William Newell's Commentary on Romans and Revelation
12 Let not sin, therefore, be reigning-as-king in your mortal body, that ye should obey the desires of it [the body]. 13 Neither be presenting your members unto sin as instruments of unrighteousness. But on the contrary present yourselves to God as being alive from among the dead; and your members to God, as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin shall not have lordship over you. For you are not under law, but, on the contrary, under grace.
Do not, therefore, be allowing sin to reign-as-king in your mortal body, that ye should obey the desires of it (the body):--and the Greek is emphatic: “Be not at all allowing sin to reign!”
1. Notice first, our present body is mortal, that is, subject to physical death. We are waiting for the redemption of the body, at Christ's coming.
2. Sin is present in our members, and ready to reign-as-king, if permitted. That is, our bodies have not yet been redeemed from the possibility of sin's being king, if we permit such kingship.
3. It is through the lusts or desires of the body that sin is ready to assume control. The body has many desires not in themselves evil. Paul, speaking of foods, says, “All things are lawful for me; but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinthians 6:12). It is when natural desires are yielded to in self-will or self-indulgence, that sin uses the desires of the body to assert sin's power and establish its reign.
4. The believer is directed to reject this reigning of sin, which would involve our obeying the desires of the body.
5. Note the important word, “therefore.” This looks back at the first part of Chapter Six, in which our death with Christ unto sin has been asserted, our relationship to sin being now the same as Christ's--we have done with it in death and burial. Notice that these present verses of exhortation are built wholly upon the fact that we died with Christ: we reckon ourselves dead because we participated in Christ's death. Therefore we dare refuse sin's dominion. We owe sin nothing. We are dead to it; justified from it, and living in another sphere!
Neither be presenting your members unto sin as instruments of unrighteousness. But on the contrary present yourselves to God as being alive from among the dead; and your members to God, as instruments of righteousness.
The moment we come to exhortation, we have to do with the will; whereas believing is a matter of the heart: “With the heart man believeth.” In learning that I am dead to sin, all I need to do is to listen to God's marvelous unfolding of the fact that I was identified with Christ in His death, and in my heart believe it. My will has nothing to do with that. When God says, “Your old man was crucified with Christ,” that is Divine testimony. It is a revealed fact. I hear it and from my heart believe it, because God is true. I reckon myself to be “dead unto sin and alive unto God in Christ Jesus,” because God has said that I was.
But when it comes to the application of this stupendous fact, my will is addressed: “Let not sin therefore reign.” Well, some one asks, if I am dead to it, how can it still reign? We answer, By your presenting your bodily members unto sin for sin to use, as “instruments of unrighteousness.” Your tongue, for instance, which James calls “an unruly member,”--you have only to hand it over to sin, and it will talk angrily, lyingly, filthily.
Now, what is God's way? Present yourselves unto God, as those in a Risen Christ, those “alive from among the dead.” Of course, this will test your faith: you will not feel dead to sin. Your old man will seem anything but crucified. But the path of true faith is always one of obedience; and God has commanded you to reckon yourself dead unto sin and alive unto Him (as a risen one) in Christ Jesus. It is in this character, of being alive from the dead, that you are commanded to “present yourselves unto God.”
Now two things about this word “present”:
First, as to its meaning here: it does not in Chapter Six signify consecration: but the taking of an attitude in accordance with the facts. In Chapter Twelve, it is true, the same word is used to signify consecration to God (Romans 12:1). But here, “present” (A.V., “yield”), signifies an attitude to be taken in recognition of the facts: “Present yourselves as those alive from among the dead.” We are not here looked at as giving ourselves to God, but as believingly assuming the aspect toward God of those in Christ--those who died to sin in Christ's death, and are now alive in Christ unto God.
If the colonel of a certain regiment of soldiers,--say the One Hundredth, should give notice to all his regiment to repair to his headquarters at a stated hour for review, they would “present” themselves there as members of the One Hundredth Regiment. It would be as such and in that consciousness that they would come. So believers are to take the attitude toward God of risen ones because they are risen ones. They are in Christ, they are alive from among the dead This is the fundamental consciousness of a believer, as described in the Pauline Epistles: “If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is . . . For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1; Colossians 3:3). If you do not have risen life, you are not in Christ; for those in Christ are all alive from among the dead.
Second, the command to present ourselves thus unto God is in the aorist tense, which indicates a definite entering upon this attitude of presenting ourselves as risen ones to God. As to sin it is, “Do not be presenting (present tense of habitual and continued action) your members unto sin.” The exhortation is believingly to take the attitude of a risen one in Christ, and thus present yourself once for all to God. Whether in prayer or thanksgiving, or praise or service, you are alive from the dead. It is not that you make yourself alive by presenting yourself unto God; but that since you are in Christ, you are alive to God in risen life, and you thus present yourself. And it becomes an habitual attitude,--you keep on presenting your members unto God as a habit of life. He will now use them as “instruments of righteousness”; as, before,--you well remember! your members were instruments of sin.
