SUNDAY NIGHT CROSSTRAINING NOTES
Serving God Through the New Life of the Spirit
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Sunday, February 10, 2008 - 6:00 p.m.  Sermon #: 1148
Pastor Don Horban

Romans 7:1-6 - “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? [2] Thus 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. [3] 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.[4] 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. [5] For 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. [6] But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.”

Romans chapter seven is one of the most studied and disputed chapters in the whole Bible. Debates rage as to whether it describes a Christian or a non-Christian. If it is a Christian being described, what kind of Christian is it? A brand new Christian? A normal Christian? Or is it describing a back-slidden Christian? Is Paul describing himself? If so, at what point in his spiritual experience? My own opinion is Romans seven isn’t describing an individual at all - Christian or non-Christian. It’s a passage about the theology of spiritual life. It’s about life under the new covenant as opposed to life under the old covenant. So he’s not describing persons in this tricky chapter. He’s trying to explain the role of the law in relationship to God.

In Romans chapter seven Paul is describing how the law works. Particularly, he’s trying to explain how a new relationship with God through Christ automatically changes a person’s relationship to the law as well. It doesn’t change the law, but it changes my relationship to the law. And the place where Paul introduces the nature of this change through Christ’s death and resurrection is Romans 7:1-6. Paul addresses three possible attitudes to the law:

First, there are legalists - people who take very seriously Paul’s positive statements about the importance of the law - that it is “holy and righteous and good”(7:12). So they try to use the law as a means of attaining salvation and righteousness before God. This, or course, only leads to despair and deeper condemnation - Romans 3:20 - “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

Second, there are antinomians (or libertarians) who see themselves so freed from the law they reject all authority and become a law unto themselves. They equate liberty with licence. Paul addressed their arguments with the question, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!”(6:1).

The third option Paul delineates is righteousness as the fruit of the Spirit. While he never uses those exact words, this is the concept he leads us into with the opening six verses of chapter seven. He wraps it all up with these words: “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit”(7:6). Because the law is powerless to produce righteousness, but can only demand it, another source of power is required to help us with holiness. This is the inward change the Holy Spirit initiates inside the heart of those who co-experience death and resurrection with Christ Jesus.

To keep it as simple as possible, we will divide Paul’s argument into three basic parts: the principle, the illustration, and the application:

1) THE PRINCIPLE IS LAWS ARE ONLY BINDING ON THE LIVING - NOT THE DEAD - Romans 7:1 - “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?”

This is not complicated. Laws are for the living. If I’m caught speeding on the way to the funeral home with a corpse in the back seat, I will get the ticket, not the corpse. The traffic laws have no application to the dead. If you have a legal contract with me and I die, you may go after someone else for financial satisfaction, but you have no claim at all on me. Death frees from law, every time. Law is for life. Death annuls it.

2) THE ILLUSTRATION PAUL CHOOSES TAKES THE ABOVE PRINCIPLE AND EXTENDS IT TO LIVING CHRISTIANS - Romans 7:2-3 - “Thus 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. [3] 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.”

This is a brilliant stroke by Paul. Most of us can understand how the law has no claim on the dead. But we aren’t dead. We’re all trying to serve Jesus while we’re alive. So how is it possible for our relationship to the law to be transformed so we’re no longer, to use Paul’s terms, “under the law”(6:14), or “held captive” by it(7:6)?This is why Paul chooses the illustration from marriage. Because, not only is the deceased husband released from the covenant of marriage, but so is the living widow. This is why she is called “an adulteress”(3) if she lives with another man while her husband is still living, but is “not an adulteress”(3) if her husband has died. Her relationship to the marriage covenant is changed by the death of her husband. She is released from the law of that marriage by the death of her husband. It no longer has any condemning power over her life.

3) THE APPLICATION OF THIS TRUTH TO THE CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIAN THROUGH THE DEATH AND LIFE OF CHRIST AND THE FRUIT-PRODUCING POWER OF THE SPIRIT - Romans 7:4-6 - “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. [5] For 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. [6] But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.” I have two thoughts here:

First, we “died to the law through the body of Christ”(4). Obviously, Paul is looking back to the general principle from the first verse - the law only has authority over the living. But, he says, I am swept up into Christ’s death. We spent the last two weeks studying this very theme in Romans 6:3-5.
In Christ’s death, and in my participation in Christ’s death, the demands of the law have been fully satisfied. Nothing has been ignored or overlooked: Galatians 3:13-14 - “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"— [14] so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

This is Paul’s response to the legalist. The law can’t be used to earn merit before God because there is nothing left to be paid from my account. Christ’s death did two things. First, He bore the curse of the law for me. And second, He opened the door for the promised Holy Spirit to work in my heart.

Second, we died to the law so we could be united to Christ - Romans 7:4 - “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.” This is Paul’s response to the libertarian. True, we died to the law, but we are not unattached. We died to the law so we might be joined to Christ - “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....(7:4). So, while I’m no longer attached to the law, I’m called to be faithful to my new spouse. This is why Paul chose the illustration from marriage in the preceding two verses. There is still a covenant, though it is no longer through the law.

So the legalist is wrong and the libertarian is wrong. Then what is the position of the Christian with regard to the law of God? In short, regarding holiness, the Christian becomes fruitful where he used to fail. And he or she does this by the inward power of the Holy Spirit:

Romans 7:5-6 - “For 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. [6] But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.”

When we were outside of Christ the law of God only aroused rebellion in some deep level of our hearts. Paul says it actually increased sin. And it exposed sin I hadn’t even been thinking of. That’s why Paul’s marriage illustration is so brilliant. The coming of the Spirit of God does to my holiness what a loving marriage does to my physical faithfulness. I don’t live my married life under the weight of the law telling me I have to be faithful. That law is true and that law is good. In fact, iIt’s the will of God. But, through the power of my love for my wife, I spend my energy, not on keeping the law, but on enjoying the love of my wife. In delighting in the love of my wife, I keep the law. But it’s not a condemning chore. It’s a fruitful delight.

Here’s how Paul will summarize it later on in this very letter. It’s a perfect description - “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”(14:17).