We’ve spent the last few weeks taking a look at Romans 6 and learning about slavery and freedom. We’ve learned that we are by nature slaves of unrighteousness. Paul wrote in Romans 6:17-18.
17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18 NIV)
We didn’t have to go to school to learn how to be unrighteous. We didn’t have to have someone tutor us in the lifestyle of sin. We didn’t have to apply and then go through a time of testing to see if we could live up to the title. No, we were born with a Ph.D. in unrighteousness.
This is not all that we learned from Romans 6. We also learned that through Jesus’ death on the cross, we who accept what He has done on our behalf, are freed from sin’s slavery and we become slaves to righteousness. Being a slave to sin leads to all kinds of heartache and destruction, but being a slave to righteousness, or a slave to God, leads to holiness and eternal life. Paul wrote,
22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23 NIV)
When we come to Romans 7, which we will begin studying today, Paul turns his attention to the Law. In the first six verses of Romans 7, the Apostle Paul mentions “law” eight times. If you went through all of Romans 7 and underlined every place where the word, “law,” appears you would find it twenty-three times. That should give you and me a clue that Paul is trying to teach us something important about law in regards to our relationship with God. Let’s read our Scripture for today and then we will see if we can learn something this morning.
1 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? 2 For 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. 3 So 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. 4 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. 5 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. 6 But 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. (Romans 7:1-6 NIV)
I’ve struggled all week long with this study. Not because the teaching that Paul shares with us is irrelevant. This is an amazing study that is so powerful and relevant for you and me in our walk with the Lord. The reason I’ve struggled with it is because the lessons that are contained for us in Romans 7 are rooted in an understanding and appreciation for the law. We live in a day when folks have no regard for law, much less the law of God. It is going to be difficult for you to truly understand the radical change that God has brought about in your life and mine, in the lives of all of those who have trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior of their life, unless you understand the power of God’s law and the way that the Jewish people have cherished God’s law throughout history.
Let me try to give you a crash course by looking at a few Scriptures from the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible if you will. In Deuteronomy 6:4-9 we read what Jews call “The Shema.” “Shema” means “hear” in Hebrew. This prayer is recited every morning and every evening by faithful Jews. It is the first prayer that a young child learns. It is prayed when the Torah is taken out of the Ark that holds it on Sabbath and holidays when the Jews gather to worship. What is so important about this Scripture? Listen and you will “hear.”
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NIV)
The Scripture from Deuteronomy is an affirmation that God is one and there is only one God. It is also an affirmation of the importance of the commands and decrees that God has given to His people. The law of God is so important that you are to put them on your hearts, impress them upon your children, talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. It is so important to know God’s law. You should tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads, even write them on the doorframes of your houses. Are you beginning to get it? I hope so.
I love the book of Ecclesiastes. It is a wonderful book, a wonderfully relevant book for our day. Solomon, the wisest man who has ever lived, wrote about his passion to find something meaningful in life. He explored it all and he had the money to do it. When he gets to the end of his book, he writes in Ecclesiastes 12:13,
13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13 NIV)
Solomon might have sought to find comfort or meaning in wine, women, and song, as well as many other things, but all of these things left him more empty than when he began his pursuits. After he was through searching for significance he wrote, “Here is what I’ve found out during my experiment: Fear God and keep His commandments.”
Did you know that there is an entire Psalm dedicated to praising God’s law? Turn with me to Psalm 119. This entire Psalm, the longest Psalm in the Bible is about one subject—the law of God. You will find the words, “precepts, decrees, law, commands, and word” used, but it is all about the law of God and how precious it is to God’s people. Let me read a few examples to you.
1 Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD. (Psalm 119:1 NIV)
7 I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. (Psalm 119:7 NIV)
18 Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. (Psalm 119:18 NIV)
52 I remember your ancient laws, O LORD, and I find comfort in them. 53 Indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken your law. (Psalm 119:52-53 NIV)
97 Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. (Psalm 119:97 NIV)
“Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.” You can see that there is great reverence for God’s law. The law was good. The law was God’s gift to His people and yet, at the same time, the law became a “yoke,” a burden on the backs of the people. How did something good become a burden? I’m so glad you asked. The Jews made God’s law into the means of salvation. Faithfulness to the law became more talked about than faithfulness to God. Trying to figure out the nuances and delicate intricacies of how to fulfill the law and what you could and could not do blinded the Jews to the goodness of God’s law and turned it into a heavy burden or yoke on their necks. The Jews actually called the law a “yoke.” If you don’t know what a yoke is then let me tell you that in the old days, and in many countries of the world today, a yoke was a harness that you put on animals who were getting ready to plow fields or pull stumps or do some other kind of hard labor. The faithful Jew was proud of his yoke because it was from God, but it was backbreaking work. You can even find this description of God’s law in Scripture.
