Romans 7:1-6 is a brilliant truth. Let’s examine exactly what Paul is telling us.
Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the Law), that the Law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? (Romans 7:1 NASB).
Paul uses the phrase, “Or do you not know?” to point out specific truths. He used this style of rhetoric in the previous chapter as well (see Rom. 6:3, 6:16). By using it again here, Paul is further emphasizing the truth found in Romans 7:1. Paul is simply building upon his teaching in Chapter 6.
By using the term brethren, Paul is speaking particularly to his fellow Jewish brothers. These brethren are those who “know the Law.” If the Gentiles (non-Jews) are those most likely to abuse grace as an excuse for license to sin, the Jews are those who are likely to be the advocates of legalism. Jewish Christians, even the apostles, were inclined toward legalism (see Acts 10:9-18).
Paul had already made the statement, “You are not under law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14 NIV). Paul now advances this truth. How is it that Christians are no longer “under the Law”? They are freed from the Law by death. The law of Moses, or other laws created by people, only apply to men while they are alive. Dead men are released from the Law.
Imagine seeing a hearse speeding on its way to the cemetery and speeding through a radar trap. In pursuit, a motorcycle officer races after the hearse. When the hearse finally pulls over, the police officer does not go to the driver, but he goes to the back door of the hearse where he opens the casket and sticks the traffic ticket inside. Silly though it may be, no one can expect the Law to have authority over a dead person.
When Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy, Oswald himself was immediately assassinated outside the courtroom. Oswald was never tried because the Law only has jurisdiction over living people.
Life does look different from the vantage point of death. Paul views sanctification “from the hearse.” He takes us back to the cross of Calvary, to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Since every Christian is joined by the baptism of the Holy Spirit to Christ in His death and resurrection, Paul draws our attention to our own death in Christ. In Christ, we died to the penalty of sin. In Christ, we died to the practice of sin. In Christ, we have also died to the Law and its power over us. Our union with Christ in His death frees us from the Law.
For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man (Romans 7:2-3 NIV).
Paul used the analogy of marriage in these verses, but he most likely never intended to communicate a full-blown theology on marriage. Those who attempt to use Paul’s analogy in this passage and expand it into a definitive statement on marriage, divorce, and remarriage are not on safe interpretative grounds.
Paul’s point was simply to say that the Law of marriage applies only as long as both partners are alive. When one dies, that law is no longer applicable to the surviving partner. So let’s consider what Paul intended these verses to be limited to.
Paul illustrates the principle of death making the Law null and void by comparing it to the Law’s jurisdiction in marriage. Death changes all things. The death of a spouse invalidates the Law, and now a woman may remarry without violating the law.
Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter (Romans 7:4-6 NASB).
Paul communicates that we do not do anything; we don’t die to the Law ourselves or kill ourselves—we were made dead to the Law through Christ’s divine act. God not only delivers salvation, but also completes it. When we die to the Law, it no longer has authority over us. As believers we are no longer married to the Law, but we are now married to Jesus Christ. This is a beautiful picture of our relationship to Christ as His bride.
Paul is emphasizing Christ’s present union with all believers. Christians identify not only with Christ’s death in the past, but also with Christ in the present. In Romans 6:9, Paul declares that Christ’s death was sufficient and that He will never have to die again. Those who place their faith in Jesus Christ will never lose their Bridegroom (husband) Jesus. Your marriage commitment with Christ will last forever!
A LESSON FROM MARRIAGE
Let me tell you about John and Marge, a lovely married couple that lived on a sprawling estate in Atlanta, Georgia. They had been married for forty-five amazing years. While they were truly enjoying their latter days together, one spring day John became ill and passed away shortly thereafter.
John left Marge financially well off, and she did not have to worry about finances for the balance of her life. With the loss of John, many of her friends and family gathered around Marge bringing her great comfort and strength.
A number of months had gone by when one of Marge’s friends, Mary, came to visit. While Mary and Marge enjoyed some tea together, Mary mentioned, “You know, John left you quite wealthy. I think it would be good for you to travel to Europe. Get away, enjoy life, move on from John’s death, and get a fresh start. I believe this will help you start living again.”
After quite a lengthy discussion, Marge finally gave in and agreed that traveling to Europe would be nice and good for her. She thought, “Maybe a trip will help me get a fresh start.”
So a few days later, she packed, hopped on a plane, and flew to Rome, Italy. She was looking forward to traveling throughout Europe to see the magnificent sights and to relax and enjoy her life again.
One sunny beautiful day in Rome, Marge was sitting outside a quaint restaurant sipping on a cappuccino. She noticed a handsome man with tinted grey hair sitting at the table next to her. It wasn’t long before he noticed Marge and was quite taken by her loveliness.
After Frank introduced himself to Marge, they discovered they were both from America. Friendly exchanges led to hours of flowing conversation. As the days went by, they continued having cappuccinos together at what was quickly becoming their favorite restaurant.
Several weeks passed, and they began to fall in love. Because of their love and desire for one another, they were married and began to travel together throughout Europe as a newly married couple. They were deeply in love.
A number of weeks passed, and they decided to return to the United States. Because Marge was a wealthy woman and Frank, as a retiree, did not have a lot of money, they decided to live in Atlanta at Marge’s house.
They arrived at the Atlanta airport and took a taxi to Marge’s house. As they drove up to Marge’s extensive driveway, Frank was taken back by the enormous size of the historic Atlanta home. Frank commented on the beautiful pillars that framed the entrance of her lavish home. As they pulled up to the front steps, Frank paid the cab driver and whispered in Marge’s ear:
“I love you. I know this is a little old-fashioned, but I would love to carry you across the threshold of our new home.”
Marge loved that her new husband was so caring and excitedly agreed as Frank lifted her up. It was as if they were both in their twenties, full of excitement and anticipation of their new life together. Frank carried her into the house and set her down in the massive foyer. As he set his new bride down, he turned to close the door. As he reached for the knob, he let out a dire scream.
Frank frantically asked, “Marge, what is this? I mean, who is this?”
Frank was gazing at a huge glass case next to the front door. Inside was Marge’s husband.
Frank’s voice was getting louder, “Marge who is this, and what is he doing here?”
Marge calmly replied, “This is my old husband.”
“What do you mean this is your old husband?” asked Frank nervously.
Marge explained, “I placed him in this glass case so I would always remember him. I could not continue living without him. Keeping him in this glass case enables me to see him daily and always remember him.”
Frank yelled, “But he is dead!”
“I know”, explained Marge, “but I just could not continue life without him. I had to remember him, so I had him placed in this glass case.”
Frank went to the garage and found a shovel. He returned to the foyer and opened up the glass case. He removed Marge’s old, dead husband and took him out to the back yard. He dug a hole and, once and for all, buried her old husband. After completing the burial he came back to Marge.
Frank explained “You need to remember that he is dead, gone, and buried, and that I am your new husband, and I love you!” The significance of her husband’s death finally made sense to Marge and she lived out the rest of her life with her new husband.
As ridiculous as it sounds to keep your dead husband in a glass case in your hallway, Christians everywhere have memorialized their past in a similar way. Instead of resting in the assurance that their past life has been dead and buried with Christ, believers often remind themselves of their old, carnal life and continue to beat themselves up for their past sins. Many Christians are distracted from their true calling because they are so busy trying to ask God for forgiveness to prove to God that they are sorry. If God thought it necessary for us to remember our sins, he would have told us so. Instead, He told us to forget them as He has done, and to leave our old-self dead and buried.
Believer, it is time for us to remember that our “old self” is dead and gone. We need to remember that we have a brand-new life in Christ.