WE CAN SERVE GOD IN A NEW WAY THROUGH THE SPIRIT SINCE
WE HAVE DIED TO THE CLAIMS OF THE LAW AND ARE NOW MARRIED TO CHRIST
Frank Thielman: In 7:1–25 Paul will address why the believer is no longer “under law” (6:14–15) from the perspective both of the law’s action on the individual sinner and from the perspective of God’s purposes for the law in history. He will explain in 7:1–6 how the law causes the trespass to increase and state that the era of the Mosaic law has given way, in God’s purposes, to the era of the Spirit’s outpouring, just as the law and the prophets testified.
Main Idea: Like a wife whose husband has died and who is now free from her legal obligation to remain faithful to her former husband, believers are free from the law. Their union with the crucified and risen Christ has released them from life “under law” in two senses. First, they are no longer under the power of the law, as sin used it to generate even more sin in their lives, and, second, they are no longer under the Mosaic law because the new outpouring of the Spirit through the gospel has signaled that the Mosaic law’s work is finished. . .
Paul makes two points in this passage, both of them about the Mosaic law.
- First, Christians now live in a new stage of salvation history in which the Mosaic law’s rule over God’s people has ended. This freedom has come to Christians through their union with Christ’s death and resurrection.
- Second, the Spirit has freed Christians from the tendency of the law to increase human rebellion against God and has empowered them to live in ways that are productive and useful for the service of God.
Douglas Moo: The negative effect of the Mosaic law has been a recurring motif in Romans. Paul has argued that possession of the law did not improve Israel’s situation before the Lord. For it is not possession of the law but obedience that counts, and Israel failed to fulfill the law (2:12–13, 17–24). As a result, the law is unable to justify a person (3:20, 28). In fact, the overall impact of the law on Israel has been negative: It stirs up consciousness of sin (3:20), brings wrath (4:15), and increases trespass (5:20). If Christians are to be free from sin, they must therefore also be taken out from under the law’s binding authority (6:14–15).
In 7:1–6 Paul gathers up these points into a section that directly addresses the negative effects of the Mosaic law and its relationship to believers. Arising directly from the “not under law, but under grace” contrast of 6:14–15, these verses assert that Christians have been set free from the binding authority of the Mosaic law (7:4, the center). Verses 1–3 lead up to this central point with a general principle and illustration; verses 5–6 provide further explanation and elaboration.
I. (:1) THE AXIOM = BASIC PRINCIPLE – LAW HAS JURISDICTION THROUGHOUT LIFE
“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?”
Frank Thielman: Although Paul himself considered the Jewish Scriptures to be authoritative (1:2), he has made several surprising comments in his argument so far about a central part of those Scriptures, the Mosaic law. He has said that God disclosed his righteousness apart from the Mosaic law (3:20), that the Mosaic law brings God’s wrath (4:15), that when it “slipped in” to history, it actually caused the violation of its own precepts to increase (5:20), and that believers are no longer “under law” just as they are no longer under the rule of sin (6:14–15). By the end of his discussion of the ethical consequences of the believer’s union with Christ (6:1–23), a discussion generated by his comments in 5:20 and 6:14, the pressure on Paul to explain how he could say these things about the law has increased to the breaking point. . .
In 7:1 Paul states a basic principle concerning the reach of the law that illustrates the main point of the passage. This principle is that a death has ended the power of the law over them. . .
The phrase “under law” (ὑπὸ νόμον) in Greek most naturally means “under the power of the law,” and Paul continues to think of the law here as something that exercises power over people, like a political figure who “rules as lord” (κυριεύω) over others (cf. 6:9, 14). Paul had said in 6:9 that death no longer “rules as lord” over the risen Christ, nor does it rule, he implies, over those who are united by faith with the risen Christ. He had said in 6:14 that sin should not rule as Lord over believers because they are no longer “under law,” and now he says clearly what 6:14 implied: the law also no longer rules as Lord over believers. [speaking of the Mosaic Law]
II. (:2-3) THE ANALOGY = MARRIAGE CONTRACT —
THE LIBERATING PRINCIPLE OF DEATH –
DEATH RELEASES US FROM THE CLAIMS OF THE LAW
A. Essence of the Marriage Contract
“For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living;”
Frank Thielman: The term “married” (ὕπανδρος) carried the nuance of subjection, by law or custom, to a man’s power (ὑπό + ἀνδρός) and was often used in discussions of a husband’s exclusive sexual rights to his wife (Prov 6:24, 29 [LXX]; Sir 9:9; 41:23; Polybius, Histories 10.26.3). The notion of subjection that the term conveyed suited Paul’s understanding of the law as a power that held people in subjection (cf. 7:6).
