Scripture Text: Romans 7:1-6
So far in our trek through Paul’s letter to the Romans, we have learned a lot of stuff. We have read about our pitiful state before God. We have learned that our main problem is sin, and everyone has that problem. We learned in chapter one that sin is suppressing the truth. God has revealed what is true to us and sin is rejecting the truth. Sin is also stealing God’s glory — exchanging the glory of the Creator for His creation. One of the clearest statements in this letter about the pervasive nature of sin is Romans 3:23, where Paul mentioned, “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” Sin is about His glory and it is primarily an offense to God — a slap in His face. It is rejecting what we are told to do in favor of doing what we want to do. The result of this is that we receive God’s wrath and the penalty of that is death. This is a serious problem that we cannot fix. We cannot do enough good things to set our record straight with God. We need something beyond ourselves to help us. Paul wrote that the “Good News of Jesus Christ is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” We need this Good News.
For the past couple of chapters in the letter to the Romans we have read how Paul was defending the idea that we must be declared right with God by faith in Jesus Christ. We cannot rely upon obeying the righteous demands of God’s Law in order to be right with Him. To the Christians, Paul argued that they are not under the Law but under grace. This sounds great as we want to be under grace, not the Law. Now this idea aroused the interest of some who presumed that not being under the Law must mean we can do whatever we want. We just need to believe in Jesus Christ, maybe say a simple prayer, and while we wait for Christ to return for us, we can just live any way we want. After all, we are free, right? That is the situation Paul was addressing. In chapter seven, Paul tackled this issue from a different perspective, and provided an analogy. The analogy was this: a woman whose husband has died is free to marry another, just as believers, who have died to the Law, are free to belong to Christ. Let’s look at this analogy.
Our Marriage to Sin and the Law is Over
Paul opened this passage with the statement “the Law is binding on a person only as long as he lives.” To explain this statement, Paul mentioned that a woman was legally bound to her husband for life. Except for a legal divorce, the only way she could be freed from her marriage was when her husband died. When this happened, she was perfectly free to marry again. Let’s look at this statement:
Romans 7:1-2 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.
This seems pretty straightforward. When a man and woman marry, we understand that union as one that is “till death do us part”. Except for a legal divorce, marriage is a life-long relationship that is only ended when one of the spouses passes away. While a husband and wife both live, their marriage vows are binding. But at death there is release from that binding relationship. The surviving spouse is then free to marry another person. How does this relate to our faith and relationship with God? The analogy describes our relationship to God’s Law. As unbelievers, we are bound to the righteous demands of the Law. It is our Master and we are a slave to it. The Law tells us what God requires of us to be righteous. It tells us what sin is and requires that we perfectly obey it to escape punishment. The Law does not bring victory over sin and death, however, since we are incapable of perfectly following the Law.
Now, the Law is only binding as long as we live. Maybe you are saying, “I am still alive, I must be under the Law.” Not necessarily. People who have believed in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, who have trusted in Him for salvation, they have “died to the Law” through Jesus’ death. Before any of us receive the Gospel by faith in Jesus Christ, we are “married” to sin because we have broken God’s Law. We are bound to the Law’s verdict and demands upon our lives. When by the grace of God through faith we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, we become “dead to sin”. Those who have died with Christ are set free from sin and the Law. What this means is that we have died and are set free from the demands of the Law. If we have died to sin, meaning that the old person is gone and we have become a new person free in Christ, we are not bound to the demands and consequences of the Law. We have died to the Law.
We Are Now Married to Jesus Christ
Now, it may seem that if our “marriage to the Law” is over, then we might be totally free to do whatever we want. In fact, that is exactly the idea some had and the question Paul was answering. Paul was saying, though, that we are not free to do whatever we want. In fact, when our “marriage to the Law” is over, we are then bound to a new Husband.
Romans 7:4 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.
Christians have died to the Law through Jesus Christ. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and trusting in Him, we are no longer bound to the Law. As a result, however, we are then married to Jesus and the Law no longer has any claim on us. This might be a strange concept to some, especially to the men, but we are married to Jesus. After all, the Church is called the Bride of Christ. The purpose of our death to sin and freedom from the demands of the Law is that we might belong to another husband — to the One who was raised from the dead. The One in whom we died becomes the very One in whom we find our new life. Our Savior becomes our new “husband.” We have died to the Law so that we may belong to Jesus.
However, if we were to carry this marriage analogy further, we would say that a married woman who lives with another man or tries to marry another while still married to the first is considered an adulteress. When I was younger, I used to hear about all these other people cheating on their boyfriends and girlfriends. For some, it seemed like they had a goal to be with multiple people each week, obviously without all of these people knowing it at the time. I never really understood that. It seemed to me that dating one person at a time was enough. And now that I am married, I can tell you one wife is all I want or need. Having that one loyal, faithful, loving person that you promise to be with the rest of your life is a wonderful thing. But there are people who do not see that.
So, here is the principle: if you have truly died to the Law, meaning the Law no longer has any demand on your life, are you going to cheat on Jesus by trying to earn favor with God in keeping the Law? Are you going to resurrect that old dead lover while you should be faithfully trusting your new husband, Jesus Christ? We cannot have it both ways — law and grace — just as we do not recognize multiple partners in marriage. If you have died to sin and have trusted in Christ, you need to faithfully trust Him and not the Law and not yourself. The result of the end of our marriage to the Law is that we have a new husband and a new life. Instead of despair, there is joy! Instead of bondage, there is freedom! Instead of death, there is life!
