Dead to the Law
Let us begin this morning with our February memory verse. Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I hope that all of you are spending your time equipping yourselves with these Bible verses, the Sword of the Spirit.
This morning we find ourselves in Romans 7. We will spend this Sunday and next Sunday unpacking this very interesting chapter. After that, God willing, Pastor Jeff will be teaching on February 25th and launching the greatest chapter in the entire Bible, Romans 8. Which we will spend at least one month or more unpacking. But today, let us turn our attention to our text Romans 7:1-12. Please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.
The Scandal of the Gospel
Let us begin by talking about the scandal that is the gospel. As we have seen over the last several months, the gospel of Jesus Christ is radical in its nature. In fact, our memory verse from Romans 6:23 is a classic example of this. It says that the wages of sin is death. This means that this is what sinners deserve. This is what our rebellious life earns us. Eternal death in Hell is a just and right punishment for our transgression.
However, the second part of Romans 6:23 is “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So instead of eternal death, sinners are able to receive eternal life. And the way we get eternal life is through the “free gift of God.” Therefore, there is nothing we have to do to earn this free gift. It is a gift. It is free. You just receive it. And all of this is achieved through the person of Christ Jesus. So we deserve hell, but we get heaven, all because of Jesus? Yes. This is the gospel, and it is scandalous.
Romans 5:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
To be justified is to be declared not guilty, and we “have been” (passed tense) justified by faith. This faith in Christ achieves peace with God. We stand not in our own merit, but in the grace of Christ upon the cross. And because of this, we look forward to being with God in glory. That is the gospel and it is scandalous.
And because the gospel is so scandalous, people will automatically make objections to it. In fact, their objections are proof that you probably shared the Gospel correctly. The two objections that Paul hears over and over again during his ministry are 1) Won’t the gospel give people freedom to sin? And 2) What about the law?
To the first question, Paul addressed in Romans 6. He pointed out their misunderstanding of what occurs to a person’s heart when they become a follower of Jesus. That when you place your faith in Jesus there is a seismic shift in your soul, whereby you fundamentally change your relationship with sin. No longer do you obey sin, instead you obey Jesus. He becomes your new master. Faith in Christ isn’t just about payment of sin, it is also power over sin. At that point of conversion, God changes your affections. He opens your eyes to the depravity of sin and the beauty of Christ. You become a new creation.
Today we will cover the second objection, what about the law? How does the Son of God affect the law of God? What relationship does a Christian have with the law?
What is the Law?
So let us start by asking, what is the law? The apostle Paul uses the word law 53 times in the book of Romans. In this chapter alone it is used 23 times. In verse 1 says, “Or do you not know brothers, for I am speaking to those who know the law.” The Apostle Paul assumes that his readers know the law. So what law is Paul talking about?
When thinking about the law as it relates to the Bible, especially the Old Testament, there are generally three categories of the law: 1)The moral law, 2) the ceremonial law, and 3) the judicial law. This concept can be found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, specifically chapter 19. The moral law is just as it sounds. It is the general law of what is right and what it wrong. This is a law that applies to all of mankind. The ceremonial law is the law as it relates to the nation of Israel during the time of the Old Testament that included ceremonial sacrifices, ceremonial cleansing, ceremonial duties such as the obligations of the Priests in the Old Testament. And finally the judicial laws were the laws that related to Israel as a political nation. These laws would have included things like property rights, employments rights, and other civil regulations that are needed for a polity to function. Some of these things somewhat overlap when they are all mixed together in a theocracy, but make no mistake the categories are helpful. So which category of law does the Apostle Paul have in mind: the moral law, the ceremonial law, or the judicial law?
To answer that question we need to go to verse 6. The Apostle Paul writes, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” So what is the law? Paul describes it as the old way of the written code. So what is this old written code?
Let's keep reading, verse 7, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” Does that sound familiar, “You Shall not covet”? It should, for it is one of the ten commandments found in the old written code of Exodus 20. In fact it is the oldest of the written code of God. Let's turn their and look at this old written code in Exodus 20, kids included. Let's work on some sword drills.
So in Romans 7, Paul seems to be talking about the laws of the Ten Commandments. So is this the moral law, the ceremonial law, or the judicial law? It is the moral law. It is the universal law that applies to all humanity, not just the theocratic nation stated of Israel. These are the laws are held against all humanity, gentiles included.
What is the Purpose of the Law?
