Pastor David B. Curtis


Dead to the Law

Romans 7:1-6

Delivered 08/07/2011

In our ongoing study of Romans we come to chapter 7. And again, as in chapter 6 the the chapter division can be problematic. Paul is not starting a new subject here:

Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? Romans 7:1 NASB

The first word in this chapter "or" is a single letter in the Greek, which is a disjunctive conjunction, that let's us know that what he's going to say now is related to something he said previously. The subject of the Law takes us back to:

The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, Romans 5:20 NASB

The words "came in" here are from the Greek word pareiserchomai, which means: "to enter alongside." The Law entered in by the side of sin that already entered through Adam.

Why would God want to increase sin? God gave the Law to Israel to show that men, all men, are sinners. When Torah arrived in Israel, Israel recapitulated the sin of Adam. If we had not fallen in Adam, each of us would have sinned personally and fallen. The Law intensified the Adamic problem.

This caused "grace to abound." The word "abounded" is huperperisseuo, which means: "to super abound, to abound beyond measure." Where the sin increased, the grace super abounded. This thought caused Paul's Jewish readers to ask:

What, then, shall we say? shall we continue in the sin that the grace may abound? Romans 6:1 YLT

I see the question here being: If Law increases sin, and sin increases grace then shouldn't we continue to live under The Law so that grace will abound? Paul is not dealing with practical sanctification in this chapter as is so commonly taught. The definite article here with sin makes it "the sin," which is referring to the sin of Adam, which was disobedience to the command of God.

Paul answers their question, "God forbid!" No way! You died to "the sin," and then in verses 3-11 he talks about their union with Christ. They are no longer in the body of Adam, but the body of Christ.

In verse 13 he tells them that they are not to put themselves under the Law, to do so is to become a weapon of unrighteousness. That is what the Old Covenant produced-- unrighteousness. But they are to put themselves at the disposal of God. How? By faith in Christ Jesus and not relying on the Law. Then just to make sure that what he said is understood he says:

For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:14 NASB

When he tells them they are not under the Law, their question is:

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Romans 6:15 NASB

Most commentators say, "He's talking about living in sin." They take this question in verse 15 to be essentially the same as that in verse 1. Most see this question as: Now that I am saved, does it make any difference how I live?

But I see the question being asked as: Doesn't that make us sinners? Isn't it a sin for us to not keep the commandments of the Law? Isn't it a sin not to keep the Sabbath? Aren't I going to be a sinner just like the Gentiles if I stop obeying the written code?

Paul responds to their question again by saying: God forbid, No way. No, being free from the Law does not make you a sinner. You are a sinner or righteous depending on who you serve. And you used to be slaves of sin, but now you have by faith become servants of the righteousness. So no longer put yourselves under the Law and become its slave.

Put yourselves in the sandals of the devout first century Jew who has been raised to revere and keep the Law. When a Jew was saved, it was only natural for him to continue to observe much of his Judaism.

How did the Jews feel about the Law? Notice what David had to say about the Law:

Their heart is covered with fat, But I delight in Your law. Psalms 119:70 NASB
The law of Your mouth is better to me Than thousands of gold and silver pieces. Psalms 119:72 NASB
O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. Psalms 119:97 NASB
I long for Your salvation, O LORD, And Your law is my delight. Psalms 119:174 NASB

Here the psalmist David, from the very depths of his heart, is pouring out his love for the law of God. He observes it, he obeys it, he longs for it, he delights in it, he loves it, he weeps over those who do not know it and do not obey it and treat it with scorn.

If we read the last command of the last book in the First Testament, we see this:

"Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel. Malachi 4:4 NASB

Recent intertestamental and rabbinical studies have shown that many in first century Judaism saw the Law as the most precious gift God had given them, safeguarding their relationship with Him. Rabbinical studies have shown that for many Jews, their attitude to the Law was one of tremendous appreciation and gratitude.

