In my last post we saw why it is necessary that we are set free from the law to negate and remove the power of sin so that God can help us to grow mature in Jesus Christ.
In these next few verses of Romans 7 we see how this works and we learn how God enabled this to take place. You can’t just say that sin and the law does not apply to you because sin applies to everyone because all of mankind dies for their sins. So if we are to escape sin and law, which is the power of sin, there needs to be a process by which we can be separated from the law.
God made sure that there is a way for us to be set free from the law and sin and He established a process and a path that we must follow to get there. God established the process in the law and then when Jesus came He set the path in motion. So let us look at how freedom from law works and how we enter into it.
The Principle Of Marriage
The process of “how” we are set free from the law is encapsulated in the laws of marriage that were established in the laws of God given to mankind. And it is by the principle of marriage that allows us to gain freedom from the law in Jesus Christ.
Marriage is an interesting law. It is a unique law because it is the only one that binds two people together in a living union that recognises that two have become one in the sight of God. God recognises the joining of a man and a woman in marriage and blesses that union because it is a union that was designed by God and He intended that marriage be a union until death.
It was the will of God that the binding of a man and a woman in marriage should not end until the bond was broken by the death of either one or the other. This marriage partnership was intended to last for as long as the two parties were alive. And as a consequence, the law of marriage was binding on the couple for as long as they were both alive. However if either the husband or wife in the marriage died, then the marriage ended.
And this is another interesting thing about the law of marriage because unlike other laws, it is a law that a person can willingly enter and which a person can be set free from, albeit they gain their freedom from it by the death of themselves or their partner.
Unlike most other laws such as you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet and so on, the marriage law only applies to a person when they enter marriage and ceases when through death one party leaves the marriage. All other laws pertain to a person throughout their life, but marriage only pertains to those who are married.
Those who are not married are not under the laws of marriage. Similarly those people who were married but their partner in the marriage has died, also are not under the laws of marriage for through the other person’s death they have been set free from the marriage and also the law of marriage.
And when a person has been set free from the marriage they are again like a single person and can, if they choose, marry again to someone else.
What These Scriptures Say
So now let us look at what these few verses in Romans 7 have to say. Verse 2 starts by saying exactly what I have explained above.
For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.
The law of marriage is binding on both parties to the marriage while they are alive. But if one party dies then the marriage ceases to exist and that law of marriage no longer binds the remaining person. The marriage contract ceases at the death of one party and the law of marriage ceases to have any effect on the person still alive.
They are set free from the law of marriage by the death of the other person.
Verse 3 then continues and clarifies this new freedom from the law of marriage saying,
Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
This verse talks about adultery and I will come back to that shortly, but note the first few words of the second sentence here. It says, “But if her husband dies, she is free from that law.” It is quite clear that the law ceases and the woman in this example is set free from the law of marriage by the death of her husband. And the sentence continues on saying, “…and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.” So the woman whose husband died is set free from the law binding her first marriage and is now free to remarry and be bound to another man in marriage.
These principles are extremely important to grasp because they are exactly the same principles that apply to how Christians are set free from the law, as we see in the next verse.
Married to the Risen Christ
In verse 4 we see how Paul shows these principles of marriage and how they apply to us who come to God in Jesus Christ. The verse says,
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.
The key word in this verse is the first word, “Likewise.” It means “in the same way” and refers to the section of scripture that precedes what is now written. The word “likewise” is like a pivot point where what follows relates to what came just before.
What Paul is saying in this verse is that in exactly the same way as a person is set free from the law of marriage through the death of their partner, we too are set free from the law of sin and death through the death of a someone else.
There are actually two parts to this. The first is seen in the laws that look at the blood sacrifices where a person could receive forgiveness of sins through the death of an animal as substitute for themself. Under the laws of Moses if a person sinned they had to offer an animals blood to atone for their sin and the blood and death of the animal was accepted as a substitute for that person.
In the same way Jesus was offered as a substitute for our sins and His death was accepted by God in place of our own so that our sins would not just be forgiven, but removed for His blood was righteous and of greater power and value than the blood of sheep, goats and bulls.
But the second part of this process pertains to the laws of marriage. When we enter into the death of Jesus Christ, which we do by being baptised into His death, we take on His death as our own…and we die with Him. The law is binding on a person only while they are alive, as it says in Romans 7:1, and when we enter into the death of Jesus Christ we die with Him. We put on Christ’s death as our own and we are bound to Him in His death by the process of being baptised into Him and in His name.
So like the laws of marriage where the living partner is released from the marriage law by the death of someone else, we too are released from all the laws by the death of someone else…Jesus Christ. And so we receive freedom from the law through entering into the death of another to break the bond of the law that holds all of mankind.
