation (2 Corinthians 5.17; Galatians 6.15; Ephesians 4.24; Colossians 3.10), which lives out its existence within the old creation. Our new life in the Spirit is a taste of what is to come. But we groan in our present bodies ‘within ourselves’ as we endure the agonies of the old creation, longing to be clothed with our habitation which is from Heaven, so that our mortality (and bodily weaknesses) might be swallowed up in life (2 Corinthians 5.2, 4). We long that this body which we have to endure in this time of our humiliation (‘this vile body’) might become like his glorious body (Philippians 3.21). And we groan because of our desire to be delivered from the depredations of sin (7.24). For we await our adoption, when we will be adopted as true sons who have been transformed into His image, that is, we await the redemption of our bodies. Then finally all traces of sin and decay will have been removed.
‘The firstfruits of the Spirit.’ The firstfruits were the initial benefit, and the guarantee of what was to come, they were ‘the pledge of our inheritance until the redemption of God’s own possession’ (Ephesians 1.14). In other words the Spirit has brought us some relief as we have experienced the new creation within ourselves, prior to the consummation. We are a new creation in the midst of the old creation (2 Corinthians 5.17). We have receive new life through the Spirit. But there is much more to come, especially in that day when He transforms us into Christ’s image at the same time as creation itself enjoys its renewal.
‘We ourselves groan within ourselves.’ We do not constantly pass our spiritual burdens on to others. Rather we groan ‘inside’. We recognise our weakness, and frailty, and our shortcomings, and we are constantly reminded of them as we are unable fully to do what we want to do. We long for the day when we will be like Him, and when our weaknesses and frailties will be no more. (Although, of course, this is largely countered in practise by the joy we know as we look off to Him, and walk with Him, with our minds set on things above. Paul is not prescribing a life of morbid introspection).
‘Waiting for our adoption.’ In one sense we have already been adopted as sons of God (verse 15), and are now His children (1 John 3.2), but there is to be an even more glorious adoption when we are adopted as those who have been perfected, with every stain and blemish removed (Ephesians 5.27; Colossians 1.22).
‘The redemption of our bodies.’ In ourselves we have already been redeemed through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (3.24). But we still live in frail and mortal bodies which are beset by sin, living in the old creation. We await the resurrection when our bodies will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed (1 Corinthians 15.42-44, 52), being conformed to His image (verse 29).
8.24 ‘For in hope were we saved, but hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what he sees?’
For we were saved ‘in hope’ (through faith - Ephesians. 2.8). When we committed ourselves into the hands of our Saviour we were accounted as righteous and entered into the process of salvation. But that was in order to enjoy the ‘hope’ of what was to come as we awaited the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, when our salvation will be completed in the final transformation of our bodies. Thus we can know that we are ‘saved’, while at the same time looking forward with confident certainty (certain hope) to our complete salvation at ‘the redemption of our bodies’. It is not something that we have as yet seen or experienced. For if it were we could not hope for it. We would know that we had it. Thus this hope refers to something promised, but as yet not experienced.
8.25 ‘But if we hope for what we do not see, then do we with patience wait for it.’
And because that hope is of something that we do not see, we will wait for it with patient endurance. God has plenty of time, and He does not determine His purposes according to our wishes. We must therefore trust in Him, hoping with confident certainty for the finalisation of what He has promised.
8.26 ‘And in the same way the Spirit also helps our infirmity, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered,’
And in the same way as hope sustains us and aids us as we go forward with Christ at difficult times, so does the Spirit also sustain us. He ‘bears the burden of our infirmity (our bodily and spiritual weakness, especially as regards to prayer) along with us’. He aids us in our infirmity. But like many of the verbs in this passage the verb has in it the idea of togetherness. The same verb was used in LXX to describe the seventy elders in Numbers 11.17 as ‘bearing the burden along with Moses’. Thus the Spirit comes alongside us and, working together with us, helps us in our weakness. He bears our burdens along with us. And He does it by intercession on our behalf in a way beyond our ability to understand.
Others, however, see ‘in the same way’ as indicating that the Spirit groans in the same way as we do, entering into our feeling of infirmity, and being a co-partner with us in our groaning. Both interpretations express what is true.
