If we are dead and our life is hid with Christ in God we will discover that this death is not simply to sin. Our death, in Christ, has even farther-reaching implications. We have died not only to sin but to every power and authority that would seek to control us in a fallen world. Death severs all relationships in this world.
If in Roms 6 we are said to be dead to sin, then in Roms 7 we have died to the law for law, like sin, is an authority in the world.
Dead to the Law
- Is the law the ‘rule of life’ for Christians?
- Where does the NT regularly direct us for the source and shape of our sanctification?
- Should Christians have certain ‘holy days’ and observe festivals such as lent?
- Are candles, impressive buildings, and other aesthetic and sensory stimulation an aid to (an advance in) Christian worship?
In Romans 7, Paul tells us that we are dead to the Law, that is, to God’s Law, the Mosaic Covenant and its commandments (and we may safely say, by implication, to all other rudimentary morality codes as binding authorities Cf. Gals 4:9). In Ch 6 he hinted at this when he said,
Rom 6:14 (ESV) For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
His point is that the Law has no authority in the life of the believer, he is not ‘under it’ rather he lives in another realm, the realm and reign of grace (Roms 3:21-30, 5:2,15-21). Grace and law are different realms with opposing principles of rule. In Romans 7:1-6 he makes essentially the same point through the metaphor of marriage.
Rom 7:1-6 (ESV) 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. 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. 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.
In the patriarchal culture of the C1 a woman submitted to the authority of her husband and did so until he died. Paul uses this analogy to show how Christian obedience (particularly Christian Jews to whom the law specifically applied 7:1) is no longer to the law but to Christ for death has brought about a change in authorities (or husbands). Jewish believers were ‘married to the law’ (the Mosaic Covenant had been the authority that controlled their lives) but in death (and the analogy is inverted in that it is the woman who dies not the husband) they have been freed from this marriage to marry another, namely Christ. Consequently, their former husband has no rights or power over them. They are not obligated to him any more. Why? They have died and no longer live in the realm or world where law has authority and rights. Indeed, as those married to Christ, to subject themselves to the requirements of the law would make them bigamists.
Now the function of the Law in redemptive history is a big one that generates much controversy. We cannot hope to deal with it at any length in this post. Let me sum up briefly the two main functions of the Law as I understand them (as Paul outlines them in Romans).
- The Law was given to reveal the reality of sin
Rom 3:19-20 (ESV) Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Sin always existed in a fallen world but the law revealed its nature and true power. Law (an explicitly articulated command generally accompanied by a sanction) made explicit what was previously implicit and so increased the gravity of the offence; sin became more sinful for it became an infraction or transgression of a legal demand. Further, because fallen human nature meant none could keep the law, indeed all railed against it, sin is seen in its true colours as an evil malignant destructive enslaving power (Cf. 4:15, 5:13,14, 5:20, 7:7-12; Cf. Gals 3:19). Law came in to increase the trespass (Roms 5:20) by exposing, exaggerating and exciting it.
Rom 5:13-14 (ESV) for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
- The Law was given to point to Christ
Rom 3:21-22 (ESV) But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:
It pointed to Christ a) by showing the moral bankruptcy of humanity and so the need of a Saviour b) by foreshadowing the coming Saviour and salvation in various ways. Other functions of the Law may be added, such as being a hard taskmaster that would contrast more clearly the liberty in Christ (Gals 3:23-25), but these are subsidiaries of the main two functions, namely to give knowledge of sin and knowledge of Christ.
Most evangelicals will happily agree that the Christian is not ‘under law’ as a means of justification. The Law (many will agree, though not all) was a covenant of works. Life was promised for a life of law-keeping righteousness; law’s premise was ‘this do and live’ (Ex 24:7; Lev 18:5; Deut 8:1; Lk 10:28; Roms 10:5; Gals 3:12 Cf. Roms 7:10; Gals 3:21). Law offered ‘life’ on the basis of obedience, it did not assume life, in fact it assumed the absence of life (thus, this do and live).
