Dead to the Law, Serving in the Spirit, Part 1
From Gospel Translations
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? 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. 4 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. 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.
Justification by Faith Alone, Apart from Works of the Law
We take up again now our happy pilgrimage through the great territory of giant trees and tall mountains called The Letter to the Romans. We will take several weeks on the first six verses of chapter seven. So we don't need to feel hurried this morning and can take some minutes to get ourselves oriented again, especially those of you who have not been with us on the pilgrimage since April, 1998, when we began in Romans.
Up through Romans 3:20 Paul showed the hopeless condition of all humans because of our sin against God. We have all belittled his glory (3:23), exchanging it for other things that he has made, and treasuring other things more than we treasure him (1:23). We are sinful in practice and are sinful by nature. There is none righteous, no not one (3:10). We are all accountable and every mouth is stopped (3:19). A holy, just, good, and all-glorious God is now revealing his wrath against us, and, if there is no way of salvation, we will perish under his eternal wrath and fury (2:8).
But beginning in Romans 3:21 and going through to the end of chapter 5, Paul unfolds for us a way of getting right with God. It is absolutely stunning. It is the furthest thing from a moral improvement program. It is the furthest thing from better rule-keeping or more disciplined living or being nicer people or getting our relationships fixed or finding out how to succeed. It is something utterly different from all that. It is called justification by faith – being counted righteous before God through faith.
What Paul opens for us in these chapters is the meaning of the work of Jesus Christ – his life and death and resurrection. And the meaning is that he came to do for us what we could never do for ourselves, namely, endure an infinite punishment in our place and provide a perfect righteousness in our place. In other words, for us to have a right standing with God our sin must be perfectly punished and God's law must be perfectly obeyed. This is what the great transaction was about between God the Father and God the Son during Jesus' time on the earth. He came to die for our sins and live for our righteousness.
Which means that justification is based on a work totally outside ourselves. This is the great wonder of it all. This is why I said this great work was the furthest thing from a moral improvement program or better rule-keeping or more disciplined living or being nicer people or getting our relationships fixed or finding out how to succeed. Getting right with God involves none of that. It is based on a work totally outside ourselves, performed by another – Jesus Christ, the righteous. He lived and died as a substitute for us before we were ever born. The foundation of our right standing with God is not in ourselves, but in heaven – Jesus Christ.
The corollary of this truth that Paul has labored to make plain is that we become beneficiaries of this great work by being united to Christ through faith alone, apart from works of the law (3:28). That is, we don't perform any law-keeping to show that some or all or any of our justifying righteousness is our own. Instead, we acknowledge gladly that all our punishment was in Christ's suffering and death (3:24-25) and all our righteousness was in his great act of obedience (5:17-19), and we receive it as a free and all-satisfying treasure.
So our right-standing with God (our justification) is not on the basis of our work but on the basis of Christ's work. And the everlasting gift of life in him becomes ours by receiving it as the treasure of our lives.
So Shall We Sin so that Grace May Increase?
Which brought us to chapter six and a great objection. The great thing about this objection is that it proves to us that we are on the right track, because it would make no sense if we were not. The objection is expressed twice, once in 6:1 and once in 6:15.
Romans 6:1, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?" In other words, someone was saying, "If justification is through faith alone apart from works of the law, and if our punishment is past and our righteousness is in heaven, then, let's just go on sinning, and show how great the grace of free justification really is." It's a plausible objection. And it shows that we are on the right track. If Paul had taught that the basis of our right standing with God were our moral improvement, this objection would never have arisen. It rises because of how radical Paul's doctrine of justification by faith really is.
The objection comes again in Romans 6:15, "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?" Somebody was saying that this is exactly where Paul's teaching was leading; teaching people that justification is by grace alone through faith alone leads to more sinning, not less. That's what they were saying.
Paul's response to this objection is No! No in verse 1, no in verse 5! People who are justified by faith alone will not continue in sin. Sin will not have dominion over them (6:14). And all of Romans 6-8 is an explanation for why that is. What kind of life is it that is based on getting right with God by grace alone, through faith alone such that sin cannot have the dominion any more? That's what we have been looking at since September 10 last year.
What is Paul's answer to the question? Why is it that justified people won't go on sinning just because they are not under law but under grace? If Christ is all our righteousness for justification, and law-keeping is none of it (see the message on Romans 6:14-19, 11/26/00), then why does this produce people who are passionate to fight sin and become like Jesus?
Paul has several answers. He says it's because when Christ died, those who are united to him by faith died with him, and dead men don't go on sinning (6:2-6). He also says that God himself works in us to free us from slavery to sin and bring us to obedience, which leads to eternal life. Romans 6:17: "Thanks be to God that you became obedient from the heart!" Verse 22: "Having been freed [by God!] from sin and enslaved [by God!] to God, you . . . [have your fruit], resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life." God frees from the slavery of sin. God brings us to heartfelt (not just external) obedience. And in that way God secures for us eternal life. The justified do not make peace with sin; they make war on sin. God sees to it.
