DEAD TO THE LAW; BELONGING TO CHRIST
Romans 7:1-25, Key Verse: 4
“So, my brothers and sisters, 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 for God.”
Thank God for the wonderful worship service last Sunday! We could see God’s great mercy on Msn. Jonathan, His gracious protection on Carlos and His guiding hand on Bill. We could also learn from Msn. Gideon’s message that our union with Jesus’ death and resurrection means we have a choice. With that choice, we can offer our body either as an instrument of righteousness or as an instrument of wickedness. But the consequence of our choice is very obvious like day and night. Today, we’d like to see our relationship to the law. We previously learned that we are not under the law but somehow we mightily struggle with the law. Even Paul himself shares his own desperate struggles. So much so and that it is like watching a horror movie. May God illuminate on us regarding the law so that we may live a fruitful life in Christ.
1. Released From the Law, Bound to Christ (1-6)
Look at verse 1. Note two things in particular. First, Paul assumes that the believers in Rome already know the law. It is like talking about how to drive with an assumption that the traffic law is already known. The Roman believers may have been converts to Judaism so they must have been experts in the law. Here “the law” refers to Mosaic Law, which is one of the key concepts of the Old Testament. Second, Paul explains about the principle of the binding force of the law. The principle is that law-enforcement can be done over a person only during his or her lifetime. You cannot enforce the law over a dead person (perhaps, from this principle, the expression “over my dead body” comes?).
To better illustrate the principle of law-enforcement, Paul quotes the marital law of his days. Verse 2 reads. “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 that binds her to him.” This law that Paul quotes sounds unfair to the women coworkers of today, but back then it was probably instituted so that women might be protected. In this law, a married woman belongs to her husband as long as her husband is alive. During this time, she is not free to seek another man. If she does so, she will be called “an adulteress,” just like the case of “The Scarlet Letter” (in this book, the woman who had a child without her husband would be punished by wearing scarlet letter “A” on her dress.). The woman cannot leave her husband through divorce either because divorce is a privilege only to the husband. So, the only way for the woman to be free from her husband is for him to die. With that, she can be released from the marital law and is free to marry anyone she likes.
In verses 4-6, Paul now applies the illustration to our everyday Christian life. The application is a little bit off from the original, but there is a deeper meaning into it. According to the illustration, the husband should die for the woman to remarry. However, here, the husband is not to die but the woman is. The husband, say Mr. Law, is invincible. He cannot die. It is because he is holy, righteous, and most importantly God-inspired. You can poison his tea or hire a hitman but Mr. Law will never die. In that case, the only option left for the woman is for her to die because only “death” can end this marital relationship. Now if the woman dies, what is the point of ending the marriage? That is where the body of Christ comes.
Look at verse 4 again. Through the body of Christ, we have died to Mr. Law (4). When Christ was crucified, we were also crucified with him. And the death he bore was for us to belong to him again in his resurrection so that we may bear fruit for God. In verse 5, we see a general principle of bearing fruit. That is, whether we are in the realm of the flesh or in the realm of the Spirit, we bear some form of fruit: fruit for death in the flesh realm and fruit for God in the Spirit realm.
Verse 6 gives us a good summary for this section. “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.” When the law binds us, we feel oppressed and cannot but live in constant fear and worries just like the people surrounded by the super-restrictive religious police. It is said that some teenage girls have fled from their country to be free from such oppression and find a new life. In our case, we do not have to flee. Instead, we die to the law and are released from the law. There is a purpose for this. It is so that we can serve God in the new way of the Spirit, which is based on love and trust, but not in the old way of the written code, which is just strictly enforcing the letters of the law.
2. The Law and Sin (7-25)
Look at verse 7. So far, Paul has portrayed the law in a negative tone. He has mentioned that the sinful passions are aroused by the law (5) and that we must die to the law (6). Now Paul explains that the negative effect of the law does not mean that the law itself is negative. The law is not sinful! If the law is sinful, then it is like blaming an X-ray machine that has just revealed a hidden TB. An X-ray is not equal to a disease even though it deals with diseases. So we can know the relationship between the law and sin. The law is there to reveal or make aware of sin. And Paul illustrates this functionality of the law through his own experiences. Note from verse 7 to the end, the first person is describing the topic.
