Uses and Misuses of the Law in Romans 7
Lesson 8 Romans 7:1-25
The apostle has been at work on the topic of law and grace ever since Romans 5:20, in which he noted that “Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” In Romans 6:1-4 Paul set before us the place of obedience in the lives of those who had been saved by grace, noting that Christians would live in harmony with God’s will and would not let sin reign in their lives. He concluded with the dictum that they were “not under the law but under grace” (verse 14). That conclusion raised several questions that Paul began to face in Romans 6:15. In the rest of the chapter he demonstrated that believers are not under the rule of sin.
Dead to the Law and Alive to Christ
In Romans 7:1-6 Paul argues that they are not under the rule of the law either. That insight was important for his Jewish readers as well as for others who might be tempted to put law in the wrong place in their Christian life. In order to grasp the importance of the illustration regarding marriage that Paul utilizes in verses 1-6 we need to remember that keeping the law was the way that pious Jews expected to gain salvation. The rich young man who told Jesus that he had observed all the commandments was quite sincere in his desire for salvation (Matthew 19:16-22), and when Paul writes that as a Pharisee he had been blameless regarding the law (Philippians 3:6), he was speaking in terms of sober facts as far as the pharisaic mind perceived things. Yet in Christ he found a new life, new power, new joy, and new peace that he had never known before. But those blessings, he has repeated pointed out in the first six chapters of Romans, came through the gift of God’s grace rather than through the law.
The apostle uses the marriage relationship in Romans 7:1-3 as an analogy of a person’s relationship to the law. Paul lays the foundation for his presentation by stating that, “the law in binding on a person only during his life” (verse 1). Then in verse 2 and 3 he makes three essential points:
- A woman is married to a man and is legally bound to him during his lifetime
- The man dies, releasing her from her obligation to him.
- She is now free to marry another husband
Paul’s analogous argument is complex, but his meaning is clear. As death breaks the bond between a husband and wife, so does the believer’s death with Christ (see Romans 6:2, 3) breaks the bond which formerly yoked him to the law, and now he is free to enter into union with Christ. The law proved to be fruitless as a way of salvation and righteousness. Union with the law resulted in sin and death, but union with Christ brings life eternal as people accept His gift of grace into their existence.
Romans 7:4 finds the apostle applying his analogy to Christian experience – but with a shift of characters. The illustration of verses 1-3 had the death of the husband freeing the wife from the law. But in the application of verses 4 – 6 the death of the sinful self, releases believers from the condemnation and dominion of the law and allows them to join Christ.
As in the marriage analogy of verses 1-3, the application in verses 4-6 has three essential elements in the flow of its argument:
- The readers had had a binding relationship to the law.
- But they had died to the law.
- They were now free to be married to another which is Jesus
Note that Paul nowhere states that the law dies. Rather, it is the believer who had “died to the law” through Christ (verse 4). And how is it that Christians have “died to the law”? That death took place when they allowed their old selves to be crucified with Christ as they entered the watery grave of baptism (see Romans 6:3-6). The believer’s death which Christ is a death to the law as a way of salvation. Trusting to the grace of God means putting to death any confidence in the law as the road to salvation.
But the law is still alive. As John Calvin, the great Reformer notes, “we ought carefully to remember that this is not a release from the righteousness which is taught in the law.” The law still stands as God’s great standard of righteousness, it still condemns the sin of those who break it and still pushes men and women to the foot of the cross. But before they died to the law as a way to salvation their “fruit” was unto death (Romans 7:5; Romans 3:20).
The next post on Romans will be at 8 pm this evening.