(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 8/25/02 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Please turn if you will to the book of Romans, chapter 7. I'll read verses 1 through 6:
Romans 7: (1) Or are you ignorant, brothers, (for I speak to those knowing Law), that the Law lords it over the man for as long a time as he lives? (2) For the married woman was bound by Law to the living husband; but if the husband dies, she is set free from the Law of the husband. (3) So then, [if] the husband [is] living, she will be called an adulteress if she becomes another man's. But if the husband dies, she is free from the Law, [so as for] her not to be an adulteress [by] becoming another man's. (4) So that, my brothers, you also were made dead to the Law through the body of Christ, for you to become Another's, to [the One] raised from [the] dead, so that we may bear fruit to God. (5) For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sin were working in our members through the Law for the bearing of fruit unto death. (6) But now we have been set free from the Law, having died [to that] in which we were held, so as [for] us to serve in newness of spirit, and not [in] oldness of letter.
Last week, we went into the law of marriage. We saw that the law of marriage is a law that is still in effect today. We saw in this law that marriage is for life. We saw that if a woman marries another man while the husband is still living, she is an adulteress. We saw that divorce does not dissolve the marriage; in other words, if a wife gets a divorce from her husband, her husband REMAINS her husband until her husband dies. Thus, if she marries another man, even though she is divorced from her husband, she is an adulteress. As I was thinking about this and the opposition to this in the so-called "church" today, I saw that this is really the only way that verse 3 would make sense. Look at verse 3:
Romans 7: (3) So then, [if] the husband [is] living, she will be called an adulteress if she becomes another man's. But if the husband dies, she is free from the Law, [so as for] her not to be an adulteress [by] becoming another man's.
Now if the husband is living, what is she doing becoming another man's unless a divorce has happened? When it says, "becomes another man's," it's not talking about a one-time adulterous relationship; it's talking about BEING MARRIED TO another man. So I believe that verse 3 is implying that the wife has DIVORCED the husband and has REMARRIED another man while the husband is still alive. And in this circumstance, when the wife has DIVORCED the husband and REMARRIED another man while the husband is still alive, the wife is called an adulteress. She shows herself to be unregenerate. Her first husband is still HER HUSBAND, no matter if she is divorced from him, and her second marriage is to ANOTHER MAN, NOT to her husband. She has broken the law of the husband. She has put forth a blasphemous picture of the church being married to a false christ.
We also saw the only instance in which the woman is set free from the law of the husband, which is when the husband DIES. 1 Corinthians 7:39 says, "A wife is bound by law for as long a time as her husband lives; but if her husband sleeps, she is free to be married to whomever she desires, only in the Lord." The husband "sleeping" here means that the husband has died. When the husband dies, she is free to be married to another Christian man. We also saw in the next verse that the widow would be happier if she remained unmarried, and I spoke about instances, such as the commitment between me and my wife, in which the husband and wife make a commitment to each other not to marry anyone if the other dies. In this case, of course, it would NOT be lawful for the living spouse to marry even after the other spouse dies, since they've made this commitment to each other. But the main point of this is that, absent a commitment like the one I described, it is LAWFUL for the wife to remarry after the husband has died, and it is LAWFUL for the wife NOT to remarry after the husband has died. Once the husband has died, the wife is FREE from the law of her husband. She is no longer COMMANDED not to remarry. And, as Romans 7:3 says, if she marries another, she is not an adulteress.
Now that we've gone over the law of marriage, we now come to the reason Paul mentions the law of marriage in this context. He does it to put forth an ANALOGY between the law of marriage and the relation to the law and Christ. And here's the first part of the analogy: If the husband is still living, the woman is bound by the law of the husband. She is under the law of the husband. She is a slave to the law of the husband. This is analogous to an unregenerate person being under Law, being married to the Law. Remember back in Romans 6:14, it said, "You are not UNDER LAW, but under grace." Let's go back over what it means to be UNDER LAW. To be"under law" is to be under the curse of the law, to be going about to establish a righteousness of one's own. These people are slaves to the law as ones who have all the law to do, and that perfectly. And if they do not perfectly keep the law, they are condemned, as Galatians 3:10 says, "For as many as are out of works of Law" - these are the ones who are UNDER Law, who are MARRIED to the law - "these are under a curse. For it has been written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue in ALL THINGS having been written in the book of the Law, to do them.'" Their marriage to the Law keeps them trying to seek favor with God by the works of the law. Their marriage to the Law keeps them believing that their own works make the difference between salvation and damnation. These are the people who keep on working and working and working to gain and maintain God's favor and entitlement to heaven. These are the people who keep on working at their present stewardship because they believe that their everlasting habitations are based on their present stewardship. And this is the way WE were before we were saved. We were under the law, and we were bearing fruit unto death.
