12. The Relationship Between Rules and Righteousness (Romans 7:1-6)
A number of years ago a very tragic boating accident resulted in the loss of two lives. A family enjoying a day at the lake made a turn in their boat, and the daughter fell overboard. Quickly turning the boat around, the father jumped into the water to save his daughter as it approached the drowning girl. The father could swim, but for some unexplained reason he quickly drowned, leaving the little girl still thrashing about in the water. No one on board knew how to operate the boat, and it continued to drift away as the father and daughter were perishing.
Nearby, a man was fishing from a small rowboat. Seeing the accident, he began to row to the scene to help in any way he could. Paralyzed from the waist down, the man’s ability to help was limited. Approaching the struggling girl, he held out an oar for her to grasp, but he could do no more because of his condition. Unable to hold on to the oar, the girl slipped beneath the surface of the water while the man watched helplessly, unable to do anything more to help her.
All of mankind is very much like the drowning girl. We are overcome by sin and unable to save ourselves. The Law of Moses, and any other system of rules, is very much like the paralyzed man attempting to rescue the girl. His intention was sincere and commendable, but he lacked the power to save the drowning girl. The Law is good, but it cannot save the sinner. Neither can the Law release the Christian from his bondage to sin. As a matter of fact, it is the Law which somehow sustains man’s bondage to sin. The solution to the problem of sin is therefore to be released from the Law and thus from sin. This release is described by Paul in our text.
Paul’s teaching on the relationship between righteousness and the Law comes to a dramatic climax in Romans 7. Man’s fundamental problem is his lack of righteousness. As Paul concludes in Romans 3:10, “There is none righteous, not even one” (quoting from Psalm 14). Because of man’s universal unrighteousness, the Righteous Creator of the universe is presently manifesting His wrath toward sinners. In judging sin, God demonstrates His righteousness. God also manifests His righteousness by saving some men from their sins. He has accomplished this by pouring out His righteous wrath on His own Son, Jesus Christ, who bore the sinner’s punishment. All who believe in Him by faith are declared righteous by faith alone, apart from works, including works of the Law. The Law cannot save anyone; it can only condemn all who are under it for failing to meet God’s standard of righteousness. The Law can only define righteousness and bear witness to the righteousness of God which has been manifested in the person of Jesus Christ. Man’s justification (being declared righteous before God) is by faith alone, apart from works:
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26).
Even Abraham, the honored patriarch of the Jews, was justified by faith and not by his works. He was declared righteous purely on the basis that he believed God’s promise, years before he was circumcised and centuries before the Law was given to Moses at Mt. Sinai (see Romans 4).
The Law could show men to be sinners, but it could not justify sinners. The Law can condemn, but it cannot save. It is just as helpless to produce righteousness in the lives of those who have been justified by faith. Put differently, the Law is as completely powerless to sanctify men as it is to save men. The self-righteous Jew of Romans 2 found that the Law in which he boasted could not justify him but only condemn him. Paul now adds that the Law was not brought in to reduce or to rid mankind of sin, but to cause the transgression of Adam to be multiplied many times over so that the guilt of every individual could be imputed to them, with the result that grace would abound even more than sin:
20 And the Law came in that the transgression might increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:20-21).
If the Jews were inclined to overestimate the value of the Law as a deterrent to sin, there were many (often Gentiles) who twisted the grace of God into an excuse for sin.150 It is the evil of lawlessness which Paul addresses in Romans 6 as he proves that it is stupid for a Christian to sin. It is a contradiction of his union with Christ, to his death to sin and his resurrection to newness of life (6:1-11). It is also a return to that very bondage from which faith in Christ set him free, and a return to that path which produces shame and death (6:15-23).
We were not saved in order to live in sin. We were justified, declared righteous through the person and work of Jesus Christ, so that God might manifest His righteousness through us. To this, the legalist would shout a hearty, “Amen!” But it is here that the legalist goes astray from the truth of the gospel. The legalist seeks to solve the problem of sin by introducing the Law. “If you want to reduce sin and produce righteousness,” the legalist would say, “you must introduce rules.” Righteousness, to the legalist, is a matter of keeping the rules.
