In What Way are We “Free From” or “Dead To” the Law?


We find the following statement in Romans 7:1-4:

“(Verse 1) Or 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? (Verse 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. (Verse 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 the law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. (Verse 4) Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another, even to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.”

Many claim that these passages convey the thought that the law of God (including the Ten Commandments, and especially the law against adultery) has no more force and effect for us today, as the law has “no more dominion” over us; as we are “free from the law”; and as we have “become dead to the law.”

But imagine what this would mean. It would mean, for example, that a true Christian could commit adultery today, without being guilty of sin. However, the New Testament teaches the exact opposite. Just focusing on the law against adultery, we read that in order to inherit eternal life, we must obey the commandments, including the commandment against adultery (Matthew 19:17-19). We read that adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 5:19-21). We also read that God will judge “fornicators and adulterers” (Hebrews 13:4).

Paul explains that if we commit adultery, we do not love our neighbor as ourselves (Romans 13:9). Christ even said that when we LOOK at another woman with evil thoughts, we have already committed adultery in our heart, and He warned us not to marry a woman whose marriage had been bound by God and who subsequently became divorced without a biblical reason (Matthew 5:27-32).

We can clearly see that the idea that we are free today to commit adultery is preposterous and in total contradiction to the teaching of the Bible. It’s also clear that Paul could not have possibly meant in the above-quoted passage in Romans 7:1-4 that we are now free to sin, by committing adultery.

(1)    Before we explain what Paul DID mean, let us quote several statements from commentaries to show the HOPELESS CONFUSION in traditional or orthodox Christianity.

For instance, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary writes:

“So long as a man continues under the law as a covenant… he continues [as] the slave of sin in some form… By death we are freed from obligation to the law as a covenant, as the wife is from her vows to her husband… we are dead to the law, and have no more to do with it than the dead servant, who is freed from his master, has to do with his master’s yoke…”

As we pointed out before, this explanation makes no sense.

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible does not present a better explanation:

“… believers being dead to the law, and the law dead to them, which is all one, they are loosed from it… they are out of the reach of its power and government… it has no power over them, to threaten and terrify them into obedience to it; nor even rigorously to exact it, or command it in a compulsory way…”

The following explanation by the Broadman Bible Commentary is also unbiblical. They say: “As the Christian became free from the tyranny of sin when he died to sin (6:2), so he is free from the law because he died to the law…”

(2)    On the other hand, the same commentaries seem to grasp the total fallacy of their conclusions, since utter lawlessness and anarchy would be the inevitable consequence. Realizing the repeated injunction in Scripture to be OBEDIENT to God, they give lip service to this requirement by saying that we must obey God, without ever explaining how obedience is possible without law or rules or regulations. (For instance, the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary speaks of “Christian obedience,” without explaining this concept). How are we supposed to “obey” God without being told in what way we are to obey? This remains an unexplained mystery to the reader.

In spite of these glaring inconsistencies, note the following excerpts from Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible:

“They are represented as… ‘dead to the law’…  it has no power over them…  nor is there any need of all this, since believers delight in it after the inward man, and serve it with their minds freely and willingly; the love of Christ, and not the terrors of the law, constrains them to yield a cheerful obedience to it…”

Did you catch this? The commentary says that the law has no more power over a Christian who, through the love of Christ, yields to a cheerful obedience to IT—the LAW!

(3)    Apparently realizing that this interpretation leads to the slippery slope of incredible inconsistences, an APPARENT DISTINCTION is being created between “the law” and “the law of Christ.” The law then is reduced, mainly, to the law administered by Moses, while the law of Christ is supposed to be something different, even though it is never explained what the difference within the law should be. Hopelessly caught in a maze of confusion, Gill goes on to write:

“[Christ] is raised from the dead; and is a living husband, and will ever continue so, will never die more; and therefore as the saints can never be loosed from the marriage bond of union between Christ and them, so they can never be loosed from the law of this husband; wherefore though they are dead to the law as a covenant of works, and as ministered by Moses, and are free from any obligation to it, as so considered, yet they are ‘under the law to Christ’, 1 Corinthians 9:21; under obligation, by the ties of love, to obedience to it, and shall never be loosed from it.”