Verse 7b reads. “For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” The law is like setting the “speed limit” so that we can know exactly if we are going too fast. Now out of all the possible commandments, why does Paul quote the tenth commandment? Perhaps, it is because this tenth commandment is very different from other commandments. Or, it is the only commandment Paul could not keep. All other commandments in the law dictate our external actions. So one can know if someone has broken a specific commandment (say the eighth, stealing) by recognizing the result (like someone’s lunch is missing). What about “coveting”? Can anyone see if someone is coveting or not? And there is no immediate result externally from breaking this commandment. Say I covet someone else’s nice car (like a Porsche). Can you see my heart’s desire for that car? And what kind of immediate effect would there be? I have not even touched that car. But I know I have coveted it. And I become aware of it through the commandment of coveting. As a genuine Pharisee, Paul has realized how he cannot keep the commandment of coveting and he has much agonized over it.
Surely, Paul might have also deeply researched on why he cannot keep the law. That is why he has discovered how the law and sin operate within him. Note the personification of sin. Here, Paul views sin as a person who produces in him every kind of coveting. Wait! Isn’t it Paul who has coveted? Why does Paul say that it is sin that produces his covetous desires? Does he suffer from a split personality disorder (like the movie Superman III, where evil Superman fights with good Superman)? In this way, Paul wants to show how evil and wicked our sinful nature is and that our bondage to sin is beyond our capability.
The dynamics between “sin” and “the law” is sometimes interesting. It is like “hide-and-seek.” In verse 8b, we see that apart from the law, sin is dead. Here, with “hide-and-seek” analogy, “sin,” the hider, is hiding. “Sin” is there, but we cannot know. Once “the law,” the seeker, locates “sin,” then “sin” springs to life (9). “Sin” then becomes “the tagger” and we lose the game, which means, death. Verses 10-11 read. “I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.”
Here “seizing the opportunity” sounds like “Carpe Diem (Seize the Day),” which means making the most of the present moment instead of waiting. Sin is like a crouching tiger at your door. As soon as you open the door, sin seizes the opportunity and jumps on you. Paul says that he was alive before sin came but sin has deceived him and put him to death. How does sin deceive us? It does so by making false promises. Eve was deceived with a false promise that she could be like God. North Korean people were deceived with a false promise that they could eat a bowl of rice and a bowl of beef soup without limit forever. But what were the consequences? After the deception, Eve was banished from the paradise and North Korea became one of the worst places to live. Maybe, with his coveting, Paul was given a false promise about a high position which seemed to give him great satisfaction and yet he was greatly disillusioned and felt guilty-conscious.
In verse 12, Paul reiterates that the law is good. And in verse 13, Paul says that what is good is used to bring about his death. It sounds scary but there is a grand purpose for that. It is so that sin might be recognized as sin and that it might become utterly sinful. Some say “the law” is a powerful magnet that draws out of all kinds of corruption out of us.
Now Paul put more emphasis on his personal struggles with the law with ever-increased intensity. Look at verse 14. Paul recognizes that a spiritual law cannot help an unspiritual man. “Unspiritual (sarkikos in Greek)” literally means “of flesh” or “carnal.” Then he claims he has been sold as slave to sin, which is a more wretched state than being unspiritual. Because of this slavery, Paul is numbed and blinded so he does not know what he is doing. Furthermore, he begins to do what he does not want or hates to do. So we now know that the problem Paul faces is not lacking the desire or the knowledge. In verse 17, he points out that the power of sin is working in him. So with this power of sin in control, no matter how strongly he wants to do the good, Paul finds himself utterly helpless. He cannot carry it out (18). Verse 19 is the repetition of verse 15. The problem is the lack of power.
In the next verses, we see Paul describing his problem with a different angle. In his innermost being, Paul delights in God’s divine law. But there is another law at work in him simultaneously. That is the law of sin and death. Those two laws are at a state of war toward each other, making Paul a prisoner of the war (POW). Paul cannot but cry in desperation, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” In this way, Paul finds his deliverer, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Verse 25b is also another version of the summary, which will be a nice transition to the next chapter. However helpless we may be, there will be God’s help.
In conclusion, we learned that through the body of Christ, we died to the law so that we may belong to Christ and bear fruit for God. We can serve God in the new way of the Spirit. We also learned the functionality of the law: revealing sin as sin and leading us to our ultimate deliverer, Jesus Christ. The power of sin is working in us but we have the more powerful one that helps us always. May God helps us to find our deliverer Jesus every day!