Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

#18 – Delivered from Under the Law
(Romans 7:1-6)

Do you not know, brothers — for I am speaking to men who know the law — that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives?  For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage.  So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress.  But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.  So, my brothers, 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.  For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death.  But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law 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]

Is Paul talking about believers or nonbelievers?  The question is not new.  Right through the history of the Christian church this has been the great argument of Romans 7.  Men like Origen, or Wesley, or the great scholar Wyse, or Moffat, or the British scholar C.H. Dodd — all take the position that this is the unconverted person that Paul is talking about.  On the other side you have Augustine, and you have Luther, and you have Calvin, and you have that famous Swedish theologian, Anders Nygren, and the British scholar John Stott, who say, “No, he’s talking about the Christian.”  And so the battle has been going on.

I do not know if you have wrestled with the battle, but I have.  If I had a choice, I would say that Paul is talking about the Christian.  I’ll give you my reasons:

  1. From verse 14 onwards, Paul moves from the past tense, which was predominant in the previous verses, to the present continuous tense in verse 14 onwards.  That would hardly be the case if he were talking of his preconverted experience.

  2. My second argument would be:  what Paul is talking of in Romans 7, this tremendous struggle with defeat, completely contradicts what he says about himself as a Pharisee, in Philippians 3:6.  There he says:

    ...As for legalistic righteousness, [I was] faultless.

    Here [Romans 7:24] he cries:

    What a wretched man I am!

    This is a complete contradiction to his preconverted experience.

  3. The third argument I will give is Romans 7:22, where Paul says:

    For in my inner being I delight in God’s law....

    It is not normal for an unconverted man to delight in the law of God.  In fact, Romans 8:7 says:

    ...The sinful mind is hostile to God.  It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.

    So, again, verse 22 implies that he’s talking of his Christian experience.

  4. Then, look at the context of the whole section.  Romans 5, 6, 7, and 8 are dealing with the Christian.  Why would he suddenly turn to his non-Christian experience?

  5. Finally, there are statements, like Romans 8:23, where he talks about groaning, and Galatians 5:17 where he talks about the struggle between flesh and spirit which agree with Romans 7, and which have to do with Christian experience.

But I would take that if I had a choice.  But when I look at Romans 7 as a unit, I am convinced now that to ask the question whether Paul is talking about the believer or the unbeliever is to miss the point Paul had in mind when he wrote the chapter.

Paul did not even think of that issue because what Paul is doing in Romans 7 is proving a very important point, a point that you and I need to come to grips with.  And that is this:  God’s holy law, which is good, which is spiritual, which is righteous, and sinful human nature, which is the same in the believer and in the unbeliever (that’s why the question is meaningless), these two are incompatible.  And because they are incompatible, you and I can never be saved by the works of the law.

You see, Paul made a statement in Romans 6:14 which, to the Jewish community, would be blasphemy, and would be blasphemy probably even to some Adventist communities.  Because, you see, in Romans 6:14, Paul says:

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

Now he has told us in Romans 3:19 and 20 that we are under the law.  And, because we are under the law, the whole world stands condemned.

In Romans 6:14 he says that you Christians are no longer under the law and the reason for that is because we have been delivered from under the law.  But for Paul to make such a statement was very risky, because Paul was planning to visit Rome.  If he did not explain what he meant, and why he believed what he believed (not just because he was inspired but because there was a real reason), he would be lynched if he went to Rome without explaining.

How do I know?  Turn to Acts 21.  Let me show you an experience that Paul went through.  Paul had returned from his third missionary journey and, like a good evangelist, he gave his report.  And his report was that God had blessed his ministry tremendously, so that the gentiles all over the Middle East had accepted the gospel.  And the brethren in Jerusalem, the pillars of the church, said to Paul, “Do you know, we have had a similar blessing in Jerusalem.  Many of the Jews have also accepted the gospel.”  And they all said, “Praise the Lord.”

But James, the “General Conference President,” said to Paul, “But we have a problem.  These Jewish Christians have been hearing about you and they think that you are a heretic, that you are against the law of God, and against the temple, and against the people.  But we know that you are not against the law, you are against legalism.  But they don’t understand what you’re talking about.  They have misunderstood you.  So please, Paul, why don’t you so something.  Shave your head (it wasn’t hard for Paul because he didn’t have too much hair, that’s what the scholars tell us; so I am happy to have good company) and go through the cleansing process to show the Jewish Christians that you are not against the law.”