Then comes a glorious promise, and also a royal pronouncement:
For sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under law, but under grace.
Note the two “fors.” The first “for” announces the Divine decree that sin's lordship over us shall be ended. The second reveals the happy condition of things in which such a release is possible: we are not under the legal principle,--which first demanded duty, and then offered blessing; but we are under the grace principle,--which confers blessing first, and, behold, fruits follow!
It is deeply significant here that even to us, new creatures in Christ, and recipients of the Holy Spirit, it is definitely announced to us that we are not under law,--else bondage and helplessness would still be our lot. Note, God does not say we are not under the Law,--the Mosaic Law: (Gentiles never were!) But, God says we are not under law,--under the legal principle. In the opening part of Chapter Seven, Paul will show the Jewish believers, (who had been under law), that only death could release them from their legal obligation; and that they had been made dead to the Law, through being identified with Christ in His death.
Only when we believe that our history in Adam, with all its responsibilities and demands to produce righteousness, ended at the cross, shall we find ourselves completely free to enjoy these words of heavenly comfort--UNDER GRACE! [Many honest souls cannot believe that obedience to God can be secured in any other way than by law. They say, “Set a man completely at liberty, and you cannot control him.” But consider: 1. No human being has ever been really controlled by the principle of law. Israel, whom God placed under law, and that “with marvelous and glorious manifestations of His own presence and authority,” immediately renounced the obedience which they had promised. 2. Consider the relationship of a bride and a bridegroom: it is one of love, and delighted seeking of mutual benefit. It is not a relationship of enactments of law at all. The husband does not go about the house tacking up rules for the wife to “observe”: and upon the observance of which the relationship shall continue! Such rules are for servants! Yet, you find the wife eagerly asking the husband what he would like for dinner, and how, in any other way, she can make him comfortable and pleased. And all this arises from the principle of love, not law! 3. Now God declares, and that repeatedly, that we have been removed from under the principle of law “in Christ's death.” And now, being under grace, we bring forth “fruit to God,” We serve in “newness of the spirit”: which can only mean that, (like the wife thrilled with delight at the prospect of pleasing her husband), the very spirit of service, which is personal devotion, animates the believer. 4. But we really have no hope of any person's willingness or ability to see the power of this newness-of-spirit plan, this love-plan of God's, until such a one has seen and believed that he died with Christ,--that he was so bad that his entire “old man” was sent to the cross to be crucified; so that now he is married to Another, to Him that was raised from the dead, that he may bring forth fruit unto God. That God can be a Savior-God and not be a Law-giver, is beyond the reach of the human mind to conceive, and is to be received by faith alone. That in those not under law is brought about all--and much morel than the Law demands, is foolishness to all but faith!]
Study carefully the contrast between Romans 6:14 and 1 Corinthians 9:21. Paul declares in the former passage, “We are not under law.” The Greek here is, hupo nomon. This expression evidently indicates placing one under external enactments--under that principle. Now in 1 Corinthians 9:21, Paul, in describing his ministry to souls, says, “To those without law (anomois), I became as without law (anomos), not at all being without law Godward, but, on the contrary, en-lawed (ennomos) to Christ,”--as the members of a body to the head, controlled naturally by the one spirit and will.
There is every possible difference between the two,--between being “under law,” and “en-lawed.” Israel under law, placed under the Law at Sinai, with a veil between them and God, had to think of their behavior, in all its details, as affecting their relationship to God. The Law was “written on tables,” by the hand of Divine authority. It was external to them: there was no union between them and Jehovah; nor was the Holy Spirit within them (although He was upon certain of them, for certain service, at certain times).
But, with us, all is different. We are in Christ, members of Christ. The Spirit of God's Son, also, has been sent forth into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” We are “no longer bondservants, but adult sons” (Galatians 4:4-7). Our relationship is settled. [Seven things believers enter into since the cross, and the coming of the Holy Spirit that were not true of believers before, may be stated here: 1. Sin has been put away on the cross. (It had been only “covered” year by year before that.) 2. Our old man has been crucified with Christ,--opening the way for complete deliverance from the power of sin, by the indwelling Spirit. 3. Christ has been glorified (Acts 1:3; John 7:39). 4. The Holy Spirit has been given, at Pentecost, dispensationally; and upon hearing and believing the gospel, individual believers are hereafter sealed by this “Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13); who witnesses in them, as “the Spirit of God's Son,” their adult sonship. 5. God began at Pentecost to create “new creatures in Christ Jesus” (2 Corinthians 5:17): “a kind of first-fruits of His creatures” (James 1:18). Christ, the First-born from among the dead, is the Head of this new creation. 6. Believers were, at Pentecost and thereafter, “baptized into one Body,” the Body of Christ,--becoming members of Christ and members one of another, a marvelous thing and a new! 7. After Pentecost the “house of God” was not at Jerusalem, but “in the midst” with believers anywhere,--even of twos or threes gathered in Christ's Names for there He Himself is (Matthew 18:19; Matthew 18:20); and there the Holy Spirit is (1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:21; Ephesians 2:22).]