Let's look at verse 5, which describes how we were before we were saved. First, it says we were "in the flesh." Being "in the flesh" is the opposite of being "in the Spirit." Now the charismatic heretics would tell us that Christians can go back and forth from being "in the flesh" to being "in the Spirit." And some heretics who come in the name of Sovereign Grace would say that Christians are ALWAYS "in the flesh" or that Christians are BOTH "in the flesh" AND "in the spirit" at the same time. But that's not the truth, is it? We WERE in the flesh. We who are Christians ARE NOT in the flesh - we are in the Spirit. Does anyone want to argue that point? I say that we are NOT in the flesh but in the Spirit. Anybody want to jump up and say this is a lie? Well, let's turn over to Romans 8:9:
Romans 8: (9) But you are not in flesh, but in Spirit, since [the] Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone has not [the] Spirit of Christ, this one is not His.
Do you see what that says? "But you are not in flesh, but in Spirit." If anyone has the Spirit of God indwelling them, they are in the Spirit. And anyone who is NOT in the Spirit is not God's. That's what it says. It doesn't say that Christians are SOMETIMES in the flesh and sometimes in the Spirit, and it doesn't say that Christians are in the flesh and in the Spirit at the same time. It says that Christians are NOT in the flesh but in the Spirit. And what does it say in the verse before this one?
Romans 8: (8) And those being in the flesh are not able to please God.
Got that? If you are in the flesh, you are not able to please God. You are unregenerate. So obviously, "in the flesh" means unregenerate.
Back to Romans 7:5. "When we were in the flesh" -- that means when we were in our natural, unregenerate state that we inherited from Adam -- "the passions of sin were working in our members through the Law for the bearing of fruit unto death." The Greek word translated "passions" here is PATH-ay-mah. This comes from the Greek word PATH-os, which means "lust" or "affection." It is an unlawful desire. So when we were in our natural wicked state, the unlawful desires of sin were working in our members. If you remember from previous sermons, our "members" are the parts of our bodies. So when we were in our natural wicked state, the unlawful desires of sin were working in the parts of our bodies through the Law. Now what does it mean that these passions were working through the Law? There are a couple different interpretations of this. One interpretation, which is the most popular interpretation, is that these passions were inflamed because the Law forbade them. So when the Law says you are not to steal, passions are inflamed to break that Law and to steal. Now it is true that for some people, the presence of a law instills in that person a desire to break it. But in the context of what is said before and after this sentence, I believe it is talking about something different. BEFORE this sentence, Paul talks about someone who is alive to the Law - who is a slave to the Law. The Law lords it over him as long as he is alive to the Law. And as we just saw, that means going about to establish one's own righteousness through the works of the Law. AFTER this sentence, Paul talks about being SET FREE from the Law, which includes NOT serving in oldness of letter. Thus, when we were SLAVES to the law, we were serving in oldness of letter. "Serving in oldness of letter" means striving to be in outward, legalistic obedience to the Law. This striving to obey was out of the legalistic notion that one's obedience forms at least some part of the ground of salvation or acceptance before God. This is epitomized in the Pharisees, who were so meticulous about conforming to the LETTER of the law, meaning merely the OUTWARD precept. They thought that their meticulous conforming to the outward precept gained them favor with God and made them more holy than those who were not concerned with such detail. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shows them and all other self-righteous religionists that, while they are OUTWARDLY moral, the Law goes much further than that. It goes to the HEART. For example, the Law says that you shall not commit adultery. So the self-righteous religionists thought they were keeping that law by not outwardly committing adultery. But Jesus said that if one is SEXUALLY ATTRACTED to another person outside the bond of marriage, that person is committing adultery in his MIND, or heart. The Law says that you shall not commit murder. But this law does not only forbid the outward act of killing someone; it forbids being angry with someone without a cause. So those who served in oldness of letter are those who kept the precepts of the Law out of a notion that their law-keeping formed some part of the ground of their acceptance before God.