However, although the Law promised life upon obedience, life by law-keeping was impossible because law-keeping for sinners under it was impossible. Addressed as it was to fallen humanity, it was only a counsel of despair (Roms 7:7-10). Instead of providing life it became a vehicle of death; the curse of a broken law fell on the law-breaker and all under it were law-breakers (Deut 11:26-28, 27:26, 30:15-20; Gals 3:10). From its inception it was clear that the revelation of law, although promising life, could only purvey death (Ex 19:12, 20:19). We need only read the many death threats explicit in the law to see its danger to sinful people. It is probably not without significance that the Law-giver, Moses, dies outside the Promised Land; typically it confirmed the inability of law to bless. Thus, what offered life, because of the corruption of human nature, became an administration of death (Rom 7:10; 2 Cor 3:6,7). By the works of the law no flesh would be justified for by the law came only knowledge of sin (Rom 3:20). The Law only condemns and brings wrath (Rom 4:15). Humanity under law needed to be rescued from it. This is, in fact, what happened in Christ. As Paul says to Jewish Galatian believers (in Galatians ‘us’ and ‘we’ refers to Jews and ‘you’ refers to gentiles)
Gal 3:11-14 (ESV2011) Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 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”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Law and faith, like Law and gospel-promise, are opposite in principle (Gals 3:12, 18).
The majority of the above will have unanimous consent among evangelicals. However, while many will happily affirm that we are not ‘under law’ for justification some (many) will just as vehemently affirm that we are ‘under law’ for our sanctification. The law, they say, takes us to Christ for our justification but Christ takes us to the law for our sanctification. The law they will insist is the believer’s ‘rule of life’. Such assertions are entirely mistaken. Paul does not imply we are not under law for one aspect of salvation but under it for another; Christ is the source of both justification and sanctification for the Christian. Christ, not the law, is the believer’s rule of life. We ought to walk as he walked (1 Jn 2:6). Christ is sufficient for all things.
For Paul, we are either married to the law or we are not married to the law. He makes no subtle nuances or qualifications here. Theologians,and theological systems may do so, but Paul does not. There is no half-way house regarding Law, we are either under it or not under it, either obligated to it or not obligated to it. We are not free from the law for justification but married to it for sanctification. The relationship is absolute and admits of no exceptions. If we are married to Christ then we are not married to the law and vice versa (Gals 5:4). We are not bigamists and even less are we encouraged by Christ to be such, the very suggestion is blasphemous. The second husband never sends us back to the first saying ‘obey him’.
The law is not the means or measure of our sanctification, Christ is. Indeed the law can no more sanctify than justify. Paul is clear and emphatic on this. Romans 7, where Paul discusses the believers relationship to law, is less concerned with the question of justification than it is with that of sanctification. The law produces only ‘the fruit of death’ (7:5). It is a wife-beater demanding love but unable to either create or provoke it. Only by being freed from it (through death) and married in resurrection life to Christ can we produce ‘fruit for God’ (7:4). All of this is sanctification and it is Christ who is its source not law, decidedly not law.
Yes, we are told, but the law is how Christ sanctifies believers? He sends us back to the law as our rule of life. Implied bigamy aside, why do you say this? Where does the NT teach this? Paul says something quite different.
Rom 7:6 (ESV) 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.
And what does the Spirit do? Does he send us back to the law and say follow that code? Does he tell new believers that the Christian life is a whole series of rules and regulations that they must learn and observe – for that is what the law is? Does he say, ‘go back to the Ten Commandments and keep them’? Does he say, ‘grow in grace by growing in the knowledge of the law’? No he doesn’t. Only rarely in the NT is the Mosaic Code explicitly cited in the context of moral living and never as an absolute authority requiring obedience. The new way of the Spirit is not to send us back to the old way of the written code. This is palpable contradiction and folly.
We are not directed to the law for holiness but to the gospel. The measure of a holy life is Christ not the law. We grow in grace and in the knowledge (not of law) but of Christ Jesus. The work of the Spirit is to floodlight Christ. He points us to Christ and the grace and truth in him (Jn 15:26). In the gospel we have the means, motive and measure of sanctification. It is grace, not law that saves a wretch like me. Grace teaches our heart to believe and relieves our fears. It is grace that brought me safe thus far and grace that will lead me home. Married to Christ we learn from Christ and are sanctified by him (Eph 4:20, 5:25-27). Living by the Spirit we walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:20). Under grace, we are taught by grace.
