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“Dead to the Law”

“Or are ye ignorant, brethren (for I speak to men who know the law), that the law hath dominion over a man for so long time as he liveth? For the woman that hath a husband is bound by law to the husband while he liveth, but if the husband die, she is discharged from the law of the husband. So then, if while the husband liveth she be joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if the husband die, she is free from the law, so that she is no adulteress, though she be joined to another man. Wherefore my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be joined to another, even to him that hath been raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God” (Rom. 7:1-4).

In this passage we see the binding nature of law. Without doubt when Paul said, “Or are ye ignorant brethren (for I speak to men who know the law) that the law hath dominion over a man so long as he liveth”, the law of which he wrote was the law given on Sinai. But the truth about any law in general or the law of Moses in particular is the same: law has no dominion over a man when he dies.

In the second instance where “law” is referred to, Paul uses the “law of the husband” to illustrate the principle of law in general. The woman that has a husband is bound by law to the husband while he lives. If he dies, the woman is discharged from the law of the husband. Paul showed that if a woman was joined to a second man while the first husband lived “she shall be called an adulteress”. But if the husband was dead the woman was released from the law: she was no adulteress although she has married a second husband. A word of caution: let no one use this passage to deny a faithful wife the right to marry a second husband if that first husband had committed adultery. As we will learn from the third mention of “law”, the thrust of this teaching is to show that all men are dead to the law Moses gave. The passage is not primarily designed to teach about divorce and remarriage. It is no more true that without exception any woman who divorces her husband and marries a second is guilty of adultery, than it is true that when a woman’s first husband dies, the surviving wife is free to marry any man. She is not free to marry a man who is not free to marry.

In the third mention of “law”, the apostle makes an application of his illustration of the binding nature of the “law of the husband”: bound while the husband lives and free if the husband is dead. The application of the illustration concerned Jews who had come to believe in Jesus and became His disciples. “Wherefore (a conclusion, JM) my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ that ye should be married to another, even to him that hath been raised from the dead”. The Jews were alive to the law as long as the “law lived”. If they were still bound to the law they could not be married to Christ. This would make them guilty of “spiritual adultery”. But they became dead to the law because the law became “dead through the body of Christ”. When Jesus died, the law died. Christ nailed the law to His cross (Col. 2:14). Through their baptism into Christ they were baptized into His death; they also become dead to the guilt of their sins (Rom. 6:3-4).

What law had these Roman Jewish Christians become dead to — the ceremonial parts of the law and not to the law in its entirety? The apostle does not leave us in doubt. Notice him further. Having said, “We are discharged from the law” (Rom. 7:6) he further said, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Howbeit, I had not known sin except the law said, ‘Thou shalt not covet’” Rom. 7:7). Whatever law said, “Thou shalt not covet” was the law Paul had become dead to. The law which said, “Thou shalt not covet” was the tenth commandment (Exo. 20:17). And from henceforth in Romans 7 Paul will distinguish between the law in general as “the law” and the command “thou shalt not covet” as the “commandment” — a part of that whole law. Thus, by becoming “dead” to the commandment which said, “Thou shalt not covet”, Paul became dead to the law of which that commandment was a part.

Jewish and Gentile Christians are alive to the law of Jesus Christ, the New Covenant God promised He would make with spiritual Israel (Jer. 31:31-34). Among the instructions in that New Covenant are nine of the ten commandments which were also part of the Old Covenant. The missing commandment from the ten commandments not found in the New Covenant (and thus those under that New Covenant are not required to keep) is the one which said, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy” (Exo. 20:8). The Sabbath initially reminded men that God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh. In the New Covenant a new day (the first) is observed in which Christians remember (according to the Savior’s request, 1 Cor. 11:24) the sacrifice of Christ. This sacrifice freed us from the law and from the guilt of sin which the law could never permanently do. Our concluding article on the Sabbath will be, “There remaineth therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God”.

Jim McDonald

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