Pastor George Ramocan
In Romans 7:4, the Apostle Paul says to the brethren in Rome: “You also died to the law through the body of Christ that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.”
What does “dying to the law” mean? Is it that Christians are not required to keep the law? This is the view held by some. To answer this question, we must first understand that the term “law” (from the Greek nomos) is used in different ways by the Apostle Paul. Each time we see the word “law” in Paul’s writings we must look for the context in which he uses it. In his scholarly article “Paul and the Law,” Samuel Bacchiocchi points out that Paul uses the word “law” to refer to: the Mosaic law (Galatians 4:21; Romans 7:22, 25; 1 Corinthians 9:9); the entire Old Testament (1 Corinthians 14:21; Romans 3:19, 21); the will of God written in the heart of Gentiles (Romans 2:14–15); the governing principle of conduct (works or faith—Romans 3:27); man’s evil inclinations (Romans 7:21); and the guidance of the Spirit (Romans 8:2).
For example, in Romans 7:23–25, Paul uses the word “law” in different ways. He says: “But I see , warring against another law in my members, and bringing me into captivity to the law of my mind which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God —through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of sin, but with the flesh the law of Godthe law of sin.” In this passage, Paul refers to the involuntary pulls of his carnal nature as “another law in my members,” which he calls the law of sin. He then says this law of sin wars against the law of his mind—a reference to the law of God written upon his mind.
In what sense did Paul use the word “law” in Romans 7:4 when he said, “You died to the law”? In Romans 7:1, Paul says: “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” Paul here uses the word “law” in the sense he uses the word sin in Romans 6:12: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” The reign of sin in one’s body means sin has dominion over that person’s life so much so that the person “obeys its evil desires.” The terms “sin” and “law” can be used interchangeably because “sin is the transgression of the law.” The statement “you died to the law” means here “you died to the condemnation of the law.” Hence, Romans 8:1 states, “There is no condemnation for them that are in Christ Jesus.” It is to the condemnation of the law that this verse refers. Those who are in Christ Jesus have “died to the law”—that is, the law cannot condemn us as long as we are in Christ Jesus.
Illustration of Marriage
In verses 2–3 of Romans 7, Paul uses the illustration of marriage to depict our release from this dominion or condemnation of the law. He says: “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.”
The husband in this illustration represents our “old self” to which we are enslaved. In Romans 6:6–7, Paul says: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” Paul later refers to our sinful nature as “the law of sin” (see Romans 7:23–25). It is from this law of sin that we have been freed. The law of sin is man’s carnal nature, which transgresses the law of God. So vicious is this law, Paul says in Romans 8:7, “The carnal mind does not love the law of God nor can it.”
We sin when we transgress the law of God. It is through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ that we are delivered from sin symbolized by our baptism. Through baptism we have put to death and buried the “old man.” When we put off the “old self” through baptism, we are freed from the condemnation of the law. We have died to the law. It is not the law that dies. It is our “old self” that has died.
Here is an illustration from our everyday experience that may help you to better understand how we have “died to the law.” If a motorist driving on the road is stopped by the police and it is discovered that he is without his proper license and motor vehicle documents, the law has power over him. He can be ordered to park the vehicle; he can be taken into custody, brought before a judge and fined. In this case, he is under the dominion of the law. The judge, however, in his discretion, may exercise mercy and free the driver from the penalty of the law. The fact that the judge frees the driver does not mean the law is abolished. The driver would be warned that if he repeats the violation of the law he will be held in custody. So the judge tells him to go but warns him not to repeat this violation of the law. This is what Jesus meant when He said to the woman who was brought before Him for adultery. The penalty was death, but after examining her case and her accusers, Jesus said to the woman, “Go and sin no more.” To spell it out, this is what Jesus said: “Go, and transgress the law of God no more.” This is what Paul meant when he said in Romans 6:15, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!”
Contrast the above illustration with a second driver who is stopped by the police, who examine his documents and find them to be in order. The law has no power over this man. Dare the police to seize his vehicle or take him in custody! This man is free from the law because he is not in violation of the law. Ironically, it is those who say the law has been abolished and transgress the laws of God (commonly His Sabbaths and Holy Days) who are under the condemnation of the law. The law points out sin, and if you transgress one you are guilty of all. Paul said: “Had it not been for the law I would not have known sin, for if the law had not said, ‘Thou shalt not covet,’ I would not have known what covetousness is.” Again, the Scriptures say, “Where there is no law there is no sin.” How can preachers today say the law is abolished and at the same time say sin abounds in our world? If sin is in our world, then the law of God exists because “where there is no law there is no sin.”
The law does not deliver us from sin. It is Christ the righteous Judge alone who frees us from sin. But Christ requires us not to break His law. “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things I say?” He said, “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” Paul says in Romans 2:13: “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Notice we are declared righteous. This means that even when we keep God’s law we are not righteous in and of ourselves. It is Christ who declares us righteous, but the condition of being declared righteous includes the keeping of God’s law. The law has power over you only when you break it. If you return to your former life of transgressing God’s law, you are once again taken into custody by the law and you have not died to the law.