The fact that ‘we do not know how to pray as we ought’ indicates that prayer is very much in mind, whether through us or for us. And the probability is that we are to see the Spirit as interceding through us. As we pray in our weakness and frailty, not knowing what the will of God is, the Spirit groans through us as He intercedes with groanings which cannot be uttered (because it is for what is beyond our knowledge). The fact of ‘groaning’ suggests prayer at times when we are in some distress (it is in the context of ‘the sufferings of this present time’ - verse 18), thus at times when we are most at a loss as to how to pray. In general we do know how to pray, for Jesus has taught us how to pray (even if we do tend to ignore what He most laid emphasis on). But there are times when we face situations where we are at a loss. And at such times we often cry, ‘Father, your will be done’, or even do groan, not knowing what to say. How comforted we should be to think that as we do so the Spirit intercedes with groanings which cannot be uttered, taking our prayer and making it specific in accordance with the will of God.
On the other hand it may be that we are to see the Spirit as praying for us, even at times when we fail to pray, ensuring that we are prayed for by One Who knows the mind of God, just as Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, prays and intercedes for us in Heaven, ‘ever living to make intercession for us’ (verse 34; Hebrews 7.25).
There are no good grounds for connecting this groaning with speaking in tongues, if only because tongues were intended to be interpreted, and thus clear as to what was being prayed. The groaning here is for things beyond human conception. And it is not limited to those who have the gift of speaking in tongues.
8.27 ‘And he who searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because he makes intercession for the saints according to (the will of) God.’
The reference to ‘He Who searches the hearts’ confirms that the Spirit is praying as we pray. Whatever our outward words our Father knows all that is in our hearts (and all our needs, as Jesus made clear in Matthew 6), searching our hearts as we pray. And as the Spirit prays through us the Father ‘knows His mind’, that is knows precisely what He is requesting, because He makes his intercession ‘according to God’ (‘the will of’ is not in the Greek, but put in by translators in order to make the sense clear). We need therefore never be afraid that any failure of ours in understanding will hinder our prayers to God at times of need.
The Believer Can Rest In Total Assurance Because He Knows That God Is Working His Purposes Out From Beginning To End. He Can Therefore Rest In The Certainty Of His Love Whatever Befalls (8.28-39).
Now we learn that, although we may not know what is the mind of the Spirit in His intercession on our behalf, one thing that ‘we do know’ (verse 28) is that to ‘those who love God’ all things work together for good. While the Spirit intercedes in full knowledge, our knowledge is restricted. This is in fact good for us. It would not be good for us to know all. But our knowledge is nevertheless sound for it is firmly based on our faith in His purposes (verses 28-30) and our faith in His love (verses 35, 39). We know that God is ‘for us’. And in view of that fact that we know that ‘God is for us’ (verse 31), we know that we have no need to fear, for He has demonstrated in the giving up of His own Son, what His intentions towards us are. Does someone lay a charge against us? (verse 33). God has declared us righteous. Does someone seek to condemn us? (verse 34). Our advocate, the risen Christ, pleads on our behalf (1 John 2.1-2). And having had made known to us His love by His death and resurrection, we can rest on that love with confidence knowing that nothing can separate us from it. For nothing can ‘separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our LORD’ (verse 39).
8.28 ‘And we know that to those who love God all things work together for good, even to those who are called according to his purpose.’
In contrast to what God knows (verse 27) is what ‘we know’. Our knowledge of the purposes of God may be limited, but what we do know is that to those who love God (believers), to those who are called according to His purpose, all things work together for good. By ‘good’, of course, we must see final good, what is good in God’s eyes. Such things do not necessarily turn out for our earthly benefit, for God’s way might lead to a cross, and may well, as we have seen, lead to suffering and tribulation (verses 17c-18). But what we can be sure of is that they result in our eternal good. God will take all that happens to His own and make it work for their good.
