Summary: In today’s sermon the apostle Paul explains how we are "Released from the Law," in order to serve God in the Spirit.
Let us read Romans 7:1-6:
"1 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? 2 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. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
"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. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code." (Romans 7:1-6)
Romans 7 is one of the most challenging chapters in all of Scripture.
The apostle Paul is talking about sin in this chapter. But is he talking about sin in the life of a Christian, or sin in the life of a non-Christian? And if he is talking about sin in the life of a Christian, is he talking about a Christian who is mature or immature, growing or backsliding, “spiritual” or “carnal”?
There are so many different schools of thought about this chapter that it is important to understand it correctly.
The focus of Paul’s attention in this chapter is to explain the place of God’s law in God’s plan of salvation. Paul uses the term “law,” “commandment,” or “written code” in each of the first fourteen verses of Romans 7, and a total of thirty times in the entire chapter.
But before we examine Paul’s use of the term “law” in Romans 7, we need to notice how Paul used the term in the previous six chapters. Paul explained that the law reveals sin (3:20), condemns the sinner (3:19), defines sin as transgression (4:15; 5:13), and brings God’s wrath (4:15). In other words, the law reveals sin, not salvation; it brings condemnation, not justification; and it brings wrath, not grace.
According to Paul, the purpose of the law is to show our utter inability to obey it and merit favor with God. By his amazing grace, God has credited Christ’s obedience to the law to our account. Thus, we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone through grace alone. Hence, we are “not under law but under grace” (6:14).
Now, some people misunderstand what Paul is teaching when he says that we are “not under law but under grace.” Paul is not teaching that the law has no place in the life of a Christian. Instead, he is simply teaching that in regard to justification, the Christian is not saved by obedience to the law, but by God’s grace alone. So, for justification we are not under law but under grace.
It will help you to understand this difficult chapter if you know that there are three possible attitudes to God’s law—attitudes represented by the legalist, the antinomian, and the law-lover.
First, the legalist is in bondage to the law. That is, the legalist imagines that his relationship to God depends upon his obedience to the law. He seeks to be justified by works of the law. But he finds that the law is a harsh and inflexible task-master. In Paul’s terminology, he is “under law.”
Second, the antinomian goes to the other extreme. Antinomian literally means “against law,” and antinomians are sometimes also called “libertines.” The antinomian rejects the law, and views it as no longer applicable, necessary, or even as wicked. He blames the law for most of his—and mankind’s—moral and spiritual problems.
And third, the law-lover preserves the balance. The law-lover takes “delight in the law of God” (7:22), and recognizes that he can only fulfill the law by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
So, the legalist fears the law and is in bondage to it. The antinomian hates the law and repudiates it. And the law-lover loves the law and fulfills it.
Directly or indirectly, the apostle Paul portrays each of these characters in Romans 7. Roughly speaking, Paul addresses the legalists in Romans 7:1-6, the antinomians in Romans 7:7-13, and the law-lover in Romans 7:14-25.
John Stott suggests that these three paragraphs may be titled as follows: