Set Free From The Law
Re-Translated In January 2000
1. Paul spoke of the two paths [that lie before every human being] in the latter half of chapter six. One was the way of living as "a slave of sin." Such a life bears fruit that is filled with shame and leads to death. The other one was the way of living as "a slave of God." Such a life bears the fruit of sanctification and leads to eternal life. Living as a believer is nothing other than changing [one's] direction. The point of [his] argument is exceedingly clear. Turning one's back on God and living as a slave of sin does not lead to eternal life. We surely understand that nothing except the way of living as "a slave of God" will lead to eternal life.
2. But, just one problem still remains. The difference between "living as a slave of God" and "living according to the law of God" is not distinctly clear. Paul previously said, "You are not under the law but under grace," (6:14). However, isn't living as a slave of God, after all, living according to the law of God? Doesn't it amount to "being under the law?" Isn't what Paul has said making a contradiction on this point?
3. In this way the problem of "the relationship of the law to us" clearly remains. As it stands it is hard to get a hold of. Paul himself seems to understand this [difficulty]. So, Paul takes up speaking in chapter seven on the relationship of the law to us.
As A Person Dead To The Law
4. Please look from verses one to four.
"Or, o brothers, though I am speaking to people who know the law, don't you know that the law is something that rules only while a person lives? A married woman is joined to her husband by law while he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is set free from the law which bound her to her husband. Therefore, while the husband is alive, if she gets together with another man, she is called an adulterous woman, but if her husband dies, she is free from this law and though she gets together with another man, she does not become an adulterous woman. So, o brothers, you also are joined to the body of Christ and have become persons dead to the law. The reason for this is so that you become the possession of another person, that is, of him who was raised from the dead and thus, we come to bear fruit to God," (verses one through four).
5. Paul moves forward with his speech with the premise that [his] readers know the law. If there's anyone who knows the law, he or she would know the law only has a relationship to the living. It is the Jews specifically who are mentioned here as the ones who know the law. But, since the word translated as "law" also expresses the law in general, we should think of the law of this world and not the Jews. It is a law that deals with marriage that Paul is offering up here as a concrete example. He takes up the idea that a certain male marries a certain female. That man (of course, it could just as well be the woman) is bound to the laws pertaining to marriage for as long as he lives. While the husband is alive, he is joined to his wife by law, and the wife is joined to her husband. Therefore, if the wife gets together with another man she commits the sin of adultery. But, if her husband dies, she is not under the law. Therefore, the husband is not joined by law to the wife, and the wife is not joined to the husband. Therefore, even if the wife gets together with another person she does not become an adulterous woman. The illustration that Paul is first giving here means that the dead husband is not under the law in contrast to the living husband [who] was. We can tell that the dead husband is no longer under the law from the fact that the wife is not legally joined to her husband and can freely marry. A dead person is not under the law. What does Paul want to say through this? What he really wants to tell us is that this is the state of the person joined to Christ.
6. Make no mistake, the text doesn't say the law of God is dead. Neither did the law of God become invalid or lost. The law of God has been in existence authoritatively from the Old Testament period until today. Whether a person receives the law or not, or whether a person keeps it in his or her heart or ignores it, the law of God stands in its authority. Therefore, the law puts requirements on a person's conduct. It requires conduct obedient to the law of God. In addition, it is not a superficial observance of the law because God is not looking on the surface, but judges "the hidden conditions of people," (2:16). The law requires such a judgment. Furthermore, when human conduct does not match the requirements [of the law], the law pronounces a verdict of sin. It brings a conviction. That is the business of the law. No one, as long as he or she is a creation of God, escapes the law. Every one is under the law. It is not only the Jews who have a written law; for, the law is written even within the Gentiles. The scripture says, "The conditions which the law requires are inscribed on their hearts," (2:15). They have the letter of the law written on their hearts.
7. However, the person joined to Christ, the Bible says, has taken part in the death of Christ. After participating in the death of Christ, he or she is a person who died once. Furthermore, a dead person is no longer under the law. The text in verse four says, "So then, o brothers, you also are joined to the body of Christ and have become persons dead to the law."
8. So, what does it mean to not be under the law? It [means] no longer being under the requirements of the law or under conviction for violating it. Is that the only thing [it means]? In truth, there is more ahead. Please read verse four again. The previous words continue as follows: "The reason is so that you become the possession of another person, that is, of him who was raised from the dead, and thus, we come to bear fruit to God."
9. We should not forget the reason we are not under the law. Because we have partaken of Christ's death, we are not under the law. Therefore, for the person set free from the law, what has great significance is a relationship with Christ. Thus, Paul says again here "that you become the possession of another person, that is, of him who was raised from the dead." The person who has already participated in the death of Christ is already joined to Christ, but he brings out the previous metaphor of marriage again and says, "The reason is so that the one dead to the law becomes the possession of Christ."
10. The metaphor of marriage was not originally used here with precision. The next illustration is talking about the relationship between husband and wife while under the law as in the previous example, but here the law itself is likened to the husband as the partner. Furthermore, the setting is no longer about the law as the husband dying, but changes to one of we as the wife die. But in putting it like this, as an allegory, it doesn't make perfect sense. But, the details do not matter. In short, what Paul wants to say is the reason that in death our bonds are severed from the law is so that we marry Christ. In this way, by marrying Christ and living as the possession of Christ one comes to serve God and produce fruit to God. [The Bible] says that the way which leads to eternal life while producing fruit to God lies in living as the possession of Jesus Christ who is alive now [as] the risen Lord.
