Text: Romans 7:1-6
Opening: This morning I want to begin a two month preaching series on Romans chapters seven and eight called “The War Within.” Now, obviously, this title implies that Christians can be conflicted when it comes to our choices and behaviors. We often know the right thing to do but for some reason struggle to do it. It reminds me of the old cartoon that showed a little devil perched on one shoulder of Bugs Bunny while he pondered what he was going to do to another cartoon character while a little angel stood on the other shoulder. Each made his appeal. The little devil said something like, “Go ahead. Stick it to him. He deserves it.” The little angel gave different advice. “No, don’t. That would be mean. You must turn the other cheek.” I have to confess that as a kid, I always rooted for the little devil. Now that I’m a man, and an older one at that, I realize that many times I’ve been conflicted by what I wanted to do in my flesh, and what I should have done in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul gives us a glimpse of the same kind of inner conflict that torments many of us in verse fifteen of chapter seven — I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate — I do. Maybe you’ve felt just as conflicted about what to do at one time or another. I know I have. I remember that when I was in seminary studying for the pastorate, I received an invitation to play baseball in a thirty and over league. To be truthful it was mostly made up of middle-aged, overweight men who were trying to relive their youth playing the game they loved. Since I had barely turned thirty, I was one of the younger (and in better shape, if you can believe that) guys in the league. I had played the game for most of my adult life at a fairly high level, including in college and on a semi-pro team. I knew I was better than most of them, and acted like it. In one particular game, I came up to bat and hit a ball to left center field for a single. Thinking that I was fast, I tried to stretch it into a double, but the ball arrived at second base long before me. I had to make a quick decision about how I would handle the situation. I could have just walked into the tag of the shortstop (like the little angel might have been advising me to do), but I chose to listen to the other voice. I put my shoulder down and ran into the guy like a linebacker tackling a running back in football. He fell backward, but immediately jumped up and took a swing at me. I defended myself while both benches emptied to break up the fight. I was kicked out of the game and nearly out of the league. As I was sitting on the bench, a teammate looked at me and said, “Of all the people on this team, you were the last person I would have guessed to do something like that!” I didn’t respond, but I felt like saying, “I don’t understand it. What I wanted to do I did not do, but what I hate — I did.” If you’ve ever found yourself conflicted in your choice to do the right or wrong thing, then I think this series is for you. Over the next eight messages, we’re going to talk about the battle within all of us between our fallen human nature and our new nature in Christ. And hopefully we’ll figure out how to come out on the right side.
We’re going to start today by looking at the first six verses of Romans 7 where Paul uses the illustration of marriage to help us understand what happens in the life of a believer who turns in faith to Jesus. He likens the commitment to follow Him as Savior and Lord to the one that we make to each another in marriage as husband and wife, and it seems to fit. We see that on their wedding day both the man and the woman make a personal commitment (“I, Kerry, take you Laurie to be my wedded wife.”); an unwavering commitment (“for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health“); an exclusive commitment (“forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto him or her“); and a life-long commitment (“as long as you both shall live“). The same four elements are found in the decision to put your trust in Jesus. It’s a very personal choice that no one can make for you (Acts 2:38 — “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins“); it is an unwavering one (Luke 9:62 — “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God“); an exclusive commitment (Matthew 6:24 — “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other“); and a life-long commitment (Matthew 24:13 — “the one who endures to the end, he will be saved“). Is it just me, or do you agree that the two really are analogous? Perhaps this is why the writers of the Bible used marriage so often to illustrate spiritual truth. It turns out that what we enjoy in the closest relationship we are meant to have with another human being on this planet, helps us to understand the very nature of the relationship that we have with the one to whom we’re betrothed as our bridegroom…the Lord Jesus Christ. Now let’s spend the rest of our time together and see how Paul brings the two together in our text.