In Acts 15, there was a debate at the Jerusalem Council about what the new Gentile converts would need to do to stay in good standing. There were those who wanted the Gentiles to keep the law, but Peter and Paul said that it would be wrong to do so—they were adamant that God saved by grace alone. Listen to what Peter spoke to the leaders.
8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15:8-11 NIV)
Peter reminded them that the yoke of the law was a heavy burden, a burden that none could carry. The law was given to the Jews, but the yoke of the law is not just a Jewish problem. Paul wrote in Romans 2 about the law that is written upon the hearts of all people. Read along with me.
13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) (Romans 2:13-15 NIV)
God has written His law upon our conscience and upon our hearts. We know what we should do, but we don’t do it. God’s law is good whether it is the written law given through Moses to the Jews or the law upon our hearts that God has put within every person. The law is good but some of us Gentiles have made the law upon our hearts out to be more than it was intended to be. We’ve turned “doing right” into being better than others. Ask someone if they think they will go to heaven and you are probably going to hear, “I hope so. You know I try to live a good life.” That’s not why God has put His law into our hearts. See how we can take a good thing and mess it up?
God’s law is good, but it cannot save us. The law that is written upon our hearts telling us to do right is good, but it cannot make us holy. Yet, we are under law. We feel the weight of responsibility to do right upon our shoulders. Paul says the only answer to our predicament is to die. Let me explain what I am talking about by taking a look at our Scripture for today. In verse 1, Paul writes,
1 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? (Romans 7:1 NIV)
In Romans 7, Paul takes time to help us understand that the law was not a mistake of God, but a gift from God which was given to lead us to Jesus. I hope you will be able to see that more clearly as our study unfolds. Paul is not trying to undermine the law as some had accused him of doing. Paul says, “The law has authority over a man only as long as he lives.” That’s simple to understand isn’t it? This is true for all law. Lee Harvey Oswald never went to trial for assassinating President John F. Kennedy because he was shot and killed before he could ever stand trail and suffer the consequences of his guilt. Once he died he was free from the consequences of the laws of our country. In verses 2-3, Paul gives us another example of what he is talking about. Read along with me.
2 For 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. 3 So 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. (Romans 7:2-3 NIV)
Now, I need to warn you before we try and get to the bottom of Paul’s point for us. Don’t take this illustration as the final word on marriage and divorce or as an allegory with the husband representing something and the wife representing something else. Let me explain to you what I am talking about. First of all, Paul is using the law of marriage to illustrate our being under the authority of law and how we are freed from its authority. Paul used an illustration from marriage, and the wife being under the authority of her husband, as a “real world” illustration to explain a spiritual reality.
If you want to learn everything God has to say about marriage and divorce then you will need to read some other passages as well. (Malachi 2:16; Matthew 5:31-32; 19:3-12; 1 Corinthians 7:10-15) Paul is not trying to give us a comprehensive understanding about marriage and divorce; he is merely using something that was familiar to everyone to explain a spiritual truth that was unfamiliar to most.
The other mistake that we can make is to read into Paul’s illustration an allegory. If we try to make the husband and wife representative of something different than they are then we will get into trouble with Paul’s illustration. For example, some have said that the husband is representative of the law, but that can’t be true because Paul is going to show us that we have died to the law, the law hasn’t died at all. Paul says that the woman is bound to her husband; she is under the authority of her husband, as long as he lives. If her husband dies then she is free from the law that tied her to her husband.
