The word “life” (zoē) occurs 14 times in the Book of Romans (2:7; 5:10, 17, 18, 21; 6:4, 22, 23; 7:10; 8:2, 6, 10, 38; 11:15). The way Paul uses it in the book is a great study. Sometimes we have to be careful in order to understand exactly what he means by the word. Such a study can also cause us to really have to exercise our brain cells!
That is because the word can be used in different ways. For example, in Rom 2:7 Paul uses it in a hypothetical, but impossible, way. If a person could live a sinless life (which nobody can), he could earn eternal “life.” In 5:10, it refers to the fact that Christ rose from the dead unto “life.” In 8:38, “life” refers to our physical lives. In 11:15, Paul says that the world will experience a resurrection of “life” when Israel comes to faith in the last days. Clearly, the word has a wide range of meanings.
In my opinion, the other 10 times the word occurs in Romans describe different aspects of the life we as believers have in Christ. When we believe in Jesus for it, we receive “eternal life.” But what Paul says about this life is that it is a dynamic thing. We can grow in it. We can experience it and enjoy it in different ways.
The first thing to notice is that all 10 of these occurrences are found in chapters 5–8. This is the section of Romans that deals with Christian living. A look at these 10 instances provides us with a rich understanding of what is available to believers. It is my hope that all reading this blog will take the time to look at these verses in more detail in their contexts. Because of the limitation of space, I will only make a few quick observations.
In Rom 5:17-18, Paul says that we live in a world in which death reigns. But the believer, because he has been justified by faith, can experience the reign of life here and now. He already has eternal life, and as a result that life can produce righteous living.
In 6:4, Paul says the believer can walk, or live, in newness of “life.” Once again, the reader sees that he is speaking of Christian living and experience here and now. The believer, through the Spirit, can actually have a daily experience of and live out the life God has given him.
In 6:22-23 we are told that the believer has been given eternal life. But if he lives in a holy manner, he will also produce eternal life. In other words, the believer can have a deeper enjoyment of eternal life. In Gal 6:8, Paul puts it this way: the believer can walk by the Spirit and have a harvest of eternal life.
In 7:10, Paul says that keeping the commandments of God results in life. This is only possible through the power of the Spirit, as Paul makes clear in Romans 8. In 8:2, 6, 10, Paul drives home the point that through the Holy Spirit who dwells in each Christian, the believer can have a rich experience of life and peace instead of the negative consequences of sin.
It is clear that in the Book of Romans, Paul uses the word “life” in different ways. When it comes to eternal life, the most important issue for the reader to grasp is that the life the believer receives at faith is one that can be developed and manifested in our daily lives. We can actually reap a rich harvest of that life. This harvest is one that we can enjoy here and now, and it will also result in rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ. When we read the NT and see the word “life,” we should always ask ourselves what aspect of life is meant. In Romans, we see that the majority of times Paul uses it he is telling the Christian reader that by faith in Christ he is not only saved from hell. With the gift he has received by faith, the Christian can abide and grow in that life.