“Walking by the Spirit,” who indwells us, takes for us today the place that observing the things written in the Law had with Israel. “Being dead to the Law, and discharged therefrom,” says Paul, “we bring forth fruit unto God”; “We serve in newness of spirit and not in oldness of letter” (7:4, 6 (Romans 7:4, Romans 7:6)).
When Paul says (as above) in I Corinthians that he was “en-lawed to Christ,” the Greek word ennomos signifies that blessed control by the Holy Spirit proceeding from Christ as the Head, which corresponds to the control of our natural bodies by our physical heads. This, of course, is the very opposite of being “under law” in the sense of verse 14. To speak of a believer's being “under the Law to Christ,” would be no more true, than to say that your hand has a set of external rules by which it obeys your head and seeks to render itself pleasing to you! No, your hand is en-lawed to your head, in that it is one with your head; your spirit dwells in every member of your body, and the head intelligently directs every member.
I am more and more inclined to the belief that in order to a consistent interpretation of the New Testament, we must scrupulously regard Israel only as having been placed under The Law, though doubtless all men have moral responsibility. See Paul regarding this below. [“We [Jewish Old Testament saints, contrasted with Gentile [believers] were kept under the Law . . . The Law was our tutor to lead us unto Christ--to be justified by faith. But now that faith is come, we [Hebrew believers] are no longer under a tutor” (Galatians 3:23; Galatians 3:24). “Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the Law; ye are fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:4). “If ye are led by the Spirit, YE ARE NOT UNDER THE LAW”! (Galatians 5:18). “Christ abolished in His flesh the enmity [between Jew and Gentile], the Law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Ephesians 2:15). “ . . . For there is a disannulling of a foregoing commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, (for The Law MADE NOTHING PERFECT), and a bringing in thereby of a BETTER hope, through which we draw nigh unto God” (Hebrews 7:12; Hebrews 7:14; Hebrews 7:18; Hebrews 7:19).]
Whether then it be the Jew under law, or the race of Adam under conscience, the freedom that is in Christ means deliverance from trying to “be good” to be accepted of God. Sinners are accepted freely on account of Christ's sacrifice, and placed in Him Risen. For such, therefore, as are in Christ, the walk is one of rejoicing faith,--appropriating Christ,--and nothing else. The Law of Moses has nothing to say to a believer! We know the legalists and the pretenders to human righteousness will cry out at this. But God says about the Law two things that cannot be escaped:
First, that the Gentiles were not under Moses' Law, that Law having never been given to them, but to Israel only.
And, second, that God, who gave to Israel the “foregoing commandment”--the Law--has “disannulled” the same, and brought in by another way, even simple faith in Christ, “a better hope,” through which alone all believers, Jew or Gentile, “draw nigh to God” (Hebrews 7:18; Hebrews 7:19).
Not behaving, but believing, is God's way: behaving follows believing!
I know that true faith is a living thing, and has two feet, and will walk; but it will be “walking in works”--not working in works!--”Good works that God afore prepared.” Walking by faith in “prepared” works; discovering in this walk of faith, the beautiful will of God day by day; treading this fresh and living path, is the believer's great secret! The children of Abraham all follow their father in walking by faith!
The believer is not under law, not under external enactments, not under conditions; but he has already an eternal standing in grace,--that is, in already secured Divine favor, by a sovereign act of God; which has not only reckoned to him Christ's atoning work, but has placed him fully in the place of Christ's present acceptance with God!
The believer today is neither in the Old Testament with the Patriarchs, nor with Israel at Sinai; nor walking with the disciples during our Lord's earthly life and kingdom ministry! The believer lives now after the cross, and in the full right and power of all that Christ did there. God gave Israel at Sinai a Law,--a holy, just and good Law, but they kept it not. The Lord Jesus when on earth said to His disciples, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me”; but they all failed and fled. Why? Man was still under testing. The cross ended that; revealing, as it did, utter wickedness in man; and, also, complete weakness in the disciples,--in God's saints!
Then what? Christ is raised from the dead through the glory of the Father: that we may walk in newness of life. Not only are our sins forever put away by His blood, but we ourselves find our history in Adam over, we being dead with Christ, crucified with Him.