So, with this in mind, let's go back to what "passions working through the Law" means. This must mean that we had UNLAWFUL DESIRES to KEEP the Law! We had the unlawful notion that our law-keeping, our obedience, was the way to satisfy God's demands! We were serving in "oldness of letter"! We desired to keep the law, to be obedient to God, out of the notion that this made us to differ. We thought that our own efforts were what made the difference between salvation and damnation. And we made our judgments based on this as well. We judged OTHERS to be in favor with God who were good Law-keepers. And even if we didn't quite measure up in our obedience to what the Law says, we thought that if we IMPROVED in our obedience, this would make us MORE PLEASING to God and MORE ACCEPTABLE to God. But, instead of being GOOD WORKS or GOOD FRUIT, what does God say it is? It's in the last part of verse 5: It is FRUIT UNTO DEATH. All of our so-called "good deeds," our acts of morality, our reformations, our abstaining from evil, our zeal for God, our commitment to a local church, our prayer and praise, ALL of it was fruit unto death. It was a stench in God's nostrils. Why? It is because we did these things as part of the ground of our salvation and acceptance before God. ANYTHING other than the ATONING BLOOD and IMPUTED RIGHTEOUSNESS of Jesus Christ as the ground of salvation and acceptance before God is EVIL. It is all fruit unto death. Now we saw at the end of Romans 6 that living in immorality ALSO ends in death. So I don't want you to get the mistaken notion that this current passage is excusing living in immorality. If you heard the sermons from Romans 6, you'd see that Paul was MOST CERTAINLY NOT excusing living in immorality; in fact, he said that true Christians will NEVER live in immorality. But he shifts here to focus on outward law-KEEPING rather than outward law-BREAKING. In outward law-KEEPING, one is married to the law and the Law lords it over him as long as he keeps the law thinking that his obedience gains him favor with God or makes him qualified for heaven. And that's the way we used to be in our self-righteous religion, whether it was in Arminianism or Calvinism or something in-between. We were bearing fruit unto death.
But then what happened? That's where we get to the second part of the analogy. When the husband dies, the wife is set free from the law of the husband, and she is free to become another man's. When we DIED to the law, we were SET FREE from the Law, and we became married to Jesus Christ. Verse 4 says that we were made dead to the Law through the body of Christ. How were we made dead to the Law through the body of Christ? This is the body of Christ that suffered, bled, and died for His people. This is the body of Christ that endured the full, unshielded wrath of God the Father against the sins that were imputed to Christ. Through the atoning work of Christ, we were made dead to the Law. How did that happen? Because Jesus Christ took upon Himself the CURSE of the Law and paid the PENALTY of the Law for His people. Thus, those for whom Christ died DO NOT have to satisfy the demands of the Law. They DO NOT have to work and work and work in order to gain or maintain God's favor. They are FREE from the curse and penalty of the Law. Favor with God and peace with God and reconciliation with God HAS BEEN ACCOMPLISHED for His people TOTALLY APART from our works of the Law. Our own efforts are NOT what make the difference between salvation and damnation. It is TOTALLY the work of Christ.
Still in verse 4, it says that we were made dead to the Law through the body of Christ, "for you to become Another's." That's a precious thing, isn't it? We have become another's. We have been married to another. Our submission, our slavery, our commitment is now all to Christ. He has become our husband, and we have become His wife. Our death to the Law through His atoning work has made us free from our marriage to the Law and has made us joined in holy union to Him. Verse 4 describes Him as "One raised from the dead." Jesus Christ, in His resurrection, showed that God the father was fully satisfied with His work and showed that death no longer lorded it over Him. He paid the sin-debt and conquered death so that we might live in newness of life.
