MESSAGE FROM ROMANS 7:1-6 FOR MAY 23, 1999
Last week, we did a broad overview of the first six chapters of Romans to get us up to speed for chapter seven. This morning we need to first take a little closer look at just chapter six before we begin our treatment of chapter seven. In chapter six, Paul makes the point that anyone who is in Christ has had their relationship to sin radically altered. What Christ did in his death and resurrection has forever changed the way believers have to relate to sin. Before a person becomes a believer, sin ruthless rules their life, but after a person is converted, they can live above the controlling power of sin. The nature of this change in relationship to sin is in verse two, “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” When Christ died on the cross, he broke the power of sin. And those who were united with him and died with Him share in the victory over sin’s power. We were not only united with Him in His death, but also his resurrection. Just as Christ was raised from the dead, (verse 4) “we too may live a new life,” a life where sin no longer dominates us.
Paul says we apply this change in our relationship to sin the same way we apply any of Christ’s work on the cross--through faith. Christ has broken sin’s power—how do we enjoy and live out that change in our lives? He says in verse 11, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” We must by faith accept and live out the truth that we no longer have to be under sin’s enslaving power. We must daily declare that, in spite of its strong pull, the only power sin has over us is the power we give it! Before SIN chose what we would do, how we would live. Now, WE have, through the cross, the freedom to choose how we will live. Do we believe that—when we are faced with the temptations of sin day in and day out—is that the way we respond to sin’s pull? This is what Christ purchased for us.
Much of the time, we just don’t believe sin’s power has been defeated—it still seems so strong. Let me illustrate how the power of sin can, at one and the same time, be defeated and also seem so menacingly strong. This illustration is not original with me. Our relationship to the power of sin is similar to the relationship seen between two opponents in a chess tournament. At some point in the game, the winning player moves his pieces in such a way that the other player, no matter what moves he makes, will lose. It’s a hopeless cause. The game may continue for a short time. He still has a limited number of moves before his fate is finalized, but his doom is sealed—there is absolutely no hope of a comeback, the die is cast. When the winning player concludes his opponent is defeated, he rises from the table and leaves the vanquished player alone to squirm and come to the same conclusion. That is, that it is a waste of time for him to play it out and it is best for him just to concede. If the player has sense, he will at that point concede the game.
That scenario illustrates what happened to Satan and the power of sin at the cross. The cross was God’s mortal blow to Satan and the power of sin. After the cross, the Father (figuratively speaking) rose from the table and left Satan to ponder the situation. No matter what he did, he was soundly beaten. Well, unlike a gracious, defeated chess master, Satan is a sore loser and he’s a liar. He knows the game is over. He knows that for those who are in Christ, he no longer has any legal right to control them, but as the father of lies he does his best to make the church believe that the power of sin is not only still in the game but its still in control of the game. And for those believers who are not walking by faith, accepting the glorious truth of Christ’s and their own death to sin, he can exert enormous influence, even though he has absolutely no legal right to. The church of Christ desperately needs to believe the truth of Christ’s victory over sin’s power and with the Lord, get up from the table and tell the power of sin, “I don’t have to play your game anymore. You can stay there as long as you want and pretend you’re not defeated, but I don’t have to allow you to be the controlling influence in my life any longer—you are defeated. I’m free to walk with God”
This is just what Paul says we are to do in light of this victory in 6:12—“Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather [rise from the table and] offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” In other words, now that you have this freedom, here’s how to use it—when sin comes knocking, because of what Christ has done for you, you don’t have to open the door. It may not FEEL like you have that power to resist sin’s power, but faith doesn’t rest on feelings but on the fact that the shed blood of Jesus has given you that power over sin and you don’t have to cave in to it.
The second half of chapter six is an explanation of what it means to live out from under the control of sin through Christ. With that as background, let’s look at Romans 7:1-3 before moving to verses four through six later. Paul says, “Do you not know, brothers--for I am speaking to men who know the law--that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? 2For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. 3So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.
As Paul begins chapter seven, it is clear he has shifted gears. He has been talking about the broken power of sin and what that means to us but now he moves into a discussion about the law. By “the law,” he means the broad set of moral requirements God has established and which reflects his holy character. A fair question is: how is the law, (which Paul discusses from 7:1 through 8:17) related to what he has been saying about the power of sin being broken? We know Paul closely relates them because the literal translation of verse one reads, “Or do you not know, brothers…” That kind of connecting phrase forces us to see that Paul connects the broken power of sin to being released from law.