Then the Holy Spirit is given at Pentecost as the power of this new, heavenly walk. Men were then, for the first time, transferred into the Risen Christ. They shared His risen life; for they had been identified with Him as an Adam, a federal man, in His death, at the cross; and were now placed by God in Christ Risen: yea, they were “created,” now, in Him; and even made members of His Body,--which, of course, is an additional favor, based on their identification with Him, as an Adam, at the cross.
Now Paul could say, in triumph, “I through law died to law!” “I have not [desire not] the righteousness of law; yet I know nothing against myself.” “Thanks be to God, who always leadeth us in triumph in Christ”; “For me to live is Christ”; “Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And he could say this right in the teeth of sin, and of the Law which gave sin its power! (1 Corinthians 15:56; 1 Corinthians 15:57). Both sin and the Law had passed away for Paul, at the cross, as victors over him!
Yet, alas, most believers are not walking on the resurrection side of the cross, and by the “new creation rule” of Galatians 6:14; Galatians 6:15 : “Far be it from me to glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as many as shall walk by this rule, peace be upon them, and mercy!”
If you had been in heaven fifty years, and were then sent down by God to earth to live and witness for fifty years, then to be taken back to Heaven:--how would you live? Would you fall under daily doubt as to whether you should count yourself as belonging to Heaven? Would you not, rather, be a constant witness, both in walk and word, that you really belonged in and to Heaven?
Now God says He has “made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with Him, and made us to sit with Him in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:5; Ephesians 2:6). Are you going to try to add to that glorious heavenly calling the Law,--that was given to Israel down here on earth to make them know their sin? A Law under which God says you are NOT? May God forbid such folly in any of us! For we all tend toward it.
May Colossians 1:5; Colossians 1:6 be fulfilled in us all: “The word of the truth of the good news which is come unto you; even as it is also in all the world bearing fruit and increasing, as it doth in you also,--since the day ye heard and knew THE GRACE OF GOD IN TRUTH”!
15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? Be it not thought of! 16 Do ye not Know that to whom ye present yourselves as bondservants unto obedience, his bond-servants ye are whom ye obey,--whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that whereas ye were bondservants of sin, ye became obedient from the heart to that pattern of doctrine [salvation by the cross] unto which you were handed over [by God in the gospel]. 18 And being set free from sin, ye were made bondservants to righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms on account of the [moral]strengthlessness of your flesh: for just as ye did present your members as bondservants to uncleanness, and to lawlessness unto [further] lawlessness, so now present your members bondservants to righteousness unto sanctification. 20 For when ye were bondservants of sin, ye were free in regard of righteousness. 21 What fruit then had ye at that time in the things whereof ye are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death! 22 But now, being made free from sin, and being put into bondservice to God, ye have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end, eternal life! 23 For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What then? Are we to sin, because we are not under law but under grace? Far be the thought!
Here Paul warns against the abuse of that liberty which the believer has: He shows that those who commit sin come under the bondage of sin as master; even as the Lord said in John 8:34 : “Every one that committeth sin is the bondservant of sin.”
The two questions in Chapter Six: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1); and, Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? (Romans 6:15); are distinct, but not really diverse, questions. For each considers that same lawlessness, that same independence of the Creator, which is ever the creature's great temptation. The fact that these two questions are written down here is the proof of this. Now Paul, with holy abhorrence, repudiates at once both these thoughts:
The answer to the first question is: We are in the Risen Christ, and we shared His death; our relation to sin is broken forever; we walk “in newness of life.”
Do ye not know that to whom ye present yourselves as bondservants unto obedience, his bondservants ye are whom ye obey,--whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?
And the answer to the second question is: God has set believers free, to serve Himself. The only other master is sin. And bondage to sin results from serving sin. But the Word of God says to the believer. Ye are not under law, but under grace.
Many people who have been convicted of the guilt of sin and have relied on the shed blood of Christ as putting away that guilt, have not yet, however, seen a state of sin as abject slavery. The strength of sin is just as real as its guilt. No creature can free himself from the bondage of sin. Sin brought to fallen man the inability to do anything else but sin (Genesis 6:5). Although contrary to conscience, to reason, to desire for liberty; in spite of the terror inspired by the tragic examples about them,--yea, despite awful warnings and expectations of personal impending ruin, men continue in sin and its bondage.
But there is another “obedience,”--that unto righteousness. And the case turns on the words, to whom ye present yourselves as servants. Although we cannot free ourselves, or change our own spiritual condition, the great fact of human responsibility is plainly written here. God, who would have all men to be saved, is always ready to have them present themselves to Him. And it is by means of the gospel that we do so,--whether to take our place as sinners, in the first instance; or, after we have believed, when we present ourselves to Him and our members as instruments of righteousness.