As we said last week, the Jews viewed the Gentiles as sinners because they didn't have the Law. So you can understand how hard it was for a first century Jew to grasp the concept that they were not under the Law. The church in Rome had a number of Jewish people who were no doubt tempted to hang on to aspects of the Law of Moses. So Paul wants to stress the fact that having believed in Jesus Christ and having been married to Him they are no longer obligated in any way to the Law of Moses. So to help them grasp this Paul goes on in chapter 7 to talk about their relationship to the Law:

Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? Romans 7:1 NASB

Scholars debate how Paul uses law in these verses. Hopefully, from what we have already seen you understand that Paul is continuing to talk about the Mosaic Law, the Torah:

Surely you know, brothers - for I am speaking to those who understand Torah--that the Torah has authority over a person only so long as he lives? Romans 7:1 Complete Jewish Bible

Those who know the Law are Jews, and those Gentiles who have attached themselves to Israel are the God fearers and proselytes.

N.T. Wright writes, "This conclusion (that Law here is Torah) is unwelcome to some, not least because it appears to make the passage irrelevant for those who have never lived 'under' the Torah."

The context is clearly dealing with the Law of Moses, but this bothers some because then the passage is not relevant to them. Well, it's not about you! Paul is dealing specifically here with the Jewish believers. Gentiles were never under the Law of Moses.

If Paul is dealing with law in general here, what would that mean to us? If Paul is teaching that believers are not under law then I guess we are antinomian. Were believers in Rome free from Roman law? Believers, are we free from the laws of the commonwealth of Virginia? "Open carry" is legal most places in Virginia, but not on school property, and not in a court house. So try carrying a gun into a courthouse, and when they stop you just tell them that you are a Christian and therefore not under the law. You'll see real quick that you are under the law of Virginia.

Paul says, "The law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives"--the word "jurisdiction" here and the word "master" in 6:14 are the same Greek word kurieuo, which means: "to have dominion over, to exercise lordship over." Here Paul says the Law is not your master, and in 6:14 he says that sin is not your master. He interchanges "the sin" and "the Law." The word "person" is the Greek term anthropos, which is generic for mankind.

This is a simple axiomatic truth. Let's say that a man robs 7-11 at gunpoint and shoots and kills two people. Police arrive and get in a gunfight with the man. The man shoots a police officer, jumps in his car and takes off. In a high speed chase the man loses control of his car and hits a tree, killing him. This man is guilty of many serious crimes, and there are eye witnesses to the crimes, but the law cannot touch him. Why? He's dead, he has stepped beyond the jurisdiction of the law. Death breaks all dominion of the law. That's simple!

For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. Romans 7:2 NASB

Professor C.H. Dodd, who was one of the best known New Testament professors in the first part of the 20th Century, said that when Paul gets into his illustration in Romans chapter 7, he gets so mixed up and confused that one might just as well forget the illustration. May I say that it is Dodd, and not Paul, who is confused. This is just a simple illustration to what he has just said.

The relationship of marriage is permanent, and, in biblical thinking, can only end through the death of one of the parties as death terminates a covenant relationship. In Judaism the wives had no rights to divorce their husbands, while conversely husbands could divorce their wives:

"When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, Deuteronomy 24:1 NASB

Jesus also talked about a man divorcing his wife and not the other way around.

What is important to understand here is that the apostle is not embarking on a discussion of marriage and remarriage. If we try to make it into such, then we miss the point that he makes. He speaks of fidelity in marriage elsewhere. He is merely using this as an illustration or metaphor to make his point. What is his point? Jewish marital law declared a married woman bound to her husband as long as he lived. This is a very simple analogy to help us understand the axiom that the law only applies when people are alive.

The word "married" here is hupandros, which means: "under i.e. subject to a man," which emphasizes the role that women play in submission to their husbands. She is subject to a man, that's the word for being married. Paul also says:

But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:3 NASB

So the wife is under the authority of her husband. That is the biblical position of authority and submission in marriage.

This word hupandros also suggests a Jewish background since it is used six times in the LXX. Paul is talking to Jews.