Apparently, the idea is supposed to be conveyed that we are under obligation to OBEY the “law to Christ,” while we are no longer under obligation to keep the law “administered by Moses,” but as we said, it is totally nebulous which two sets of law this commentary is talking about. Let us take adultery as an example (because after all, this is the law which Paul uses in his analogy in Romans 7). Whether it was administered by Moses in the Old Testament, or whether it is part of the law of or to Christ in the New Testament, it is still a rule to be obeyed. David had God’s Holy Spirit, but he still committed adultery, and God punished him for that. David was in no way free from the obligation to keep that law (nor was he incapable of violating it), and neither are true Christians today.

The truth is that Paul is speaking in Romans 7 about the spiritual law of the Ten Commandments and the spiritual statutes and judgments, NOT about any temporary ritual law. The prohibition against adultery is part of the spiritual law of the Ten Commandments… not of a ritual law which is no longer valid today.

(4)    It is a usual fact of life that wrong conclusions are oftentimes reached when we operate from wrong premises and presumptions. This is not different in the field of “Christian theology.” Traditional Christianity is hopelessly confused regarding so many of the fundamental doctrines of the Bible, because it starts its thought process with WRONG ASSUMPTIONS.

Regarding Paul’s statements in Romans 7:1-4, there are numerous wrong assumptions employed by Christian commentators, which inevitably lead to wrong conclusions.

(a)    One of these wrong assumptions is that Paul stated that the LAW WAS DEAD. However, Paul nowhere said this. He said that true Christians have become DEAD TO THE LAW; he does not say that the law is dead. This is a fundamental difference which is overlooked by most commentators.

For instance, Gill, in glossing over this all-important distinction, writes that “the law… must be dead, and they dead to that, that so their marriage to Christ might appear lawful and justifiable.”

He also states this:

“The law may be said to live, when it is in full force, and to be dead, when it is abrogated and disannulled; now whilst it lives, or is in force, it has dominion over a man; it can require and command obedience of him, and in case of disobedience can condemn him, and inflict punishment on him: and this power it has also as long as the man lives who is under it, but when he is dead it has no more dominion over him; then ‘the servant is free from his master’, Job 3:19; that is, from the law of his master; and children are free from the law of their parents, the wife from the law of her husband, and subjects from the law of their prince.”

His erroneous conclusions (that the law is no longer binding for us) are based on the false premise that Paul allegedly stated that the law died and was dead… which Paul never said.

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary makes some cautionary remarks, as the authors seem to understand that Paul did not preach that the law was dead:

“It has been thought that the apostle should here have said that ‘the law died to us,’ not ‘we to the law,’ but that purposely inverted the figure… It was essential to his argument that we, not the law, should be the dying party, since it is we that are ‘crucified with Christ,’ and not the law.”

(b)    In addition to the false premise that the law is dead (which Paul did not say), commentaries have created another false premise, which is, that Paul taught that the unconverted person was MARRIED TO THE (Old Testament) LAW, but that the converted Christian is married to Christ, and that therefore, the (Old Testament) law had to die so that we are free to marry another.

Gill is adopting this view, stating that “the law, their former husband, must be dead… that so their marriage to Christ might appear lawful and justifiable.”

(5)    But Paul did not try to explain in his analogy that the first HUSBAND was the LAW, and when the law died, we could marry our second Husband, Jesus Christ.

The first question is whether Paul intended to apply the analogy in Romans 7:1-3 to a Christian (in verse 4) beyond just making the statement that with the death of a person, the law (any law) ceases to have dominion over the person— that is, in using the marriage covenant just as an example, a woman is no longer charged by the law as an adulteress if she marries again after her husband’s death. It might very well be that this is ALL that Paul was trying to convey.

But if we take the positon that Paul meant to apply the different “roles” in this analogy (in verses 1-3) to the life of a Christian, then Paul was not identifying the first husband as the law, but he would have had a completely DIFFERENT “FIRST” HUSBAND in mind.

