Calvary Road Baptist Church

“DEAD AND MARRIED”

Romans 7.1-6 

Once more, let me remind you of the principle in effectively teaching someone by beginning with what is already known and building on that foundation of truth what you want your student to learn. Thus, teaching proceeds from the known to the unknown.

My text will begin with Romans 7.1. However, I want you to look back with me to Romans 6.14, reading along with me silently, while I read aloud: 

“For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” 

Imagine a group of first-century believers in the city of Rome. The pastors of their growing congregation, one of many throughout the city, have just returned from a meeting with that woman who was sent by the famous Apostle Paul. Phebe was her name. They have returned to the congregation with a large scroll. It’s the largest letter any of them has ever seen. It’s Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome. Theirs is the first of the congregations to receive it. And after each congregation has it, in turn, it will be copied, so that each body of believers will have their own copy to read and reread and study.

The composition and personal history of this group of believers are quite different from any that we are familiar with. Both the highly educated and the profoundly ignorant, from pagan as well as Jewish backgrounds, free men as well as slaves. Though most of them are capable of speaking and reading Greek, their conversational language is almost certainly Latin. As they hear God’s Word read in Greek and chit chat back and forth in Latin about what they have heard before the next reader takes his place to read to the group aloud, they glow with anticipation and excitement at what marvelous truths they will hear next.

In Romans 6.14, which I have just read, they are told two things: First, that sin shall not have dominion over them, shall not rule over their lives. The second thing Romans 6.14 told them was that they were not under the Law, but under grace. This perked up the ears of the Jewish Christians. Imagining yourself to be one of those Roman believers, you would next notice that Romans 6.15-23 spoke to that first truth they were told, that sin shall not have dominion over them: 

15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.

16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?

17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.

18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.

19 I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.

20 For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.

21 What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.

22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.

23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

But now, in Romans 7.1-6, Paul elaborates on the second half of Romans 6.14, not being under the Law. I invite you to stand as we read that passage together: 

1  Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?

2  For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.

3  So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.

4  Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.

5  For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.

6  But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. 

In Romans 6.15-23 the Apostle Paul showed us that a relationship with Christ is not possible so long as sin is the master of your life; that when you trusted Christ sin’s mastery over you ended. In like manner in this passage, Paul shows that a relationship with Christ is not possible as long as the Law rules.

When a believer comes to Christ, Paul is asserting, the dominion of the Law over him is brought to an end. This profound truth is appreciated when three considerations are properly understood: 

First, CONSIDER THE PRINCIPLE 

There is an axiom stated in verse 1: 

“Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?” 

And what, pray tell, is an axiom? An axiom is a self-evident truth, a universally recognized truth, something that is beyond dispute.[1] For example, it is axiomatic that what goes up must come down. The axiom that Paul states is the universally recognized truth that the Law has authority over an individual for as long as, but no longer than, the span of his life. This is something Paul expected his readers to understand and agree with him about. Especially so, since calling them “brethren” for the first time since 1.13 and specifically referring to the Law of Moses, he is almost certainly focusing on the Jewish Christians of Rome at this point. And how can we be sure that “law” refers to the Law of Moses? I’ll point that out in a moment. The important thing to note here is that Paul is proceeding from a widely understood truth that no one would dispute.

Then, there is an analogy stated in verses 2 and 3: 

2  For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.

3  So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. 

Profound mistakes are made in interpreting God’s Word using these two verses when their interpretation is divorced from the preceding statement. What we have here is an analogy given by Paul solely to illustrate the axiom of verse 1. This is not a discourse on the subject of divorce and remarriage. Paul seeks only to establish that the restrictions of the Mosaic Law do not extend beyond natural life and that relationships between those living and those now dead no longer exist, much less binding. It’s at this point that we know Paul is referring to the Law of Moses and not Roman law or the principle of law in general. You see, under Roman law a woman was required to grieve for her husband for one year to inherit his estate. So, relationships under the rule of Roman law did extend beyond the natural lifetime of the two people. We also know that the Law of Moses is in view because of a particular word that is found nowhere else in the New Testament. The phrase “which hath an husband” translates a single word which means “under a husband.” This concept of a husband’s authority, in this sense, is not recognized in any except Mosaic Law. To summarize, then, Paul is considering a principle. And what is the principle? It’s the principle that once a person who is under the Law of Moses dies the authority of the Law of Moses over him comes to an end. A great many commentaries spend page after page discussing who the woman is and who the husband is, and so forth and so on. But that completely misses the point. The whole point of the analogy that is used to illustrate the axiom is that death ends the authority of the Law. That reality has great consequences for you and me and is the principle Paul showcases here. 

Next, CONSIDER THE PAST 

In verse 4 Paul points to a pivotal event in the past: 

“Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.” 

There are three comments that need to be made here: First, “Ye are become dead to the law by the body of Christ.” Obviously referring to Christ’s crucifixion for our sins, Paul uses an unusual verb to indicate how we died. He uses a passive verb that has the effect of stating that we were put to death. It’s a divine passive, meaning the one doing it is not mentioned in the sentence, indicating that when Jesus Christ died for me, it was God who put me to death with Christ, so far as the Law is concerned. Second, this has to occur so that I would “be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead.” Do you see the connection with the principle of verses 1-3 now? For the Jewish believer to be joined with Christ, he had to be set free from the Law. There simply could not be two mutually exclusive authorities such as this in his life. Either Christ has dominion or the Law rules. Third, the whole purpose of this pivotal event in human history, Jesus Christ dying for our sins, is so that we should bring forth fruit unto God. But we cannot bring forth fruit unto God until we are married to Christ, as it were. And we cannot legitimately be married to Christ until we first die to the Law. See how Paul reasons it?

