Romans 7:4-6(NKJV) 4Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. 5For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. 6But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.
Romans chapter 7 can be a very confusing section of scripture if it is not taken in the context of the whole book. Romans 5 is the great chapter on righteousness. It tells us that the gift of righteousness in the one man, Jesus is greater than the curse of sin that came through the one man, Adam. Romans 6 clearly tells us that we should not allow ourselves to be slaves to sin by letting our bodies serve sin. We should be buried in baptism. We must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God.
Then we come to Romans 7. Here Paul almost seems to say that he cannot walk according to Romans 6 himself. To me Romans 7 is simply one of the most honest and real chapters of the New Testament. As I read this chapter I see the struggle most Christians go through. I have been a local pastor for 32 years. I have heard Romans 7 again and again from the mouths of honest saints who allowed sin to get the upper hand in their lives.
The defining statement in this chapter would have to be, “I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. (Romans 7:19 NLT) I have felt this way, you have felt this way and most every person I have cared for has, at one time or another, felt this way. Is Paul really so weak? Is he telling us that all of Romans is a nice study in theology, but it really is not a practical way to live? Not at all.
Let’s take a closer look at Romans 7. Paul begins by telling us that the law is only in force as long as a person is alive. He uses the example of a wife. If she marries another man while her husband is alive, she commits adultery. However if her husband is dead, she is no longer bound to him by the law. Their marriage may have been long or short, good or bad. None of that matters. What matters is that the laws jurisdiction ends with death.
He then extends this illustration to say that we are the married person. He makes a statement that, if we do not rightly divide it, could be used to justify all kinds of behavior. He says we have “become dead to the law through the body of Christ.” The heart of the law is the 10 commandments. Does this verse mean they no longer apply? Are we now free to break the commandments? Of course not. Neither are we free to cultivate a lifestyle that is contrary to the principles of the whole word of God.
Some seem to think that verses like this “free” us from obeying the law of God. This is not true. You cannot really read the New Testament and come to that conclusion. You cannot listen to the preaching of Jesus and come to that conclusion. Jesus never made the standard lower. Read the sermon on the mount. Jesus made the way more narrow not less narrow.
What does it mean to be “dead to the law.” The answer is in the next phrase. “That you may be married to another.” We are not free to disobey the commandments of God, we are free to keep them because of relationship instead of law.
Marriage is a legal contract. However it is different than all other legal contracts in our culture because the legal side is subordinated to the relational side. We marry because we love. We do not marry because we are legally compelled to marry. As a matter of fact the legal side of marriage does not ever come into play until the marriage is being dissolved or one of the partners has died. Marriage is about the relationship between a man and woman, not about a law saying they are married.
Paul is pointing out something very important here if we are going to successfully keep the law. We must learn to keep it out of relationship not out of law. I do not refrain from having relationships with other woman because I am legally married. I refrain because I love my wife. Even if I do not happen to feel that love at a given moment, I will resist that temptation because I have made covenant with her. That is, in a sense, a legal reason to stay faithful. However, the legal side only exists because of the relationship.
The truth is that no law will keep me faithful if I do not truly love my wife. Conversely I need no law to keep me faithful if I do love my wife. I am not talking here about romantic feelings. I am talking about the deep sense of connection and commitment to a person that involves emotion, but goes far beyond the emotional level. I love my wife therefore I will stay faithful to her. I need no law, no one to watch over my shoulder and remind me of the legal covenant of marriage.
This is what Paul is trying to show us. The law is good and must be obeyed. However obeying it just because it is the law is not enough. We will always fail if that is the only motivation. I strongly believe in doing what is right because it is right, however I also believe that God intends this kind of thinking to be built on the foundation of our relationship with him.
Look at verse 6 in the New Living Translation.
Romans 7:6(NLT) 6But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.
Paul is not showing how to get out of keeping the standards laid out in the 10 commandments. He is not giving us license to live outside of the law. He is telling us that Jeremiah 31:31 is true. God did give us a new covenant. He did write his laws on our hearts. He is not telling us how to get out of the law, he is telling us a new way to keep it.
We are not called to obey the letter of the law. That would be easy. There are always “loopholes” that we can find around the letter of the law. He says we should, by our relationship with the lawgiver himself, keep the spirit of the law. There are no loopholes to be found in the spirit of the law. We walk to a higher standard than those who keep the letter because we keep the law out of love.
This is the first great lesson of Romans 7, however there are others. Tomorrow we will continue.