Unfortunately, this wonderful scheme backfired.  I believe myself that that was not advice from God.  It was James’ good counsel and it backfired.  I can see why, because if somebody goes through a cleansing process, he is admitting that he is wrong.  They were accusing him against the law.

So after he had gone through the process and finally entered the temple, because he could not before that time, a group of Jews grabbed him.  I want you to notice what they said in Acts 21:28.  They grabbed him and they cried out:

“Men of Israel, help us!  This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place.  And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.

“We’ve got the rascal!  This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against:

  1. the people (he’s anti-Jew);
  2. the law, and
  3. this place (the temple).

And furthermore, he also brought Greeks (barbarians, nonbelievers) into the temple, defiling God’s holy place.”

So when Paul says in Romans 6:14, “We are no longer under the law,” those are the kind of statements that got Paul into trouble.  So he has to explain.

Chapter 7 is telling us how we were delivered from the law and why.  Now verses 1-6 deal with “how” we were delivered.  He also touches on “why” there a little bit but his main thrust is how we were delivered from under the law.  Verse 7 to the end, in two other sections, verse 7 to 13 or 14, and (then) the rest, is dealing with “why.”  Being such an important passage, I want to spend three studies on chapter 7.  But first of all, let’s look at the first six verses.  This is what I want to concentrate on now.  Listen to how he introduces the subject [Romans 7:1]:

Do you not know, brothers — for I am speaking to men who know the law....

So he has a specific group within the Roman community to whom he’s addressing this problem.  Who do you think he’s talking about?  “I speak to those who know the law.”  Well, if he were living today he would say, “I speak to you Adventists.”

I was listening to John Stott, the great British scholar, one day and he made a statement.  He said, “I’m asking my congregation [he has about a thousand people attending his church] how many of you can recite the Ten Commandments without looking in the Bible?”

Of that thousand people, only one hand went up.  Now I did not put up my hand because I was a visitor, but I said to myself, “I bet that one hand is an Adventist.”  If I were to ask today, “How many of you can recite the Ten Commandments?” I probably would have one hand that would NOT go up.

...I am speaking to men who know the law....

The very first thing the Jews were taught when they were growing up as babies was the law.  Then he makes this fundamental statement [Romans 7:1]:

...The law has authority over a man only as long as he lives.

The word “dominion” [used in some translations] means rulership, jurisdiction.  What he’s saying is true of any law.  As long as you are living you are under the law of where you are.  We are living in America, we are under the law of America.  But you can be under the law of America even outside of America.  I remember when I was a missionary in Africa, I didn’t realize that I still had to write in my tax form papers.  I thought I was exempt for two reasons:

  1. I was not yet an American citizen, I was a resident.
  2. I was not living in America; I was living in the Third World.

When I came back they said, “Have you been filing your tax returns?”

I said, “What’s that?  Never heard of it.”

They said, “Well, you’re guilty.  You have to pay a fine.”  And I was happy to pay the fine because it was six percent of my tax and my tax was zero.  And so six percent of zero was zero.

But I was under the law.  You are under the law as long as you are living.  If you die, then the law no longer has a hold on you.  That is true of any law.  The question is, of course, “Which law is he talking about?”

I was explaining to my pastors in Ethiopia that this was primarily the moral law that Paul had in mind; he was including the whole of the law because the Jews did not make that distinction between ceremonial and moral like we do.  One of the pastors was horrified at me for saying this was the moral law.  I said, “Why?”

He said, “Because I have just come from Middle East College, and we were taught that this was the ceremonial law.”

I asked, “Who taught you?”

He said, “I can’t remember his name.”  It was a very difficult name.  “But I know he had a Ph.D.”

I replied, “Well, let’s see what Paul, the Ph.D., has to say.  Please read verse 7” [of Romans 7].  And he read.  And I said, “Read it aloud.”

What shall we say, then?  Is the law sin?  Certainly not!  Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law.  For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.”

“Which law is Paul quoting from?” I asked.

He responded, “We never read verse 7.”

Let us be honest with the passage.  Well, that shut him up but there still was a problem.  You mean to say that we are delivered from under the law?  Yes, but in what sense?  Why?  That is what Romans 7 is all about.

Now Paul then presents an illustration in verses 2 and 3.  It’s a difficult illustration, but it is one that we need to understand in the context of the Bible.  I say difficult because some of you ladies will disagree with Paul’s argument here, but let’s look at it:

For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive....