In verse 5 Paul points to a problem to escape from: 

“For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.” 

Do you see that phrase “in the flesh”? That’s one of Paul’s characteristic descriptions of a lost state. Christians can behave fleshly, but we can never be “in the flesh.” “In the flesh” refers to the sphere of influence that only lost people are in. “In Christ” refers to the sphere of influence that only believers are in. That said, take note that Paul states, that “motions of sins, which were by the Law.” The word “motions” is elsewhere translated “passions.” Sinful passions are what he is referring to here. And he is telling his readers that sinful passions are “by the Law.” That is, the good and holy Law which God gave to Moses is so misused by lost men that it provokes sinful behavior. It’s like a little kid who doesn’t eat chocolate until he finds out he’s allergic to it and his doctor tells him not to eat it. Then he starts sneaking it. The Law provoked the same type of reaction by the Jewish people, as it would with any lost person. It was necessary for God to put believers to death by the body of Christ so that we would be dead to the Law. Why? Because the Law, as good and as holy as it is, does not provoke good behavior. It provoked sinful behavior in those subject to it before we were saved. That’s why we had to escape that dreadful relationship. And the only way that could be accomplished was for us to die. And in Christ, we did die. That’s the common past of every believer. 

Finally, CONSIDER THE PRESENT 

“But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” 

Where does our collective past as Christians leave us in the present? Three statements tell us where we are:

First, we are delivered from the Law. This doesn’t mean that no one should study the Law of Moses. And it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t learn from the Law of Moses certain profound truths related to the holiness and majesty of God. But it does mean that we are not under the authority of the Law of Moses. Obviously, since most of us here today are not Jewish Christians, we have never been under the authority of the Mosaic Law. But even Jewish Christians, today, as in Paul’s day, need to know that the Law has no legitimate authority in their life. Just as the woman whose husband dies is “loosed” from the law of her husband, so is the believer “delivered” from the Law of Moses. After all, the word “loosed” and the word “delivered” translate the same Greek verb.

Second, we are dead to that which held us. We as believers need to spend more time than we do trying to understand our identification with Christ. We are so perfectly and wonderfully identified in Christ’s death for us, and in His resurrection, that that which once held us no longer holds us.

Finally, we are serving in newness of spirit, not in oldness of the letter. You’ll notice that the last phrase of my text for this message reads 

“that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in oldness of the letter.” 

The “newness of spirit” refers to the new relationship that the believer has with the Holy Spirit of God, and the “oldness of the letter” refers to what really has become for the Jewish Christian an obsolete relationship with the Law of Moses, written in letters on tablets of stone. What Paul has drawn here is a contrast between service that is new in its relationship with the Holy Spirit and service which is old and obsolete with its adherence to the letter of the Law. That which is old and obsolete was the result of the life under the Law before Christ. That which is in newness of the Spirit derives from what Christ did for the believer. To make this abundantly clear, let’s look at it from another perspective. This last phrase is thought by some Bible students to be what’s called a purpose clause. That is, all of these things Christ did for believers serving in newness of spirit. But this is not a purpose clause. This is much stronger than that. This is a result clause. Christ did not do for us what He did for us so that we might serve in newness of spirit. No. He did for us what He did for us so that we will serve in newness of spirit. And how can it be that believers do serve in newness of spirit? It can be only because the Law no longer rules. Our relationship now is with the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Imagine that group of Roman believers again, sitting out in that rich homeowner’s courtyard, for there was no other place for them to meet. When the reader completed reading Romans 6.23, they all breathed a great sigh of relief. How wonderful it was to find that God’s revelation verified their experience as believers. They no longer served master sin but had become servants of God. But then the Jewish believers among them might have pondered the weighty burden of the Law of Moses. And then the reader began what is now designated as the 7th chapter of Romans.

How the Jewish Christians in attendance must have nodded in their agreement as the man read on. On the one hand Christ demands allegiance. But on the other hand, the Law insists on being the master. Which to serve? Can both be served? Is there no loyalty? Is there no sentiment? As what Paul wrote was read aloud their hearts must have leaped for joy. There is no disloyalty to the Law if you’ve died. And you don’t have to choose between the Law and Christ. God has chosen for you. He put you to death so the Law would have no more power over you. Now you can freely and without guilt give your full allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.

And today’s application of this passage? Certainly not to the issue of marriage and divorce, but to the issue of religious legalism and the false notion of submission to the Law of Moses. My friend, whether it be Jehovah’s Witnesses or Roman Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists or Pentecostal Holiness people, or even the modern Jewish person, anyone who believes that justification is by works or that salvation’s security is maintained by good works, has in some way felt obligated to submit to the Law of Moses or law of some kind.

Even if you were born under the Law, which you were not unless you are Jewish, you need not be when you are joined with Christ. You cannot have two such governing relationships that are legitimate. Praise God, when you trust Christ as your Savior you are put to death to the Law. And isn’t a relationship to Christ preferable to submission to the Law? Sure it is.

What about the person who might visit us from another other church? If the church you attend is Roman Catholic or Seventh Day Adventist or Jehovah’s Witness or a Pentecostal Holiness or a Mormon congregation I would urge you to stop attending. And what is the basis for that advice? Proverbs 19.27: 

“Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.” 

Never mind if you like the music or you have friends there. If they do not believe and teach the truth, then the Bible says you are to stop putting yourself in a position to be taught by them.

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[1] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 132.

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