Serving By A New Way Of Living That Obeys "The Spirit"
11. But, to start with, why does living as the possession of Jesus Christ lead to bearing fruit to God? Why doesn't living under the law and following the law lead to bearing fruit? In order to understand this point, we would have to read further from chapter seven to all of chapter eight. But, where I read you today [we find] words we could call a clue to the topic at hand under development from here on. First, we want to read carefully what is written in verses five and six and prepare for what we will read later. Please look, then, from verse five onwards.
"When we used to live following the flesh, our desires which called out to sin worked by the law in our bodily members and bore fruit leading to death. However, now we have become as dead persons to the law which used to bind us and we are set free from the law. The result of that is not the old way of living in obedience to the letter, but serving in a new way of life where one follows "the Spirit," (verses five and six).
13. The way of living which lives under the law and according to the law is contrasted with the way of living which lives as a possession of the Christ who has been raised from the dead. As we come to the end of verse six, these two ways of living take on a new expression. One is called "the old way of living that follows the letter (if translated literally 'in the oldness of the letter')." The other is called "the new way of living that follows the Spirit (if translated literally 'in the newness of the Spirit')." We understand that even though one is serving as a slave just the same, there are two ways [of servitude] where one is serving by the old way of living and [another] where one is serving by the new way of living. If you go by verse four, it is the latter person who is bearing fruit to God.
14. Why is the way of living which follows the law called things like "the old way of living which follows the letter?" Of course, because the law was written down with "letters," it's not impossible to understand. But, by calling it like this it seems that more is implied than that. Verse five written before that is a key to understanding it. In that passage [we don't find] "the way of living which follows the letter," but it comes as "while we lived according to the flesh." It seems that "the old way of living which follows the letter" and "living according to the flesh" are essentially the same things in every regard.
15. Paul says, "When we used to live following the flesh, our desires which called out to sin worked by the law in our bodily members and bore fruit leading to death." He doesn't just say, "our desires which called out to sin were at work." He says, "it worked in our bodily members by the law (through the law)." The contents of what he means will be discussed in detail beginning in chapter seven and verse seven. Today I'd like us to keep in mind only the words of verse eight. "Wherefore, sin took the opportunity through the commandment (that is, the commandment 'Thou shalt not covet') and it stirred within me all kinds of coveting."
16. I think this is what many people truly experience. Does [our] sin weaken in its power when we engage the words of the commandments? Does sin take its hands off our bodily members when meeting the words of the commandments? Are we set free from the power of sin if we place ourselves amidst words like "Thou shalt not do this," "Thou shalt not do that?" We know all too well that the answer is no. In meeting up with the words of the commandment, sin gains strength instead. If we know the commandment of "Thou shalt not covet" and that coveting is sin, will [our] coveting be extinguished on the inside of us? No, it will not. Won't the sin of coveting increase more and more in power and control us?
17. Paul calls trying to live as slaves of God by still keeping the law without admitting the powerlessness of the law against the [ever increasing and controlling] power of sin as "the old way of living which follows the letter." The law is the letter. The letter makes demands, but does not give us help. Since the letter is on the outside of us, it does not have the power to move us internally. Unless it has power to cleanse us, it doesn't have power to give us victory over sin. Even with a foothold in the law, the law itself will not bring us salvation from the power of sin which controls us. No matter how much we place ourselves under the letter of the law, we are the ones to fulfill it. Since the letter brings us no help, we must do it by ourselves one hundred percent. We must do it somehow by our own power. We got to give it all we got to follow the words of the commandments.
18. But, that is really nothing other than "living in the flesh." The meaning of "flesh" is not merely this body. It is not even what we call "the lust of the flesh." "Flesh" is the me whose existence belongs to this world. "Flesh" is the me as a descendant of Adam. "Flesh" is the me who is under the control of sin and death. Living as such "a me" indeed is nothing other than "living according to the flesh." For the person living according to the flesh belonging to this sinful world is everything. All [that counts] is what comes out of humanity as a descendant of Adam. And because that is everything [to them], there is a limitation on those in the flesh. Those in the flesh are not bearing fruit to God even though they try to serve God with the old way of living that follows the letter. The flesh only bears fruit that leads to death. Well, is this a problem only of the Jews who tried to live strictly by the law? No, it is not. This is all too visible even among today's Christians. Due to our lack of awareness as people dead to the law, we still continue to fear being convicted as guilty, and while we fear we beat ourselves and stifle our power in hoping to live in the scriptural commands. But, we really despair and get discouraged over our powerless selves and then get exhausted. Or we patch up with all our might only the outward appearance and try to live like Christians. We should be concerned.
19. It is not anything that comes from the flesh that brings salvation, but only the truth of being joined to the one person who does not belong to this world, to Jesus Christ who is risen from the dead that does. It is not the letter of the law that causes us to walk on the way to eternal life, but it is him, the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, who binds us to Christ and revives us with new life. Those who don't know this do not seek for the Holy Spirit. They do not have prayer in their day to day lives.
20. The road leading to eternal life is not the way which one lives as a slave of sin but is the way that one lives as a slave of God. However, we are not being called to serve God compulsorily by the old way of living which follows the letter. We are set free from the law and as persons joined in marriage with the Christ of the resurrection we are being invited to become people who serve God by a new way of living that follows "the Spirit."