In Romans 5 the apostle Paul brought out the truth that the Law came in so that transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (5:20).
Based on this truth the apostle anticipated being misunderstood and misinterpreted so in chapter 6 he raised the question that would have been asked by those who misunderstood – “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? (6:1). Then he answered that question – “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (6:2). Then he goes on to show that we have died to sin and are alive to God proving that the outcome of justification by faith does not issue in a lawless life but in a sanctified life. However, the apostle wanted his readers to know that their sanctification had absolutely nothing at all to do with works of the Law no more than their justification did – “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under Law but under grace” (6:14).
Once again Paul had to anticipate opposition and misinterpretation of what he was teaching for surely there would be some who would continue to argue that Paul was teaching against the Law and that he was giving license for a lawless life, so Paul asked the question that would have been on the lips of his opponents – “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under Law but under grace?” (6:15).
Paul's response to this objection is No! People who are justified by faith alone will not continue in sin. All of Romans 6, 7, and 8 are an explanation for why that is.
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?
Here in Romans 7 we will see both the intent of the Law (Romans 7:1-13) and the inability of the Law (Romans 7:14-25). Under the heading the intent of the Law (Romans 7:1-13) we will see two major points: (1) the dominion of the Law (Romans 7:1-6), and (2) the duty of the Law (Romans 7:7-13).
For now we will deal with the dominion of the Law and our removal from under its dominion so that we are not under Law but under grace (Romans 7:1-6).
To show the Law’s dominion over us and how we are removed from under its dominion so that we are not under Law but under grace, the apostle Paul used an illustration in order to make application.
The illustration (Romans 7:1-3) – the illustration is the law of marriage which carries with it self-evident truth that is known by all who know the laws of marriage. The law has dominion over a person as long as he lives – “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?” (7:1).
According to the Law of God the marriage cannot be dissolved except by death or immorality of one of the spouses. Jesus taught this truth to some Pharisees who questioned Him concerning whether or not it was lawful to divorce for any reason at all. The Lord replied that what God has joined together, let no man separate. To which the Pharisees asked, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:3-9).
Since legally the marriage cannot be dissolved except by death or immorality then those who are married are bound by the law to their spouses as long as they both are living. The Law has dominion over them and they are under the law with an obligation to fulfill it – “For the married woman is bound by the law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband” (7:2).
In this illustration, once the husband dies then the woman is released from the dominion of the law concerning the husband. But as long as the husband is alive she is under the dominion of the law and cannot break it without becoming a transgressor.
“So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress…” (7:3a). The law has something to say about this situation because the marriage covenant between the husband and wife has been broken and the one who broke it is either an adulterer or an adulteress. So if the husband is alive and has not committed immorality then the wife cannot be joined to another man without violating the law. She is under its dominion and must obey it or else become a transgressor of it and be rightly defined by it as 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” (7:3b). The law has nothing to say about this situation because the marriage covenant between the husband and wife has not been broken but indeed has been fulfilled – “until death do us part.” So now the law has been fulfilled – it has been established – so that she is free from the law and it has nothing to say about her marrying another man.
The Application (Romans 7:4-6) – Paul’s application in Romans 7:4-6 clinches the argument of how we are not under the dominion Law but under grace through our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We died to the Law (7:4-5) – when we were unsaved and in the flesh (Romans 7:5) we were under the dominion of God’s Law. We were condemned by that Law. When we trusted Christ and were united to Him, we died to the Law just as we died to the flesh (Romans 6:1-10). The Law did not die; we died!
In Paul’s illustration the husband died and the wife remarried. However in his application we are the wife and the Law is the husband. The Law will not and cannot die because it is moral and eternal (Matthew 5:18). So the wife must die and be raised from the dead if she is to be freed from her union with the Law and be united to another. This is the apostle’s point in the application of the marriage illustration.
Christ’s sinless life and sacrificial death, and supernatural resurrection fulfilled the Law. When we trusted Christ we died with Him and His death became our death and likewise just as He was raised from the dead we too were raised to walk in newness of life as those dead to sin but alive to God. So when we died with Christ we died to the Law and arose from the dead in order that we could be under the dominion of the Lord and no longer under the dominion of the Law.
Notice that the wife does not kill herself – she is made to die to the Law through the body of Christ – this is a divine act of God in response to faith in Christ. Just as by His doing we are in Christ Jesus, by His doing we have been made to die to the Law.
It is by our union with Christ that we are set free from the dominion of the Law and are now enabled to bear fruit for God. As we live under loving loyalty to the Lordship of Christ our obedience to Him leads us into obedience to God – “so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4).
Why is it that we must be set free from the dominion of the Law in order to be enabled to bear fruit for God? Wouldn’t the Law be that which enables us to bear fruit for God? Can’t we be sanctified by keeping the Law? No! The Law arouses our sinful passions because of our badness and in the end we bear fruit for death - “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” (Romans 7:5).
It's because until we are united to Christ in his death, and rise with him to newness of life, we don't have the Spirit of God and are merely "flesh." That is, we have only a fallen, sinful human nature without the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We must die to the Law if we are going to bear fruit for God.
We are delivered from the Law (7:6) – this is the logical conclusion: the Law cannot exercise dominion over a dead person. Death means deliverance from the dominion of the Law but our being raised to walk in newness of life is so that we might serve our Lord in love.
The word serve is from the Greek word “doulous” (doo-los). It does not describe the voluntary work of a hired worker but that of a bondslave whose sole purpose is to obey the will of his master. We are God’s bondslaves because of love. We love Him and serve Him because He first loved us by giving His Son for our redemption.
We were delivered from the Law that we might serve Christ. This truth refutes the false accusation that Paul taught lawlessness.
What is different about Christian service as opposed to our old life of sin? We are now energized by the Spirit of God through our love for the Lord. Under the Law there was no enablement, but we have been delivered from the Law’s dominion and placed under the Lord’s enabling love.
People who are not under Law but under grace will not sin more but will in fact sin less!