Dead to the Law

Paul begins Romans 7, saying that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives (although some dead men still vote, they aren’t expected to pay taxes!). Then he uses an analogy of the person’s relationship to the law, citing the marriage relationship. Paul speaks of a wife who joins herself to another man. If that happens after the death of her spouse, she is free to remarry. But, if it happens while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. Paul’s point is summed up by F.F. Bruce:

As death breaks the bond between husband and wife, so death – the believer’s death with Christ – breaks the bond which formerly yoked him to the law, and now he is free to enter into union with Christ. [1]

So, how were we bound to the law? Well, Paul deals with the purpose of the law in the remainder of the chapter, but gives just a hint in verse 5 when he says: For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. While the law makes us aware of sin, it also “arouses” or energizes our sinfulness. Our rebelliousness is put to work and says, “I’ll do what I want to do!” What is your first response to the “DO NOT TOUCH – WET PAINT” sign?

Remember the Garden where everything was good and Adam and Eve communed freely with God. The only negative command Adam and Eve received in the Garden was do not eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for if they did they would die. (Genesis 2:16-17). Through the cunning temptation of Satan, Adam and Eve’s sinful passion was activated and they ate of prohibited fruit. By succumbing to their sinful passion, the entire human race was impacted, and they “bore fruit for death” – physical and spiritual.

It is critically important to understand the role of the law. Its primary purpose is to establish and teach us the righteous standard of God (Galatians 3:24-25). It was never intended to be the means by which man found salvation (justification)! Nor is it the means of our sanctification. If we draw our motivation from the law to make us holy, we will find ourselves hopelessly unable to keep its precepts. If we believe the law empowers us to be spiritual, we will find it impotent. The law condemns us. But, having died in Christ, we are freed from the law’s condemnation and our new life in Christ now motivates and empowers us to “bear fruit for God” (Romans 7:4).

Let’s take another look at the marriage analogy. What is the primary role of a spouse in that new marriage relationship? Isn’t it to grow in knowledge and ever-deepening intimacy of one’s partner? And certainly, it is typified by a “want to” desire rather than a “have to” obligation. As this happens in our relationship with Christ, we begin to “read Scripture, pray, meditate, journal or fast….for the sole purpose of knowing His mind…The spiritual disciplines are not a means to holiness; they are a means of knowing Christ” [2]. And, knowing Jesus better will make us desire the kind of righteousness for which the law asks  instead of the law making us desire Jesus.

When you get to the point that a quiet time is not a chore, when Bible reading is not something you check off your “to do” list, and when praying is something that occurs freely and for prolonged times, you have broken free from the bond of the law and moved into the freedom found in the Spirit.

Your response:

  • Take some time to meditate on the following verses: Colossians 3:1-17.
  • Consider who you are in Christ and what you should “put to death.”
  • Consider how you should be clothed.
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1 F.F. Bruce, The Epistles of Paul to the Romans (London: The Tyndale Press, 1966). 145.

2 Chuck Swindoll, Insights on Romans, Swindoll’s New Testament Insights (Grand Rapids: Zondervon, 2010),155.