Titus 2:11-14 (ESV2011) For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
And here is highlighted precisely the difference between the method of the Law and the method of the Spirit. The law makes us look inside ourselves and examine our lives. It suggests righteous living comes through keeping a long list of rules and regulations and so inevitably engenders introspection and despair as we self-analyse and constantly find ourselves falling short. Look at the person under law in Roms 7; he is constantly looking within, constantly focussing on the ‘I’ and constantly finding only failure and frustration. The Spirit by contrast takes us outside of self. He focuses our attention on Christ. He sets our mind and affections on things above. He gives us a vision of Christ and as we gaze on a glorified Christ we are changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another.
2Cor 3:18 (ESV) And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
We never need more than Christ. In him, God’s fullness dwells (Cols 1:18). In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Cols 2:3). We are complete/filled in him (Cols 2:10). What draws our hearts to hate sin is not a set of rules but a growing love for Christ. What teaches us the ugliness of sin is the beauty of Christ. It is the clean fresh air of heaven that makes us conscious of the foul air of earth. We do not focus on mere restraints that when all is said and done outline only the basic rudiments of morality, but on Christ and all he has accomplished, and it is this that gives our soul power to live with God’s sentence of death upon the flesh and so produce fruit for God (7:5).
An imperfect illustration
Suppose you are driving along the road and you keep seeing road signs saying drive at thirty. Do you obey them? You see speeding cameras too. You may break but it will be an external obedience – your heart won’t be in it. Your heart resists them and wants to find ways of thwarting and outwitting them. The law and its sanction only creates the desire to breach.
But supposing you have just viewed a beautiful sunset, or just got engaged to the girl you love, or just met and been bowled over by the person who made the road rules – will you still want to break them? Will your heart filled with glory by the sunset, the love of the woman you adore, the worth of the one who created the rules, not find itself driving in such a way as reflects these experiences.
Let me say, if you have been taken up with Christ you will drive differently behind the wheel than if you’re simply focussing on road signs.
To the Colossian Christians who were in danger of adopting a gospel that added a number of things to Christ, including OT law, Paul says,
Col 2:6-7 (ESV) Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Everything for life and godliness resides in Christ. Mark this well. If you need to go beyond Christ you are on dangerous ground. These Colossian believers were in such danger. They were in danger not simply of adopting the law as a rule of life for sanctification but as a rule for religious observance. They were creating a religious calendar of OT rituals and regulations such as were found in the law. They were being encouraged to observe days, months, seasons as well as abstaining from certain foods that were to do with ritual holiness. Paul is perplexed and appalled. They have not grasped the significance of the cross. Notice what he says
Col 2:8-23 (ESV) See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations- “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)-according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Do you see his point? The cross ended all this form of externally imposed religious observance. We have died to the world in which this kind of religion had place. Law was a religion designed for man in the flesh not in the Spirit (Gal 3:2, 4:21-31). Its very basis is sensuous or fleshly. It focuses on externals and on sensory and aesthetic experience. It placed great emphasis on impressive buildings (the temple) religious clothing, smells and bells; candles and altars, rituals and regulations.
But all this belongs to the old age before Christ. In Christ we died to this. Now we must grasp this today for evangelicalism is rushing headlong down the route of religious paraphernalia. At one time the observing of liturgical calendars, special religious feasts like lent, the use of candles, incense and icons were denounced by evangelicals now they are embraced. Evangelicals want a religion of ‘flesh’. We want the sensory and aesthetic mistakenly thinking a sensory or aesthetic experience is an authentic gospel-driven spiritual experience (Hebs 12:18).
We must understand that magnificent buildings, stirring music, impressive oratory, and ethereal rites do not bring us closer to God. They will not produce the slightest knowledge of God nor lead us into a holy life. They are, says Paul, of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh, instead they feed it. Christ, and Christ alone, the Christ seen by the eye of faith, leads us to God. We come to the Father through him (Jn 14:6). That is why Paul says,
Col 3:1-4 (ESV) If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Instead of a focus on what is earthly (buildings, altars, incense, music, oratory, rituals, ascetic practices etc) we must seek what is in heaven. We must focus on Christ. He is the source of our life. He is our satisfaction. He is our food and drink. He is our vision. He is our altar. He is our High Priest. He is our sacrifice. He stirs and satisfies the heart. As Robert Murray McCheyne used to say, ‘No man can ever need more than is freely given in Christ’ We live by faith not sight. We like Moses endure seeing him that is invisible.