One scholar phrases it this way, “Why does Paul link the rule of sin [in chapter 6] with the rule of the law [in chapter 7]?” The answer is, for Paul the two are irrevocably connected. Paul would say, “show me a person trying to be pleasing to God by following the law apart from faith—believer or unbeliever-- and I will (without exception) show you a person who is in seemingly hopeless bondage to the power of sin.” For many Christians, one of the main reasons they are always struggling and repeatedly failing against the power of sin in a given area is because they are seeking to obey God, not by faith, as an expression of their love and worship for God. Instead, they are seeking to obey God under the law as an attempt, by their works to get God to love and accept them. Paul links sin and the law many times and we must see this relationship if we are to understand this part of Romans. The best known of these texts is probably 1 Corinthians 15:56 where he says, “…the power of sin is the law.” How can something as holy and God-authored as the law give sin its power or energy?
One answer is contained in what sin is in its essence. Sin is in essence rebellion against God. It is the sinning person’s personal expression of rebellion against God. Its not a mistake or a misjudgment—it is rebellion against God and his sovereign authority to rule over people. Now, the law is an expression of God’s character informing us what He, as the sovereign Ruler, expects of people. Now, if sin is rebellion against God, then what would energize sinful, rebellious hearts more than an expression of God’s holy character and holy expectations? The rebellious sinner, as well as that rebellious part of the saint, will react to the law the way a fire does to gasoline. The law is to sin what gasoline is to a fire. Verse five says our “sinful passions [were] aroused by the law” When under the law, we will just engulfed in the flames of sin because the law, is an expression of Who our flesh rebels against (God). Do you see the unbreakable connection between the controlling power of sin and being under the rule of the law? Because the law ignites sin, sin will be the engulfing, controlling influence in the life of anyone under the law.
This is the story of so many believers. Here is a sincere, but misguided Christian who tries to earn God’s love and acceptance of them by their obedience-what they DO--clearly an obedience under the law, not by faith. They are under the law. What happens? Well, to their dire frustration and mental anguish, the harder they try to please God under the law, the more sin they see firing off in their members—the more they weaken and fold in the face of temptations. And the reason is (getting back to our point) when they place themselves under the law, they have also placed themselves under the power of sin because the law ignites rebellion against God. So there is no disconnect for Paul between chapter six and the tyranny of sin and 7:1-8:17 and the tyranny of being under the law.
Let’s give another reason why being under the law (4:15) “brings wrath” and can never bring righteousness. This reason has to do with why God would never set up a system of service to Him rooted in obedience under the law. If you are trying to be pleasing to God or lovable to God by what you can do for him, your underlying presupposition is, “I am capable of performing in some way or doing something that meet God’s standard.” If that were true, it would stand in direct contradiction to what Paul says in chapter three about the depth of our depravity. His very point is that we are so totally saturated with sin, that we can in no way be acceptable to God except through Christ.
You see, trying to be acceptable to God by what WE do is inherently self-centered and arrogant. It places the emphasis on what I can do for God and the result is, since I have done this for God, I get the credit--I earn something. This, God will NEVER allow. Conversely, faith is inherently God-centered. The person of faith has abandoned their hope of pleasing God and looks to One outside themselves, God—they place their faith in Him and His work through Christ. When obedience is given under faith, God gets the glory. This, and this alone will God honor.
I give that lengthy background to this text for two reasons. First, we don’t need to go into great depth in 7:1-6 because these verses are an introduction to the rest of this section. That is, this text introduces the main themes, which we will look at more in depth as Paul, later on in the chapter, provides a more in-depth treatment of the tyranny of being under the law. In addition to that, there are so many people in the church who are living under the law, it is healthy to repeatedly proclaim these liberating truths. The basic implicit truth of this text is: To be under the law of God is to be in a state of spiritual slavery. In verses 1-6. Paul makes two underlying points. In verses one through three he says, Only death to the law through union with Christ can release us from the enslaving power of the law.