‘To those who love God.’ Unexpectedly this description is rare in Paul’s writings. See, however, 1 Corinthians 2.9 (an Old Testament quotation); 8.3 (‘the one who loves God is known of Him’) and compare Ephesians 6.24 (‘those who love our LORD Jesus Christ’). But the idea is common in the Old Testament, signifying true believers, something which 1 Corinthians 8.3 confirms. Such love is, of course, the basis of Christian living, ‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and might’ (Deuteronomy 6.5; and regularly cited or confirmed by Jesus; Matthew 22.37; Luke 10.27). But Jesus also said, ‘If God were your Father you would love Me’ (John 8.42). Thus to love God is to love Jesus Christ. The reference is therefore clearly to true believers, something confirmed by the fact that they are those who are ‘called according to His purpose’.
‘All things.’ We need not put a limit on ‘all things’, for if one thing is sure it is that God does make all things finally work together for those who love Him, even though it might be as a rod of chastisement (Hebrews 12.5-11). It especially has in mind suffering and persecution, as well as the antagonism of evil spiritual forces (verses 35, 38-39).
‘To those who are called according to his purpose.’ Here is a definition of those who love God, and vice versa. Those who love God are those whom He has called according to His purpose. In some way they have heard His voice speaking to them, and they have responded. The calling has thus been an effectual call because it has resulted in their loving God. And it is a call made ‘in accordance with His purpose’. Whatever men’s thought may be concentrated on, God’s thoughts are focused on the salvation of His own, and on His presentation of them in His sight as holy, unblameable and unreproachable (Colossians 1.22). For this purpose of God for those whom He has called is now made clear as it is expanded on in verses 29-30.
8.29-30 ‘For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers, and whom he foreordained, those he also called, and whom he called, those he also justified, and whom he justified, those he also glorified.’
In verse 17 Paul had spoken of Christians as those who would be ‘glorified with Him’, and in verse 18 he had spoken of ‘the glory which will be revealed towards us’, this being the consequence of our being ‘sons of God’. Then in verses 19-23 he has described the process from creation and from the fall of man to the time when we would be finally ‘adopted’, when our bodies would be redeemed (verse 23). Then Christians are to experience ‘the liberty of the glory of the children of God’ (verse 21). Thus he makes clear that our ‘justification’ as described in 3.24-4.25 is to result in our ‘glorification’. Now he sums up the eternal process by which this glorification will be brought about.
This summing up follows on the last defining clause in verse 28 (‘to those who are called according to His purpose’) which now thus leads on to an explanation of what it means to be ‘called according to His purpose’. This explanation refers to those who are caught up in His purpose of salvation for those whom he has chosen, and explains how they will finally be ‘glorified with Him’ (verse 17). In it Paul describes in a series of quick phrases God’s activity in redeeming men from the very beginning, commencing with His ‘foreknowing them’ even before creation, and ending with His glorifying them on that day when He ‘sums up all things in Christ’ (Ephesians 1.10). It covers the whole panorama of history. The aorist tenses indicate the certainty of what is to happen to those who are called according to His purpose. They guarantee the successful conclusion of the process as being from God’s point of view already completed.
The process commences with ‘foreknowledge’ (proginowsko). This means more than ‘knowledge about beforehand’ which could have been pro-oida. Ginowsko indicates knowledge gained through personal experience. Thus when Adam had a child by his wife it was after he had ‘known her’, and God could say of Israel ‘you only have I known’ (Amos 3.2). Compare how Jesus spoke of those to whom He would say, ‘I never knew you’ (Matthew 7.23). In each case there is a thought of ‘entering into relationship with’ someone. So to ‘foreknow’ is to ‘enter into relationship with beforehand’ (compare 11.2; 1 Peter 1.20; Acts 2.23; 1 Peter 1.2). In some way it indicates that God entered into relationship with those whom He chooses before time began, ‘in eternity’. In the words of Ephesians 1.4, they had been ‘chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, that they may be holy and blameless before Him’, and chosen as a result of being marked down as His. They were His from the beginning even before they were born, and even before the world was created. And He had a personal relationship with them from the beginning.
