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From Law to the Spirit

February 26, 2023 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Romans

Topic: Expository Passage: Romans 7:1-6



I believe every Christian should regularly read the entire Bible. God said, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable…so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16–17). You need your whole Bible because it all works together to create mature, fruitful godliness.

But many Christians get bogged down when they reach the Law of Moses. They can tell that the Law was a big deal. It dominates the Pentateuch, and it controls the OT narrative. Even if you can’t understand it, at least you can see that it is important.

But what does it have to do with me? You know we don’t offer sacrifices anymore or go to the temple, so we must not have to obey all of it. But the Ten Commandments seem important and so do some other things. How do I know which commands I must obey and which I can ignore? Why does the Christian life look so different from OT Israelites, even though we worship the same God? If God hasn’t changed, why do we worship on a different day with very different routines, eat different food, wear different clothes, and live such different lives?

These are important questions, and the Roman Christians were asking the same questions by the end of Romans 6. Paul answers many of them in today’s passage (read). This is an important passage regarding the transition from law to grace. It tells us why we no longer obey the Law. But more than that, it tells the story of how God has brought NT believers into a far better reality. Paul begins in vv. 1–3 by describing the…

I.  The Dominion of Law (vv. 1–3)

Before we go on, it’s important that we set this passage in context. In particular, Romans 7 develops an important assertion Paul made in 6:14. God says that Christians are no longer “under law,” which in context is specifically the Law of Moses.

Instead, we are “under grace.” Remember that the contrast between law and grace is not between rules and no rules. Rather, it is between the age of the Law of Moses and the age of grace, following Christ’s resurrection. We live in a new age where the resurrection power of Jesus enables believers to pursue genuine godliness.

That’s great, but Paul’s Jewish readers and anyone who knows their OT well still have a lot of questions. So, today’s passage focuses on the transition from law to grace. It explains why we are not under the law and why the age of grace is far superior. So, this passage is crucial for applying your OT well, and it offers strong encouragement that Jesus has given us something far better. It begins with an important…

The Assertion: A covenant is binding until death (v. 1). Paul assumes that Jews and Gentiles would both understand the simple assertion of v. 1. The verb translated “has jurisdiction” is the same verb Paul used in chapter 6 for the reign or lordship of sin. So, here and throughout chapter 7, Paul pictures the reign of the law as oppressing people just as chapter 6 says that sin oppresses the unbeliever.

That’s not surprising considering the negative statements Paul has already made about the age of Law. Paul has said that the Law couldn’t save; it could only bring condemnation and the knowledge of sin.

And v. 1 adds that all who are under the law are bound by it until death. BTW, this includes Jews and Gentiles. Yes, God gave Israel the Law, but it was binding for all peoples for about 1400 years. There was no other way to approach God. So, all peoples were under the reign of the Law of Moses.

And vv. 4–5, will assume that in some sense every unbeliever up to the present is also bound to the Law. They aren’t bound to the Law of Moses, but they are condemned by the standard of God’s righteousness. God’s Law in the general sense, stands over all people, and it leaves all people hopelessly condemned. Then Paul follows the assertion with an important…

The Illustration: Death alone frees us from one covenant so that we can make another (vv. 2–3). These verses draw on common Christian knowledge from teaching of the OT and Jesus about the marriage covenant. Specifically, a woman “is bound by law to her husband while he is living.” The marriage covenant is “until death do us part.”

Jesus said, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt 19:6). Marriage is a lifelong covenant, which Paul states should only be annulled by death.

Then v. 3 illustrates the significance of death by noting how it transforms the significance of remarriage. Notice the contrast, “If while…” Jesus affirmed the first statement when he said, “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matt 19:9). He makes one exception, but otherwise, divorce and remarriage break the 7th It’s a big deal.

However, the husband’s death changes the equation. The woman is “free from the law” or the marriage covenant. “A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord (meaning to a fellow believer)” (1 Cor 7:39).

I don’t want to go too far down the rabbit hole of divorce and remarriage because it’s a big, complicated rabbit hole, and it’s not the primary concern of our passage. If you want to think about it some more, I’d encourage you to find my sermon, “Marriage Is for a Lifetime” (7/25/21) on Sermonaudio. In that sermon I dealt with all the complicated biblical and practical issues of broken marriages, divorce, and remarriage.

But I do want to note that we live in a culture of “no-fault divorce.” We assume marriage exists for my happiness, and if you are unhappy with your marriage, get a divorce and start over. It’s unbiblical, and it’s ungodly. Jesus said that God binds a couple together in a lifelong covenant. We must not to voluntarily break what God made. We must see the marriage covenant through God’s eyes, not the world’s.