We all know this, be our theological training what it may. We all know we are doing wrong if we do not obey the gospel of God concerning His Son. “When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will convict the world in respect of sin . . . because they believe not on Me” (John 16:8; John 16:9).
Let us remember then, that the obedience unto righteousness of verse 16, is “the obedience of faith,” always.
Verses 17, 18:
But thanks be to God, that whereas ye were bondservants of sin, ye became obedient from the heart to that pattern of teaching [salvation by the cross] unto which ye were handed over [by God in the gospel]. And, being set free from sin, ye were made bondservants to righteousness.
Now, our becoming obedient from the heart to the Word of the cross involves a work of Divine wisdom and power far beyond that involved in the creation of the world! For how shall a creature remain, and behold his utter judgment on the cross? How shall he despair eternally of himself, and yet find hope? How shall he continue a free being and yet consent to be bound forever,--”with cords of a Man, with bands of love”? How shall he walk with confidence into the Court where very thoughts come into judgment? Moral and spiritual impossibilities are greater than physical impossibilities. It was impossible that where nothing at all existed the physical universe should leap into being--out of nothing but God's word! Man, having sinned, ran from God. Men yet sin and flee from God. Now God's holy nature. His infinite righteousness, bar the way back. But Christ comes, sent of the Father. And there is the blood of the cross. And from the North and South, and East and West, men, women,--and children, too, come, obeying from the heart this impossible news: of peace by the blood of His cross,--peace for those whose sins slew Christ! They come to be gladly bound with the unbreakable “bands of love, the cords of a Man”--Christ Jesus! (See Hosea 11:4.)
And we see that mighty work of response to grace in such hearts abide and endure. We see God's willing “bondservants” pouring out their lives in glad service, in all lands, to all limits!
Now, this becoming obedient from the heart to that pattern of doctrine of salvation by the blood of the cross, and the freedom from sin that goes with it, may be enjoyed even in this life, “without stint or limit.” For “all things are possible to him that believeth.”
Note that the Old Version misses the entire sense of this seventeenth verse in translating: “that form of doctrine which was delivered unto you,” whereas the true rendering is, that form of doctrine unto which ye were handed over (or, delivered). For the verb is in the plural--ye were delivered over! This statement instructs us deeply in the Divine arrangements. The Israelites, for example, were delivered over to Moses and the Law. It was not only that the Law was delivered by Moses to them; they were themselves delivered over to a legal dispensation--to a “mold of doctrine,” which had the Ten Commandments as the foundation, and the “ten thousand things of the Law” spoken in accordance therewith. The Jews knew they were under the Law. They had been handed over to it, to its demands, and to its whole economy. Likewise, believers now are delivered over to a form or pattern of teaching. Summarily, this is the Gospel,--particularly, the work of Christ on the cross. Believers have been handed over by God to the mighty facts, not only that their guilt was put away on the cross, but that they, as connected with Adam, died with Christ; that their history in Adam is thus entirely ended before God; and that they now share the risen life of Christ, and are before God as risen ones (Romans 6:10; Romans 6:11). And all believers are comprehended in these great truths, whether they apprehend them or not! It is the first duty of every teacher of God's saints to open to them the glorious facts already true about them, and unto which great mold or form of doctrine, they have been “delivered over” by God. [The word “delivered” is the word constantly used, for instance, of our Lord's being handed over to His enemies (Matthew 20:18; Matthew 20:19; John 19:11; John 19:16); and of the disciples' being delivered over to councils (Matthew 10:17; Matthew 10:19). It is used of the Jews' being “delivered over to serve the host of heaven,” in Acts 7:42 (most significant as to its force in Romans 6:17); and 1 Corinthians 11:23 contains the word in both its significances: Paul delivered over to the Corinthians directions concerning the Lord's supper; Christ was delivered over to His enemies. It is the same Greek word in both cases. This distinction is vital, because people conceive of the Gospel as something delivered to them to “live up to,” or to lay hold of by their own wills, rather than as of a body of truth unto which they, as believers, have already been blessedly handed over! “Obedience of faith” can be nothing else than walking in the light of facts Divinely revealed.]
Now in verse 17 we see that these Roman believers had become obedient from the heart unto this mold of doctrine,--that of salvation by Christ on the cross. They had yet much to learn concerning their salvation, (and Paul was coming to “establish” them). But they had seen and accepted redemption by the blood of the despised Lamb of God: which involved everything,--of separation from a sinful world, as well as of safety from Divine judgment.