Our Marriage to Christ Produces Results
But, if we are truly dead to the Law, how does that not produce lawlessness? How does being free from the Law and the demands of the Law not result in people just doing whatever they want? God does this by changing our desires. Before we know Christ, we desire the things of the flesh — things that we should not desire. After knowing Christ, God changes our desires. We begin to have the desires of our new husband. I have noticed that my desires have changed now that I am married to Gena. Things that I did not want before are now things I desire to have. God saved us through the Gospel in order to change us and to produce good results. We see this in verses four and five.
Romans 7:4–5 4 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. 5 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.
One thing we should notice in this passage is that whether we are bound to the Law or to Jesus, we will bear fruit, or produce results. If we are bound to the Law and living in the flesh, we bear fruit for death. If we belong to Jesus Christ we will bear fruit for God.
Even though we are dead to sin and to the Law, when God declares you righteous based on your faith in Jesus Christ, it is so that you will bear fruit for Him. So, while you cannot work your way into God’s favor, when God bestows His favor on you, it is so you will produce good results. If you try to follow the demands of the Law in order to be right with God, you will literally work yourselves to death. But, if you trust in Jesus Christ, you will bear fruit for God. This means, God expects you to produce results.
Jesus said there are two kinds of trees — a tree that produces good fruit and one that produces bad fruit. The tree that bears bad fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matt. 7:17-20) People will recognize us by the fruit we produce. This seems to be in line with the fruit for death and the fruit for God that Paul mentioned. This doesn’t answer what the fruit is or how we have it, though. For that, I turn to another one of Paul’s letters. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote that the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit are opposed to one another. What our physical bodies tempted by sin want to do is different from what God’s Spirit wants for us. But, if we are being led by the Holy Spirit, we will not to pursue the desires of the flesh.
Galatians 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
Thus, we should walk by the Spirit, or be led by the Spirit. A few verses later, Paul listed the desires of the flesh, but this time he called them “works of the flesh.” He then listed the Fruit of the Spirit. Notice something different between the two categories:
Works of the Flesh: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.
Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
With the exception of a couple of them, the works of the flesh are things we do. On the other hand, the Fruit of the Spirit is are not things you “do” but things you are. If we are being led by the Holy Spirit and we are producing the natural outcome of God’s work in our lives, the result will be a dramatic change in character — not things we do. This does not mean there will not be good works, for Christ-like character results in Christ-like action. My point is that the result of being bound to Jesus and producing fruit of that relationship is primarily love and the other Fruit of the Spirit. The Law is about doing, but faith in Jesus Christ is about being. It is about trusting in Him and what He has done for you in order for you to become like Him. We are released from the Law and bound to Jesus Christ in order to produce that fruit. Knowing Christ, trusting Christ, and following Christ means we will be more like Christ. That is the fruit for God.
So, which fruit are you bearing? Are you producing results of the flesh that lead to death or, are you producing the Fruit of the Spirit that leads to life? Just look at your life now and ask yourself, “Am I producing the Fruit of the Spirit?” Am I being led by the Spirit and trusting in Jesus today. Many people focus on the time they trusted in Christ as the decisive factor of their Christian lives. While there may have been a point in time when you belonged to Him, the Christian life is not so much about when you trusted in Jesus Christ, as it is about trusting in Him everyday — when trouble comes your way, when the future is a bit uncertain, when Satan turns you life upside down. Do you trust Christ in those times? Has the Gospel changed you in such a way that you desire Him more, love Him more, and trust Him more than when you first did?
Or, are you cheating on Jesus today by relying on your works to distinguish your faith? Do the things you do define your life and relationship with Him? Are you cheating on Jesus by following the demands of the Law, or your own standard of righteousness? Are you cheating on Him by courting the world, allowing the world to draw you away from Him? Are you cheating on Jesus by trying to work for God’s favor? Do you have trouble trusting in God’s grace through the work of the cross? Do you find yourself constantly trying to justify yourself by doing “acts of righteousness” in order to have favor with God or man? Many times the good deeds we do might not be a result of the inner Fruit of the Spirit. They become a poor attempt to impress others or make one look righteous. If that is you, you should repent and pray for God’s Spirit to give you an honest desire for Him.
If you want to be productive for God, to bear fruit for Him, you cannot keep your checklist of do’s and don’ts, or your judgmental attitude towards others, or your personal pride and selfish desires of doing things your way. You have to give all that up and serve Christ through the Spirit, trusting in His grace each day. My encouragement to the believer and unbeliever alike is the same — trust Jesus. If you have never trusted in Jesus Christ, then you are still under the demands of the Law and under the wrath of God. But that does not have to be so. Just turn to Jesus Christ trusting in Him completely to satisfy the righteous demands of the Law on your behalf and you will be saved. If you have trusted in Jesus, but are facing doubt or uncertainty, turn to Him. The Christian faith is not about trusting in Jesus one time and that’s it. It is about a life-long relationship — a marriage — in which you trust Him every day. Believe that Jesus is the only Way and that the demands of the Law have been completely satisfied in Him. This is Good News. Thanks be to God. Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.