Paul now continues his argument from chapter 6 where he argued that we are enslaved to the one we obey whether it’s sin which produces death or grace which results in eternal life (6:22-23). Here, he continues strumming the same note and uses the example of a woman bound by law to her husband while he’s alive. Only after he dies is she freed to marry another without being an adulterous (Vv.1-3). Then Paul makes the connection between the believers union with Christ:
“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.”
Here’s what I gather from this text. First, though the Law was a good husband, it could never produce life in us because of our sinful nature. When Christ died on the cross, the believers in him also died to the Law so that they may be joined to another husband—to Christ who rose from the dead. We have come to be His bride for the purpose of bearing fruit for God (i.e., sanctification).
The metaphor of husband and wife is penetrating. The purpose of the 1st husband was to show us how sinful our sin is. The purpose of the 2nd husband is to free us from death by vanquishing the grave. Both husbands are good (Law and Christ) but only the latter husband can bring us life through His death. Thus, to be in Christ is to be dead to the Law. If one is not dead to the Law, they don’t belong to Christ.
This does not argue for antinomianism (being against the Law) nor for Libertarianism (we are free to sin) but for the actuality that new birth produces—new life which issues forth a life of continuous sanctification. Paul buttresses his argument by recalling our state before and after new birth:
“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.”
Paul however anticipates an objection and continues:
“7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.”
This section is somewhat tricky. Paul begins affirming that the Law is not sin, but rather is a light that exposes sin (e.g., covetousness) and thus clarifies what sin is (covetousness). Secondly, sin is shown to be such when the commandment is given and the object recoils, flinches and resists that light. Third, when this light of the Law exposes sin, it produces more sin in him, not less.
Now the last phrase, “apart from the Law sin is dead” is problematic. First, It could mean that when the Law does not expose sin (because somehow the Law is hidden from us) it does not have the opportunity to replicate itself, nor be amplified through the object’s motivation. Second, Paul does argue that both Jew and Gentile are all under sin (chapters 1-2) even if the Gentiles did not have the Law. Now if Gentiles did not have the Law, were they then sinless? Clearly not! Third, according to Adam’s rebellion, all men were thrown into a sinful state before the Law came. So were they then sinless? Clearly not!
What I think Paul is referring to is (Vv.1-6) where he explains that being dead to the Law is to be in Christ. Thus, believers are no longer enslaved to sin but to Christ because of new birth. Paul continues his thought:
“9 I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; 10 and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11 for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”
I’m not clear on how Paul can say that he was “once alive apart from the Law” since the absence of the Law does not eradicate the reality of sin from our first father Adam, it’s just not exposed. Maybe he means that he thought all was well until the Laws’ light showed him otherwise and thus produced in him death? Because of sin’s deceptive nature, perhaps instead of recoiling at the command Paul thought he could actually perform it without the motive tainted by sin (he was after all a devout Jew).
Paul concludes in a strange way lauding the Law and its characteristics of being holy, righteous and good. He knows an objection is warranted to be raised and continues:
“13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.”
Paul affirms that the cause of death is sin not the Law which is good. The purpose for this is to show that sin is and is utterly sinful. Moreover, it’s just not the cause of death by means of the commandment, but it’s also the effect of death. Plainly put, the Law is neither the cause nor the effect of death—sin is; which the Law reveals to be real and deadly. That is the purpose of the Law.
That’s why people suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness and that’s why God’s just wrath is on sinful rebels. This section is amazingly profound and troublesome. The extent that God went through to show rebels like me that wrath is just because of sin which has been exposed through God’s holy, righteous and good command is amazing. Moreover, the need to embrace Christ alone as husband is clear in light of the Law’s purpose—to expose sin, not to cleanse it away. Only Christ can cleanse from sin.
It’s troublesome because this truth is so backwards in the lives of many religious people who are trusting in their law-keeping. Only death awaits those who trust in that.
LORD, thank you for the light of your word which brings us truth and life. May I never and leave this glorious treasure of the gospel, but may I and Your church proclaim it boldly, kindly, and relentlessly! (SDG)