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The Law's place

Romans 7:1-6

Some only take notice or even read chapter 7 because it leads into chapter 8. The chapter is dense. That is dense with a capital T for theology. It is challenging on a few fronts. However, in the journey through Romans, it is part of the case for Christ that is being made. Following on from the points made earlier in the book regarding justification by faith and not by law, and recently the comparison that we are no longer a slave to sin, but instead to God and to righteousness. The next logical question, and the one that Paul presents us with, is what then of the law? 23 times in 25 verses we see the word νόμος ('nomos'). This has a broad range of meanings, ranging from the law as a principle revealed in nature or reason, to the OT Scriptures as a body, the first five books of the Scriptures, or any single command of the Scriptures; a rule of life and conduct. Here, however, Paul is meaning the Mosaic law. The law handed to Moses by God. The law that the Jews attempted to live out. Consisting of moral, civil and ceremonial components, this is made up and is predominantly found in the first 5 books of our bible, the Pentateuch (Greek for fivefold volume, or the Torah, Hebrew for commands). To learn more about 'The Law' check out the BibleProject video.

As Christians we follow the way, or Jesus, we are under the power of God's grace, free from the law and sin. So how are we to think, treat and even do, with Old Testament Law?

Chapter 7 answers that for us.

There is a consideration of who Paul is talking to, Jew or Gentile. We know that earlier in the letter he spoke to them separately, bringing their position in the sight of God to be the same. We also know from other letters and the book of Acts that conflict existed between these groups. The idea that Gentiles were being made, by converted Jews, to become Jews first, before they could become followers of Jesus. The question of the Law and its authority into the lives of those early Christians had to be addressed.

Verse 2-3 is an illustration to help explain and present Paul's point, which he then summarises in verse 4. This is an illustration and should not be extrapolated out too much and certainly should not be used as insight into how remarriage should be viewed by Christians. This illustration rather is an attempt to simplify a heavy theological point.

  • A woman is married to a man

  • If she has an affair, she is an adulterer

  • If the man is dead, it is not adultery

If we simply take the first husband as the Law, then she is unable to 'marry' someone else. But because the old husband, the Law has 'died', she is free to have a relationship with someone else. That someone else is Jesus Christ.

Because of what Christ has done, the Old Testament, the Old Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant, the Law, has been completed - we are now able to enter the new covenant with Jesus. We can now belong to another, Him who was raised from the dead, Jesus Christ.

This is so that we might bear fruit for God.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (Ephesians 5:8-11)

This shows the end of the Law comes with the redemptive work of Christ. This allows us to bear fruit to God. That is, practical works of service should flow from our new relationship with the Living God!

Verses 5 and 6 have a similar structure to chapter 6, where we see a 'but now' statement.

Pre-Christ in our life we were;

  • In the realm of the flesh

  • With sinful passions

  • Bearing fruit for death

But now - because of what Christ has done we are;

  • Released from the law

  • Able to serve in the new way of the Spirit

The use of written code γράμμα ('gramma') meaning something written is used instead of law ('nomos') again, to help us with a simple comparison. Written and static versus Spirit and active. The idea is that our new life is to be active in the Spirit, rather than a static rule book. To live out our faith, from the heart, filled with the Spirit.

So, where does this leave us with the question passed?

Does this mean the Old Testament, the Law component, doesn't belong in a Christian's life? Should we simply stop reading it? Is it only good as a mirror to help us understand our unholiness and our need for a saviour? Once we are under grace, we don't need it?

What Paul is saying is that the Old Covenant, the old agreement between God and Moses (Isreal) has been superseded ('died') and we are now 'married' to a New Covenant through Jesus Christ. Our obedience is through the Spirit to our Lord Jesus Christ.

What we are to obey is Jesus's teaching. Who used and preached from the Old Testament. The moral component remember can be summarised by the greatest commandment:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

The Old Testament is a guide to help us interpret the New Testament - the law of Christ. Jesus taught 9 of the 10 commandments and even extended on them, for example;

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. (Matthew 5:21f)

So the Law has a purpose, Law has a place, but we as Christians, as followers of Christ, are to remember that we follow Jesus, not the Law. We obey and live through our relationship with Jesus, but in a rule book. We obey through the very power that has set us free, that has made us right with God.

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