The gospel teaches just the opposite. To be freed from sin, you must be freed from servitude to the Law. Listen once again to Paul’s words found in Romans 6:14: “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.”
To the legalist, grace was the cause of sin, and the Law was the solution for sin. To Paul, legalism promoted sin while grace alone could overcome it. To be free from the mastery of sin, the Christian must be freed from the mastery of the Law.151
Throughout history, the two extremes of license and legalism have existed with each pointing to the other as the justification for their own error. The Law did not save Abraham, for it was not given at the time he was justified, by faith alone (see Romans 4). It was not the Law which saved Israel from Egyptian bondage, for the Law was not given until after God’s defeat of Egypt and Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea. Law-keeping would never save any Israelite but only faith.
When the Son of God added humanity to His deity and began His earthly ministry, He immediately distinguished His teaching and that of the Law from the false teaching and legalism of the scribes and Pharisees (see Matthew 5-7). All through His earthly ministry, scribes and Pharisees debated with Jesus and opposed His interpretation of the Law. The apostles and leaders of the church in Jerusalem had great difficulty concluding that the gospel was to be offered to the Gentiles and that Gentile saints were not to be placed under the yoke of the Law and made Law-keepers (see Acts 10-11; 15; Galatians 2:11-21). The apostles had to battle against both license and legalism as contrary to the gospel and to the grace of God. In Romans 6 Paul has shown license to be contrary to the gospel and to the grace of God. Now, in Romans 7:1-6, Paul will show us that legalism is contrary to the gospel. Paul will not only teach us that legalism is contrary to the gospel, but that in Christ we died not only to sin but also to the Law. Just as the Law could not save anyone, as we see in Romans 1-4, it cannot sanctify anyone either as shown in Romans 5-8.
The Argument and Structure of the Text
The argument of Romans 7:1-6 is built upon all that Paul has taught before in the first six chapters of Romans. Man’s unrighteousness is the reason for God’s judgment and for His provision of righteousness, by faith, in Jesus Christ. Righteousness is not only that which the gospel provides, but what it requires. Those whom God has justified, He has saved, to live out His righteousness before men. The Law, however, is not the solution. It can neither save sinners nor sanctify them. Just as God’s righteousness was provided to save men, apart from the Law (3:19-26), God’s righteousness is produced in the Christian apart from the Law (7:1-6). The Law can define sin, and even increase it, but it cannot reduce or remove sin. When men are united with the person and work of Christ by faith, they not only die to the penalty of sin, they die to the practice of sin, and to the power of the Law over them, by which sin binds them (7:1-6). The real culprit, however is not the Law, for the Law is “holy, righteous, and good” (7:12). The real culprit is the flesh, which sin dominates (7:14-25). And the power which enables our dead bodies to overcome sin is the power of the Holy Spirit, the same power which gave life to the dead body of our Lord, raising Him to life (8:1-11).
The argument and structure of Romans 7:1-6 is apparent. In verse 1, Paul states the general principle, that the law only has authority over those who are alive. In verses 2-3 Paul demonstrates his point using the illustration of the woman whose husband dies, thus freeing her from the law and from her previous marriage, and enabling her to be married to another man. In verses 4-6, Paul applies the principle of verse 1 (and its illustration in verses 2-3) to the union of the believer with Christ and to his liberation from the Law. We can summarize the structure of our text in this way:
- The Principle: Death liberates from the law (verse 1)
- The Illustration: Death liberates from the law (verses 2-3)
- The Point: We have been liberated from the law (verses 4-6)
Death Liberates From the Law
1 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?
The question, “Or do you not know?” repeated here in verse 1, links Paul’s words with the context. He has asked virtually the same question in 6:3 and 6:16. What Paul is saying in verses 1-6 of chapter 7 must be understood in connection with what he has previously said, especially in chapter 6.
The question, “Or do you not know?” underscores the continuity of Paul’s teaching. The term “brethren,” along with the parenthetical comment of verse 1, indicates the uniqueness of verses 1-6. Paul is here speaking particularly to the Jews, his “brethren.” These “brethren” are those who “know the law.” If the Gentiles 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. Imposing the Law of Moses on the Gentiles was a tempting way to try to overcome their heathen ways (see Acts 15).