In other words, when a woman marries a man, she’s stuck with him for the rest of her life, until he dies.  That’s what Paul is saying.  Why?  Because the Bible teaches that when two people get married they are married until “death do us part.”  But the word “bound” means more than simply, “She’s stuck to him.”  It also means that she is under him, by the law.

Which law?  Well, there are three laws.  Paul is not talking of all three laws.  He’s talking of law number two.  I’m saying this because I don’t want any man to take advantage of law number two if you’re a Christian.  Law number three applies to Christians which is found in Ephesians 5:25:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her....

And, please remember, Christ loved the church even when “she” was not good to Him.  Keep that in mind.

But law number one was when God created Adam and Eve.  They were equal.  But when sin came in, he gave them another law.  It’s found in Genesis three, and it’s in verse 16:

To the woman he said [that is, God said to Eve], “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children.  Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

Well, I could do that in Africa with my wife, but in America I dare not do it.  In Ethiopia, when the Marxists took over, the Ethiopian government said to the wives, “You are now equal with your husband, don’t let him rule over you.”  One Ethiopian came home and his wife did not cook him his supper.  He said, “Where’s supper?”

She said, “I have decided that you can cook your own supper.”  He was not willing to accept the Marxist philosophy; he went to his cupboard, pulled out his revolver, and shot her dead.  Many men have taken advantage.  Even in America wife abuse is terrible, primarily because of sin.  He wants to rule over his wife.  But Paul says:

...By law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive....

The problem is that this woman has found another man, a wonderful fellow.  She says, “Boy, I wish I could marry him.”

Now, what’s the problem with the first marriage?  Well, there are three problems with the first marriage.

First of all, her husband is not sympathetic.  When she makes a mistake, when she burns his spaghetti, he says to her, “I’m going to punish you for this!”

She says, “Look, please, I was busy.  I didn’t realize the knob was on high.”

He says, “I don’t care whether you made a mistake or not, I’m going to punish you.”  That’s all he can do; no sympathy.

Secondly, he won’t lift a single finger to help her.  One day he tells her, “Please cook for me some rice and curry.”

She says, “But I’ve never cooked it before!” So she calls her Pastor, “Can you come and help me?” Well, her Pastor can.  But she says to the husband, “You know how to cook it, can you help me?“

He says, “My job is not to help, my job is to order you around.”

The third problem is that all he can do is to command her to obey him and, when she disobeys, he condemns her.

So she’s always under guilt, always living in fear, with no peace, trying her best to please her husband, and now she finds another man.  But she can’t marry him because he’s also a good fellow.  She thinks, “Boy, I wish my old man would die.”  And that’s the problem, that’s the worst problem, he won’t die.  Even when she puts arsenic in the Postum [cereal drink], he won’t die.

You know why?  Because the first husband is the law.  Now, let’s be very clear:  the law is good, it is holy, what it is demanding is good.  But there are certain things that the law cannot do.

First of all, it cannot sympathize with you.  Why?  Because the law is not a person, it is rules.  When you are caught by the policeman for speeding, and by grace he forgives you, which is very seldom, please remember it is not the traffic law that forgave, it is the policeman.  And what he did was really contrary to the law.  He’s breaking the law in forgiving you because he’s not employed to forgive you.  You didn’t pay him tax money to forgive you, you paid him tax money to punish you.  Because that’s all that the law can do.  It’s not a person, it has no feelings, no sympathy.

Secondly, neither is the law capable of helping you.  For I read in Romans 8:3:

For what the law was powerless to do....

What is it that the law cannot do?  The law cannot produce righteousness in a sinful person.  It can demand righteousness, but never produce it.  It can’t help you even.  All the law can do is say to you, as Galatians 3:10 says:

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written:  “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”

“Cursed is the one who doesn’t obey me and do everything I tell you to do.”  Can you see why to live under the law means to live under fear, to live under insecurity, to live without peace, without assurance?  And you say, “Boy, I wish I could marry the second man.”  Do you know who the second man is?  He is Jesus Christ:

  1. He can sympathize with you.  Hebrews 4:15:

    For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin.

    So He can overcome it.  Can you imagine such a wonderful husband?

  2. He can do more than sympathize with you, He can help you.  The trouble is I’m already stuck with this old man.  What do I do?  Hebrews 2:18:

    Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

    So Christ can sympathize, He can help.

  3. But I’ll tell you what’s best about Christ:  He doesn’t condemn.  Romans 8:1:

    Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus....

