“Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?” (Romans 7:1).
We are already told in Romans 6:14 that the believer is not under law, but instead, under grace; and in a series of recent articles in Romans 6, we took a look at one dimension of that principle by illustrating the law as freedom from bondage, and then the reality of lordship in the blessedness of being a bond slave to Christ. Here, Paul appeals to Jews who have been raised and trained in the Law.
[NOTE: I believe that he addresses the Jew specifically because these believing Jews, who have been trained in the Law of Moses rather than merely knowing, or are familiar with the Law of Moses, will be able to teach those less familiar with the Law. See Hebrews 5:12].
The law has rule and dominion. It has authority because it comes from God. Yet, although it has authority, it has no authority over one who is dead. Its commands and demands are useless upon those who obviously cannot carry them out, either actively or passively.
“For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man” (Romans 7:2-3).
So Paul uses an illustration with which the Jews can easily relate: marriage. From the Jewish understanding of the Law in Genesis 2, Genesis 38, Deuteronomy 25, &etc., they recognized that if a husband died, the wife is not under any obligation to that dead husband. The Sadducees tempted Christ in Matthew 22 with the hypothetical man having a wife, but after he died, the wife went to brother after brother as each one died, for a total of seven brothers. If the man who died had no brothers, the woman was free to marry whomever she wished. This seemed to be a fairly common understanding in Christ’s days, as well, as before and after.
“Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God” (Romans 7:4).
This may seem a contradiction to some because the previous example speaks of one living and one dead; the living one being free to marry another. Yet, this speaks of the dead being free to marriage in the context of resurrection (Romans 6:4-6). Though we are crucified with Christ in His death and burial when we are saved by God’s grace, we are also raised in the likeness of His resurrection, free to marry another, which is none other than the Lord, Christ. Note also, it is we who have died unto the law and not the law unto us. “The law is… holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12), because, again we must remind ourselves, it comes from God.
“For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death” (Romans 7:5).
These two verses give us context for what Paul is talking about, as well as amplifying his illustration of marriage and death. First, the context is that “we were in the flesh”; that is, we were in the flesh before we were saved (and most especially speaking to his Jewish brethren, the exclusive “we,” yet still applicable to every soul saved by grace); we were under the law and its authority (past tense). As a result of being in the flesh then, the fruit that came forth from our lives was not “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [or] temperance” (Galatians 5:22, 23). Instead, the fruit which we bore were “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like,” because these are the fruit of the flesh unto death, and “they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
“But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6).
Now that we are in Christ, we serve God, not by keeping every element of the law (oldness of the letter), but instead by living a resurrected life unto God by “the newness of the [indwelling Holy] Spirit.” Christ’s atoning death was our deliverance when God’s grace brought us identification, justification, redemption, and regeneration by faith in Christ alone.
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Read the previous article in this series, “Tendency toward Extremes” (Romans 7:1).