Both the present participle (ζῶντι [“living”]) and the perfect indicative (δέδεται [“is bound”]) communicate the permanence of the marriage bond for the woman while her husband is alive.
B. End of the Marriage Contract at Death
“but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband.”
C. Essence of Adultery
- When Adultery Exists
“So then if, while her husband is living, she is joined to another man,
she shall be called an adulteress;”
- When Adultery Doesn’t Exist
“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.”
Douglas Moo: Verses 2–3 are sometimes taken as an allegorical illustration of verse 4. The woman whose husband dies, freeing her from the “law of marriage,” is like the Christian who “dies to the law.” As the death of her husband allows her to marry another man, so the Christian’s death to the law allows him or her to “belong to another,” Jesus Christ. But to make the allegory work, some juggling with the parallels has to be done. In the illustration it is the death of the husband that brings freedom, but in the application the believer, not the law (= the first husband), dies. Various more or less ingenious attempts to make the allegory work have been proposed, but it is simpler to think of verses 2–3 not as an allegory but as an illustration of the point of verse 1 with some application to verse 4. Paul simply wants to show that a death can indeed bring freedom from the law; at the same time, he hints that such freedom can also lead to a new relationship.
Bob Deffinbaugh: No illustration is without its shortcomings, and this one is no exception. The analogy of the married woman does not precisely correspond to the death of the Christian to the Law, for the Christian died, but in the case of the married woman, it was her husband who died. Nevertheless, the point is clear. We died in Christ to sin and to the impossible demands of the Law which condemned us to death. Our death and resurrection in Christ has freed us from the jurisdiction and authority of the Law, and we are now free to choose another master, the Lord Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, to bear fruit unto God. How foolish to return to slavery to the Law and sin! How delightful the thought of servitude to God!
And so we see the implications of our death, burial and resurrection in Christ. We are released from the Law as a cruel taskmaster. We are free to become the servants of God.
S Lewis Johnson: Now we’re in the section in which he has been showing us how to be saved from the power of sin in our daily lives. Since only Christ can live the Christian life we need him. And Paul’s words are designed to show us how we have him. He’s talking about union, judicial union, in the first part of chapter 6, moral union in the later part of chapter 6, marital union here, spiritual or dynamic union, a union with the Holy Spirit involved in the first part of chapter 8, and in fact, we in one sense may go on and speak of the later part of the chapter as expressive of an eternal union because of the words the apostle speaks there. The figure that Paul has chosen in this part of Romans to express this particular relationship, this relationship of sanctification, both the process and particularly the union on which it is based is the figure of marriage, because the aim of natural life is the establishment of a home with a family. And so our marriage to our Lord Jesus Christ is designed to have spiritual significance that corresponds to the natural realm.
III. (:4) THE APPLICATION TO BELIEVERS REGARDING OUR DEATH TO THE LAW AND REMARRIAGE TO CHRIST –
WE HAVE DIED TO THE LAW THROUGH CHRIST WHO HAS GIVEN US A NEW AND FRUITFUL MARRIAGE
A. Reality: Believers Have Died to the Law
“Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law”
Died to the claims of the law –
- the law claims/demands perfection from us
- the law says we are guilty
- the law condemns us
Frank Thielman: In accord with the principle that people are only under the law’s authority while they are alive (7:1), and just as in marriage law a widow does nothing wrong if she lives with a second husband (7:2–3), so the Roman Christians have been released from the law’s power over them and empowered to live in ways that are pleasing to God. This has happened through their union with Christ who both died for their sins and was raised from the dead so that they might live productive lives in service to God. . .
Because believers are united with Christ, like Christ they have both died and are alive in a new way (cf. 6:1–14). Their death with Christ has broken the law’s power over them, and their new life in union with Christ and empowered by the Spirit enables them to serve God.