Paul has already made the statement, “You are not under law, but under grace” (6:14). He will now begin to expound this truth. How is it that Christians are no longer “under law”? They are freed from the law by death. The law, whether this be the Law of Moses or any other law, only applies to men while they are alive. Dead men are released from the law.
To illustrate, imagine a hearse speeding on its way to the cemetery and racing through a radar trap. In hot pursuit, a motorcycle policeman speeds after the hearse. When the hearse pulls over, the policeman does not go to the driver, but he goes to the back door of the hearse where he opens the casket and slips the traffic ticket inside. Pretty ridiculous, is it not? No one can expect the law to have authority over a dead man.
Joe Bayly wrote a very excellent little book, originally entitled, “A View From the Hearse.” The title was changed in a later edition, but I like the original title best. Life does look different from the vantage point of death. Paul views sanctification “from the hearse.” He takes us back, once more, to the cross of Calvary, to the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. Because 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 (Romans 3). In Christ, we died to the practice of sin (Romans 6). In Christ, we also died to the Law and its power over us. Our union with Christ in His death frees us from the Law. If those who have died are free from the Law, we are free from the Law because we died in Christ.
Paul’s Illustration: Free From the Law
2 For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. 3 So then if, while her husband is living, she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress, though she is joined to another man.
Paul illustrates the principle just stated in verse 1 with a practical example in verses 2 and 3. A married woman is bound to her husband by law. Because of this legal bondage to her husband, she is not free to marry another man. To marry another while her husband is alive would make her an adulteress. But death changes everything. The death of her husband nullifies the law, so far as her remarriage is concerned. Now, freed from the law,152 she may marry another and bear offspring to him.153
The principle is very simple: The law has authority over those who are alive. The authority of the law is set aside by death. Death frees one from the law and its bondage. This general principle, and Paul’s illustration of marriage, will now be applied personally, as it relates to the death of the Christian in Christ to the Law and the liberty which this brings.
Christians Have Been
Freed From Bondage to the Law
4 Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God. 5 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. 6 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.
The title I have given to these verses sounds a little repetitious, does it not? I believe Paul meant to be repetitious. He does not want any Christian to miss the point: We are not under Law; we are under grace (6:14). When a person enters into justification by faith, the Holy Spirit baptizes them, joining them to Jesus Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. In Romans 6:1-11, Paul showed that being thus baptized, Christians have died to sin and have been raised to newness of life, in Christ. Here, Paul reminds us of another dimension of our identification with Christ. In Him, we also died to the Law and to its dominion over us. In so doing, we are freed from that which binds us to sin and its penalty—death.
Paul’s argument in verse 4 is stated differently than in Romans 6:1-11. In Romans 6, Paul speaks of our union with Christ as one union. We were united with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. Now however Paul speaks as though there were two unions. We were united with Christ, our sin-bearer, in His death to sin and to the Law. We died with Christ, which freed us from our bondage to the Law. Having died to the Law, we are now freed to be united with another Master, Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead.
If I understand Paul’s argument correctly, Jesus is both our “former husband,” from which we were freed by our death to the Law, and He is now our “present husband,” to whom we are joined, and through whom we bear the fruit of righteousness to God. The Christ who died and the Christ who rose from the dead are the same Christ, but with two very different roles. The Christ who died became “sin” for us: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The Christ who rose from the dead was Victor over sin and death. Neither sin, nor death, nor the Law had any claim on Him. And so, having died in Christ, we are now freed from the Law, freed to be joined with the resurrected Christ, so that we might bring forth the fruit of righteousness to God. Our union with Christ as the sin-bearer made possible our union with Christ, the source of righteousness. Our union with Christ in His death is the basis for dealing with the negative aspects of sin, death, and the Law. Our union with Christ in His resurrection is the source of that which is positive, the source of righteousness. In the words of the secular song, our union with Christ in His death “eliminates the negative,” while our union with Christ in His resurrection “accentuates the positive.”154
In verses 5 and 6, Paul goes farther than he has before showing us that the Law promotes sin rather than putting it down. We have already seen one way in which sin is increased by the Law in Romans. Note the argument of Paul in these verses:
14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; 15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation (Romans 4:14-15, emphasis mine).
