Commentary on Romans 9:1

29 Mar

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—

Verse 1 is a strong affirmation of Paul’s truthfulness in what he is about to say. He affirms his truthfulness in three ways in this verse. It is his way of underlining the reality of what he is about to say. The first statement is simply, “I am speaking the truth in Christ.” The word truth is at the front of the phrase in Greek for emphasis. The “in Christ” brings a greater seriousness to the statement. This is not just Paul’s truth, it is Jesus’ truth. Then he says, “I am not lying.” This is a simple statement which supports what he just said. Then he adds to these two statements a third statement, “my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit.” The Greek word for “bears me witness” is at the front of the phrase and it is a compound word that means to “bear witness with” someone. Paul speaks of his conscience, but also of the Holy Spirit. So it is not Paul’s conscience alone but is conscience shaped by the work of the Spirit. Just as in chapter 8 the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, so here the Spirit bears witness with Paul’s conscience about the truthfulness of what he is about to share.

When we think about what Paul is going to share, it is indeed personal but it is also from God. The Son and the Spirit are intimately involved and so Paul, though sharing things he feels deeply, is not just going off the emotional deep end.

Just as a final point of application from this verse, I think it shows that there is a place for the use of conscience in the life of a Christian. When we think about conscience, we know that by itself it is not trustworthy. But for the believer, the Holy Spirit can inform our conscience. This is somewhat like what Martin Luther said at the Diet of Worms when he was told to recant his teachings about the gospel. “Your Imperial Majesty and Your Lordships demand a simple answer. Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture or (since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me.” Luther said his conscience was captive to the Word of God. I see this as something similar to what Paul is saying.

So while I would never say to a Christian or to anyone else “Let your conscience be your guide” I would say there is a way in which the Holy Spirit can guide the conscience in the Christian life. This is especially true for those who are spiritually mature. I think Hebrews 5:14 hints at this. “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil”

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