B. Instrumentation – How Did We Die to the Law
“through the body of Christ,”
C. Purpose = Remarriage to Christ
“that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead,”
- Personal Relationship (not primarily about rules)
- Intimate Relationship (true union)
- Powerful Relationship
John Murray: Verse 4, therefore, is the unfolding of the way in which grace in contrast with law takes effect unto our deliverance from the dominion of sin. Law, as we found (6:14), confirms and seals our bondage to sin. As long as law governs us there is no possibility of release from the bondage of sin. The only alternative is discharge from the law. This occurs in our union with Christ in his death, because all the virtue of Christ’s death in meeting the claims of the law becomes ours and we are free from the bondservice and power of sin to which the law had consigned us. . .
Discharge from the law is not an end in itself; it is directed to a positive end. This is another way of setting forth what has been repeatedly noted in this part of the epistle, that union with Christ in his death must never be severed from union with him in his resurrection. Here, however, the stress falls not merely on union with Christ in his resurrection but upon union with him as the one who has been raised from the dead. It is union with him, therefore, not only in the virtue and power of that historical event but union with him now and forever in that identity that belongs to him as the resurrected Lord. We can hardly suppress the application at this point of the permanency of the bond after the analogy of the marriage bond. “Christ being raised from the dead dies no more” (6:9) and this immortality seals the indissolubility of this marital bond (cf. Eph. 5:22–32). The end served by this union is that we may bring forth fruit to God (cf. 6:22), fruit that is acceptable to God and redounds to his glory, a consideration directed against all licentious abuse of the doctrine that we are not under law but under grace.
John Toews: A transfer of reigns and dominion has occurred. Jewish Christians have exchanged the reign of Sin, 5:21a, for the reign of Grace, 5:21b. They no longer belong to Adam and his people but to Christ and his people. They are not under law but under grace so that they may bear fruit for God.
D. Ultimate Goal
“that we might bear fruit for God.”
Frank Thielman: The “fruit” imagery may be a continuation of the marriage imagery since marriage naturally yields the “fruit” of offspring, but in any case it certainly refers back to the ethical fruit of 6:22 that results in “sanctification.” As believers, united with the risen Christ and freed from sin’s use of the law to condemn them and engender further rebellion in them, Paul’s audience is now free to live in the way that God intended his people to live—as Christ’s sanctified, beautiful bride, without spot, wrinkle, or blemish (Eph 5:26–27; cf. 1 Cor 6:15–17; 2 Cor 11:2).
John Stott: whether ‘fruit’ means ‘children’ or not, all are agreed that the result of being released from the law and joined to Christ is holy living, not antinomian license. For becoming a Christian involves a radical change of allegiance. At the end of chapter 6 our two slaveries were contrasted. At the beginning of chapter 7 it is our two marriages, death dissolving the first and so permitting the second. Both metaphors speak of our new freedom to serve, which is the topic to which Paul now comes.
IV. (:5-6) THE ANALYSIS — CONTRAST BETWEEN LIFE IN THE FLESH AND LIFE UNITED TO CHRIST
A. (:5) Life in the Flesh – Our Old Marriage to the Law Aroused Sinful Desires that Produced Fruit Leading to Death
“For while we were in the flesh,”
Frank Thielman: “in the flesh” — existence prior to union with Christ’s death and resurrection. This is existence, then, before God has broken sin’s dominion over the believer (3:20; 6:19).
John Murray: “Flesh” in this ethically depreciatory sense means “human nature as controlled and directed by sin”. . . And neither are we to suppose that “flesh”, when conceived of as sinful, derives this character from the physical. Sin does not arise from our bodily or physical being, and flesh when used simply of the physical as distinguished from the psychical has no evil connotation. It is when “flesh” is used in an ethical sense that it takes on this sinful quality. With that meaning it is used frequently, especially by Paul (8:4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13; 13:14; I Cor. 5:5; II Cor. 10:2; Gal. 5:13, 17, 19, 24; 6:8; Eph. 2:3; Col. 2:11, 18, 23; II Pet. 2:10, 18; Jude 23). “Flesh” when used in this sense has no good or even neutral associations; it is unqualifiedly evil. Hence when Paul speaks of having been “in the flesh” he is referring to that period when sin exercised the dominion and is equivalent to saying “when we were in sin”.
- Operation of Sinful Passions
“the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law,
were at work in the members of our body”
Frank Thielman: Anytime people are faced with the will of God, whether in the law or the gospel, and decide to assert their independence from God instead of trusting his word, they are acting out the principle that Paul articulates here.