Now in Romans 7, Paul is still dealing with the very same question. He is still answering the objection of Romans 6:15, "Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?" Why doesn't freedom from the law result in lawless people? Why don't justified people sin more and not less?
In Romans 6:16-23, Paul's answer had dealt entirely with the work of God in freeing us from sin and he never mentions the law. But it begs for an answer! Paul, you have said in verse 15, "We are not under law." But you deny that this produces more sinning, and you insist that it produces practical righteousness and service to the glory of God. Why? Explain.
That is what he does in Romans 7:1-6. We will go into this in detail in the next couple weeks. But I want you to see the essence of it this morning. Then you may want to see more.
Not Under the Law – Sinning Less and Loving More
He begins in Romans 7:1-3 with a detailed comparison between the function of the law for a married couple and the function of the law for the Christian. The gist of it is that when a death happens in a marriage, the law that makes marriage to another person wrong is not binding anymore. So he argues that, similarly, when the Christian dies with Christ, the law is not binding on the Christian anymore the way it was. That's why we are not "under law." We'll work on that next week. But now the question is: OK, how does that help? Justified people have died with Christ through faith and this death is a death to the law, so that it is not binding anymore. Why does that not produce lawless, unloving people?
His answer is found in verses 4 and 6. That's what I want us to see this morning – the bottom line reason why not being under law does not produce people who sin more, but sin less and love more.
Verse 4: "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." His answer is that when you died to the law you were joined to Christ. You weren't freed from the law just to float around in no relationship at all. You were freed from the law and united to Christ. Christ is your new "husband." And notice what it says about this Christ – "who was raised from the dead." This person we are joined to is alive. This is no list of commandments. This is no external slate of duties. This is a spiritual union with an all-glorious, all-providing, all-satisfying, ever-living Person. More real than the person sitting next to you.
And the aim of this joining (this "marriage"), he says, is that you "bear fruit for God." There it is. You don't go on sinning. If you are in Christ, justified, and married to your Savior, Jesus, you bear fruit for God. That means that new desires and attitudes and choices and actions grow like fruit from this all-satisfying relationship between you and your living "husband," Jesus Christ.
So being set free from the law does not mean freedom from love and justice; it means freedom to marry the one who is love – the one who produces love in us from the inside out – like fruit on a vine, not tinsel on a tree.
From the inside out by the Spirit, not from the outside in by the law – that's the point of verse 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." Why did we die to the law? Why are we released from the law? Why are we not under the law? So that we may sin all the more? No! So that we may "serve" – death to the law makes servants, not sinners.
The Holy Spirit, not the Letter of the Law
But notice how. What kind of service does freedom from the law produce? Legalistic service? No. Verse 6 says it produces service "in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter." I want to preach an entire message on that in the next few weeks. But for now notice this: the point of getting out from under law by dying to the law is to put life on a whole new basis – the basis of the Spirit, not the letter.
Here is Paul's new answer to the objection of Romans 6:15. The reason that being under grace and not under law produces love and not lawlessness is that God pours out his Spirit into the hearts of justified people. And what that Spirit does is work a "newness" from the inside out. He writes the law on the heart and shapes the will and the affections into Christlike, loving service. We are freed from the "letter" carved in stone, or written on paper – an external list of duties pressing on your will from outside to comply when there is no heart to comply. You have died to that.
So let's put verse 4 and verse 6 together in closing and see the fuller picture of your life as a justified person. Why is it that your being freed from the law does not produce lawlessness and sin but love and service?
Verse 4 puts the answer in terms of marriage to the risen Christ. Verse 6 puts the answer in terms of the renewing work of the Spirit. Verse 6 speaks of serving in the newness of the Spirit. Verse 4 speaks of bearing fruit for God. Both of them base this new life on death to the law.
Verse 4: "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."
Verse 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."
So, what is your life, justified Christian? Are you a kind of neutral free-floating moral agent that can say, "Let's sin that grace may abound"? No. If you are justified by faith, you are united to Christ by faith. You are married to him. He is the satisfying love of your life. And you bring forth fruit from fellowship with him. Or to put it another way, if you are justified by faith, you are inhabited by the Spirit of Christ and he is not neutral or passive. He is at work in you to create a newness of mind and heart that loves and serves.
Therefore we will not sin that grace may abound. Sin will not have dominion over us because we are not under law, but under grace.
And if you wonder today what you must do to be a part of this great salvation, this great justification and this great progressive transformation, the answer is woven through all I have said: trust in Christ as your righteousness and your punishment and your transforming power. Receive him as the treasure of your life, and he will be everything you need.