Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 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. 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.
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.
These words seem very prosaic – occurring in a book that is the greatest treatise of Christianity, revealing the divine righteousness of God and attesting to God as the origin of the gospel, being the power unto salvation (Romans 1:16,17). Up to chapter 6, Paul had demolished the so-called righteous of the gentiles, along with the righteousness of the moralists, the Jew and the world in general. He did this by showing the futility of humans keeping the law of Moses or indeed any law or rules or ethic and thus finding no one capable of righteousness on their own merit. This means all people fall short of the glory of God – hell awaits everyone, unless saved (Romans 3:23). But of course we find a solution in chapter 3; the Old Testament doctrine of the just living by faith is repeated; heaven awaits all those who believe in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:22). Paul then goes on to explain the gospel (Chapter 4), its benefits and applicability (chapter 5) and then in chapter 6 he sets out the characteristics of a Christian’s new life which the resurrection of Christ can bring to who believe (e.g. 6:11). One then can ask why didn’t he stop there – or just jump to chapter 12-15 where he sets out the practicalities of Christian living?
The doctrine Paul thus far sets out the truth of the effect of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ upon the souls of those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ. We are to reckon our flesh dead, and must live a life to God through Him, which in practice means living under two authorities; Adam (old me = “I”) and Christ (new me = “Christ in me”). However, there is still one other question at this point in the Paul’s argument that needing answering, and this pertains to the law – the Law of Moses to be exact, which still exists; the question is, is it still in effect?
To the gentile (most of us) this question may never arise, but the church at Rome had Jews in its congregation and this remained a vexing question for them (See chapter 15 of Acts). And today there are some Jewish Messianic Christians who would like all Christians to return to the law. The question thus is – what is the force of the law upon a Christian’s life, whether Jew of gentile? The answer; ‘none’. It has no authority over a Christian, Jew or Gentile. In demonstrating the law had no effect (or force) he uses the example of the law of marriage, as it was applied at the time Paul was writing. A married person (and Paul focuses on the woman) would be in breach of the commandment not to commit adultery (Deuteronomy 5:18) if she had sex with anyone other than her husband. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry another man, and have sex with him – the law is not broken. Why? Because death releases her from the law (verse 2).
So how does this apply to a Christian? Paul, having shown in chapter 6 that our old self (the flesh) is dead (baptism demonstrates this – Romans 6:2-4), he now shows that the law of Moses no longer applies to a Christian, since we have died to sin and have been raised to newness of life (this is what it means to be born again). For this reason we have been released from the law because, like how the death of partner releases the other from the law of marriage, so does being born again release us from the law. Chapter 6 shows how we have been buried with Christ through baptism into death and now we are raised from the dead, a new person. And this action means the law no longer has authority over our soul; and therefore a believer (Christian) has Christ as his or her authority – being a new and living way. So it’s not that Christ has done away with the law (he didn’t) – indeed the next part of chapter 7 examines this – but rather the law no longer is in force upon a believer’s soul.
So does that mean we can live how we like? Chapter 6 says “God forbid” (Romans 6:15). Chapter 7 says that we can now live in the newness of the Spirit and therefore our hearts desire is to please God, not out of compunction of a law, but because Christ first loved us and laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16).
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