Verse 18: Being set free from sin, ye were made bondservants to righteousness. It will help us to note carefully that in this verse is the first description of “experience” in this Sixth of Romans. Bit it is the result of that “obedience of faith” in which these believers had received the good news of their salvation by Christ crucified; for lo! they found themselves thereby “set free from sin,”--sin was no longer their master. [To make the words “free from sin” of Chapter 6:18 denote what is called “eradication of the sin-principle,” a sinlessness in the flesh, is a terrible perversion. Paul constantly preached and testified the contrary. Our bodies will not be redeemed (no matter how much we may be blessed or filled with the Holy Spirit) until “the redemption of the body” at Christ's second coming. Till that time, sin will be in the flesh, although those who “obey from the heart” in simple faith that word of the cross unto which they have been delivered, will find themselves in a state of blessed relief from sin's bondage. For Scripture does teach heart-cleansing, a “pure heart,” as we have elsewhere shown.]
I am speaking in human terms on account of the [moral] strengthlessness of your flesh--Paul here explains why he is using this word “bondservants” throughout this passage. He declares the “infirmity of our flesh” to be such, that we must necessarily be in bondservice--either to sin or to God. Rome was full of slaves,--indeed, many of the Christians to whom he was writing were slaves, as seems to be indicated in Chapter Sixteen (which see). In the Roman Empire, freedom was a most difficult thing to secure (Acts 22:28). So Paul speaks in human terms, “after the manner of men,” and he says that we are strengthless naturally, that we must be servants, either of God or of sin.
Man hates this fact. He boasts his independence, whether it be in the realm of intellect--”free thought!” in the matter of private wealth--”independent!” or in the manner of government--”free!” But it is all really a delusion. We indeed rejoice at the intellectual shackles thrown off at the Renaissance, and at liberty of thought and expression, wherever found among men. We also honor those who, like Boaz, are “mighty men of wealth,”--for God has permitted it to be so; and we rejoice at that relief from governmental tyranny which is yet found in some parts of this earth.
But what we most earnestly assert is that not only Paul here, but our Lord Himself, and Scripture generally, sets forth that only those that know the truth and walk therein, are free. The Jews (in John 8:33 ff) horribly rebel against our Lord's saying: “If ye abide in My word, then are ye truly My disciples: and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free! . . . Every one that committeth sin is the bondservant of sin . . . If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” There is no freedom out of Christ. “Whose service is perfect freedom” is the beautiful expression of obedience to God.
We must see this necessity of service to God or service to sin for our own lives. When John wrote to believers, “We know that we are of God, and the whole earth lieth in the evil one” (1 John 5:19),--what a revelation was that!
These Roman Christians had formerly, like the pagans among whom they lived, presented their members bondservants to uncleanness [in every inward thought], and to lawlessness unto [further] lawlessness [in outward practice]. A blacker page of iniquitous abominations history does not write than that of the Roman Empire of Paul's day. And out of these fearful states of sin, God had de livered these believers! Compare 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
Verses 20 and 21:
For when ye were bondservants of sin, ye were free in regard of righteousness. What fruit had ye at that time in the things whereof ye are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death!
And in those former evil days, they had been, as Paul says, free in regard of righteousness. They were altogether given to iniquity, without any check whatever. (148) And those were fruitless days of which they were now ashamed. Free and fruitless! what a pair of words to describe the life of one who is going on daily toward eternity! Let each believer look back to those days when God was “not in all his thoughts.” The pleasures and treasures of sin we sought--free in regard of righteousness, like the beasts which perish. What saved one can say of his unsaved life, I can treasure this or that as fruit? of any particular iniquity, I cherish good results from it? What fruit had you? Shame, only: things of which ye are now ashamed. Furthermore, we were going on steadily in that path unto the end, which was death, and that eternal. Remember the relentless but true description of sin's horrid birth and end, in James 1:14; James 1:15.
 “There seems to be a grave but cutting irony in this allusion to their old condition, when the only freedom they knew was in respect to righteousness! They were slaves of sin, and had nothing to do with righteousness!”
Now from all this, God has in sovereign grace rescued us, and should we not, do we not, gladly enter upon the path of loving service, yea, bondservice, to Him?
But now, having been freed from the fearful Master, Sin, and brought into a sweet, willing bondservice to God, there was not only the daily delightful fruit, which those given over to sanctification were ever bearing; but there was the consciousness that every day brought nearer, the full realization of that blessed eternal life,--which they already possessed, but the full enjoyment of which was the end of the path of God's saints!
They were now and would be forever under the domination of that motive which is the strongest of all,--LOVE. Their service to God would be no longer one of seeking to fulfil certain enactments by Him (as under law) but a glad willingness, such as Christ expressed toward His Father in the prophetic words of Psalms 40:8 : “I delight to do Thy will, O my God!” There is no relief comparable to this surrender to the all-wise and all-loving will of God! Our Lord prescribes for those “laboring and heavy-laden,” first, to come to Him, and He will give them rest (that is, salvation); and then, having come, to take His yoke upon them (the yoke of Him who is meek and lowly in heart) and they shall find rest to their souls (that is surrender)!
