1. This text, like the preceding one, is an exhortation to Christianlife and works. The language employed, however, is of different construction. The hateful machinations of the devil, by which he produces so much disaster in the world, make it necessary to urge this exhortation in many different forms upon those who have become Christians. For when God out of grace, without any merit on our part, bestows upon us the forgiveness of sins which we ourselves are unable to buy or acquire, the devil instigates men at once to conclude and exclaim: Oh, in that case we need no longer do good! Whenever, therefore, the apostle speaks of the doctrine of faith, he is obliged continually to maintain that grace implies nothing of that kind.
For our sins are not forgiven with the design that we should continue to commitsin, but that we should cease from it. Otherwise it would more justly be called, not forgiveness of sin but permission to sin.
3. Of this Paul reminds and admonishes us here, in plain and simple but earnest and important words, in which he points out to us how much we owe to God for that which we have received from him, and what injury we shall suffer if we do not value it as we should, and act accordingly. He says: “We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.”
5. Here judgment is plainly and tersely pronounced on the pretensions of those foolish people who seek to make the freedom of grace a pretext for giving license to the flesh. The apostle speaks these words that he may deter them from presumption, lest in place of the life and grace in which they pride themselves, they bring upon themselves again eternalwrath and death. It would be utterly inconsistent in you who are now saved and freed from eternaldeath to desire henceforth to live after the flesh. For if ye do that, ye need not imagine that ye shall retain eternallife; ye will be subject to death and condemned to hell. For ye know that it was solely because of your sins that ye lay under the wrath of God and had incurred death, and that it was because ye lived after the flesh that ye deserved condemnation.
Most assuredly Christ has not died for those who are determined to remain in their sins; he has died that he might rescue from their sins those who would gladly be released but cannot liberate themselves.
6. Therefore, let him that is a Christian take care not to be guilty of such nonsense as to say: I am free from the Law, therefore I may do as I please.
7. For the meaning of “living after the flesh” has been repeatedly stated and is readily understood. It includes not only the gross, sensuallust of fornication or other uncleanness, but everything man has inherited by his naturalbirth; not only the physical body, but also the soul and all the faculties of our nature, both mental and corporal — our reason, will and senses — which are by nature without the Spirit and are not regulated by God’s Word. It includes particularly those things which the reason is not inclined to regard as sin; for instance, living in unbelief, idolatry, contempt of God’s Word, presumption and dependence on our own wisdom and strength, our own honor, and the like. Everything of this nature must be shunned by Christians (who have the Holy Spirit and are hence able to judge what is carnal) as a fatal poison which produces death and damnation.
PUTTING TO DEATH SIN.
“But if by the Spirit ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live.”
8. Here the apostle confesses that even in the Christian there is a remnant of the flesh, that must be put to death — all manner of temptation and lusts in opposition to God’s commandments. These are active in the flesh and prompt to sin. They are here called the “deeds of the body.” Of this nature are thoughts of unbelief and distrust, carnalsecurity and presumption instead of the fear of God, coldness and indolence with respect to God’s Word and prayer, impatience and murmurings under suffering, anger and vindictiveness or envy and hatred against our neighbor, avarice, unchastity and the like. Such inclinations as these dwell in flesh and blood and cease not to move and tempt man. Yea, because of human infirmity they at times overtake him when he is not careful enough about transgression. They will certainly overpower him unless he resolutely opposes them and, as here stated, “puts to death the deeds of the body.” To do this means a severe struggle, a battle, which never abates nor ceases so long as we live. The Christiandare never become slothful or negligent in this matter. He must arouse himself through the Spirit so as not to give place to the flesh. He must constantly put to death the flesh lest he himself be put to death by it.
9. This mortifying of sin through the Spirit is accomplished on this wise:
Man recognizes his sin and infirmity, at once repents, remembers God’s Word, and, through faith in the forgiveness of sins, strengthens himself against sin, and so resists it that he does not consent to it nor permit it to come to deeds.
12. Like ourselves, Paul had to deal with two classes of people, the true and the false Christians. There is not so much danger from the adversaries of the doctrine; for instance, from popery: their opposition is so open that we can readily beware of them. But since the devil sows even among us his seed — they are called Christians and boast of the Gospel — it behooves us to take heed, not to the mouth, but to the works, of those who claim to be Christians. Not what they say, but what they do, is the question. It is easy enough to boast of God and of Christ and of the Spirit. But whether such boasting has any foundation or not, depends on whether or not the Spirit so works and rules in one as to subdue and mortifysin. For where the Spirit is, there assuredly the Spirit is not idle nor powerless. He proves his presence by ruling and directing man and prevailing on man to obey and follow his promptings. Such a man has the comfort that he is a child of God, and that God so reigns and works in him that he is not subject to death; he has life.