12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—13 for until the Law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come (Romans 5:12-14, emphasis mine).
17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. 18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. 20 And the Law came in that the transgression might increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:17-21, emphasis mine).
Apart from law, there is no violation of law and thus no basis for condemnation. Adam and Eve had but one “law,” the commandment not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Their violation of this “law” Paul refers to as “the transgression” in Romans 5:17. Those who lived in the time period between Adam and Moses, when the Law of Moses was not yet given, died because they all sinned in Adam. When the Law of Moses was given, men now became sinners because they violated God’s Law. Thus, “the transgression” of Adam was increased by the Law of Moses to “many transgressions.” The Law of Moses therefore increased sin and did not reduce it.
In Romans 7:5-6, Paul speaks of yet another way in which law155 increases sin. All men are sinners, born in rebellion against God. We naturally reject His revelation. We even reject His grace. When commandments are given men by God, our sinful nature is eager to rebel. Thus, any commandment, even though it comes from God,156 is a temptation to further sin. The more rules from God, the more our rebellion against God.
In our natural, unsaved, state (“in the flesh,” verse 5), the Law157 arouses sinful passions, resulting in sin and death. The Law was not a cure and could mistakenly be considered a curse. This is a matter Paul will take up in Romans 7:7-25.
The Law poses a problem for the Christian and does not solve the problem of sin. Thus, the Christian must die to the Law, to be freed from the bondage to sin it facilitates. The real problem is indicated in verse 5, having been hinted at previously (see for example, “body of sin” in Romans 6:6). It is the problem of the flesh. The solution is to be found in the Spirit (verse 7). The role of the Holy Spirit will be expounded in detail in chapter 8.
The Law of Moses, or any other inferior law, can never save anyone. It can only define sin and condemn men for practicing it. The Law points out the problem, but it provides no solution. The Law did bear witness to the righteousness of God in Christ. The salvation which He provided on the cross of Calvary was not through the Law but apart from it. The Law cannot justify sinners.
The Law of Moses does define righteous conduct. God saved us in order that we might manifest His righteousness. Thus, the lawlessness of our former lifestyle must not continue on, now that we have been justified by faith, identified with our Lord Jesus Christ in His death (to sin), burial, and resurrection (to newness of life). The righteousness which our salvation requires cannot be produced by law-keeping, by rules and regulations. Here, in sanctification, as was also true in regard to our justification, the Law cannot produce righteous living and even passively promotes sin. Sanctification, like justification, comes about apart from the Law.
Our bondage to sin is linked to our bondage to the Law. The solution to this problem is the cross of Calvary. In Christ, we died to the Law and to its reign over us. In dying to the Law, sin no longer has mastery over us. Death to the Law, and its strong pull on our fallen flesh, is to be replaced by a life lived through God’s Spirit.
Before Paul expounds this new life in the Spirit, he must speak a word in defense of the Law. This he does in Romans 7:7-25. He will show us that the Law itself is “holy, righteous, and good” (7:12), but that sin uses the Law to appeal to our flesh and to overpower us. Then, in chapter 8, he will explain how the power of God, manifested through the Holy Spirit, enables us to serve God in spite of sin and the flesh.
How foolish and ignorant are those who would suppose that the work of Jesus Christ on Calvary was accomplished on our behalf, so that we could continue to live in sin. How foolish also are those who would say that the righteousness which God requires can be produced through law-keeping. The cross of Calvary forbids both lawlessness and law-keeping as a way of life. Walking in the Spirit is the only way of sanctification. Law-keeping will not save us and neither will it sanctify us.
Romans 6:1–7:1-6 has many implications and applications for Christians in our day. Before we conclude, allow me to step back and view our text in its broader context, suggesting some of the applications of Paul’s words to our own lives.