Paul says that the "married woman is bound by the Law"--the Greek word for "bound" is deo (deh-o), it's a perfect tense, she is in an ongoing relationship of legal binding to her husband. It's hard for us to understand in these days of easy divorce, but, unquestionably in God's sight, marriage is intended to be for life.

The idea of marriage being for life is seen in the marriage ceremony where we hear people say that they will be faithful to their covenant until, "death do us part." That's the key thought. Marriage is for life. One man, one woman for life. That is what marriage is.

The point here is that death ends the law that binds two people permanently together in marriage. Everybody understands this, this is a very simple analogy:

So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man. Romans 7:3 NASB

If the married woman goes out and hooks up with another man, she shall be, "called an adulteress"--the word "called" is from the Greek chrematizo (kray-mat-id-zo), which means to be publically known as an adulteress.

But if her husband dies she is free to marry another. The second husband is Jesus Christ. She's married to the Old Covenant community, but he died, and now she is married to Jesus Christ.

So the apostle's illustration then is the illustration of a man and woman who are married. He says the law has dominion over a woman as long as her husband is living. But if a husband dies, the woman is free to be married to another, and she's not called an adulteress if she is married to another. That's Paul's simple illustration.

The one clear principle at work here is the principle of verse 1: Death cancels all contracts. In this case, death cancels the marriage contract.

Tom Holland writes, "At a corporate level, this illustration echoes the experience of Israel. In Egypt, she was bound up with the relationship that the Egyptians had with their gods. When she came out of Egypt at the exodus, she died not only to the reign of Pharaoh, but also to her involvement, through him, with his gods. Following this release, or redemption, she became the bride of Yahweh at Sinai."

The analogy of marriage is regularly used throughout the whole of Scripture to depict the relationship of God with His people. This analogy is never used for the relationship of an individual with God. It is always corporate, describing the experience of the covenant community. Keep in mind that Paul is still speaking corporately here.

Now in verses 4-6 a conclusion is drawn, signaled by the conjunction hoste translated: "therefore":

Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. Romans 7:4 NASB

The "you" here is plural, referring to Jewish believers. Paul draws an inference from the previous illustration, noted by "you also." Just like the husband died in the previous verses, you also died. "To die" is a passive indicative, you were "made dead" to the Law. The passive voice points to the sovereign, gracious work of God in applying the work of Christ to them regarding the reign of sin and jurisdiction of the Law. It points back to our having become united with Christ in His death.

You used to be in a covenant relationship with the Law, you used to have this obligation to which you were mandated to bring about fulfillment. But, that's changed. You were made to die to the Law. Literally, you were put to death, you were killed in regard to the Law. Well the death's clear. It's our co-crucifixion with the Lord Jesus when our representative died on the cross.

Paul says, "You also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ"--this can be referring to the bodily death of Jesus:

By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Hebrews 10:10 NASB

Or it can be referring to our solidarity with the Messiah in His death, or both. We have seen the "body of Adam" and within that the "body of Moses" and now the body of Christ. The bodies of Adam and Moses are the bodies of sin, the bodies of death.

By faith we have been united with Christ (as 6:5 says) so that His death becomes our death. And therefore, Paul says: You have died to the Law. Christ bore the punishment that the Law required, and Christ fulfilled the perfect obedience that the Law demanded. So in Him they were released from the Law. And according to:

knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. Romans 6:9 NASB

Christ will never die again, and so we will never die again. Which means our salvation is eternal, it is secure.

"So that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God"--the "so that" is a purpose clause, which shows us the reason for the death to the Law is "so that" they would be married to another. But how can they marry another if they have died?:

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, Romans 6:5 NASB

They not only shared in His death, but also in His resurrection. They no longer have obligations to their old husband. The implication is that dying to the Law as the means to righteousness delivers you from slavery to sin. They died to the Law through Christ so that they might be joined to another. The word that he uses for "another" is the Greek word heteros, which means: "another of a different kind!" Their marriage is to one who is totally different. No human relationship better expresses the idea of our union to Christ than that of marriage:

because we are members of His body. FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:30-32 NASB

It is not the individual that is Christ's bride, but the church; which is why Paul uses the plural "you might be joined to another," rather than the individual singular pronoun. You, the people of God, are joined to the corporate body of Christ!