No, law, in all its forms, is an authority for men in the flesh, for people ‘alive in this world’ but we are not in the flesh we are in the Spirit if the Spirit of God lives in us. We do not live by and in the shadow we live by and in the substance; we do not seek the things of spiritual infancy but of spiritual maturity. Christ not law is the source of our life; Zion not Sinai is the mountain to which we come (Hebs 12:18-24)
None of this is to say we cannot learn from the law nor even less that there are no obligations or responsibilities in the Christian life; we can and there are. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for instruction, reproof, training in righteousness… (2 Tim 3:16). However, it is one thing to read OT Scripture (through the prism of redemptive history) and learn from it, it is quite another to say that the law is a ‘rule of life’ for the believer for to say this is to make the law an authority we must obey. Let me summarise some of the problems such a mistake creates.
- It obliges us to qualify Paul’s insistence that we are not under law. This is exegetically indefensible.
- It emasculates the law. If we accept its authority then we must also accept its sanctions (Gals 3:10). To try to ‘draw its teeth’ is to demean it. Sanctions (blessings and cursings) lie at the heart of the covenant; they give it glory (Ex 19:18-25, 20:18, 24:16,17; Deut 5:24, 28:58-68; Hebs 12:18-21) We cannot reject the Law as a route of justification and embrace it as a rule of sanctification for the covenant does not give us this permission. It is a covenant which cannot be altered. We must accept it totally on its own terms or not at all.
- It means living culturally as a Jew. If we are obliged to keep one command of law we must keep them all. Law is a covenant agreement. We cannot be obliged to keep some but free to ignore others (Matt 5:19; Gals 3:10, 5:2,3; Jas 2:10). We cannot enforce the Ten Commandments and jettison or modify the many other commands of the covenant. The covenant demands obedience to all or it is broken (Ex 19:8, 24:3; Deut 27:26). Accepting the covenant means accepting a Judaistic lifestyle.
- It means keeping the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the seventh day and not the first day and to change the day to another day was unacceptable and covenant-breaking. The Sabbath was the sign of the covenant (Ex 31:13; Ezek 20:12, 20). That Christianity focuses on another day strongly enforces that we are not under law; to abandon the Sabbath was by implication to be free from the covenant.
- It means embracing what belongs to infancy and is ‘weak and beggarly not intended for sons (Gal 4:1-11) . Law is a rudimentary moral code that Christians ought to have no need to hear anyway. We should not need to be told not to steal, commit adultery etc. The works of the flesh are obvious (Gal 5:19). Christian holiness should be beyond these prohibitions (1 Tim 1:6-11).
Life under grace, by the Spirit, married to Christ, produces a morality in excess of laws demands. Law expressed the demands of relationships existing in this life and no more. It did not require that a man lay down his life for his friends, far less that he lay down his life for his enemies. It did not conceive or demand pure self-sacrificial love motivated by nothing other than pure love. This is a life modelled only by Christ who reveals the Father’s heart. Such Christ-modelled, grace-induced, Spirit-enabled love is the heart of Christianity. Such love fulfils the law (Roms 8:4, 13:8,10; Gals 5:14) and fulfilment in Scripture usually eclipses/excels the original expectation. Or to put it another way, against such Christ-like, Spirit-produced love there is no law (Gals 5:23).
Gal 5:1-14 (ESV)
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery… For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.. For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The cross means an end to law-keeping religion. For Paul and for the early Jewish converts this was precisely its offence (Gal 5:11) and the reason why they were being persecuted by their fellow Jews (Gal 6:11-16). The world will tolerate religion that makes much of ‘the flesh’ but it will not tolerate Christ. Christ and all who follow him it will crucify. We must live as those crucified with Christ, as those who having received the law’s own sentence of death, have died to it. Such is the effect of the cross in Christian living.
Gal 5:1 (ESV)
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.