(1) Paul does not portray living in sin as a life of pleasure and delight, given up for the sake of a monastic existence. All too often, Christians seem to think of the Christian life negatively, in terms of all that they have given up. The former life of sin, which the Christian must leave behind, Paul views as that of which we should be glad to be rid. Before our salvation, we lived in ways that now make us ashamed (6:21). We were on a path which led to death (6:23), and we were enslaved to a cruel master (6:17). Christians who give up sin have given up nothing of value. We have lost nothing and have gained everything. Too many Christians view the Christian life differently. They seem to think that they have given up a great deal and that their gains are minimal. Giving up sin is not a sacrifice. We should agonize as little over giving up sin as we do over taking out the trash.
(2) Paul does not speak of obedience to Christ and living righteously as the high road which some Christians take and which the majority reject for the lower road of mere salvation. I know it is popularly taught that salvation and discipleship are separate issues. Thus, they say, one can be saved without being informed about and making a commitment to obeying Christ as Master. This simply does not square with Paul’s teaching in Romans. He says that when these saints were saved, they committed themselves to teaching which informed them of what salvation and sanctification involved (6:17). Paul does not speak of “two paths for Christians,” one of mere salvation and the other of discipleship. He speaks of two paths, the path of sin, leading to death, and the path of righteousness, leading to eternal life. The low road is the path of sin. The high road is the path of righteousness, leading to life. Whenever the Christian departs from this “high road,” he does not lose his salvation, but he does leave the path of life. No wonder Paul warns the sinning saint about death (see 1 Corinthians 5:5; 11:30).158 Just as the New Testament never conceives of a person coming to faith in Christ apart from submitting to baptism, so the New Testament never conceives of someone coming to faith in Christ apart from turning from sin and practicing righteousness.
(3) God sent His Son to provide sinners with the forgiveness of sins, and freedom from sin, but not to provide freedom to sin.
(4) To Paul, the cross is the central truth of the gospel, the key not only to our salvation but also to our sanctification. Over and over, Paul returns to the cross of Calvary. “In Christ” is the not only one of the most common expressions found in Paul’s epistles, it is the key to Christian living. We are justified, in Christ. We are sanctified, in Christ. We are enriched with all spiritual blessings, in Christ. We are eternally secure, in Christ. We are victorious, in Christ.
In the minds of many Christians, it is not like this. Christ is seen as the starting point, but that is all. Christ is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, and everything in between. All things are from Him, through Him, and unto Him (Romans 11:36). Many Christians have begun with Christ, only to endeavor to find victory over sin through some other means. The cross of Christ is the only means of salvation, and it is the only means of sanctification. All things are summed up in Christ (see Colossians 1 and 2). Let us turn to no other than Christ and His cross. No wonder Paul’s only message was concerning Christ, crucified and raised from the dead (see 1 Corinthians 1 and 2). Christ alone is sufficient. Christ alone is our strength. Christ alone should be the object of our instruction, our devotion, and our dependence.
(5) Legalism is one of the great threats to the Christian of our day, not just to those of Paul’s day. It is certainly true that we can find ample evidence of license and libertinism in the church today. But the danger about which Paul warns us in our text is legalism. Legalism is not the cure for license. Grace is not an excuse for sin, but it does provide the cure for sin. It is not Law but grace which the church needs more of today.
When I speak of legalism, I am not speaking only of the danger of those who would seek to put all Christians under the bondage of the Law of Moses. I am speaking of the temptation to put Christians under rules and regulations, thinking that obedience to these rules will defeat sin and result in righteousness. Paul says in our text that legalism may look good but that it utterly fails to produce righteousness. This is consistent with his teaching elsewhere:
If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence (Colossians 2:20-23).
Legalism will take forms in the church which have, as Paul states above, “the appearance of wisdom,” but which are of no value at all so far as overcoming the flesh. I wish to mention one current emphasis in Christian circles which, although it may have some elements of truth, is a teaching which tends toward legalism. It is the teaching concerning “accountability” to one another.