This is tough for many of us to understand because of several reasons. First, most people today don’t see marriage as a legal contract that is binding throughout life, but those in Paul’s day did. Secondly, most people today do not view the wife as being under the authority of her husband, subject to her husband. Thirdly, our view of marriage and divorce is light years from what Paul was familiar with in his day. It wasn’t just the biblical understanding of marriage as being a life-long commitment, Roman law had the same expectation of the marriage contract. This is why Paul used marriage to illustrate how we are under “law” for life, unless, like the husband in the illustration, we die. If we die then we are freed from our legal obligations to the law and we are free to “marry” another spouse. (if that were possible after you died!) In verse 4 Paul wrote,
4 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. (Romans 7:4 NIV)
Now, Paul says that just as the woman was freed through her husband’s death we have been freed from the law, but our freedom has come by our death. You say, “But wait a minute. I’m still alive, so how am I freed from the law and it obligations?” Wonderful question. Do you remember what Paul wrote in the beginning of Romans 6? Let me refresh your memory.
3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin– 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Romans 6:3-8 NIV)
We have died “in Christ.” Just as Adam, as the representative of all of humanity, brought judgment upon all of his offspring through his sin, so Jesus’ act of righteousness, in going to the cross and dying for our sins has brought righteousness to all who will trust in Him. Paul says, “When Jesus died, we died in Him. When He rose from the grave, we were raised with Him to a new life.”
We died and are now free from the law. We have been raised to a new life and we are free to be joined to another. Just as the wife was free to marry again once her husband died, so we are free to be joined to another now that we have died to the law. Read Romans 7:4 with me once again.
4 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. (Romans 7:4 NIV)
Who do we belong to now? We, who have placed our faith in Jesus, belong to Jesus. Why have we been united to Jesus? “In order that we might bear fruit to God.” Now there’s a thought. We’ve been freed from the law and bound to Jesus to bear fruit to God.
Can you see how this is so tied back to Romans 6? Remember, we were slaves to our sinful nature which produced unrighteousness in us, but God freed us from sin’s shackles so that we might be slaves to God—to live for His glory. In Romans 7, Paul says that we were under obligation, slaves if you will, to the law, but it could not produce righteousness or salvation. Now we are slaves to God, slaves to righteousness, and freed to produce fruit for God. Now turn with me to Romans 7:5-6.
5 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. 6 But 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. (Romans 7:5-6 NIV)
We use to bear fruit for death, but now we are serving in a new way, the way of the Spirit. Let me show you something truly amazing before we leave here this morning. Turn with me to Jeremiah 31:31-34.
31 “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. 33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34 NIV)
God promised His people that He would one day make a new covenant with them. It would be a day in which He would no longer put His laws on tablets of stone, but He would write them on their hearts. Now, turn with me to Ezekiel 36:26-27 and let’s see what God had promised long before Jesus was ever born.
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:26-27 NIV)
God promised that one day He would give His people a new heart and put a new spirit within them. God said that He would put His Spirit within His people and He would move them to follow His decrees. My friends, that day came when Jesus entered our world, suffered and died for our sins, and rose victoriously from the grave. He is not dead—He lives! Because He lives you and I can live a new life. God has given us, those who live in Christ, His Spirit to indwell us, move us, and mold us into the image of His Son.
What is the difference between living under the law and living in Christ? Well, there are many, but one huge difference is that we don’t live to follow rules, we live to follow Jesus. We live to follow Jesus. Before you think you can just live however you want to live and say that you are following Jesus let me share with you an important truth about the educational system of Jesus’ day.
In Jesus’ day, children would learn to read and write by using the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. As kids advanced through their schooling there were less and less kids who wanted to pay the price and make the sacrifices to continue. The last stage, for those who really wanted to know more and more of God’s Word was to find a rabbi and ask if you could follow him. If the rabbi said, “Yes” then you had to give up everything and follow him around day and night. The disciples were consumed with wanting to be like their rabbi. They wanted to talk like him, walk like him, read Scripture like him, etc. Is it any wonder that as John wrote his letter that he wrote these words, 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. (1 John 2:6 NIV) You can’t walk however you want to walk and say that you are following Jesus—you must walk as Jesus did.
God has called us to Himself, He has made a way for you and me, He has given His Son, He has forgiven our sin by His Son’s death on our behalf, He has joined us to His Son, and all of this is so that we might bear fruit to God. Are you bearing fruit? Is the fruit of the Spirit evident in your life today? I want to urge you to turn your life over to Jesus this very morning and trust Him. Only He can produce the fruit that God desires for you to bear for His glory.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
December 3, 2013