The Death of the 1st Husband — (Romans 7:1-3 — Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress). When Paul wrote these words, he was addressing some people we might call legalists who believed that a person’s relationship with God was tied to one’s ability to keep God’s Law. There was a problem with this view however. Though the Old Testament Scriptures taught that a man who obeyed God’s laws would live by them (Leviticus 18:5), it was an impossible demand for anyone to meet. In fact, the whole sacrificial system was instituted to teach Israel that they failed continually to keep the Law and that without the shedding of blood, there would be no remission of sin (Leviticus 17:11 — For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life). Now to those who were still thinking that they could obey the law and go to heaven based on their own righteousness, Paul explained that the Law no longer had jurisdiction over them and he used the illustration of marriage to make his point! As an aside, let me say something about verses two and three. They teach that as long as a couple is married they are not free to pursue another spouse because the marriage contract prohibits it. Paul was not intending in these two verses to give us a complete instruction on the topic of marriage, divorce and remarriage. If we want that, we have to look at all that Bible teaches about these subjects. He was merely making the point that marriage requires the husband and wife to remain together and the only way the woman can remarry is if her husband dies. Otherwise, it would clearly be an adulterous act as she would have not one, but two husbands. Now let’s try to understand the principle Paul was attempting to communicate. It’s a very simple one and goes like this: DEATH… CANCELS ALL CONTRACTS! This is true in marriage and it’s also true in our relationship with the Law. As we will discover in verse four, Paul states that we have died to the law which means that it no longer has authority over us. Of course, this begs the question, if the Law is no longer binding on us, what is? This brings us to Paul’s second point.
Remarriage to the 2nd Husband— (Romans 7:4 — Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God). Paul says that Christians have died to the Law. When did that happen? The answer is the moment we put our trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord. We believe it was through the sacrifice of His body on the cross that our sins were paid for and by His resurrection from the dead we have come to belong to Jesus. Listen to these words from Romans 1:4 about the significance of the resurrection — Jesus, …through the Spirit of holiness, was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. By rising from the dead, Jesus was vindicated in His claim to be the Son of God and in His ability to offer forgiveness of our sin. When a person comes to Jesus, it is like getting married all over again because our first spouse has died. This implies leaving a marriage filled with failure (married to the Law) for a marriage filled with grace and mercy (married to Christ). Illustration: Let me put it this way: Imagine with me that you were married to someone named Mr. Law. (Yes men … this means that you have to put yourself in the shoes of a woman. I know it’s a little weird but bear with me). He was a good man. In fact, you could find no fault in him. The trouble was that he did not understand your weakness. He came home from the office every evening and asked, “So, how was your day? Did you do all the things I told you to do? Did you make the kids behave? Did you waste any time? Did you complete everything I put on your “To Do list”? So many demands and expectations. And as hard as you may have tried, you didn’t get it all done because … well … you’re not perfect. After a period of time, you came to realize that you were married to a man that you could never ever satisfy completely. You forgot things that were important to him. You lost your temper with the kids. You failed in other ways. As these failures of yours piled up, you became more disillusioned with your marriage, because your husband, Mr. Law, always led you to feel condemned. And the worst of it was, he was always right! And as for his remedy … well, it was always the same: Try harder. Put more effort into it. Do better tomorrow. Then one day Mr. Law suddenly died. And you met someone else in the course of time that you fell in love with. So you decided to remarry, this time to Mr. Grace. Your new husband, whose first name is Jesus, comes home every evening and the house is still a mess, the children are still being naughty, dinner is burning on the stove, and you forgot to even look at your “To Do list,” let alone accomplish it. But it doesn’t matter to Him. Every day He wraps his arms around you and says, “I love you, I chose you, I died for you, I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And that’s when your heart melts. You’ve never experienced such love. You expected his righteous anger and his rejection, but instead he treats you so well. You are so glad to belong to him now and forever, and long to be “fully pleasing to him.” Being married to Mr. Law never changed us — it only piled on the guilt. But being married to Mr. Grace is changing us every day deep within, and it shows (Ray Ortlund, “Who are you married to?” The Gospel Coalition blog— 2-15-15.) (Review: So far we’ve talked about the death of our 1st marriage to the law and our remarriage to our 2nd husband, Jesus Christ. Now let’s consider how that changes us for the good.)