I believe the Bible clearly teaches our responsibility to one another, but I do not see the Scriptures teaching accountability in the way it is being presently taught and practiced. It sounds pious and encouraging to hear of one teen calling another to see if they have had their devotions, but is this a form of legalism? Are we accountable to God or to men? I am not saying that such teaching is completely wrong, but I am saying that it has the potential for legalism. Let us be on guard for legalism, whatever the form it may take. Rules and regulations do not make men righteous. Christ died to Law, that it might no longer bind us and so that we might be free, not to live in sin, but to be joined to Christ and to bear the fruit of righteousness.
(6) While the Law does not solve the problem of sin, neither is the Law evil. The Law is a problem. Legalism is an error with dangerous and deadly outworkings. Nevertheless, let us not wrongly jump to the conclusion that the Law is entirely evil and useless. The Law is “holy, righteous, and good” (7:12). Paul does not say that the gospel utterly condemns the Law, but that it “establishes the Law” (3:31). Those who walk in the Spirit “fulfill the requirement of the Law” (8:4). Paul will clearly defend the Law in the remainder of chapter 7. I simply remind you here of the goodness of the Law, even though it cannot save or sanctify men.
As I conclude, let me say a final word to any of you who may not yet have come to faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. Christianity has always had its hypocrites and its bad examples. There are those who would abuse the grace of God, making it an excuse (perhaps even a mandate) for their sin. They are wrong! There are also those who would seek to put Christians under a long list of rules, usually Don’ts. These folks are wrong too. Justification by faith is God’s solution for sin and its consequences. Justification by faith is God’s provision of righteousness, so that men might be saved, and so that they might manifest His righteousness in their lives. If you would be free from the burden of your sin, receive God’s gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. Trust in Him as the One who died in your place, bearing the punishment for your sins. Receive from Him that righteousness which you can never produce by your own efforts. Forsake your unrighteousness, and turn to Him who alone can make you righteous. Do it today.
151 The translation of Romans 6:14 and 7:1 in the NASB and most other versions fails to indicate that the same term is employed in these verses. This term is rendered “be master over” in 6:14 and “has jurisdiction over” in 7:1. I do not argue at all with the translation, for it conveys what Paul said. It is helpful, however, to know that Paul is using the same term, and in doing so he is informing us that the mastery of sin is directly linked to the mastery of the Law. This, of course, he says in 6:14, and he expounds upon in 7:1-6. One cannot be free from sin until he is free from Law. This message was the opposite of what Judaism and the Judaisers taught. If Paul has corrected the libertine in chapter 6, he is also correcting the legalist now. Lawlessness (license) is wrong, and so is Law-keeping (legalism).
152 Her husband is surely not the Law, as some commentators hold. Her husband is hardly in view. It is not that her husband is so bad, for this is never stated. The point is only that she is not free to marry anyone else. Her bondage is a bondage which the law imposes on her. Death frees her from the law and the limitations it poses on her. The bondage Paul spoke of in 6:15-23 is bondage to sin. The bondage to sin is now linked with the law.
153 At first, it may seem that Paul’s illustration is flawed. For Paul’s illustration to fit the Christian’s experience, should the wife not die? First, Paul is not illustrating the Christian’s liberation from the Law in Christ here but the general principle stated in verse 1. The Christian’s experience in Christ is expounded in verses 4-6. Second, our freedom from the law has not been achieved by our own death but by our death to the Law, in Christ. We died to the Law by means of the death of another (Jesus Christ), just as the wife died to the law by means of the death of her husband.
154 Even that line which I can hardly remember, “and don’t mess with Mr. In Between,” seems to apply here, because the libertine seems to be tempted to live in sin, while calling on grace. Paul says that we must declare ourselves, recognize that there are only two masters, and choose whom we will serve.
158 I want to be very clear on this point. A Christian cannot lose his salvation by sinning. But sinning is inconsistent with salvation, and it is turning from the path of life to the path of death. Paul does not try to motivate Christian living by holding salvation over the heads of the saints, as though sin might cause them to lose it. He begins his teaching on sanctification by underscoring the certainty of salvation and its benefits (Romans 5) before ever moving on to its obligations (Romans 6ff.).
Related Topics: Law