Romans 7 1-6 Freed from the Law to Serve in the Spirit (Rev. Erik Veerman)
Freed from the Law to Serve in the Spirit
Rev. Erik Veerman
We’re starting into Romans 7 this morning.
This week when I was preparing, I read a helpful description of how chapters 5 through 7 relate. Each chapter presents a different fruit of our justification. Our justification is how God has made us righteous in his sight through Christ. We are justified.
• The fruit of our justification in chapter 5 is peace with God.
• The fruit of our justification in chapter 6 is holiness,
• and the fruit in chapter 7 is freedom - peace, holiness, and freedom.
That’s helpful. The freedom described in chapter 7 is freedom from God’s law. We are released from God’s law. Now, you probably have a lot of questions about that statement. What is God’s law? What does it mean to be free from it? How do we then relate to God’s law? I think you’ll find that chapter 7 addresses those questions.
Let me make one more comment before we read. The chapter starts out with the word “or.” “Or do you not know…” That means that these first few verses are a continuation of chapter 6. The question, “should we continue to sin so that grace may abound?” The first 6 verses of chapter 7 answer that question with regard to God’s law.
You can find Romans 7 on page 1121 in the pew Bibles.
We’ll focus on verses 1-6.
Reading of Romans 7:1-6
“Live Free or Die.” That expression has been used at different times in history, but you probably know it as New Hampshire’s state motto. “Live Free or Die.”
You would think, with such a motto, that people living in New Hampshire had more freedoms than the rest of us.
Well interestingly, in the mid-1970s, some residents started taping over the “or die” part of the motto their license plates. That didn’t sit well with the state. They, then, sued their own residents. Apparently in the “live free of die” state you were not really free… at least when it comes to the use of their motto. Well, the case made it all the way to the US Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the residents.
When it comes to human laws, we have a complicated relationship. On the one hand, they are helpful. They provide protection and order and direction to society. On the other hand, breaking the law can lead to difficult situations – punishments and imprisonment. Some civil laws we like, some we hate, some we tolerate. At times, tyranny and abuse can lead to unjust laws.
When it comes to God’s law, we have a complicated relationship. On the one hand, God’s laws are helpful. They provide protection and order and direction to humanity. On the other hand, breaking God’s law can lead to difficult situations – certainly immediate consequences, but also the ultimate consequence of offending God. Some of God’s laws we like, others we ignore, some we violate. But one thing is for sure, none of God’s laws are unjust. To some they just appear to be.
Well, Romans 7 seeks to uncomplicate the complicated relationship we have with God’s law. It’s easy to be confused by different aspects of God’s law. But I think you’ll find this chapter helpful because it clarifies the purpose of God’s law, the penalty of God’s law, and what it means to be freed from God’s law.
To best understand chapter 7, we need to first understand where Paul’s readers were coming from. And I want to remind you that he’s writing to the church in Rome. The church was pretty diverse – we know that from chapter 16. It included Jewish converts, Roman elites, other Gentiles and Greeks. Typically, when the Gospel reached a new city, the first converts were Jewish. That’s because Paul and the other disciples would begin by going to the synagogues. They would preach how Jesus was the fulfillment of the promised Messiah. As the church grew, the disciples and new Christians would branch out to the marketplace and other venues to preach Christ.
We’re not told exactly how the church began in Rome, but likely it was similar. We’re given clues to that in the book. Earlier chapters spoke about Abraham and some of the history of Israel. Paul had also written about the law. Before we even get to chapter 7, he had already used the word “law” 43 times. He’s written about “the law and the prophets” he’s written about “the works of the law.” And he’s talked about the “law written on our hearts.” There’s been an underlying assumption that his readers understood God’s law.
Now look at chapter 7 verse 1. He writes, “do you not know, brothers—” and listen to what he writes next… “for I am speaking to those who know the law.” And then he goes on. You see, they were steeped in the law. Even the Gentile converts would have been taught the 10 commandments and the various laws like the sacrificial laws and other ceremonial laws.
But here’s was their struggle: Because of their background, their temptation would be some form of legalism. In other words, they would have been tempted to see the law in some way as necessary for salvation. Like believe in Jesus *and* keep God’s law, and you will be saved.
But, you know, that’s not how it works. That’s not how salvation works. The problem is that if we are still bound by God’s law, then we are also still under its penalty. And that’s a problem.
So, Paul wants to clear that up. Really, the entire chapter helps to clarify how the Christian should relate to God’s law. So, it has deep relevance to us.
Now, what these first 6 verses do is bridge the gap between Paul’s explanation of our union with Christ and God’s law. I already mentioned the important word “or” at the beginning. In other words, as Paul begins to discuss God’s law, he does so by relating it to our union with Christ… which includes answering the chapter 6 question of our sanctification.
And here’s how he does it: he begins with a rhetorical question and then gives an illustration and explanation.
