I live under laws. Traffic laws. IRS laws. Criminal laws. I have to obey them or be punished. God has laws, too. Think Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). Or Jesus’ intensification of them in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:27). But Paul argues we’re not under law (6:14). What does he mean? What’s our relationship to God’s law? And how should we live not “under” law?
Paul begins this text (7:1-6) with a simple question . . .
“Do you not know, brothers and sisters — for I am speaking to those who know the law — that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime?” (7:1).
The law holds no authority over a dead person. A dead man is not obligated to keep the Ten Commandments. Nor can the law condemn a dead man for disobedience. Here’s Paul’s example . . .
“Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. 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” (7:2,3).
If her husband dies, a woman is “discharged from the law” that requires marital faithfulness. Now “she is free from that law” to marry another man. So what does that mean to Jewish and Gentile Roman Christians? And to us?
“In the same way, my friends, you 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” (7:4).
We are not “under law” because we have “died to the law”. (This must have shocked Jewish Christians who knew that the blessed man delights in the Lord’s law and meditates on it day and night (Psalm 1:1,2). “Not under law” means I don’t look to law to tell me how to live. And we’re not under law because we died to the law.
How? “ . . . through the body of Christ.” In some mysterious way, God identified us with, connected us with, joined us with Christ in his crucifixion. And in that union, Paul tells his readers (and us), they (we) died to the law. The preacher can proclaim it over us. He can warn us of terrifying punishment. But, we lie there like a corpse. It no longer defines our way of living.
God’s law still stands. And we are still alive. So what does Paul mean by “you have died to the law”?
A jump to 1 Corinthians 15:56 may help us better understand what this means for us. Paul writes . . .
“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”
If the power of sin is the law, then the power of the law is sin. So Paul writes,
“While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.”
The law is holy, but because of our sinful nature, God’s law has power to arouse the sinful passions of us who (apart from Christ) live under sin’s dominion. But we died to the law; therefore, our sinful passions can’t be aroused by law to produce death in us.
But God didn’t stop by “killing” us to the law. He “killed” us to law, so that we may belong to the resurrected Christ and bear fruit for him . . .
“ . . . so that [we] may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.”
The NRS and the NIV translate the Greek word ginomy, “belong to”. The NKJV translates it “married to”. So I think Paul means God “killed” us to law so that we may belong to the resurrected Christ the way a wife “belongs” in a love union to her husband. (Think that statement sexist? It’s also the way a husband “belongs” in a love union to his wife.)
God’s purpose is that we might belong to Christ as the defining power in our lives, not his law And his ultimate purpose is that “we may bear fruit for God.” What does Paul mean by “fruit”?
In this context, he means righteousness. “Fruit” is righteousness for God, righteousness that glorifies God. This righteousness is the very same conduct (and character!) God’s law requires! But we don’t produce this “right-ness” by struggling to live by the Ten Commandments. Now, belonging to the resurrected Christ, he fulfills that righteousness in us . . .
“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (8:3,4).
Later, to the Philippians (1:9-11), Paul will write . . .
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ– to the glory and praise of God.”
Finally, Paul explains further by striking the contrast between law-living and “the new life of the Spirit” . . .
“ (For) While we were living in the flesh (NIV—controlled by the sinful nature), our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit” (7:5,6).
Before faith in Christ, Paul’s readers (and us) were living under the lordship of our sinful nature. God’s law (the core being the Ten Commandments) “aroused our sinful passions”. The result: unrighteousness that leads to death.
But now, having “died” to the law which held us captive to our sinful passions, we are “discharged” from living under law. The result: we’re not slaves “under the old written code” (which is holy but without power to produce what it requires); we’re slaves “in the new life of the Spirit.” That is, the Holy Spirit births in us the life of the resurrected Christ. That life is a life of righteousness. And it’s mediated to us by “the Spirit”.
* * *
I’ve never lived “under law”. I’ve never entered into the Old Mosaic Covenant. But I remember sitting in my Bible College “Romans and Galatians” class, when abruptly “the light came on”. I realized I could do nothing to be justified and that the Spirit provided the power for my sanctification. I, who grew up in the church and was preparing for ministry, had up to that moment thought I was “under law” with Christ’s sacrifice mixed in. Without realizing it, I was like the Galatians–having started with the Spirit, I was now ending with the flesh (Galatians 3:3).
This doesn’t mean I tear down the Ten Commandments from my refrigerator and just see what the
Spirit does. It means rather that, in this fight to live righteously in a fallen world with a still sinful nature, I’m not under law’s condemnation, law’s powerlessness, and law’s sin-arousal. I have been united with Christ in a resurrection like his (6:5). I can consider myself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (6:11). I must remember I am under grace (6:14). I must believe that I belong to him who was raised from the dead (7:4). I can be confident that I live in the new life of the Spirit (7:6).
With that, I’m armed for the fight to bear the fruit of righteousness for God’s glory. Bring it on!