Over the past two weeks we have been exploring the concept of sanctification. Paul describes it as a lifelong process that begins at the moment a person accepts Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. At the instant of their salvation, the new believer is regenerated or “born again” spiritually. This means that they die to sin, are freed from its control, and are made alive to God having been resurrected with Christ.
The newly sanctified person is no longer a citizen of the kingdom of sin and is released from its harsh reign over their lives. Yet the influence and allure of sin continues to appeal to the believer’s old human or fleshly nature, even though their spirit has been made new. This creates a fierce conflict within the Christian, as the spirit continually duals with the body. Sanctification refers to the growth and maturity of saved people who increasingly submit to the godly desires of their regenerate spirit rather than the lusts of the flesh.
It is challenging to live in obedience to the spirit while overcoming the constant temptations to these carnal bodies. Paul describes this supernatural struggle as a type of slavery - either we will live as slaves to God or as slaves to sin. He challenges us to consciously choose the LORD everyday by presenting ourselves well to Him, by obeying His commands, and by joyfully receiving the gift(s) He offers.
In the opening verses of chapter 7 we are given a second analogy to help us better understand the true nature of sanctification. While last week we pictured sanctification as slavery, this morning we will view it in terms of marriage. Some of you might be thinking that your marriage feels like slavery at times, but I can assure you that they are not the same thing… (that was my lame attempt at a joke)
Often we as Christians think of the phrase “the bride of Christ” in a collective sense as it refers to the entire Church. This is certainly true, and is probably the most common usage of the phrase in scripture. But in this passage Paul pictures himself and all believers individually as brides of Christ, stating that each of us is married to Him personally.
The outline of today’s message has 4 major points - the Jewish law regarding marriage, our spiritual marriage to Christ, the nature and purpose of the law, and the cause of death. So with that, let’s delve into Paul’s depiction of sanctification as a marriage...
I. THE JEWISH LAW REGARDING MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE (Romans 7:1-3)
In this section of Paul’s text, he is specifically addressing those who “know the law” - aka, Jewish believers. As Jews, these new Christians had grown up with and been taught to be zealous followers of the Old Testament Law. Their strict obedience to it was believed by many to be the means of salvation, and thus the concept of grace through faith was new and challenging to them.
While a man could divorce his wife for numerous reasons, the wife was bound to her husband in most cases. She could not divorce him or leave him as long as he was living. The only way a woman could be set free from a marriage was if the husband died. At the point of his death and thereafter, the marriage relationship was officially dissolved and the woman was free from its obligations.
If a woman left her husband and married another man, while the original husband was still alive, she was considered an adulteress under the law. Marriage was considered to be a lifelong institution in the eyes of God, and thus could only end at the time of death. To marry another person, even if allowed by the civil government, was an act of adultery. However, if her first husband was deceased the woman would then be morally free to marry again.
II. MARRIED TO CHRIST (Romans 7:4-6)
Like a wife who is bound to her husband, so too were we constrained to the Law. There was no means of escape from its jurisdiction over us so long as we were living. Yet when we died to it, at the point of our regeneration, we were released or divorced from it. As such, having been born again, we are now free to marry or be “joined to” another - namely Jesus Christ.
Our first marriage - when we were “in the flesh” - was characterized by sinful passions that ravished our bodies and bore the fruit of death. But our second marriage - as those now joined to Jesus - is characterized by righteousness and newness of spirit which produce the fruit of life. We are no longer under the oppression of the Law but are now under grace.
III. THE NATURE AND PURPOSE OF THE LAW (Romans 7:7-12)
In chapter 3 Paul dealt with the purpose and nature of the Law as it dealt with justification. He taught that we are justified by God when we place our faith in Jesus Christ, not by our works under the Law. In today's verses, Paul addresses this topic again as it relates to sanctification. We learn that our sanctification is the result of God’s grace upon us, and is not attained by our obedience to the Law. In both instances - justification and sanctification - the Law is not the driving factor. So what then is the value of the Law?
The Law formally imparts to us the knowledge of sin. As we have discovered earlier in this book, the purpose of the Law is primarily to expose our own sinfulness and to help us realize our need for salvation. The Law was intended for our good, but sin took the opportunity through it to destroy us. By studying it we learn how to live in holiness before God, how to serve Him, and how to love each other. But we also know the guilt and shame that comes as a consequence of breaking it. Thus, while the Law is ultimately meant for our benefit it also provides sin with an occasion to abound.
Verse 9 is particularly difficult to understand, as it must be reconciled with Paul’s teaching elsewhere. He seems to indicate that he was once spiritually alive and apart from the Law, but earlier in this letter he taught that the law (of the conscience) is inherent within us and that all are guilty of violating it even at a very early age. In other words, if we are born into this world subject to the law how could there be a time prior to our salvation when we are free of its rule? In order for this to make sense, we can interpret Paul to be speaking about his own personal awareness of the law. There was a time in his earlier life that he naively considered himself to be alive to God, but as he studied the Law he became aware that this was not the case. Indeed, the Law revealed that he had been dead in his sins all along...
IV. THE CAUSE OF DEATH (Romans 7:13)
The primary purpose of an autopsy is to determine the cause of death. In this verse, Paul rules out the Law - which was intended for our good - as the cause of our spiritual death. It is actually sin, our own disobedience to God’s law, that kills us. The law or commandment simply reveals this to be the case.
In America today there is a raging debate about gun laws. Many people claim that guns cause hundreds of deaths each year and that people would be safer if the possession of firearms was illegal. I flatly disagree. My position (which is shared by many others) is that if law abiding citizens were prevented from having guns they would be helpless to defend themselves from criminals who would access them illegally anyway. This would lead to increased deaths and violence. It would promote a culture of fear and helplessness. In my mind this issue boils down to a single question… do guns kill people or do people kill people? The answer is quite obvious.
In the case of the law and sin, it is not the law that kills people. Rather it is sin that kills people. Sin uses the law as a means to commit this murderous crime, but the law was never meant to be used as a weapon to destroy us. Rather it was supposed to assist us, just as guns were originally invented for the good of mankind.
From the moment of our salvation until the day we physically die, we are being made into the image of Christ. With each passing day, the LORD is molding us and making us into the likeness of His Son through the process of sanctification. We can submit to the spiritual transformation by living our lives in submission to Him or we can resist it through our own stubborn sinfulness.
Like any marriage relationship, there will be good days and bad days. But as redeemed believers, we have died to our old marriage to the Law and have been remarried to Christ. This new relationship is free from the rule of sin over us, and instead is founded upon the grace of God toward us. So even a “bad” day with Jesus is much better than many “good” ones without Him... It is His grace that continually sanctifies us and sets us apart for His glory.