The question is right there in verse 1. “or do you not know… that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?” He’s saying, “Of course the law is no longer in force when someone dies! You know that. Death releases someone from the law.”
And in order to explain it, the apostle gives the example of a marriage. Its something that we can understand. By the way, this is yet another illustration of our union with Christ. In chapter 6 we talked about how Jesus described our union with him as a branch grafted into a new root. We also talked about the illustration that Paul used. That we are no longer a slave to sin but a slave to God.
Here’s a new illustration: A husband and wife are united to one another. They are legally bound. That’s the word used here, “bound.” Think of wedding vows – “as long as we both shall live.” While they are both alive, they are bound by the laws of marriage. That makes sense. If one of them commits adultery, the one who broke the marriage vow would be an adulterer or an adulteress. Guilty. Committing infidelity breaks that union. They would face the penalty of breaking the covenant of marriage.
Similarly, neither is allowed to marry someone else while their spouse is still alive. They are still married and bound by their vows. But if one of them dies, the living spouse is free to marry someone else. The covenant vow they entered into is no longer in effect. Death has released the living spouse from the binding law.
Here’s the comparison:
Before knowing Christ, we were bound to the law. Let me explain that. The law here is referring to God’s law – referring primarily to God’s moral law, which the 10 commandments summarize. To only worship only the one true God. To not take his name in vain. To obey our parents, to not commit adultery, nor murder, lie, or covet, etc. We were bound to that law. And there are two aspects to this binding.
• First, we were bound, in and of ourselves, to keep the law… just like a marriage vow in the illustration – you are not to break the vow nor marry someone else. So, bound to keep it.
• And second, we were bound by the penalty of the law… again, just like in the illustration – if you break the marriage law, you are an adulterer and receive the penalty for your adultery.
And therein lies the problem. We could not keep the requirements of the law. Therefore we were bound by the penalty of the law. You see, God’s law is perfect! But in our sin, which chapter 6 is clear about, we failed to keep God’s law. We broke God’s law. And do you know what that means we were? Back to the illustration. We were spiritual adulterers. We deserved the full penalty of the law as adulterers. And the penalty of breaking God’s law is death.
To quote the Apollo 13 lunar mission: “Houston, we have a problem!” The problem is we needed to be released from both the demands of the law (what we were required to do) and released from the penalty of the law.
Or to go back to an earlier expression. We needed to “live free or die!” Or maybe it would be better to say, “be freed or die.”
Well, the good news for us is that there is a way to be released from the law. In marriage, death breaks the law’s binding. The living spouse is released from marriage. When one spouse dies, there is no more marriage. Couples vow, “Till death do us part.”
The parallel is that for a Christian, death releases you from both the demands and penalty of the law. Jesus’ death for you. Really, your death in his death. Remember that from chapter 6? And this is where the beginning of chapter 7 verse 4 comes in. Go ahead and look at it. “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ.” In other words, because you are united to Christ, his death released you from the crushing requirements of the law and its penalty. Jesus fulfilled the requirements for you through his righteousness and released you from the law’s penalty through his death.
This is a beautiful illustration. Part of it is how we are now married (or I should say, betrothed) to Christ. United to him. Like so many Scriptures, Jesus is the bridegroom and we, the church, God’s people, are his bride.
What this is saying is that we are no longer married to the law of sin and death, but rather, we are married to, united to Christ. That’s the second half of verse 4. After it says that you have died to the law through Christ, it says, “so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead.” You belong to another, are married to another.
Christ has released you from the law through his death, and now you are his bride. But of course, we can’t be married to someone who is dead! That’s not possible. But Jesus is no longer dead. As it says, he’s been raised from the dead. We now belong to him, who died to release us from the law, and who now lives.
Are you tracking with the marriage illustration? Let me summarize it so far.
For the Christian…
1. First, as in a marriage, you were bound to God’s law which required perfect obedience to it and death if you broke it.
2. Second, as in a marriage, if you break the marriage vow you are an adulterer. You did break God’s law and therefore you and I were adulterers – guilty.
3. Third, as in a marriage, in order to be released from the requirements and penalty of the law, death needed to happen. Well, death has happened. The death of Christ for you, which released you from the law.
4. And fourth, as in a marriage, if your spouse dies, you are free to marry again. Well, you have been! You now belong to Christ. You are betrothed to him as we wait for his return and the great marriage supper of the Lamb. We, the church, are his bride.
But let me ask this question: what happens when a person re-marries after his or her spouse died? Well, he or she makes a new covenant vow with that new husband or wife. There’s a new marriage contract in place. The old one no longer applies. The new one is now in place.
The old is gone, the new has come. Or to put it in terms of Romans 7. We’ve been released from the old way of the written code (that’s the end of verse 6). We’ve died to it. As it says, we are no longer a captive. No longer imprisoned by it. We’ve been released. And God has given us a new promise.
Ok, for the theologically minded, let me go a little deeper and put this in broader covenantal terms.