And those whom He so foreknew ‘He foreordained (proorizow - to decide upon beforehand) to be conformed to the image of His Son.’ The very use of the term ‘His Son’ takes us back into eternity. Historically speaking He was ‘Jesus Christ’. But in eternity He was His Son (a term only used in Romans in 1.4; 5.10; 8.29). A definition of the word ‘fore-ordained’ is found in Acts 4.28. It indicates His doing ‘whatever His hand and counsel determine beforehand to be done’. Compare also Ephesians 1.11, ‘having been fore-ordained according to the purpose of Him Who works all things after the counsel of His own will’. So having entered into relationship with them beforehand He determined beforehand, in accordance with His own purpose and will, to make them like His Son in all respects (compare 1 John 3.2). It was His purpose that they should be conformed to the ‘image (inward and thorough likeness) of His Son’, the Son described in 1.3-4. And this was so that He might be ‘the firstborn (as a result of His resurrection - Colossians 1.18) among many brothers’. Through His resurrection others would be raised as well who would be made like Him (1 John 3.2), who would be glorified with Him (verse 17), and who would enjoy eternal life with Him (5.21).
We might ask when this ‘conforming to the image of His Son’ is to take place. Whilst it undoubtedly commences in this life as the Spirit does His work in our hearts (5.2-5; 2 Corinthians 3.18; Ephesians 5.26-27) the main emphasis would appear to be on our being conformed to His image at His coming, when we will be transformed ‘in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15.52). See especially 1 Corinthians 15.42-44, 49; Philippians 3.21. It will be ‘when we see Him as He is’ that we will be like Him (1 John 3.2).
‘And whom He foreordained those he also called.’ Having entered into a relationship with them beforehand, and having foreordained them to be conformed to the image of His Son, in due time He ‘called them’. He spoke to them in such a way that they would respond. That this is an effectual call comes out both because it is of a specific group, and because in Paul’s letters to be ‘called’ always refers to an effectual call. It is a call which brooks no refusal.
‘And whom He called, those He also justified.’ Having called those whom He foreknew in such a way that they had to respond, He ‘accounted them as righteous’ (3.24-4.25) through the gift of the righteousness of Christ (5.17-18). We should note here that God’s moral perfection is revealed in that when He saves He does so in righteousness. Those whom He saves must be seen as acceptable in His sight. Their righteousness must be apparent to all. And this is accomplished by their being ‘reckoned as righteous’ in accordance with the principles of 3.24-4.25; 5.6-21. From the moment that they are ‘justified by faith’, and onwards, they are in a right relationship with Him, and acceptable in His sight, and that in accordance with the principles of righteousness and true holiness. And it is because they have been accounted as righteous (justified) in His sight that He can commence His work of continuing salvation which will finally result in their glorification.
‘And whom he justified, those he also glorified.’ The fact that they have been ‘justified’, reckoned by God the Judge of all men as righteous, is a guarantee that they will be ‘glorified’, that is, that they will experience and partake in His Heavenly glory. Here is the evidence that no one who has truly had accounted to him the gift of righteousness (5.17) can ever be lost. Once ‘justified’ their glorification is guaranteed. That this glorification includes sanctification can be assumed. In one sense glorification is a process (2 Corinthians 3.18). But Paul is here looking at the completion of the process, that point in time when there will be the final transformation. At that final transformation they will be ‘glorified with Him’ (verse 17). Their mundane bodies will be ‘fashioned like His glorious body’ (Philippians 3.21). Those who ‘have been called unto His eternal glory in Christ’ (1 Peter 5.10) will experience that glory. They will be ‘partakers of the glory which will be revealed’ (1 Peter 5.1). They will experience ‘the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory’ (2 Timothy 2.10). They will thus partake in the Heavenly glory (Revelation 21.23; 22.3-5). Just as Jesus as the Son returned to ‘the glory which I had with You before the world was’ (John 17.5), so will His people enter into and experience that glory. ‘The glory which You have given me, I have given them’ (John 17.22).
8.31 ‘What then shall we say to these things? If God for us, who against us?’
Here we have another typical Pauline question, ‘what then shall we say?’ But this time it refers ‘to these things’. The previous three verses have indicated that God is for us in accordance with His own divine purpose, as indeed has 5.1 ff. In view of this how can we see anyone who is against us as particularly relevant? If God is for us, any adversary must pale before the Almighty. Paul will go on to speak of those things which might be seen as against us. For example, those who seek to lay a charge against us. Those who seek to condemn us. Those things which seek to separate us from the love of Christ. But none will avail. And as a result of these words they pale into insignificance. For God is ‘for us’. And He is ‘for us’ in a clearly defined way, a way described in verses 28-30.
