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.

Who Ya Gonna Serve?

We have come to the end of Romans 6 and Paul’s contrast between the two slaveries – either to God or to sin. Paul concludes this section with the verse contrasting the ultimate destinies of the two slaveries by saying, The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life. (Romans 6:23, NIV).

Chuck Swindoll, with whom I am sometimes confused [1], confessed that much of his pastoral ministry was spent dealing with one of two problems. The first was with individuals who were slaves to something but thought they were free. Believing that something would bring them fulfillment or eliminate their problems, they served money, career, sex, relationships, adventure, power, education, achievement, and even addictions.  With an inability to comprehend the depths of their enslavement, they sacrificed all to keep their god alive and lived in the fear of what life might be like without this master. Unfortunately, the good news of Christ is unappealing because submission to Christ will take away their “freedom.” This is often the perception people have of Christianity – God is the cosmic killjoy, wanting to take away freedom and ruin their “good times.” The writer of Ecclesiastes, however, realized the pursuit and enslavement to power, pleasure and possessions were all empty. “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14, NIV).

Swindoll states that the second problem is almost as tragic as the first: to be free and think you are enslaved. This is symptomatic of the Christian who struggles to accept the fact that they no longer have to serve those past gods. While they have peace with God, who does not condemn but empowers them to overcome their shame and compulsions, they instead remain shackled to them.

The remedy for both problems, Swindoll says, is truth. That is, indeed, what Jesus said was the answer when he discussed this slavery to sin issue with the Pharisees. “Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31, 32, NIV). The truth is:

On the one hand, unbelievers need to know that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:23). The “freedom” they experience is an illusion designed to draw their attention away from the fact that sin is robbing them of everything they value and will eventually drag them into eternal torment.

Believers, on the other hand, must learn to embrace their freedom and recognize temptation for what it is. Each opportunity to sin is an invitation to submit our bodies to something. Temptation asks the following question: “To which master will you submit your body for the next few moments: your compulsion, which always leaves you feeling emptier than before, or Christ, who always affirms your value as a child of God? [2]

As we address temptation, it is not enough to “just say no” to it. Paul said:

11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, (Titus 2:11-13, NIV)

When we say “no” to ungodliness, we must say “yes” to righteousness. There must be a repentance – a turning away from sin and turning toward Christ. Thus, the sanctifying process, being saved more and more from the power of sin, is a necessity for any believer who desires to break free of the past and live for Christ. We’ll be discovering more about this in the coming weeks as we continue in Romans.

Your Response:

Swindoll says “I need something else to which I can submit my body.” [3]  Here is a four-step process that he finds helpful when tempted to do wrong:

  1. Flee temptation; that is, change your circumstances. Physically move from where you are and quickly go somewhere different, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
  2. Do something that brings honor to God as an alternative; Prayer is good, but I suggest adding something more tangible. Systematically answer the urge to sin with a godly activity.
  3. Thank God for providing the freedom to choose Him over wrongdoing and ask Him for encouragement. Spiritual warfare is exhausting.
  4. Try to discern what triggered the temptation and take practical steps to steer clear of the same situation. [4]

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1 Early in my ministry here, a local funeral home sponsored Chuck Swindoll’s Insights for Living radio program on Sunday mornings. I encountered a couple walking through our neighborhood and was told by the wife that she enjoyed my radio program. I thought she had confused us with the other Baptist church in town, whose service was broadcast every  Sunday. No, she was referring to “my” program that came on earlier. I was flattered but had to tell her that it was the other Chuck.

2 Chuck Swindoll, Insights on Romans, Swindoll’s New Testament Insights (Grand Rapids: Zondervon, 2010), 146

3 Swindoll 146.

4 Swindoll 146-147.