For sin, which they had once served, was a terrible Paymaster' Sin's wages was death,--appointed so by God Himself. What a hideous employer--Sin! What a horrid service! What hellish wages! Yet sin is the chosen master of all but Christ's “little flock”! Of sin's flock, it is written: “Death shall be their shepherd.”
Death, as we read in verse 23, is the “wages of sin.” Men. speak of it lightly. But it is indeed “the king of terrors” for the natural man (Job 18:14). A well-known writer says: “Man finds in Death an end to every hope, to every project, to all his thoughts and plans. The busy scene in which his whole life has been, knows him no more. His nature has given way, powerless to resist this master (death) to which it belongs, and who now asserts his dreadful rights. But this is far from being all. Man indeed, as man alive in this world, sinks down into nothing. But why? Sin has come in; with sin, conscience; with sin, Satan's power; still more with sin, God's judgment. Death is the expression and witness of all this. It is the wages of sin, terror to the conscience, Satan's power over us, for he has the power of death. Can God help here? Alas, it is His own judgment on sin. Death seems but as the proof that sin does not pass unnoticed, and is the terror and plague of the conscience, as witness of God's judgment, the officer of justice to the criminal, and the proof of his guilt in the presence of coming judgment. How can it but be terrible? It is the seal upon the fall and ruin and condemnation of the first Adam. And he has nothing but this old nature.
“But Christ has come in. He has come into death--O wondrous truth, the Prince of life! What is death now for the believer? Death is ours,' says the apostle, as all things are. By the blessed Lord's entering into it for me, death,--and judgment too, is become my salvation. The sin, of which it was the wages, has been put away by death itself. The judgment has been borne for me there.”
But the grace-bestowal (charisma) of God--here is the same dear word as in Romans 5:15; Romans 5:16. It is the expression which describes what is behind God's gift,--his grace (Greek, charis). And what is, here, God's grace-bestowal? Eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord! What a bestowment of grace is this! Sins borne, pardoned, gone,--and more! A welcome in Heaven,--and more! Life granted to a lost soul dead in sins,--and more! Eternal life,--to last as long as God its Giver. But more,--life in Christ Jesus our Lord Himself! Sharing His life, who is the Well-Beloved of the Father, sharing “the love wherewith God hath loved Christ.” Life, eternal life, in Christ Jesus,--God's grace-gift!
The wages of sin as over against the free gift of God!
Mark this, that God will keep the contrast constantly before us, even at the end of this chapter, between what is earned and what is given. In verses 21 and 22, “the end” of two paths is seen: one, death; the other, eternal life. But it must finally be said here, at the chapter's close, that while death is earned wages, eternal life is a FREE GIFT!
And also note the blessed Sphere of this Eternal life: In Christ Jesus our Lord. Every advance in the glorious truth of salvation is marked by Christ's own Name!--from His being “set forth” by God as “Christ Jesus,--a propitiation through faith in His blood (Romans 3:24-25); raised as Jesus our Lord from the dead (Romans 4:24); our exulting in God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:11); and grace reigning through righteousness and eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:21); reckoning ourselves dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11); and now the gift of God, eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). And victory will come, in Chapter 7:25 (Romans 7:25): “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And, at last, no separation “from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”! (Romans 8:39).
A FEW WORDS ABOUT GRACE
The Nature of Grace
1. Grace is God acting freely, according to His own nature as Love; with no promises or obligations to fulfil; and acting of course, righteously--in view of the cross.
2. Grace, therefore, is uncaused in the recipient: its cause lies wholly in the GIVER, in GOD.
3. Grace, also is sovereign. Not having debts to pay, or fulfilled conditions on man's part to wait for, it can act toward whom, and how, it pleases. It can, and does, often, place the worst deservers in the highest favors.
4. Grace cannot act where there is either desert or ability: Grace does not help--it is absolute, it does all.
5. There being no cause in the creature why Grace should be shown, the creature must be brought off from trying to give cause to God for His Grace.
6. The discovery by the creature that he is truly the object of Divine grace, works the utmost humility: for the receiver of grace is brought to know his own absolute unworthiness, and his complete inability to attain worthiness: yet he finds himself blessed,--on another principle, outside of himself!
7. Therefore, flesh has no place in the plan of Grace. This is the great reason why Grace is hated by the proud natural mind of man. But for this very reason, the true believer rejoices! For he knows that “in him, that is, in his flesh, is no good thing”; and yet he finds God glad to bless him, just as he is!