8.32 ‘He Who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how will he not also with him freely give us all things?’
Indeed the extent to which He is ‘for us’ is revealed in the fact that ‘He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all’. God commended His love towards us in that Christ died for us (5.8). He was willing to allow men to put His own Son through the suffering of the cross, because He was so much on our side. If then for our sakes He ‘spared not His own Son’, delivering Him up as a sacrifice on our behalf (8,3), how can we doubt that He will with Him freely give us all things (i.e. all things which are for our benefit, all that is required for our full salvation). Compare Matthew 6.33, ‘all these thing will be added unto you’, which in the Lucan parallel included the giving of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11.13).
‘His own Son.’ It was the use of a similar expression that caused the Jews to want to stone Jesus as guilty of blasphemy for calling God ‘His own Father’ (John 5.18). The term ‘His own’ distinguished Him from all others who in one way or another could be called ‘the sons of God’. It indicated direct and real relationship. There is probably also an indirect look back to when Abraham was called on not to spare his own son, ‘take now your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love’ (Genesis 22.2) followed by ‘because you have not spared your son, your only son, from Me’ (Genesis 22.12 LXX). However, in that case the requirement was not carried through. He was replaced by a substitute. But there could be no substitute for God’s own Son. He had to bear the burden to the full because He was our substitute and Isaac’s. In the end there had to be the perfect Substitute who would make all previous substitutes efficacious (3.25).
8.33 ‘Who will lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God who justifies.’
In verse 32 Paul’s language was sacrificial, now it becomes legal. What possible charge can be laid against God’s true people, those ‘chosen’ as described in the process in 29-30, and who would dare to lay such a charge, when God Himself has accounted them as righteous (justified them) on a totally satisfactory judicial basis, as described in 3.24-4.25.
An interesting contrast can be made here with the one who brought a charge against Israel’s High Priest in Zechariah 3. There God answered it by replacing his filthy garments with clean ones so that the charge failed. But here Paul is referring to those who have already been cleansed. They have already received their ‘robe of righteousness’. In their case therefore any charge would be futile.
8.34 ‘Who is he who will condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, yes rather, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.’
Nor can anyone condemn God’s ‘chosen and beloved ones’ (His elect). For the only One Who has the right to condemn is the One appointed by the Father as Judge (John 5.22, 27; Acts 17.31). And He, rather than condemning them, died for them, and having been raised from the dead, now makes intercession for them as the One Who is at God’s right hand, as a result of which He is able to save them to the uttermost (Hebrews 7.25).
Many would prefer to translate as, ‘it is God Who justifies, Who is he who condemns?’ taking the two phrases together. This puts in apposition two words which are the opposite of each other, ‘justify’ and ‘condemn, and links more closely with Isaiah 50.8 (see below). But the overall significance is the same. Although less directly, the following reference to the activity of Christ is still applicable to the fact that we will not be condemned, but is then also more closely linked with the words, ‘who will lay anything to the charge of God’s beloved and chosen ones’. They are an assurance that for God’s chosen ones Christ Jesus will be neither judge nor prosecutor.
We can compare with these questions the question regarding the Servant in Isaiah 50.8, which may well be one of the sources of Paul’s thoughts, ‘He is near Who justifies Me, who will contend with Me -- behold the Lord God is near who will condemn Me’. The purport there is the same. The one who is accounted as righteous by God, has nothing to fear from the accusations of man, or even of angels.
With regard to Christ Jesus being at God’s right hand compare Psalm 110.1 where the future Davidic king was told by YHWH to ‘sit at My right hand’. And here we must make a differentiation. Because Christ Jesus is God He sits on His Father’s throne (Revelation 3.21), enjoying the glory which He had with Him before the world was (John 17.5), but because He has been raised as man and Messiah He sits in His manhood on a throne at God’s right hand as God’s Christ (Messiah). See Revelation 3.21. We need not question the logic of this because both descriptions are metaphorical, illustrating different theological ideas (that Christ rules as both God and glorified man), for there are no physical thrones in Heaven. Thrones are an earthly concept. They represent authority. And God cannot be limited to permanently sitting on a throne, any more than He could be limited to dwelling in a Temple (1 Kings 8.27).
