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Romans 7, Part 1

Nov 09, 2010

Having established that redemption causes a slave to change masters, Paul then illustrates this in terms of marriage. An Old Covenant marriage, of course, was (and still is) a domestic form of slavery, because the wife takes a vow of submission and obedience. This contrasts with a New Covenant marriage, which seeks agreement, rather than obedience.

(1) 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? (2) 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 her husband.

It is self-evident that the marriage vow is no longer applicable when the husband dies. The vow is not an unending vow of submission, but is limited by mortality.

(3) 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.

It is understood, of course, that a widow is free to remarry, because the law does not compel her to keep her vow to a dead man. Paul says "she is free from the law." This does not mean that all widows may steal or commit murder. Paul was teaching that the widow was free from the marriage covenant itself, along with its vow of obedience. In other words, the law would not hold her accountable if she remarried--even though she had previously vowed to have an exclusive relationship with her previous husband.

Paul was using this example of law, not to show that a person is free from all laws, but from a specific law dealing with marriage. Hence, no widow has the right to worship other gods, or to dishonor her parents, or to covet or steal. The Emphatic Diaglott is clearer than the NASB, so we will quote Romans 7:4 from that version:

(4) Therefore, my brethren, you also were put to death by the Law, through the body of Anointed One, in order that you may belong to another--to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit to God.

Here Paul overlays the types, because we are treated not only as the Bride but also as the Body of Christ. This makes it somewhat confusing in a discussion of marriage, since we seem to be both the Husband and the Bride. The confusion is resolved, however, when we understand that the purpose of marriage in Gen. 2:24 was to "become one flesh." This unity of agreement is one of the original mysteries of Scripture, and Paul utilizes this mystery in Rom. 7:4.

Paul says that we were "put to death by the Law through the body of the Anointed One (Christ)." That is, when Christ died, we too died, because we are part of His Body. How is it that Christ was put to death? It was because the Law had condemned sinners to death, and Christ paid the penalty of the Law on behalf of sinners. By the principle of marriage and identification with Him, we--the Bride--died with Him, because we are "one flesh" with Him.

Likewise, we have been raised from the dead with Him and are a "new creature." 2 Cor. 5:17 says,

(17) Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

Because of this, Paul says again in Rom. 7:4, we are able to "bear fruit for God." There is a double meaning in this, for we are to bear the fruit of the Spirit, even as marriage produces children.

Take note also that we are the ones who have died, having been killed by the Law in its sentence upon Christ. It is not the Law that died, but we the people. Paul says, "You also were put to death by the Law." Does this make the Law an evil thing? God forbid! Nonetheless, the Law did present a problem to us, as it does for every sinner. But God devised a plan by which we could be saved in spite of the Law's decree and without violating the Law or setting it aside.

Paul's main point is to show that our death has set us free from the marriage vow that Israel made at Mount Sinai, which had bound us to obedience under the terms of the Old Covenant. Hence, the blessing of God no longer depends upon our obedience, but upon our faith, by which we identify with Christ in His death and resurrection.

(5) 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. (6) But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that [vow] by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

So now Paul ties this example to his previous discussion in chapter 6. Our old Adamic man has died, and the New Man now lives to bear fruit unto God. While the old man in us was still alive, we were "in the flesh" and "the sinful passions...were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death."

However, now that the Law has put us to death--that is, the Law has killed the old Adam--we are now free to bring forth the fruit that God has required from the beginning. We are no longer trying to beat the Old Adam into submission and force him to be obedient in order to be saved. Instead, we have put him to death, and a New Creation Man has arisen to fulfill what the Old Adam could never do.

The Old Covenant marriage vow of obedience is no longer the precondition of our justification. Through the New Covenant, we have been "released from the Law, having died to that VOW by which we were bound." The Law could not release us from our vow, because we (in the loins of Israel) had taken a solemn oath before God to be obedient. Only death could release us from that vow. We did die and are now raised from the dead to be joined with Christ in a New Covenant relationship.

The fruit of this marital relationship will fulfill the terms of the Birthright to "be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28).

Paul must have known that some would misunderstand him, thinking that he was putting away the Law as if it were something evil. So he immediately raises the objection and answers it.

(7) What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin, except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, "You shall not covet."

Paul shows us once again that the purpose of the Law was not to save us but to define sin. It was to show us the things that go contrary to the mind of God, His character, and His will. This is consistent with his earlier statement in Rom. 3:20, "through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." Some have turned even this into an evil thing, claiming that it is not good to have a knowledge of sin. They say that they do not want to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, claiming that it is better to eat only from the tree of life. In other words, ignorance is bliss.

While such interpretations sound good, they contradict Paul's teaching. It is not harmful to know that covetousness is sin. Knowing this fact does, indeed, make us more accountable to God than others who remain ignorant of the Law. But the solution is not to remain in ignorance of God's will and character. Neither is the solution to cast aside the Law as if it were to be abhorred, as some have taught. The solution is to grow in the knowledge of His righteous character, and to do this we must live by every word that comes out of His mouth (Matt. 4:4). Only then can we say that we truly know Him.


This is the first part of a series titled "Romans 7." To view all parts, click the link below.

Romans 7


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Dr. Stephen Jones


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