The end of verse 4 says, "so that we may bear fruit to God." Notice first the non-parallel between "bearing fruit unto death" and "bearing fruit to God." If it were totally parallel, or an exact opposite, it would be "bearing fruit unto death" and "bearing fruit unto life." We've seen this before, haven't we? We saw in Romans 6 the phrases "sin to death" vs, "obedience to righteousness" instead of "sin to death" vs. "obedience to life." We also saw the phrases "the wages of sin is death" vs. "the gift of God is everlasting life" instead of "the wages of sin is death" vs. "the wages of obedience is life." So here again we see that the fruit that we bear does not merit eternal life, as compared to the truth that fruit unto death DOES merit eternal death. The fruit that we bear is "fruit unto GOD." This fruit is performed out of THANKFULNESS to God and for the GLORY of God.
Also notice that there IS fruit. There IS obedience to God's Law. Being dead to the Law does NOT mean that the Christian does not need to be obedient. Look down in verse 6:
Romans 7: (6) But now we have been set free from the Law, having died [to that] in which we were held, so as [for] us to serve in newness of spirit, and not [in] oldness of letter.
We have been SET FREE from the law by DYING to the Law, yet we still SERVE. Do you see that? We still SERVE. But our service, our obedience, is from a different motive now. Whereas before, it was in oldness of letter, in order to gain or maintain God's favor, now it is in newness of spirit, meaning that our service to God is produced by a new spirit and is thus motivated by love and thankfulness, not by legalism. Before we died to the Law, we were HELD by the Law. We had the demands of the Law before us, and we were trying to keep them in order to satisfy God's demands for fellowship with Him. And we fell woefully short. Even if we were very outwardly moral and religious, we were still void of a righteousness that answers the demands of God's Law. Our marriage to the Law not only had us bound to the Law's demands for perfect righteousness, but it had us bound to the curse of the Law, which is the wrath of God toward all who do not have perfect righteousness. But now, thank God, we have DIED to the Law through the death of Christ, and since the Law only lords it over the man for as long as he lives, our DEATH to the Law means that we have been FREED from the Law's demands and curse and have been MARRIED to Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead so that we might serve in newness of life. We have gone from being slaves to the Law to being slaves to Christ. Our marriage to Christ is a willing, happy slavery to Him. We serve Him and obey Him out of newness of spirit, being eternally grateful to the One whose blood and righteousness ensured our salvation, apart from any of our deeds of Law.
To close, I ask a question: Are you bringing forth fruit unto death or fruit unto God? You know what - you can't tell by outward morality. There are many outwardly moral people who are bringing forth fruit unto death. In fact, MOST moral people are bringing forth fruit unto death. You take two moral people, and one is bringing forth fruit unto death, while the other is bringing forth fruit unto God. What's the difference? The moral person who is bringing forth fruit unto death believes that his law-keeping, his obedience, his efforts at doing what God commands, form at least some part of the ground of his gaining or maintaining salvation, his acceptance or favor before God, or his entitlement to heaven. He believes that his own efforts are what make the difference between salvation and damnation. The moral person who is bringing forth fruit unto God believes that his law-keeping, his obedience, his efforts at doing what God commands, form ABSOLUTELY NO PART of the ground of his gaining or maintaining salvation, his acceptance or favor before God, or his entitlement to heaven. He does not believe that his own efforts are what make the difference between salvation and damnation. Instead, he believes that it is the work of Christ ALONE that makes the difference between salvation and damnation. He believes that it is the work of Christ ALONE that is the ground of his gaining and maintaining salvation, his acceptance and favor before God, and his entitlement to heaven. He believes that Christ's atoning blood and imputed righteousness ENSURES the salvation of EVERYONE whom Christ represented. He IS an obedient, moral person. He DOES strive to obey all of God's Law, both outwardly and inwardly. But he does not do this out of legalism; he does this out of love and thankfulness to the God who sent His Son to meet all the conditions for his salvation. Again, I ask you: Are you bringing forth fruit unto death or fruit unto God? Think on these things. Amen.