New Life in the New Marriage: (Romans 7:5-6 — For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit). While we were married to the Law, Paul says our sinful desires were aroused by it. We were dominated by our flesh, the very principal of sin and death itself. But now we have been released from that bad marriage, having traded it for a good one. It’s not that the Law is evil. In verse 16 Paul says it’s good. It’s just that we can’t live up to its expectations. But now we are set free to serve in the new life of the Spirit. John Stott says we serve, “not because the Law is our master and (therefore) we have to, but because Christ is our husband and (therefore) we want to.” (John Stott, The Message of Romans, p 197). And that is the difference. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us that we are able to experience new life in Christ and serve Him with joy. Illustration: This is what happened to the believers in the early church who, almost exclusively, tried to keep the Law before they met Jesus. But when they were born again by the Spirit (when they were remarried to Christ) on the Day of Pentecost everything changed for them. They boldly professed their faith in Christ, willingly shared their belongings with one another and rejoiced in the joy of their salvation together. I’m confident that not one of them would have traded that life for their former one!
Applications: Here are three abiding truths to keep in mind as we study these two chapters in Romans.
- If you remain married to the law, your frustration will only increase. Why? Because as we’ve seen, the Law is a demanding husband that produces unhappy wives. The only thing you have to look forward to if you intend to establish your relationship with God by keeping His laws is condemnation. According to Galatians 3:21-22, the law was never intended to bring us life, but only to reveal our sin and lead us to Christ. “Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.”
- Becoming a Christian involves saying “I do” to Jesus. It is not unlike taking a marriage vow. Only in this case we say to the Lord, “I, (your name), take you, Jesus, to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy Word.”
- Love is the secret to a good marriage and a joy-filled life. The legalists of Paul’s day and ours have never known the joy of being in a relationship with the Living God. They have been so busy working to keep the rules/laws in the Bible, bearing that burden every day and living with the uncertainty that they will be with the Lord in heaven, that joy has escaped them. But for those who have experienced the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, who have trusted in Him as Savior and Lord … well … joy is the only response to that kind of love.
Conclusion: Hannah Peterson was involved in a serious car accident just one month before her wedding in Ontario, Canada. She broke her pelvis in three places, punctured a kidney, broke some ribs, and suffered a concussion and partial hearing loss during the July 18 collision. Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Hannah was determined not to let the accident affect her big day on August 25. So when it came time to walk down the aisle, Hannah’s father wheeled her to the back of the church, and then her fiancé, Stuart, tenderly carried her the rest of the way. Hannah, 23, said that despite her predicament, the only emotion she allowed herself to feel on the day was joy. “Obviously, being in the wheelchair and not able to walk was very upsetting for me on my wedding day,” she told reporters. Because of her injuries, Hannah Peterson sat during most of her wedding, but wanted to stand for one very important part. “I was determined to stand for my vows,” she said. “It was hard on me to stand for that long even with Stuart holding me up, but (at least) it doesn’t seem obvious in the pictures and video the pain I was in.” Hannah has continued to heal in the time since the nuptials, and is now able to walk around the house using a cane. She added: “Stuart has never left my side during all of this … He was strong for both of us. He always made me see how blessed I was.” The Bible reminds us that we, too, were wrecked by our own sin and it didn’t look like we were going to make it either. We were in a helpless place and were it not for Jesus Christ, we would have had no hope. But that all changed when He came to us, and as our groom, raised us up from dead works and brought us into a new and loving relationship with Himself that has changed everything.
I think I would be remiss if I didn’t ask, “Is there anyone here still married to the Law? Trying to earn your way to heaven? That’s the worst place to be. I just want you to know that Jesus has put to death that impossible standard and invited you to a new marriage with Him, the One who sets us free of the burdens of the Law to serve one another in love. It’s your choice. LEAD IN PRAYER TO RECEIVE JESUS.