    If you look at the last verse of chapter 6, before he began chapter 7, Paul says two things:

    For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Who pays wages for sin?  The law, because I read in 1 Corinthians 15:56:

    The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

    The law says to sin, “You must die.”  Grace doesn’t say to the sinner, “You must die.”  Grace says to the sinner, “I have a gift for you.  It is eternal life.”  That’s the gift of God.  John 3:16:

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

    So eternal life is not earned, it’s a gift to sinners.

But now, the problem is “my first husband will not die.  I put poison in his Postum, he refuses to die.”  Why?  Because I read in Matthew 5:18:

I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

So she does not have a solution.  According to the illustration, the woman wants the husband to die, but the problem is he will not die.  And those who say that the law was done away with do not know that the law cannot die.

“Well,” the second man says, “I can’t marry you if you are still married to the first man; so the first thing I have to do is to make your marriage null and void.”  How do you do it?  Well, there are two problems:

  1. You can’t get the first husband to commit adultery because then you would have Biblical grounds for divorce.  But the husband is good, he’s holy.  You give him all the woman you want, he won’t touch them.

  2. He refuses to die.

Whichever you look at it, there is no solution from the human point of view.  So Christ says, “I have a solution.”

And the wife says, “Really?  What is it?”

“Why don’t YOU die?”

She says, “I?  If I die, how can I marry you?”

“Oh, I didn’t mean die by yourself.  Let me take you and put an end to you.  By putting an end to you, I annul your first marriage, then I’ll raise you up and you’ll be my wife.”

Look at verse 4, that’s the solution.  Please notice in the illustration the woman wants the husband to die, but in the application, it’s not the husband who dies, it is we, the woman [Romans 7:4]:

So, my brothers, you also died to the law [that’s the first marriage] 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.

Remember from our studies on Romans 6:

  1. The death of Christ was a corporate death.

  2. When you were baptized, you were baptized into Christ’s death.

Two things happen when you die with Christ:

  1. You are delivered from sin (Romans 6), and

  2. You are delivered from under the law (Romans 7).

The law is still there, but you are no longer married to the law.  So the law comes to you and says, “You obey me; otherwise, you will die.”

You can say to him, “You can find another woman to say that to because I am no longer under your jurisdiction!”

But does that mean you can do what you like?  No, you are not a widow, you are not free, there’s no single person here.  You’re married in both cases, but now you’re married to somebody else.  Let’s look at the whole thing.  Verse 4:

So, my brothers, 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 kind of fruit?  Turn to the gospel of John.  Let’s see what this second husband has to say about this fruit.  You see, under the first marriage, you lived under what we call rules, dos and don’ts.  But this is the policy under the new marriage.  John 15:1:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.

You are familiar with all that.  But let’s look at John 15, verse 4 onwards:

Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

In the first marriage, what did you produce?  Well, we’ll come to verse 5 and see what you produced there.  “But if you’re married to me,” says Christ, “I am not asking you to DO things, I am asking you to abide in Me.”  John 15:5:

I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Here the Apostle Paul is saying, “If you’re married to Christ you will bear much fruit.”  Now back to Romans 7:5:

For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death.

Now what did Paul mean by the words “when we were controlled by the sinful nature” or, as some translations read, “when we were in the flesh”?  It means “before we died,” in our pre-converted state, while we were still under the law, married to the law, depending on ourselves because the law will not help us.  The only kind of fruit you bear under the law is sin, which ends up in death.  Romans 7:6:

But now [now that you have accepted Christ and have become His bride], by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

Before you accepted Christ, before you were baptized into Christ, the law held you in its grips.  Which means that every time you disobeyed, the law says, “You must die!” It is a tragedy when we tell our people that every time a Christian falls, the law says you must die.  We are still putting them under the law.  That is why we have a most insecure church.  The result is that we are not bearing fruits.  Because, to God, fruit is not only doing something good, it is doing it with the right motive.

I’ll tell you a problem.  Turn to Hebrews 2 and see what the Apostle there says to us in Hebrews 2:14,15:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

Paul is saying here that we human beings are born with a fear of dying.  And I don’t care how tough you are, young men, when you face death, that fear takes hold of you.

I had a cousin who worked for the United Nations.  He was an agronomist.  There were three countries in the world that were trying to produce a new grain, a marriage between wheat and rye, called triticale (you may have heard of it):  Canada, Mexico, and Ethiopia.  My cousin was in charge of Ethiopia.  He was a Roman Catholic but he wasn’t a practicing one and didn’t see the need of God.