Let’s read 7:1-3 again. Do you not know, brothers--for I am speaking to men who know the law--that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? 2For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. 3So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man. Do you see Paul is using the same point about freedom from the tyranny of the law as he did freedom from the power of sin? You have to die with Christ to be free from the power of sin and the same is true to be free from the enslaving power of the law. We die to both the enslaving power of sin AND the power of the law by virtue of our union with Christ. When Christ died on that cross, we were united with him and we died to the law with Him. That is, they were released from the old way of life and transferred into the kingdom of God where the rule of law is not external or what Paul calls in verse six, “the letter” or the “written code.”
Only this death to the law through our union with Christ will set us free from its enslaving power. He states this in verse one and illustrates it in verses two and three by using the marriage covenant. Just as you are not free to marry another person until your spouse dies, so too will you never be free from the tyranny of the law until you die to its power over you.
Notice the strong words Paul uses to show what it is to be under the power of the law; words like “authority” or some translations have “jurisdiction.” Literally, to be under the authority according to this words’ meaning is to be “under the lordship of the law.” You are not free when you are under the law. He uses the words “bound” and “joined” to connote what it is to be under the law. All unredeemed sinners who are under the law are bound up this way and when we as believers begin to live our lives by trying to earn God’s approval, we too become bound up by its controlling power.
In verse four, Paul makes his main point and in verses 5-6 he explains what he means. He says, “So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. 5For 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. 6But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”
Paul’s point here could be stated, Death to the law releases a believer to live a supernaturally empowered, godly life. This death occurred through the “body of Christ” which is Paul’s way of speaking of the bodily death of Christ. When he died, we died or were released from the law’s tyranny—that’s Paul’s point.
Notice the reasons why were set free from the law. Was it so we could go to heaven? No, certainly no one is going to heaven if they are under the just condemnation of the law, but that is not Paul’s point here. Was it so believers would not have to obey the law? This is frankly the reason many people in church believe, if not by their theology, at least by their lives. Some people put it this way. “Being under the law means I am forced to obey the law, but being freed from the law means I have the freedom to decide if I want to obey God.” That is a misguided, theology and generally produces Christians who look more like the world than the bride of Christ.
The problem with being under the law is you have the righteous requirements of the law, but absolutely no way to obey the law. You have this external, letter of the law, but no enabling power to live it out. Under the new covenant of grace, we are given the Spirit who enables us to obey God. Look at verses four and six again. “So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, [WHY?] so that you might bear fruit to God.” In verse six, He explains what it means to bear fruit to God. “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law SO THAT [why have we been released?] we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not the old way of the written code.” You are called to serve or obey in whether or not you are under the law! The difference between those to calls to obedience is that NOW, those who are not under the power of the law are ABLE to bear fruit, to obey God. And, when we sin, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin.
Does God demand obedience? Of course He does. His call to not be under the law is NOT a call to be lawLESS. But the obedience he calls us to is, as he says in chapter one, verse five is the “obedience that comes from faith.” That is, an obedience that is dependent, not upon our abilities or sincerity, not an obedience that looks inward to our disqualified, tainted resources, but an obedience that looks upward to Christ. This is a Spirit-empowered obedience, which springs from a heart that has abandoned any hope of being acceptable to God on the basis of their performance.
This is an obedience rooted in the truth that they are, by God’s grace ALREADY acceptable to God by the purchase of Christ’s blood. This is an obedience which is given to God in response to what God has done for us—not an attempt to repay God, but an expression of worship to Him. This is true Christian devotion to God. This is an obedience which is fueled by the love of Christ. Charles Hodge says that to be a Christian is to be “so constrained by a sense of the love of our divine Lord to us, that we consecrate our lives to him.” John put it this way, “We love because He first loved us.” This is the obedience God desires and which Christ died and rose for. This obedience is not under the law--it is an obedience spawned in grace and which points to the grace of God, not the sufficiency of man.
Where are we this morning? Have we gotten up from the table of the controlling power of sin and by faith claimed our freedom in Christ? If we haven’t then we are allowing ourselves to be governed by a lie—the lie that Satan and sin still have the legal right to control our lives. Are you living under the law, trying to earn God’s acceptance? If you are, you will never find liberty because the law just binds you up in sin. If we can, by grace accept the fact that God loves me and accepts me just the way I am because of Christ, then that love fuel our passion for God. If we are under the law, we will never be able to experience that love and the law, not the love of Christ will constrain us. If we are not living supernaturally e empowered lives, then we have not accepted the love of God in Christ. May God give us grace to be free from the law so that we can experience his love and, fueled by that love, live supernaturally empowered, godly lives.
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