That said, Paul’s point is relatively simple. Generally speaking, only death ends covenant obligations. So, once God instituted the Law, the only way we could be freed from it was to die.

That’s a problem because the Law cannot save (3:20). So, how can we be freed from the Law? How could we ever escape this cruel dominion? How can anyone be saved? Paul answers in v. 4 where he describes…

II.  The Deliverance of the Believer (v. 4)

Union with Christ: Remember that chapter 7 takes a lot of what chapter 6 said about the reign of sin and applies it to the reign of the Law. With that in mind, remember that union with Christ, and specifically with his death and resurrection, is the key to our victory over sin (6:3–4, 11).

7:4 says that union with Christ’s death and resurrection is also the key to our deliverance from the Law. We “were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ” and we have been “joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead.”

Similarly, “For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God.I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal 2:19–20).

I’ll take every opportunity to emphasize that union with Christ is the fundamental blessing of the gospel. I’m united to Christ. I have a relationship to the Savior. Every other blessing comes to me in Christ, and Christ changes everything about me. So, how has he changed our relationship to the Law? Through Christ…

We died to the Law. Again, v. 4 states, “(We) were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ.” The “body of Christ” pictures his broken body, his death on the cross.

Let’s think about this considering the marriage analogy in vv. 2–3. The only way a covenant can normally be broken is through death. How can I possibly be free from the Law’s tyranny and be alive? The answer is that instead of me dying physically, I can be united with Christ’s death. When I receive Christ, I am united with his death to the Law.

Therefore, every NT believer is free from the Law’s tyranny. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom 10:4). “Thereforethe law was ourtutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Gal 3:24–25).

This is a really important point to remember as you read and apply the OT. Some groups, especially on the very Reformed side, will argue that some portions of the Law of Moses are binding and others are not. They do this by dividing the Law into 3 sections—the civil law (governmental rule), the ceremonial law (sacrifices, feasts, etc.) and the moral law. They argue that the civil and ceremonial law have ended, but we are still bound to the moral law.

The problem is that the NT never makes this distinction. All the passages I cited simply say that the entire Law of Moses is no longer our master.

This does not mean we are not under any law. “Though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law;to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law” (1 Cor 9:19–21).

Paul describes how he adapts to his context when sharing the gospel, and he says that when he is with Gentiles who are “without law,” he doesn’t follow the Law. But he quickly clarifies that he doesn’t mean he is under no law at all. Rather, he is under the law of Christ.

You’re wondering, “What is that?” It’s clearly the ethic of the NT as reflected in the teaching and example of Jesus and the apostles. So, our standard of conduct is rooted in the NT. Yes, the NT builds heavily off the Law, but they are distinct.

On a practical level that means that we can learn a lot about God, what he loves, what he hates, and how to honor and dishonor him through the Law. Again, all Scripture is “inspired and profitable.” But I’m not obligated to do something simply because the Law of Moses commands it. The NT is the ultimate handbook for my conduct.

So, we should rejoice that we are not bound by many of the complicated obligations of the Law of Moses. Aren’t you thankful for that?

And beyond that, Paul’s primary concern is that the Law alone couldn’t produce holiness. It told people how to be holy, but it didn’t give them any power to do it. Therefore, the Law could never make sinners righteous (changing tire illustration). It could only reveal their sin. It left the unsaved hopelessly lost and condemned to an eternity in judgment.

So, it is a big deal that we can die to the Law through Christ. If you are saved, you don’t have to labor under that weight or fear that condemnation. We are dead to the Law. And if you are not saved, and you are struggling to earn God’s acceptance through your good works, please understand that you are trying to do the impossible. You’ll never be good enough. You need to come to Christ for the only hope of salvation. Please humble yourself before him and receive him as your Savior. So, those in Christ have died to the Law. But that’s not all. Paul adds that…

We bear fruit to God. Of course, Christ’s death is not the end of his story. Paul adds that Christ “was raised from the dead.” And the resurrection did far more than lift a single dead body (6:8–11). The resurrection secured new life and new spiritual power for all who are united to Christ.

Think back to the marriage analogy in vv. 2–3. Through Christ we died to the covenant of Law. But we aren’t just liberated from the Law; we are also free, v. 4 states, to “be joined to another.” We are the bride of Christ. It’s a marvelous image to consider. If you are in Christ, you should be so thankful that you are in Christ instead of the Law.

And the result is, “that we might bear fruit for God.” In a me-first Christianity, that sounds anticlimactic, but it’s clearly not this context. That’s because the only alternative is slavery to sin, death, and condemnation. Every other road leads to wrath. So, bearing fruit to God is far better.