14. On the other hand, the devil, who also is a spirit, persuades the hearts of the worldlings. But it soon becomes evident that his work is not that of a good spirit or a divine spirit. For he only leads men to do the reverse of that which the Spirit of God leads them to do; then they find no pleasure in hearing and obeying God’s Word, but despiseGod, and become proud and haughty, avaricious, unmerciful.
15. Let every one therefore take heed that he do not deceive himself. For there are many who claim to be Christians and yet are not. We perceive this from the fact that not all are led by the Spirit of God. Some spirit there must be by which men are led. If it is not the Spirit of God leading them to oppose the flesh, then it must be the other and evil spirit leading them to give way to the flesh and its lusts and to oppose the Spirit of God. They must, therefore, either be God’s own, his dear children, his sons and his daughters, called to eternallife and glory; or they must be rejected and abandoned, children of the devil; and with him heirs of eternalfire.
16. Paul takes occasion to speak more at length on the words “sons of God,” and proceeds in beautiful and comforting words to describe the nature and glory of this sonship. He only begins the subject, however, in today’s text. He says: “For ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear; but ye received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”
17. This is a noble and comforting text, worthy of being written in letters of gold. Because ye now through faith, he means to say, have the Holy Spirit and are led by him, ye are no longer in bondage as ye were when under the Law; ye need no longer be afraid of its terrors and its demands, as if God would condemn and reject you on account of your unworthiness and the remaining infirmity of your flesh. On the contrary, ye have the consolation that, through faith, ye have the assurance of God’s grace, and may consider God your Father and call upon him as his children.
TWO KINDS OF PREACHING AND OF WORKS.
18. Thus he contrasts the two kinds of works which spring from the two kinds of preaching and doctrine — of the Law and of the Gospel — and which constitute the difference between the Christians and those still without faith and the knowledge of Christ. They who have nothing and know nothing but the Law, can never attain to true, heartfelt trust and confidence in God, though they do ever so much and exercise themselves ever so earnestly in the Law. For when the Law shines upon them in real clearness and they see what it demands of them and how far they come short of its fulfillment, when it thus discloses to them God’s wrath, it produces in them only a terror, a fear and dread, of God under which they must at last perish if they be not rescued by the Gospel. This is what Paul here terms “the spirit of bondage,” one that produces only fear and dread of God. But, on the other hand, if the heart grasps the preaching of the Gospel, which declares that, without any merit or worthiness on our part, Godforgives us our sins, for Christ’s sake, if we believe in him — then it finds in God’s gracecomfort against the terrors of the Law; then the Holy Spirit enables it to abide in that confidence, to hold fast to that comfort, and to call upon God sincerely in that faith, even though it feels and confesses to be still weak and sinful. This is what is meant by receiving “the spirit of adoption.”
19. Paul speaks of the “spirit of bondage” and the “spirit o£ adoption” according to the customs of his times. In those days men-servants and maid-servants were the property of the master of the house in the same sense that a cow was his property. He bought them with his money; he did with them as he pleased, just as with his cattle. They were afraid of their master and had to expect stripes, imprisonment and punishment even unto death. They could not say, So much of my master’s property belongs to me, and he must give it to me. But they had always to reflect: Here I serve for my bread only; I have nothing to expect but stripes, and must be content to have my master cast me out or sell me to someone else whenever he chooses. They could never have a well-grounded hope of release from such fear and bondage and coercion.
20. Such a slavish spirit, such a captive, fearful and uncertain spirit, ye do not have, says the apostle. Ye are not compelled to live continually in fear of wrath and condemnation as are the followers of Moses and all who are under the Law. On the contrary, ye have a delightful, free spirit, one confident and contented, such as a childentertains toward its father, and ye need not fear that God is angry with you or will cast you off and condemn you. For ye have the Spirit of his Son (as he says above and in Galatians 4:6) in your heart and know that ye shall remain in his house and receive the inheritance, and that ye may comfort yourselves with it and boast of it as being your own.