8.35 ‘Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?’
In view of the fact that it is Christ in His love Who pleads our cause (verse 34), it demonstrates the impossibility of our being separated from that love. His continual intercession for us is evidence that He has our interests at heart. And so Paul issues the challenge, ‘who will separate us from the love of Christ?’, with the answer due to come back of ‘nothing’. It is quite clear from the passage that Paul is putting ‘God’ and ‘Christ’ on the same level. Their love is interchangeable. He then lists a number of possibilities of things that might make us doubt His love. We note here that the legal language is now replaced by that of love. It is love that underlies all God’s activities on behalf of His people (5.5, 8). Thus whatever happens we need not doubt the love of Christ for us. It is the love which passes all knowledge (Ephesians 3.19). It will be noted that the list includes natural disasters such as famine which cannot directly be the consequence of persecution (although could, of course, arise indirectly). The aim would appear to be to cover all possibilities of suffering, with words like ‘anguish’ and ‘peril’ being catch-all descriptions. It is a reminder that the love of Christ remains firm whatever situations we face, whether spiritual or physical, and that in the face of them we need not doubt His love. We are to hold onto the fact of ‘the love of Christ which passes all knowledge’ (Ephesians 3.19).
8.36 ‘Even as it is written, For your sake we are killed all the day long. We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’
On the other hand the fact that persecution with its consequences is prominent in Paul’s mind comes out in this supporting quotation, which is from Psalm 44.22, and refers to our suffering ‘for His sake’. It is equally an assurance that the Scriptures demonstrate that suffering should not come as a surprise to God’s people.
The description is vivid. The world marks down God’s people as only suitable for slaughter, as only fit for the charnel house. And it is because the world is at enmity with God. It is precisely because we are His that the world will turn against us, as it turned against Jesus (John 15.18-19; 16.2-3).
8.37 ‘No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.’
Indeed rather than being defeated by such circumstances as those described above, Christians rise above them. ‘In all these things we are ‘more than conquerors’ (or ‘super-conquerors’)’. They not only overcome them, but they triumph in them. And this is ‘through Him Who loved us’. Our assurance is in Christ not in ourselves. Note the continual emphasis on love (verse 35, here, verse 39). Through His sustaining love we can find the strength to face all possible situations because we know that that love wants only the best for us, and that the One Who loves is all-powerful.
8.38-39 ‘For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
Paul closes this part of his letter with this final assurance of God’s love for His people revealed through Christ Jesus our LORD. He stresses that it is a love from which it is totally impossible to be separated, and he then lists and dismisses ten possibilities of things which might attempt to separate us from His love. Made in the light of the whole passage from verse 38 onwards it is a guarantee of the security in Christ of the true believer. And it is a reminder that God’s purposes are not only determined by fiat but are undergirded by His love. Nothing can prevent their fulfilment.
The list is mainly made up of pairs, some contrasting, but in order to leave room for the cover-all ‘any other creature’ and still achieve the number ten (indicating completeness), it was necessary to have one other description not included in the pairs, and thus we find ‘powers’ in a place by itself. Too much must not be made of this. Paul is more concerned to cover every possible opponent rather than to be too choosy. ‘Death nor life’ covers every possibility of day to day occurrence. Death is the great enemy of man, an ever present grief, but for the true Christian it cannot separate us, or our Christian loved ones, from His love. ‘Life’ covers all things that can occur in life. He makes all things work together for good for those who love Him. ‘Angels nor principalities’ cover all possible spiritual adversaries. We need not fear the powers of darkness. ‘Things present nor things to come’ cover all events in the flow of history both now and in the future. ‘Powers’ covers all who have authority whether in the spiritual realm or on earth. Its not being linked with ‘principalities’ possibly puts the emphasis on earthly powers. ‘Height nor depth’ probably signifies ‘nothing in Heaven and earth’ (compare Ephesians 4.8; Isaiah 7.11). ‘Nor any other creature (thing in creation)’ covers all that we might think has not been included. The point being underlined is that NOTHING can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our LORD, the love which has been revealed in all that Paul has written from 1.2 onwards. As Christians we are totally secure in His hands (compare John 10.27-29). God’s activity on our behalf is guaranteed.
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