New Life In Christ
But it doesn’t end there for like a person in a marriage where their partner dies and they are free to remarry as they wish, we too enter a new life, born again as children of God and now being married to another. Not the dead Christ, but we are now married to and serve the risen Christ who lives on in the spiritual realm. We become brides of the risen Christ when we accept Him and receive His grace and life through faith.
The purpose of this freedom from the law and freedom from sin is to enable us to live a new life with Christ. It is not the ending but just the beginning for the verse in verse 4 tells us that the purpose of this new freedom and the new life in Jesus Christ is to, “…bear fruit for God.”
Bearing fruit for God has many possible connotations, but the primary one is likely to be bearing the fruits of the spirit that are defined in Galatians 5:22-24.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
None of these come overnight. None of these happen immediately upon conversion or baptism or receiving the Holy Spirit. This is the ongoing walk and the work of transformation that must take place as we continue on along the path to perfection in Jesus Christ, and who knows how long that will take. But as we see in the last few words of these verses that it is those who “…have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires,” that are the ones who belong to Christ. And that takes time to be able to overcome all our human passions and desires that can lead us astray and be able to walk as Christ walked.
Now there is one more point in verse 3 of Romans 7 that I skipped over and which is critical to understand. It is the matter of adultery.
In the world we understand adultery to be when a married person goes outside of the marriage and enters into a sexual relationship with someone else while still married. They have broken the law of marriage by having an outside affair with another party. In the sight of God this is a great evil and adultery under the law of God was punishable by death to both the parties in the adulterous act.
What this verse in Romans 7:3 is talking about is also a form of adultery, but it is a spiritual adultery and it is similarly deadly to a Christian just as physical adultery is deadly to a married person.
So what is spiritual adultery? Well physical adultery is when a married person lives as a married person with someone else to whom they are not married. That is, they act as if they are married to both people and live in a married relationship with another while already married to someone else.
In the same way spiritual adultery is when a person attempts to live under two systems at the same time. These verses are speaking about two systems, the system of law and the system of grace under which freedom from law is given by God. So when a person is set free from law by the grace of God, BUT they continue to live and believe as if they are still bound by the law, then they are in a place of spiritual adultery.
We talk about something being adulterated when something that does not belong is mixed in with something else. For example, a vegetarian may consider that if meat is mixed with a vegetarian meal it has been adulterated. There is nothing wrong with the meat or the vegetarian meal in and of themselves, but to the vegetarian the meal is adulterated because they do not like or eat meat.
Likewise when we were part of the world we lived under the system of the law, but when we are baptised we are set free from the law to live with another, Jesus Christ, under the system of grace. There is nothing wrong with the law itself for it is holy, just and good, but in the new covenant you cannot mix the law with freedom from law. The law adulterates the grace of the new covenant and prevents it from being effective in our lives if we try to live under both the law and grace at the same time.
So spiritual adultery in the sense of these scriptures occurs when a person who has come under the system of grace attempts to still live in the system of the law.
The system of law condemns people as sinners when they break the law. But the system of grace has set us free from sin and from the law and does not condemn us if we do the wrong thing because in the grace of God we are being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. Grace is given because God knows we are all “works in progress” and until we reach perfection in Jesus Christ we need God’s grace to overlook our mistakes.
The criticality of understanding this separation between the system of law and the system of grace, and how significantly it affects our walk with Christ is seen in Galatians 5:4 which says,
You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
Look at how significant this issue is! If you choose to live your life under the system of the law, seeking to be justified or made righteous through the law, then you have cut yourself off from Jesus Christ and you have fallen away from grace. You are no longer seeking the righteousness that comes from God through grace and by faith, but when you consider yourself to be still under law and living your life as if you are still a sinner bound by law, then grace has no effect in your life and is virtually useless to you.
Look also at the words Paul wrote in Galatians 2:21 that go to the heart of this important issue and the need to be separated from the law to receive the righteousness of God by faith in grace.
I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
When you read this carefully you see that Paul is saying that seeking to find a righteousness through the law then there is no point to the death of Christ. But also looking to the law to seek righteousness will “nullify the grace of God.”
That is why we must be set free from the law in order to receive the righteousness of faith from God and to ensure we do not nullify this grace and separate ourselves from Jesus Christ. Christ said, “I am the way,” He did not say the law is the way but the we come to God and find our righteousness by faith in grace through Jesus Christ. Be careful not to destroy that grace in your walk with Jesus by reverting back to the law, which is what was happening in the Galatian church. Beware and look to Christ for salvation.
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