We were bound by the Covenant of Works. Or sometimes we say the Covenant of life. That was the covenant promise that God established with Adam back in the Garden of Eden. The promise was, if you obey, you will live, if you disobey, you will die. Well, Adam and Eve failed to keep that Covenant. In their failure they and their descendants reaped all the negative consequences. Sin and death, and more sin and more death. Verse 5 of Romans 7 captures the consequences of that… “our sinful passions” were “aroused by the law.” That means in our flesh, our sinful nature, we wanted to break God’s law. That simply lead to more sin, or, as verse 5 says, “our sinful passions were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.” Not godly fruit leading to sanctification, but ungodly fruit because it was all leading to death.
But in Christ, God released you from the Covenant of Works. You are no longer bound to it. And in its place, God gave you a new Covenant promise. We call it the Covenant of Grace. In Jeremiah 31, the prophet refers to it as the new covenant. We read from Hebrews 10 earlier in the service. Those verses refer back to Jeremiah. The new covenant is not an external covenant based on the law which condemns, but rather in the new covenant, the covenant of Grace, God fulfills our responsibility in Christ. It’s a covenant where God’s law is not external, but they are now written on our hearts. And as Hebrews says, where God will remember our sins and lawless deeds no more. It’s a Covenant of Grace.
Released from the Covenant of Works, blessed by the Covenant of Grace.
Before we wrap up, there’s something else very important in these verses. It goes back to the question that Paul asks in chapter 6. Do we sin that grace may abound? These 6 verses conclude his answer. The answer is in verse 4. Remember, we now belong to Christ who has been raised from the dead… and listen to what it says next “that we may bear fruit for God.” One of the implications of being freed from the law is that our hearts are now turned toward God. So that in him, we might serve him and honor him in our lives. Not because we’re trying to be righteous in God’s eyes, but because we already are righteous in God’s eyes… because he’s freed us from the demands and penalty of the law to now serve him.
But we don’t serve God in our flesh, meaning in our own strength or our own will. No, no, no! We serve God in the Spirit. We serve through the Holy Spirit who is the one who is working in us. That teaching is right there in verse 6. “We are 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.” You see, it is now the work of God Spirit in us who directs us to bear fruit for God… to pursue the things of God. The Holy Spirit helps us to put away the idols that distract us from him. He reveals the passions of our flesh and turns our hearts to repent, and to again pursue his will. This is the new work in us. The “new way” of God’s spirit, as it says.
But here’s what we do. We drag ourselves back into the old way. We try to put ourselves again under the yoke of God’s law. Salvation becomes faith in Christ plus keeping the law. We say, “I’m not good enough,” or “God is not happy with me.” Therefore, “I need to try harder to win God’s favor.” In our minds. we check the boxes of God’s law. I did this good thing, check. I didn’t do this bad thing, check.
It’s like putting on one of those orange jump suits that prisoners have to wear. And you go about your day acting as if you are still incarcerated. In your mind you are doing things because you want to please the parole board. You have no joy. You’re always conscience of the prison uniform that you put on. Even though you have been completely exonerated, your heart and mind are still functioning as if you need to somehow win your freedom.
But all that is doing is reverting back into a legalism that relies on the law. It will cause you to feel condemnation because you can’t live up to demands of his standard.
Brothers and sisters in Christ: God has released you from the curse of the law. You are no longer a captive. You are free. He’s taken away the penalty. He’s taken away the burden. You are no longer bound.
And, instead, he has given you his Spirit. Seeking to bear fruit in your life should not come from the vestiges of the law in you that brings condemnation. Rather, seeking to bear fruit should come from your identity in Christ. You’ve been given his Spirit. You now belong to him. You are no longer married to the law which brings condemnation. No, you are married to Christ, united to him through the Holy Spirit. And through his Spirit, you desire to and are able to please and honor him in your life, knowing of his grace.
Do you see the difference? One path is just trying to take you back to your old self and the old way. You’ll never measure up and you’ll feel that weight. But the other path is serving with the Spirit. Knowing that you’ve been released from the law and you now belong to God in Christ.
You see, it’s out of that new union with Christ, through the Holy Spirit, that you are free to now serve and seek him with a new liberty and peace in Christ.
Next week, we’ll work through an important question. If being bound to the law brings death… does that mean that the law is bad? Is it evil? Verse 7 asks that very question. So, stay tuned to hear the answer.
In summary, the weight of God’s law is unbearable. No one can escape its requirements (perfect obedience) or its penalty (death). But if you are in Christ, that is, if you’ve come to him by faith seeking his forgiveness, you are no longer bound to the demands and curse of the law. No, the law’s demands and curse have died with Christ for you and in you. You now belong to him, who is risen. He’s given you a new marriage vow, a Covenant of Grace. He promises that he will never leave you or forsake you. And he’s given you his Spirit that you may freely serve and love him.
So, may we embrace our freedom in Christ and joyfully serve him in His Spirit. Amen?