Paul goes on to say, "In order that we might bear fruit for God"--the purpose clause shows that union with Christ always results in fruitfulness for God.

Did you notice that Paul changed the pronoun from second person plural to first person plural--from "you" to "we." Why did he do that? He wanted to demonstrate the all-inclusive effects of union with Christ in bearing fruit for God. This was not just for Jewish believers, or believers in Rome, but for everyone in the body of Christ.

What is this "bearing fruit?" Well, "bearing fruit for God" in verse 4 is parallel to "serving in newness of the Spirit" in verse 6. So the fruit Paul has in mind may be the fruit of the Spirit, which is love. Paul says in Galatians 5:22, "The fruit of the Spirit is love."

The reference to bearing "fruit to God" may also be an echo of the command to Adam to be fruitful and replenish the earth. Here, the statement is not about replenishing the natural order, but is about the new creation. The church is called to enlarge the family of God, not through natural procreation, but through the proclamation of the life-giving Gospel.

We are to love one another and proclaim the glorious Gospel of the blessed God.

Instead of the husband dying, which one would expect, it is the wife dying to the Law in order to be joined to Christ that he sets forth. This makes perfectly good sense given the context. He first had to show that the law's jurisdiction must end before they can be joined to Christ--and that end only takes place through death. Now he alludes to the marriage metaphor, but totally switches around the images. In other words, the illustration was just that, not an all-inclusive doctrinal declaration!

The Jews were married to the Law. That is, they were bound to the Law, bound to the obligation the Law demanded from them, bound to maintain the Law, to keep the Law and they would be judged on their faithfulness to the Law. But when they died in Christ, the Law no longer had any hold on them, it cannot condemn them, it has been satisfied, the punishment has been rendered in full, and they now have a whole New Covenant relationship. They have a new husband, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now verses 5 and 6 are introduced by gar translated: "for" and their function is to explain verse 4 in more detail:

For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. Romans 7:5 NASB

What is "in the flesh"? I remember in my early days of Christianity when someone got angry or lied or did something sinful, we would say, "they are in the flesh," meaning their flesh, which we viewed as sinful, was controlling them. For Paul to be "in the flesh" is to be in Adam, it is walking according to the written code. It is the opposite of being in the Spirit.

Paul speaks of being "in the flesh" here as a past experience. Paul followed the Hebrew understanding when using the term "flesh." He made use of its wide variety of meanings and applied the term in differing contexts to support what he was teaching. He made particular use of the term when writing of the frailty of man as well as of his solidarity to his representative head, Adam. What Paul did not do was use "flesh" in the Greek way and so teach the Roman Church it was intrinsically sinful. We must recognize that the Hellenistic meaning of "flesh" has dominated Christian thinking:

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. Romans 7:5 NIV

Here the NIV translates sarx as: "sinful nature," this is a bad translation. The Greek word "sarx," directly translated means: "flesh." This idea of a sin nature reflects more of a Greek dualism than a Hebraic understanding of Scripture. Because of this unfortunate misinterpretation of sarx the doctrine of the sinful nature or indwelling sin has been propagated.

To translate sarx as "sinful nature" assumes that the argument is about individual human experience.

Paul says, "while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law"--the imperfect tense of the verb "aroused" shows this as the pattern of the unregenerate life.

Paul says these sinful passions, "Were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death"--the body here is corporate, it is the body of Moses. The members are the individuals of the body of Moses. You did all this work, sacrifices, dietary law, feast days and all it produced was death. This is because the Old Covenant was a ministry of death (2 Corinthians 3:7).

But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. Romans 7:6 NASB

The passive voice of "released" indicates that the Lord is the One who released them from the Law, and the context shows that it was through the death of Christ (6:5-7). "Released" is the same verb used in 6:6 of the body of sin being "done away with." It means: "to render inoperative, to make null and void, to make inactive."