The Place of Man under Grace
1. He has been accepted in Christ, who is his standing!
2. He is not “on probation.” As to his life past, it does not exist before God: he died at the Cross, and Christ is his life.
3. Grace, once bestowed, is not withdrawn: for God knew all the human exigencies beforehand: His action was independent of them, not dependent upon them.
4. The failure of devotion does not cause the withdrawal of bestowed grace (as it would under law). For example: the man in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5; and also those in 1 Corinthians 11:30-32, who did not “judge” themselves, and so were “judged by the Lord,--that they might not be condemned with the world”!
The Proper Attitude of Man under Grace
1. To believe, and to consent to be loved while unworthy, is the great secret.
2. To refuse to make “resolutions” and “vows”; for that is to trust in the flesh.
3. To expect to be blessed, though realizing more and more lack of worth.
4. To testify of God's goodness, at all times.
5. To be certain of God's future favor; yet to be ever more tender in conscience toward Him.
6. To rely on God's chastening hand as a mark of His kindness.
7. A man under grace, if like Paul, has no burdens regarding himself; but many about others.
Things Which Gracious Souls Discover
1. To “hope to be better” is to fail to see yourself in Christ only.
2. To be disappointed with yourself, is to have believed in yourself.
3. To be discouraged is unbelief,--as to God's purpose and plan of blessing for you.
4. To be proud, is to be blind! For we have no standing before God, in ourselves.
5. The lack of Divine blessing, therefore, comes from unbelief, and not from failure of devotion.
6. Real devotion to God arises, not from man's will to show it; but from the discovery that blessing has been received from God while we were yet unworthy and undevoted.
7. To preach devotion first, and blessing second, is to reverse God's order, and preach law, not grace. The Law made man's blessing depend on devotion; Grace confers undeserved, unconditional blessing: our devotion may follow, but does not always do so,--in proper measure.
Baptism in Romans not Baptism by the Spirit
As to the Holy Spirit's “baptizing us all into one Body” (1 Corinthians 12:13): we are said indeed to be baptized by Him into the Body,--but only after we died with Christ made sin:--a theological distinction, no doubt, but a most necessary one.
Christ as Head of the Body, the Church, comes after Christ as the Second Man, the Last Adam, It would not be accurate, or indeed, possible, to speak of Christ as the Head of the Body bringing about our death with Him, any more than to say that Christ as the Head of the Body had borne our sins. The Body, the Church, came after Christ, as the Last Adam, had put away our sin, and by His “one act” constituted us righteous; and after we had died with Christ made sin.
In a man's history before God, he is not made a member of Christ's Body before he has died with Christ made sin! Let us trace this:
1. An ungodly man, as such, believes on God about Christ, and is justified,--declared righteous.
2. His justification, however, involved the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was “delivered up for his trespasses, but was raised for his justifying” (Romans 4:25).
3. His justification, therefore, becomes what is called in Chapter 5:18 (Romans 5:18) “justification of life.”
4. Now, it is not as a member of Christ's mystical Body that we can assert justification of him. Doubtless he is made member of Christ Risen, but,
5. When he is told to reckon himself dead unto sin and alive unto God in Christ Jesus, it is not as a member of Christ's Body that he is thus to reckon, but as one who was in Adam, on whose behalf Christ was made to be sin and died unto sin.
6. Doubtless by one Spirit we are all baptized into one Body, and are made to drink of the one Spirit; but this truth of 1 Corinthians 12 is not fundamental truth, but positional truth, A man cannot say, Because I am a member of Christ's Body, therefore I am made dead to sin, But he can say, I was in Adam the First, guilty, a man “in the flesh,” in “the old man.” But by God's grace I am now in Christ, the Last Adam. This is fundamental truth, And it is fundamental truth that Romans contemplates. As we state elsewhere, there will be saved Israelites, and others, besides Church saints, who will partake of the benefits of Christ's death and resurrection; but who will not be of the Body of Christ.
7. Therefore, in carrying out the believer's walk as directed in Roman's Six to Eight, we must go back of and beyond our consciousness of the Body of Christ, to Christ as an Adam, a federal, representative Man. Our standing is in Christ as the Last Adam; our membership: in that blessed corporate company called the Body of Christ, Christ being the Head.
In other words, we had no right to be put into Christ the Head of the Body until we had died with Christ made sin, died to our position in the other Adam. You will notice when Paul describes his personal manner of life, he says “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me.” This is not Body truth, but federal truth, which is fundamental, Body truth comes after federal truth, Federal truth has to do with our relationship to God. We are either in Adam or in Christ, before God.
Only in Romans 12:4; Romans 12:5 is the Body of Christ referred to; for Romans is fundamental, and deals with our relation to God,--as in Adam or in Christ; and therefore does not deal with the corporate character of the Church as such.
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