One day he was flying from one of the stations in a an Ethiopian Airlines plane, and the pilot and the copilot were having an argument.  Now, of course, he had been there seven years so he understood the language.  They were arguing as to which direction they should take off.  The pilot was a jet pilot from those big planes but they were short of a pilot so they asked him to fly this propeller plane.  The copilot was accustomed to this plane and he said, “No, you’re going in the wrong direction.”

The jet pilot said, “Look, who knows better, me or you?” So they were arguing, and here was my cousin, sitting in the front row, listening to these two fellows arguing, because there was no separation between the pilot and the passengers.  While they were taking off the plane began to shudder and refused to climb.  My cousin looked out and there were the eucalyptus trees coming right in front of them.  Suddenly he remembered God.  He put his head down and held on and said, “Lord, save me!”

And the Lord saved him.  That wing hit one of the branches of the trees and the engine with the propeller took off, and the propeller was still travelling at a tremendous speed and it tore in front of the plane, and ripped the front.  He opened his eyes and the propeller nicked off his watch without touching him.  That’s how close he came to death.  He looked up and there was the blue sky, with the plane in front, completely wiped out, six people, two pilots, and three tourists were simply churned up.  The plane was sitting at an angle, so it was about nine feet to the ground.  He jumped to save his life, because the Lord had saved him.  Then he remembered there were passengers in the back, so he opened the door and pulled them out.

We have a God Who is able to save.  And we have a God who doesn’t keep on bugging you with guilt every time you fall.  He says, “Look, the reason you fell is because, for that moment, you stopped abiding in Me.  Please, let this be a reminder that only when you abide in Me can you bear fruit.”  And please notice verse 6 of Romans 7:

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

Now what is Paul saying in verse 6?  Please notice, the new marriage doesn’t mean sitting idle, it means serving.

What does he mean by “the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code”?  Under the law, you did serve the law, but for one reason, out of fear:  fear of punishment, fear of being wiped out, fear of the curse.  So every time you were keeping the law you were doing it our of fear.  Why?  Because if you did not obey the law, what would it do?  Punish you!  It is a tragedy when you have Christians serving God out of fear.

But what is “the new way of the Spirit”?  It means you serve God out of love, out of appreciation.  When Paul says in Philippians, “For me to live is Christ,” when Paul says, “I am a slave of Jesus Christ,” he is not saying it out of compulsion.  “I, with all my heart, want to be a slave of Jesus Christ.  I want to serve Him, I’ll go where He sends me, I will do what He tells me, because He is my Friend and my Savior, and I am willing to do anything for Him, because I love Him.”  And so Paul will say [Galatians 5:6]:

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.  The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

If you are not delivered from under the law, and you call yourself a Christian, you are guilty of committing adultery, because the illustration says, if the woman marries the second man while she’s still married to the first man, she’s committing adultery.  I have a feeling that we have a lot of spiritual adulterers and adulteresses in this church.  Because they still want to be under the law.

Are the law and Christ enemies?  No.  Are the law and the sinful nature enemies?  Yes.  That’s where the problem is.  The problem is not the law; the law is holy, it is good, it is spiritual, it is righteous.  The problem is that, in the first marriage, I am a sinner incompatible with the law and, therefore, that marriage can never work.  All I do is live in fear, insecurity.

But when I accept Christ and am delivered from under the law, and I’m married to Christ, I’ll tell you what happens.  Not only does He give me peace, not only does He give me assurance, and not only does He give me hope, but He produces fruits.  And you know something about the fruits?  It is in harmony with the law.  What I failed to keep in the first marriage is now in harmony with what I keep.  Because I read in Galatians 5:22-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.

Which simply means such things are not against the law.

So what I failed to keep in the first marriage, I’m doing in the second marriage, without fear, with joy and peace.  And I think you will agree with me, the second marriage is a wonderful one.

But may God deliver us from the idea that we are still ruled by dos and don’ts.  We are no longer under the Old Covenant; we are under the New Covenant.  In the New Covenant, the law is not written on tables of stone, it is written on our hearts.  It becomes part of our delight, it becomes part of our desire.  But we must remember that desiring and delighting in the law is not enough; we need to remain in Christ.

I can assure you that the life Christ lived 2,000 years ago, a life of love, is the life that He wants to live today in you and in me.  It is my prayer that this life will be manifested in our lives, that the world will see God manifested in the flesh once again, and give Him glory and praise.

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