This concept is something which some early Christian commentaries might have understood, to a degree, who struggled with the problem that Paul could not have said that the law—as a husband—had died and was dead. The Pulpit commentary explains:

“… it may be observed that throughout the whole passage there is no phrase to suggest in itself the idea of the Law’s death… the former husband is not the law, but the lust of sin… Augustine… is the author of this view… [I]n the death of the mortal Christ this old man is dead with him; and, as the individual man is grafted by faith into Christ, his old man dies…”

In light of this viewpoint, the meaning of the passage in Romans 7:4  would have to be looked at in a completely different light (while understanding that we can carry an analogy, an allegory or a parable only so far. Analogies, allegories or parables are meant to explain spiritual lessons; not every aspect is to be taken literally): The wife would first be “married” to her evil desires—her carnal human nature—the “old man.” With the death of that old man, she became free from unrighteousness and became subject to (“married to”) the righteousness of the new man (Romans 6:6, 13, 16-19). The human being is represented here as a wife [or a bride] before and after conversion, in order to stay within the analogy of her becoming the bride of Christ who will marry her new Husband.

(6)    In addition, Paul tells us in Romans 7:4 that WE DIED TO THE LAW THROUGH THE BODY OF CHRIST. He does not say that the law is dead. The spiritual law of the Ten Commandments and its statutes and judgments is very much alive and binding for us today.

Paul says in Romans 7:5: “For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins which were aroused [or revealed, made known, compare Romans 7:7] by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death [the wages or penalty of sin is death, Romans 6:23].”

Before we repent and receive forgiveness for our sins, we live with the fleshly desires of the natural mind. But note as well that the words “were aroused” are not in the original. And so, the Lamsa Bible translates Romans 7:5: “For when we were in the flesh, the pains of sin, which were by the law, worked in our members to bring forth fruits to death.” Sin is the violation of the law, and sin brings pain.

The Living Bible says: “When your old nature was still active, sinful desires were at work within you, making you want to do whatever God said no to, and producing sinful deeds, the rotting fruit of death.”

And so, Christ died for us and delivered us from the PENALTY OF SIN, which is death. He delivered us from the PENALTY OF THE LAW.

Paul says in Romans 7:6: “But now we have been delivered from the law [its penalty, because we had transgressed against it and sinned], 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.”

Today, we are keeping the law by including its intent and purpose. We are not only committing the sin of adultery when we carry out the very act [the letter], but we are already sinning [in spirit] when we look at a woman with the desire of committing adultery with her.

Christ died for us, making forgiveness of sin possible. The law has no more any claim over us; it does not and cannot claim our lives anymore when we repent and believe in and accept the Sacrifice of Christ. “There is therefore now no more condemnation to those who are in Jesus Christ [and He in us], who do not walk according to the flesh [with its evil and sinful lusts and desires], but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1).

With proper baptism, the old man dies, and the new man is raised in whom Christ lives (compare also Ephesians 4:20-24; Colossians 3:9-10). And it is Christ who fulfills the righteous requirements of the law IN and THROUGH us (Romans 8:4). We were baptized into Christ’s death and “we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). Romans 6:10-11 says: “For the death that [Christ] died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin [which is the transgression of the law, 1 John 3:4, Authorized Version], but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We died to the penalty of the law “through the body of Christ” (Romans 7:4) because we could have no forgiveness without the death of the body of Christ (Hebrews 10:10; 1 Peter 2:24). Since everyone has sinned, we would still be under the law’s death penalty. But since Christ died for us and since we have accepted His Sacrifice for us (He died to pay the penalty for our sins on our behalf), the law (its penalty) has no more dominion over us (Romans 7:1). We—that is our old man with his lusts—died or have become dead to the law (its penalty), so that we, as the new man, have become betrothed to our Bridegroom, Jesus Christ (Romans 7:4) who enables us to keep the law. Christ will consummate the marriage with us, when we become immortal Spirit Beings, incapable of sinning, after we have qualified to enter the Kingdom of God.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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