Furthermore, God made us to glorify himself. We were made to bear fruit to God. We’ll never find rest or satisfaction living for ourselves because that’s not what we were made to do. Instead, we will only find rest by conforming to the image of Christ, manifesting the fruit of the Spirit, serving God, and loving one another. And praise the Lord that we can if we are in Christ. So, v. 4 describes an incredible deliverance. Verses 5–6 follow by expanding on our…

IV.  New Life in the Spirit (vv. 5–6)

These verses simply expand on the deliverance that v. 4 described. They do so by contrasting our hopeless condition under sin and the law with our new condition in Christ. First, v. 5 reaffirms that…

The Law produces death (v. 5). Paul challenges every Christian to remember when “we were in the flesh,” speaking of our life before receiving Christ. I wasn’t born into this world as lovely, innocent child of God. No, we saw very clearly earlier in Romans, we are all naturally hostile to God and enslaved to sinful passions. There was nothing lovely about my depraved, unsaved heart.

But we may be surprised that Paul claims, “(our) sinful passions were aroused by the Law.” How did the Law “arouse” sin? Isn’t the Law good? Paul will directly answer this issue in vv. 7–13, which we’ll look at next week.

But it shouldn’t be too hard for us to understand how this works because we’ve all had this experience. Be honest, how many of you have ever done something simply because there was a rule telling you not to do it?

For example, your mother has an expensive vase on the table, and you have no desire to touch it. But the moment she tells you not to touch it, you want to touch it and even hit your brother over the head with it. That’s how we all are. Our hearts are so desperately wicked.

And Israel’s history testifies to the accuracy of v. 5. The Law did not make Israel a holy nation. Yes, there were many godly, Israelites throughout its history who were truly born again. But the vast majority of the people were unregenerate, and it showed time and again.

They built an idol at the foot of Mt. Sinai, they constantly rebelled against God, and the prophets frequently condemned them for being worse than the nations surrounding them. God’s continued favor had everything to do with his covenant faithfulness and nothing to do with Israel’s character.

While we want to look down our noses at them, the fact remains that apart from God’s grace, we are no better. Afterall, v. 5 is addressed to all of us, not just the Israel of the OT. We all rebel against God’s Law. We do not want to obey, and the kick against the pull of conscience and the commands of God.

And the consequences are devastating. Apart from Christ, I cannot “bear fruit for God”; I can only “bear fruit for death.” There is no such thing as an unbeliever who is moving toward heaven on their own. If you think you can be good enough to earn God’s acceptance, you are terribly mistaken, and the Bible says that your effort is itself an act of pride and rebellion.

No, the only destiny of any man apart from Christ is eternal death in hell. We all desperately need salvation and new life. And praise the Lord that this is exactly what Jesus provided. In stark contrast to v. 5, v. 6 declares that…

The Spirit produces godliness (v. 6). The verse begins by reviewing what Christ does in everyone who receives him as Savior. When you get saved, you don’t just receive a home in heaven; you are also united to Christ. Specifically, you are united to his death to sin (as chapter 6 says) and to his death to the Law (as chapter 7 says).

Again, the point is not we are freed to be autonomous and to do whatever we want. Rather, because of sin, the Law inspires evil inside us, it enslaves us, and it leads us down a path of condemnation. Verses 7–13 will say much more about this.

But in Christ, we are freed from all that. In Him, we died to the Law’s oppression and condemnation. And not just that, Paul adds that Christ replaced the “letter” of the Law with “the newness of the Spirit.”

This is a massive change. As we’ve said, the letter of the law had no power to produce godliness in depraved sinners because we can’t possibly keep it. It told us how to please God, but that doesn’t mean much if we have no power to do it.

But God promised Israel that someday he would establish a new covenant that didn’t just tell us what to do but gave us the power to do it. He promised, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ez 36:25–27).

God promised to put his Spirit in our hearts and that the Spirit would empower us to obey in a way that we never could on our own. Because of the Spirit, we truly love God, we want to please him, and we can progressively become like Christ. It is a wonderful gift. There’s no better blessing God’s image bearers can enjoy than to be near to God, to glorify him, and to become like him.


So, Christian, God has given you a wonderful gift! Christ released you from the Law so you can serve in the newness of the Spirit. Give thanks! Then pursue godliness in the power of the gospel. Fight sin, love the Lord, be satisfied in him, and become like him all because you can through the power of the Spirit.

If you are not saved, please see that any pursuit without Christ is hopeless and destined for failure. You must be born again. Come to Christ. Be forgiven. And find new life in him.

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