23. The Hebrew word “Abba” — which, as the apostle himself interprets it, means “Father” — is the word which the tiny heir lisps in childlike confidence to its father, calling him “Ab, Ab”; for it is the easiest word the child can learn to speak: or, as the old German language has it, almost easier still, “Etha, Etha.” Such simple, childlike words faith uses toward God through the Holy Spirit, but they proceed out of the depth of the heart and, as afterwards stated, “with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Rom 8:26. Especially is this the case when the doubtings of the flesh and the terrors and torments of the devil bring conflict and distress. Man must defend himself against these and cries out: O dear Father! Thou art, indeed, my Father, for thou hast given thine only and beloved Son for me. Thou wilt not be angry with me or disown me. Or: Thou seest my distress and my weakness; do thou help and save me. “The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God.”
24. That we are children of God and may confidently regard ourselves as such, we do not learn from ourselves nor from the Law. We learn it from the witness of the Spirit, who, in spite of the Law and of our unworthiness, testifies to it in our weakness and assures us of it. This witness is the experience within ourselves of the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word, and the knowledge that our experience accords with the Word and the preaching of the Gospel. For thou art surely aware whether or no, when thou art in fear and distress, thou dost obtain comfort from the Gospel, and art able to overcome thy doubts and terror; to so overcome that thy heart is assured of God’s graciousness, and thou no longer fleest from him, but canst cheerfully call upon him in faith, expecting help. Where such a faith exists, consciousness of help must follow. So SaintPaul says, Romans 5:4-5: “Steadfastness worketh approvedness; and approvedness, hope: and hope putteth not to shame.”
25. This is the true inward witness by which thou mayest perceive that the Holy Spirit is at work in thee. In addition to this, thou hast also external witnesses and signs: for instance, it is a witness of the Holy Spirit in thee that he gives thee special gifts, acute spiritual understanding, grace and success in thy calling; that thou hast pleasure and delight in God’s Word, confessing it before the world at the peril of life and limb; that thou hatest and resistest ungodliness and sin. Those who have not the Holy Spirit are neither willing nor able to do these things. It is true, that even in the Christian, these things are accomplished in great weakness; but the Holy Spirit governs them in their weakness, and strengthens in them this witness, as Paul says again: “The Spirit also helpeth our infirmity.” Romans 8:26.
26. Here, then, thou hast the high boast, the honor and the glory of the Christian. Leave to the world its splendor, its pride and its honors, which mean nothing else — when it comes to the point — than that they are the children of the devil. But do thou consider the marvel of this, that a poor, miserablesinner should obtain such honor with God as to be called, not a slave nor a servant of God, but a son and an heir of God! Any man, yea the whole world, might well consider it privilege enough to be called one of God’s lowest creatures, only so that they might have the honor of being God’s property. For who would not wish to belong to such a Lord and Creator? But the apostle declares here that we who believe in Christ shall be not his servants, but his own sons and daughters, his heirs. Who can sufficiently magnify or utter God’s grace? It is beyond the power of our expression or comprehension.
27. Yet here our great human weaknessdiscovers itself. If we fully and confidently believed this, then of what should we be afraid or who could do us harm? He who from the heart can say to God, Thou art my Father and I am thy child — he who can say this can surely bid defiance to all the devils in hell, and joyfully despise the threatenings and ragings of the whole world. For he possesses, in his Father, a Lord before whom all creatures must tremble and without whose will they can do nothing; and he possesses a heritage which no creature can harm, a dominion which none can reduce.
29. O how noble it is in a man not to obey his lusts, but to resist them with a strongfaith, even though he suffer for it! To be the child of a mighty and renowned king or emperor means to possess nobility, honor and glory on earth. How much more glorious it would be, could a man truthfully boast that he is the son of one of the highest of the angels! Yet what would be all that compared with one who is named and chosen by God himself, and called his son, the heir of exalted divinemajesty? Such sonship and heritage must assuredly imply great and unspeakable glory and riches, and power and honor, above all else that is in heaven or in earth. This very honor, even though we had nothing but the name and fame of it, ought to move us to become the enemies of this sinfullife on earth and to strive against it with all our powers, notwithstanding we should have to surrender all for its sake and suffer all things possible for a human being to suffer. But the human heart cannot grasp the greatness of the honor and glory to which we shall be exalted with Christ. It is altogether above our comprehension or imagination. This Paul declares in what follows, in verse 18, where he says: “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward,” as we have heard in the text for the fifth Sunday after Trinity.