Freedom from the Law (Exposition of Romans 7:1-6)

What does it mean to be free from the law? Are we free to sin? In Romans 7:1-6, the apostle Paul explains, illustrates and applies his teaching that Christians are free from the law.

Or do you not know, brothers–for I am speaking to those who know the law–that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? (2) Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. (3) Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. (4) Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. (5) For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. (6) But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit. ESV
 

Freedom from the Law Explained, v. 1.
Notice the connection between knowing and sanctification (see 6:3, 6, 8, 11, 16; and 7:1). In 6:3, Paul questions the Romans understanding of their baptism’s significance. In 6:16, Paul questions their understanding of slavery. Here in 7:1, Paul questions the Romans knowledge of the law’s jurisdiction. The experiential living of the Christian life must be grounded in theology. We must know the Word of God in order to live the Christian life.

Paul here refers to their common knowledge that the law can only rule over a man as long as he lives. In other words, death brings an end to a person’s relationship to the law. The law’s penalty can no longer be inflicted after the death of an individual. The stiffest penalty that can be given by the law is the death penalty. Therefore the one who has died has already fulfilled the law’s ultimate penalty!

There was a common saying of the Jewish rabbis of Paul’s day that he may be referring to here. It says that “if a person is dead, he is free from the Torah and the fulfilling of the commandments” (Moo, 412).

Freedom from the law is equivalent to freedom from sin. The terms are used synonymously in the parallel passages of 6:7 and 7:6 (see also 6:14). There are two distinct spheres or realms observable in Romans 5-7. The first is the realm of sin, where a person is in Adam, under the law and in the flesh. The second is the realm of righteousness, where a person is in Christ, under grace and in the spirit.

Remember that freedom from sin means freedom from sin’s penalty because that penalty has already been paid by our death with Christ (see Romans 6:1-14). The law is the reason there is a death penalty because of sin. Therefore to be free from sin’s penalty is identical to freedom from the law.

Freedom from the Law Illustrated, vv. 2-3.
Paul uses an illustration that would have been very familiar to his audience. Although this illustration would have been immediately understandable to Paul’s first century readers, it has become much less so in our day. This is because of the prominence and acceptance of legalized “no-fault” divorce in our day, even among Christians.

In fact in our day, traditional marriage vows are being changed. No longer do many brides and grooms promise to stay together “till death do us part.” Instead the London Times is reporting that:

American brides are rejecting the vow to love “till death do us part” in favour of more cautious promises such as one to stay together “for as long as our marriage shall serve the common good”.

Similarly FOXNews.com has recently reported that:

Vows like “For as long as we continue to love each other,” “For as long as our love shall last” and “Until our time together is over” are increasingly replacing the traditional to-the-grave vow. 

In light of these recent developments it is necessary to reaffirm the Biblical teaching on marriage that we might understand the point of Paul’s illustration. Marriage is for one man and one woman for one lifetime. The biblical position could not be stated any clearer. Marriage was designed by God at creation and involves a one-flesh union between a man and a woman that is not dissolved until death.

Divorce is never according to God’s original plan! As Christians we should never consider for ourselves or counsel others to divorce. However, I do believe that there are biblical grounds for divorce. Jesus refers to an exception for sexual immorality in Matthew 5:32. The apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7 that if an unbeliever departs (refuses to stay with a person who has become a Christian) the believer is free to remarry. Even where divorce has occurred for unbiblical reasons there can be forgiveness (Divorce is not the unpardonable sin.). If you’re in an abusive situation. If you’re being beat by your husband then you need to get out of the house where you will be safe. Alert the proper authorities, seek help for him and later reconciliation.

However, most divorces today are simply for convenience sake. These are not legitimate biblical grounds and in those cases divorce must be avoided. Remember the general principle of one man and one woman for one life.

It should be noted that the primary point of this passage is not to teach about divorce and remarriage. Scripture says much more about this topic than is found in this text. Paul is using a common understanding of the nature of marriage to make his point about the Christian life.

Freedom from the Law Applied, vv. 4-6.
Paul now drives his point home in vv. 4-6. The point is that as believers we died with Christ. This is what Paul stated repeatedly in Romans 6 (vv. 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8). How can a dead person marry another?

Last year (2004), a French bride was married to her dead boyfriend. The AP news story of 2-10-04 reported that:

The deceased groom, a former policeman identified as Eric was not present at the ceremony. He was killed by a drunk driver in September 2002. 

This marriage required the approval of the French president. The bride said her fiance’s absence from her life had not dimmed her feelings for him.

Is this the kind of marriage that the apostle Paul is referring to in this verse? Not at all! Remember that Christ’s death was followed by a resurrection! Just as we were united with Christ in His death, so also were we united with Him in His resurrection. Therefore the resurrected “you” and the resurrected Christ were married after that your death with Christ broke the bond of unholy matrimony between you and the law!

This bond of holy matrimony between the resurrected “you” and the resurrected Christ will never be broken because neither Christ nor you will ever die (See Romans 6:9 and John 11:26).
The purpose of this union is that fruit should be produced (compare 6:22).

Now Paul contrasts our state before conversion “when we were in the flesh” in v. 5 with our present state after conversion “delivered from the law” in v. 6.

  • In our old life: the law because of the weakness of our flesh produced sin that resulted in the judgement of death (in Adam, under the law, under the reign of sin, in the flesh).
  • In our new life: being free from the law we serve God in the newness of the Spirit (not in the oldness of the letter that only produced more sin).

Let’s return to Paul’s illustration of marriage by contrasting two marriages:

The first was an arranged marriage, not established by love, but rules. The first husband is a cruel taskmaster with many laws, but no love. He beats the wife and forces her to clean the house, cook meals, wash clothes, etc. Then one day, the first husband dies. The woman is then free from the tyranny of her first husband! Soon afterward she meets another man whom she begins to live. One day he proposes to her and she accepts. The second marriage is based completely on love. The wife still cooks, sews, cleans the house, takes care of the kids, etc., but not because of rules. She serves her new husband out of love.

This is what has happened to us. We were under the tyranny of the law in a covenant union. But one day we died to that law and were resurrected to walk in newness of life by virture of our union with Christ. Now we serve Christ out of love, not because we’re under the law!

This new marriage described in this passage is nothing other than the new covenant witnessed to by the Old Testament prophets! In Jeremiah 31:31-34 we read:

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. 

Then in Ezekiel 36:26-27, in words more similar to Romans 7:6, we read:

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.  

We no longer serve according to the letter of the law, but in newness of the Spirit!

So we sing together this words:

I will serve thee because I love thee.
You have given life to me.
I was nothing before you found me.
You have given life to me. 

Heartaches, broken pieces,
ruined lives are why you died on Calvary.
Your touch is what I longed for.
You have given life to me.

words by Bill Gaither

 

3 comments

  1. “Free from the law, O happy condition,” the hymn says. Free to become a slave to Christ. Free to die to self and live for Christ.

    Good study!

  2. I recently preached on christian liberty (Galatians 5), and brought the point that we (natural man) were incapable to serve God, being in bondage. Our liberty is one to love, obey, & serve the King of Kings. As scripture says…we are laborers together with Him. What a glorious thought. Your posts are appreciated.

  3. Once again “dogpreacher”, I believe you’re right on. Not just because you agree with me (but it doesn’t hurt). Thanks for taking the time to peruse my site and express your opinion. You’re welcome to disagree also!

    Blessings,
    Steve

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