Thomas Schreiner: The shocking statement in Rom. 7:5 is that such desires for sin were aroused by the law (τὰ διὰ τοῦ νόμου ἐνηργεῖτο). The typical Jewish view was that the law helped to prevent people from sinning. Paul contends that the law aids and abets sin, that sin is provoked and stimulated by means of the law. Jewish history supports Paul’s contention, for under the law Israel ended up in exile because of its sins. The point of this discussion is now clear: Cranfield’s view (1975: 336, 338) that Paul is referring only to the condemnation of the law is not comprehensive enough. Paul is also thinking of the law as a power that wields influence over human beings and exercises control by abetting sin.
Bruce Hurt: Sinful passions then describe those overwhelming impulses to think and do evil, which characterize those who are “in the flesh” (Ep 2:3), but which obviously can also affect true believers. Prior to our conversion we were ruled by sinful passions which were aroused by the law.
John Bunyan: Illustration from Pilgrim’s Progress — He describes Interpreter’s house, which Pilgrim entered during the course of his journey to the Celestial City. The parlor of the house was completely covered with dust, and when a man took a broom and started to sweep, he and the others in the room began to choke from the great clouds of dust that were stirred up. The more vigorously he swept, the more suffocating the dust became. Then Interpreter ordered a maid to sprinkle the room with water, with which the dust was quickly washed away. Interpreter explained to Pilgrim that the parlor represented the heart of an unsaved man, that the dust was original sin, the man with the broom was the law, and the maid with the water was the gospel. His point was that all the law can do with sin is to stir it up. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can wash it away.
“to bear fruit for death.”
B. (:6) Life United to Christ – Our Death to the Law Frees us to Serve God in a New Way through the Spirit
- Release from the Law’s Oppressive Power
“But now we have been released from the Law,”
Frank Thielman: They have been released, then, from sin’s use of the law to generate even more rebellion against God than would have been the case had they never encountered the law (4:15; 5:13, 20). . . Here, then, Paul speaks of the believer’s release from the oppressive constraint that the law places on unbelievers when sin uses the law as a tool to engender further rebellion against God.
- Death to Bondage to the Law
“having died to that by which we were bound,”
- Service in Newness of the Spirit Contrasted with Oldness of the Letter
a. Newness of the Spirit
“so that we serve in newness of the Spirit”
Frank Thielman: As the terms “newness” and “oldness” hint, Paul describes here not merely a contrast between two modes of existence, one before and one after conversion, but also a contrast between two periods in salvation history, the present period dominated by the lavish outpouring of God’s Spirit on his people (cf. 5:5) and the prior period dominated by the rule of the Mosaic law among God’s people.
Thomas Schreiner: the reference to the Spirit indicates a fulfillment of salvation history in which the promises of the new covenant are becoming a reality (Jer. 31:31–34; Ezek. 36:26–27). The contrast between “newness” and “oldness” here also signifies the disjunction between the two covenants (Käsemann 1980: 190). The genitives πνεύματος (Spirit) and γράμματος (letter) could be understood appositionally, “newness in the Spirit” and “oldness in the letter.” They are more likely both genitives of source, “newness that has its origin in the Spirit” and “oldness that stems from the letter” (D. Moo 1991: 445).
Bruce Hurt: In newness – In an atmosphere or environment that has never existed. “Breathe in” this newness. Walk in this newness. Serve in this newness. Remember you now exist in the sphere of newness of the Holy Spirit and don’t foolishly fall into the trap of volitionally (you make the choice) placing yourself back up under the law in any form (especially those things that ostensibly “look good” and if carried out with the proper motive and “Spirit” are good).
b. Oldness of the Letter
“and not in oldness of the letter.”
- We have been brought to life and are now able to live for God
- Dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit is the key to freedom
- Serving God will result from this new marriage relationship to Christ
Bruce Hurt: Oldness (palaiotes from palaios = old in the sense of worn out, decrepit, useless) describes obsoleteness, antiquatedness or oldness. Palaiotes describes one’s characteristic state of being obsolete (or superseded). Romans 7:6 (the only use in Scripture) describes God’s “planned” obsolescence regarding the law.
John Murray: having died to the law and having been thus discharged from it, believers no longer serve in the servitude which law ministers but in the newness of the liberty of which the Holy Spirit is the author (cf. Gal. 3:3).