The Law's Sentence of Death
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. Romans 7:1, 2 says,
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It is self-evident that the marriage vow is no longer applicable when the husband dies.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 our very 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, particularly its vow of obedience. In other words, the law would not hold her accountable to her previous husband 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 Romans 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 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. Our "children" are the nine fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23).
The New Marriage Covenant is Fruitful
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, justification does not depend upon our ability to be obedient, 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. This is the fruit of a new marriage covenant. We are no longer trying to beat the Old Adam into submission and force him to be the New Creation Man. He will never have that capability. Instead, we have put him to death, and a New Creation Man has to arise 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).
Is the Law a Violation of the Mind of Christ?
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? . . .
In other words, is the Law a violation of the mind, will, and character of God? When the Law puts us to death, is this death penalty contrary to the will of God?
7 . . . 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 ignorant 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.
To know the difference between sin and righteousness is necessary to those who are called as saints to judge the world (1 Cor. 6:2). The ability to judge is the ability to discern, and it is tied directly to the spirit of discernment, or the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. Paul tells us in Heb. 5:14,
14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
Yet with this spirit of discernment comes responsibility, because the more we know God, the more we are held accountable. When we know and understand that something is a violation of the character of God, we are more accountable than one who is ignorant. This is the principle on which Paul bases his argument in Romans 7:8-10, quoting from The Emphatic Diaglott,
8 But sin having taken opportunity through the commandment, worked in me all strong desire. Apart from Law, however, sin is dead; 9 and I was formerly living apart from Law, but the commandment having come, sin lived again, and I died; 10 and that command-ment intended for Life, the same was found by me for Death.
Paul had written earlier in Rom. 4:15, that "where there is no law, neither is there violation." It is self-evident that it takes a Law to break it. Sin is a violation of Law. If all laws were repealed, the crime rate would be zero. But no one would want to live in such a country.
Even so, Christian anarchists have taught that there is no sin in the world today, because God put away the Law at the cross. They find, then, that they must further blind themselves in order to ignore the reality of sin in the world. They deny the world condition, thinking that their denial will produce the reality by means of multiple positive affirmations. Their fantasy world is broken only when a criminal kills their family, forcing them to face reality.
The Law will remain as long as there are people in the world who are not conformed to the image of Christ. Once all have been reconciled (two-way conciliation) to God, then and only then will the Law be unnecessary as legislation, because there will be no one to prosecute or hold accountable any longer. Yet even then, the character of God as expressed in the Law will continue as long as God remains the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).
The Law's Intent was to Bring Life
Paul tells us in Rom. 7:8-10 (above) that the Law was "intended for Life," but instead brought Death. Why? Because the Law could only justify the righteous, and because all have sinned, it was unable to do its intended job. Sin activates the Law (i.e., gives it life), because that is its purpose. Where there is no sin, the Law remains satisfied and dormant, so to speak.
Paul makes the point that knowledge of the Law made him accountable to God, and thus the Law killed him. Paul seems to be speaking as if he were Adam himself. Adam could not have sinned apart from the command in Gen. 2:17, "but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat."
If the Law were evil, then this original Law ought to be included in the list of "evil laws." But the fact is that God established a GOOD Law, and Adam violated it. That violation gave life to the Law, activating its judgment, and Adam died. So also with Paul. We cannot blame the Law, for the Law is not sin. God has not held the Law accountable for any sin. He has only held men accountable for sin.
11 for sin, having taken opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me.
It was not the Law that "deceived me," but sin. Sin, however, had no opportunity to kill me except through the commandment. That is, it was the violation of the commandment that gave sin the opportunity to kill me.
Some have taught that the solution, then, is to get rid of the Law. If they could just abolish or repeal all laws, then they could be perfect and inherit Life. But this is not the biblical manner of salvation. Even if it were possible to abolish the Law, how can we be joined to God, whose very character is expressed in His Law, unless we are like Him? It is one thing to be imputed righteous, but in the end, we must actually BE like Him in order to be united to Him as one body.
12 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
Not once does Paul disrespect the Law or abolish it. He affirms its righteous character as being an expression of the mind of Christ.
13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather, it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
Paul says that it was not the Law that caused my (Adam's) death. Sin caused my death. One cannot blame the Law for sin, even if sin does not exist apart from the Law. If we take out our theological wrath upon the Law, we are blaming the righteousness of God for our mortality. Without the Law, murder and theft would not be sin, and theoretically, we would live in perpetual disharmony with the character of God.
How the Ground Redeemed Adam
14 Besides, we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am fleshly, having been sold under sin. [The Emphatic Diaglott]
Here again, speaking on behalf of Adam and all humanity, Paul confesses that he himself is the problem, not the Law.
Adam's sin incurred a debt that could not be paid, and so he and his wife, his children, and his entire estate was sold to make payment (Matt. 18:25). Adam and his estate was originally sold to the ground, and the ground then became Adam's first lawful redeemer. According to the laws of redemption, the redeemer assumes the debt and liability of the one being redeemed. Hence, God says in Gen. 3:17, "Cursed be the ground for your sake."
God in His mercy shifted the responsibility for Adam's debt so that the ground itself would take the penalty. The downside of this, of course, was that Adam was then enslaved to the ground. Gen. 3:19 says,
19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
The sentence was thus decreed, and then mankind entered into its first known grace period of 4 x 414 years. (This is explained in my book, Secrets of Time.) From the divine decree to the time that the sentence is executed is a grace period to give men opportunity to be redeemed by Christ. The sentence was carried out 1656 years later at the time of Noah's flood, when the ground was judged along with all those under its authority.
Only those with faith escaped the judgment, because they had found grace (Gen. 6:8) by covenanting with God (Gen. 6:18). Noah and his family were redeemed from slavery to the ground (earth) by Jesus Christ, who had been slain from the foundation of the world. Hence, they were no longer slaves to the ground, but bondslaves of Jesus Christ. The earth, with its thorns and thistles, no longer had authority over them. The law of authority worked in their favor, because Christ had become their new Authority. For this reason, they lived through the flood, whereas the others all died.
But in Romans 7, Paul was speaking hypothetically as if he were Adam and, by extension, all who remain under the authority of the earth. "I am fleshly, having been sold under sin."
At this point it became necessary for Paul to distinguish between the two "I's." Having first expressed his earthly identity with Adam, he now begins to explain his heavenly identity with the Last Adam. The interrelation between these two "I's" form the main topic of the rest of Romans 7.