Their covenant with the body of Moses, with the Law, was broken by their death in Christ so that they enter into a New Covenant.

Notice the contrast between Spirit and letter. That is one of the differences between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant:

Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 NASB

Paul says that the apostles are "servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." And here Paul makes it explicit that he is talking about the "New Covenant" in Romans 7:6.

The reference to the Spirit indicates a fulfillment of salvation history in which the promises of the New Covenant are becoming a reality:

"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Jeremiah 31:31-33 NASB

We learn here that in the New Covenant the Law will no longer be external, written on stone (that's what "letter" means), but will be internal, written on the heart (verse 33). In other words, the decisive thing about the Law will no longer be that it is a demand from outside, but it will be a desire from inside.

So in Jeremiah we see the contrast between external demand, or letter, and internal desire; but Paul also talks about the "newness of the Spirit." Where do we see that connected with the New Covenant?:

"Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. Ezekiel 36:26-27 NASB

Paul is telling his Jewish brethren, "We are no longer living under the Old Covenant that only condemned due to the weakness of the flesh. But we live and serve by the Spirit of God that indwells us through this New Covenant relationship to God through Christ."

In this text Paul stresses that the Law has not died, but the believing Jews have died with respect to the Law. The Law was still in effect. The temple still stood, sacrifices were still being killed, feast days were still being celebrated. And so Paul had to teach his Jewish brothers that they had died to the Law.

When did the Mosaic Law die? I know it didn't die, but when did it come to an end? First century Jewish believers died to the Law, but in A.D. 70 the Law died with the destruction of the Jewish temple, which was the old heaven and earth:

"For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Matthew 5:18 NASB

The message is clear. Not even the smallest part of the Law will be abolished until heaven and earth passes away. If heaven and earth refers to the literal heaven and earth then the Old Covenant is still in effect, every bit of it.

Heaven and earth referred to the Jewish economy, and God shut it down forever in A.D. 70. And yet so many Christians, Gentile Christians who were never under the Law are still in bondage to much of the Old Covenant. Believers are being taught to tithe, honor the Sabbath, keep holy days, and so many other things of the Law. I heard a radio preacher say,"One who does not tithe is under the condemnation of God."

As an example of believers still hanging on to the Law, listen to what John MacArthur says in his commentary on Romans 7:1-6, "The Law lays no claim to us. This is the greatness and the glory of our salvation. Now that's a far cry from saying we have no obligation to keep the Law."

"To be free from the Law is to be free from its penalty, not free from its morality, its spirituality, its holiness, its righteousness, nor its goodness. The Law is still binding on us and sanctification comes as we hear, understand, obey the Law."

This is a total misunderstanding of this text. The Law was never binding on us. We were never under the Law. To be under the Law is to be under all of it. The Law is viewed as a unit or as a whole. James said that anyone who breaks one point of the Law, breaks the whole Law. The Mosaic Law is a unit. It exists as a unit or not at all.

I'm sure you have heard that the Law was divided into three categories: moral, judicial (civil), and ceremonial. This started with Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) back in the 13thcentury, and most Christians seem to have adopted this division. The problem with this is that there is nothing in Scripture to support the idea that the Law should be divided into three parts, such as the ceremonial Law, the civil Law, and the moral Law. Most teach that God has done away with the ceremonial and civil aspects of the Law, but not with the moral aspect of the Law. Such a distinction is not drawn anywhere in the Scriptures. The Law is gone, fulfilled, not binding on any believer today.

Let me close this morning with Paul's words to the Galatians:

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 NASB

"Keep standing firm"--is from the Greek word steko. It is a military term, which has the idea of being at point in a war, to be stabilized. It was used of a solider who would not budge from his post.

Paul is not telling the Galatians to stand fast in holiness, we would expect that. Or to stand fast in righteousness, which we also would expect. But he tells them to stand fast in freedom or liberty. It is liberty that they are to guard and defend. Believers, we are to guard our freedom, we are to defend our liberty in Christ!

Believers, we are free! Don't let anyone put you in bondage.

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