The next thing we need to ask, is what is the purpose of these moral laws that God has placed upon humanity. Let us again look at verse 7, “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” Verse 7 tells us that the moral law reveals sin. Which means that sin is something that exists in us and the law of God acts like a mirror or a flashlight upon our soul to show us our wretchedness.
This has already been brought up before by Paul in 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.” The purpose of the law is to bring us knowledge of our sin. In my study I liked the way Dr. Phil Williams put it, “The law is the light that reveals how dirty the room is, not the broom that sweeps it clean.”
With this in mind, it makes a great deal of sense that the first thing that God did with his people Israel after he brought them out of Egypt was to turn on the light by giving them the ten commandments. God desired for them to know their wretchedness.
Now what is interesting about the law is how the sin nature responds to it. Look at verse 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.” This verse speaks to how wretched we are, that the law, which is from God, causes in our flesh a desire to disobey. The great theologian, Augustine in his great work, “Confessions” described how when he was a boy he and his friends use to steal pears from a neighbor's pear tree. One would think it was for the purpose of eating the pears, but that was not the case. He admitted that they gave most of the pears to the pigs. Augustine stated, ““Perhaps we ate some of them, but our real pleasure consisted in doing something that was forbidden.”
This desire to do what is forbidden is not limited to little boys and pear trees, it is in the heart of every man, every descendent of Adam, the pleasure that comes from doing what is forbidden.
This is why the Apostle Paul confesses in verse 8, “But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.” As Paul says, the law awakens sin in our lives, the sin that exists, the sin we don't see. Once again, Paul has already mentioned this truth in Romans 5:20 when he said, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass.”
Therefore the fruit that is produced by the law in an unregenerate heart is more and more and more and more sin. As we saw last week, lawlessness produces more lawlessness. And the end of that cycle of law and sin, law and sin, law and sin is what? Look at verse 5 again, “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.” The final fruit of a life that lives in the flesh is the fruit of death.
And this is what the law of God requires, death. This is the penalty according to the law of God. Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death.” Death is what we deserve. For me, this makes a lot of sense, for I spend my days reading the Iowa Criminal Code. It has laws such as “thou shall not kill” and “thou shall not steal” and with each one of those laws, there is an associated penalty. The law requires a punishment.
What is our Relationship with the Law?
So with all of that under our belt, let us now ask the question, what about Christians? What is a follower of Jesus Christ's relationship with the moral law? Verse 4 has our answer, “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.”
When you repent and put your faith in Jesus Christ, not only do we die to our old selves, but we also die to the law. In order for us the understand this fundamental truth, Paul uses the analogy of marriage. Before we place our faith in Christ we are married to the law. We are bound to it. It controls us. It is has a power over us. We are yoked to it. It is our husband. So just like we are slaves to sin, we are also under the authority of the law, both its control and its condemnation.
But all of that changes when we place our faith in Jesus Christ. The yoke of the law is taken from our shoulders. This is why Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The yoke of Jesus is not like the yoke of the law. The yoke of Jesus is easy. How so? Because Jesus is the one who fulfilled the legal requirements of the moral law.
Jesus says in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Jesus fulfilled the law by never sinning. He never stole a pear from his neighbor's pear tree. This is why the yoke of Jesus is light, because Jesus does all the work. Christ pulls the plow.
And this is why we are dead to the law, because Jesus has fulfilled the law. There is nothing left for us to do. The law is no longer our husband we have been released from the law, through faith in Christ.
I want us all to understand how terminal this relationship is. We are dead to the law and the law is dead to us. This is a complete severance. In fact, in Paul's analogy with marriage he says, “Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive.” This means that you can't have a relationship with the law and have a relationship with Christ. You must pick one or the other. You can't say that Jesus is your savior and then also try to save yourself through sacraments, penance, or purgatory. You can't say Jesus plus works equal salvation. That is adultery. You must pick one or the other, either Jesus is your husband or the law is your husband.
Now, at this point, some would start to want to circle back, and want to argue that a law free life will lead to debauchery. But do not forget what we have already studied in Romans 5 and 6. Paul reminds us of this in verse 6,”But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”
When we become Christians, we are dead to the law, but we are alive in the Spirit. This is the new way. And this new way is not like the old way with its written code upon stone. As Paul so eloquently says in 2 Corinthians 3:3, “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
Christians walk by the Spirit, not by the flesh. We are dead to the law and free from its power over us and its condemning punishment. However, this does not mean that the law is irrelevant to our lives. And we will talk more about that next Sunday. Let's pray.
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