1Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? 2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. 4 Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. 5 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. 6 But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.
In Romans 6:15-23, Paul talked about our being freed from sin as the second reason to not continue in sin - now that we’re under grace and not under the law. The first reason he gave was in Romans 6:1-14, where he earlier explained that since we are now dead to sin, we should therefore not live in it any longer.
He now goes on to use the analogy of marriage to explain that we are no longer controlled by the law but are rather led by the Holy Spirit. He begins with a question to the Christians who were from a Jewish background, and asks if they don’t know that a man is bound by the law only as long as he lives. He seems to be saying that as long as they were under the law (alive to the law), they were controlled by the law, but now that they are under grace, and not bound by the law any longer, they are no longer under the control of the law.
He then begins his analogy of marriage where he says that a woman is bound to her husband as long he is alive, meaning that she doesn’t have the freedom to remarry while he is still alive. However, if he dies, then she is free to remarry. He then goes on to say that if she remarries while he is still alive, she is guilty of committing adultery. But if her husband dies, she would not be considered an adulteress even if she marries another man.
He then makes the connection to the Jewish believer’s relationship to the law, and refers to them as being dead to the law, on account of their faith in Jesus. While they tried to follow the law, they were ‘married’ to the law, as it were, but now that they believe in Jesus, they’ve been married’ as it were to Jesus, who was raised from the dead, meaning that the one who freed us from the law through His death, is alive again. He’s alive to help us live the life we could not live earlier – a life pleasing to God. Now we can live such that we can reflect God’s nature / character / image in our lives. That’s what he means by bearing fruit to God.
He goes on to say that when we were in the flesh (led by our sinful nature), we were busy fulfilling our sinful desires that were actually aroused by the law. (We already looked at how the law made us more aware of what sin really was, and that created in us a greater desire to sin, and therefore we could not stop sinning. In fact, the more we tried to keep the law, the more we sinned). At that time, we used the parts of our body to commit sin that led us to death. Sinful living eventually leads to death (eternal separation from God in hell).
He goes on to say that we have now died to what we were held in bondage to. We wanted to live good lives, but could not do so earlier and we became more enslaved to sin. But now we are able to serve God in a new way, being led by His Holy Spirit, rather than being controlled by the written law.
The same rings true for us as Christians, who are not from a Jewish background. If we go back to trying to live a sinless life, by merely obeying the commandments; we fail miserably. But when we choose to be led by the Holy Spirit, then we find that we are able to do more than what the law expected. If you notice the law was mostly about what we shouldn’t do and very little about what we should do. God knew that mankind was so sinful at the time that they were not ready yet to please Him, so He progressively revealed His holiness to them. He began by telling them what they should not do, and it was mostly through Jesus that we learnt all that we should do. The amazing thing about us is that the more we focus on what we should not do, the more we want to do it, and the more we focus on what we should do, the less we do what we should not do. That’s why Paul says in Galatians 5:16 – “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.”
If you are led by the Spirit, you will not gratify the flesh, meaning that if we are led by the Holy Spirit, we will not fulfil the sinful desires that lurk in each of us. The evidence (fruit) of being led by the Holy Spirit is that we will become loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle, faithful and self-controlled. If you look at all the nine characteristics of a person led by the Holy Spirit, they all have a positive connotation. It’s all about what we are to do, and says nothing about what we are not to do. The reasoning is, as mentioned above. When we focus on doing one thing, we can’t really do the opposite. No one can go in two directions at the same time. So it means that if we are going in the direction we should be going (being led by the Holy Spirit), we would then not be focusing on going in the wrong direction, which is, fulfilling the lusts of the flesh.
7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. 9 I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. 10 And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. 11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. 12 Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
Paul knows that by now, his readers are wondering whether he is calling the law sinful, and so he asks them that very question. “Is the law sin?” Once again, he answers with an emphatic, “Certainly not!” He then goes on to say that it’s actually the opposite that’s true. He says that the law is not sinful, but rather, it was through the law that he became aware of sin. For example, he would not have known that coveting was a sin, had the law not said, “You shall not covet.” And that goes for all the other commandments.
He then proceeds to personify sin, and says that sin made best use of the law which told us what not to do, and it produced in us exactly those sinful desires, so that we became more sinful. Even though sin existed, there wasn’t really a knowledge of sin until the law was given. It was as if sin was dead earlier, but when the law came, it brought sin to life, and as a result, man died
(Paul personalises the passage from here on).
He goes on to say that the law that was intended to bring life, actually brought death, If one was able to keep the law, he could live a great life on earth (and thereafter), and be pleasing to God. But since no one could keep the law, everyone became condemned as sinners, and instead of inheriting life, everyone now became worthy of death.
He continues to personify sin, and says that it took advantage of the law, and deceived him, and killed him, meaning that sin used the law that was mostly prohibitory in nature, and it revealed all that one could now do to disobey God.
He concludes his reasoning with informing his Christian readers from a Jewish background that the law is holy, just and good. It’s holy because it reveals the immense holiness of God – no sin can exist in God’s presence. It’s just, because it embodies justice for all humans – it’s all about living together in harmony, and being just to one another. And it’s good, because it’s for our good that the law was given – not for God’s good. If one was able to live by the law, he would stand to benefit from it.