Dying in Order to Live
June 17, 2007 | Brian Bill
This past Sunday I preached at at another church. My wife and I spent about 10 years at there and were supported by them for three years when we were missionaries. For the last several summers I’ve been invited to come back and preach and always enjoy my time there. They have four services – three of them are “live” and one is simulcast to their gym area for a service they call “The Upper Room.” The first service went well and then I decided to attend a few minutes of the Upper Room service before I had to come back to the auditorium to preach the second service. I was singing along with the music and taking everything in until I heard the worship leader ask Dr. Michael Easley, the president of Moody Bible Institute, to lead in prayer.
I must confess that I didn’t concentrate very much during this prayer because I was suddenly paralyzed by the thought that the president of this world-renowned Bible Institute was about to hear my simple sermon. Talk about feeling intimidated! I snuck out of the service, making my way back to the auditorium, wondering how I could massage my message to make it better. A quick look at my watch was all it took for me to realize that I was stuck…and so was he. And then a funny thing happened. Instead of feeling intimidated I started to wonder if he would be impressed with the sermon. Maybe he would ask me to speak at Moody or drop my name in conversations with Christian leaders from around the country.
Thankfully, God brought me back to reality by reminding me that I was just His messenger and my role was to faithfully preach the Word of God. It’s all about Him and not about me anyway.
As I was driving home I realized that before I became a Christian I swung on similar extremes: most of the time I was intimidated by God and at other times I tried to impress Him with my behavior. I knew that I fell far short but every once in awhile I thought I was doing OK, especially when I compared myself with others.
What about you? Are you paralyzed by your sins or are you on the performance track? When faced with God’s Law do you feel like a loser or do you feel like a winner? As we come to Romans 7:1-6 we’re entering the heart of Paul’s argument. While many of us would like to avoid the authentic agony in this chapter and move on to the great glories of chapter 8, we can’t skip over this key section of Scripture. While commentators differ on how to interpret these verses, the outline is rather clear. It’s the perfect sermon with a main point, an example, and some action steps. We see the proposition in verse 1. In verses 2-3, Paul uses an illustration from marriage and in verses 4-6 we’re given the application.
Please turn to Romans 7 and follow along as I read: “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.”
True release comes from a relationship with Jesus, not from rules
The main point of this passage is that we can try to live by rules or we can live by a relationship. We could put it this way: True release comes from a relationship with Jesus, not from rules.
1. Proposition (1).
Amazingly, in just this one chapter of Romans the word “law” is used 28 different times. Let’s look at verse 1: “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?” The “law” refers to the Old Testament law, or specifically, the 10 Commandments. Actually, if you were to count up all the laws and rules, there are 613 of them! Paul is assuming that there is general knowledge among his readers about the nature of law – that’s what he means when he writes, “Do you not know…” that the law has absolute authority or jurisdiction over us? The problem is that none of us can live out the law completely, and when we try to do so some bad things can happen.
David Hoke suggests the following characteristics of those who live under the law. See if any of these find traction in your actions and attitudes.
- Pride. Even though we know we cannot meet all the standards, it’s very easy to boast about our own accomplishments. A focus on performance always leads to pride.
- Critical spirit. Another way to recognize people who live under the law is that they become very critical of others. Have you noticed that there’s just something about the law that makes us judge others? We can be blind to error in our own lives and yet we often have our eyes wide open to the faults of others.
- Hypocrisy. Because there is an inherent tension in trying to live by the law, and we know we’re not meeting the subscribed standards, there’s a temptation to appear like we’re meeting them. This leads to hypocrisy.
So how do we get out from under the law? The only way to break the bondage is through death: “…the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives.” The question becomes this: Have you died to the law? The law can be one’s lord but that ends when death dissolves the dominion. As we’ve already established from chapter 6, believers have died with Christ, and therefore the law is no longer master.
I came across this statement that sums it up well…
Though freed from the Law with its stern demands
No longer ruled by its harsh commands
I’m bound by Christ’s love and am truly free
To live and act responsibly
Why is that? Because true release comes from a relationship with Jesus, not from rules.
2. Illustration (2-3).
In chapter 6, Paul uses the simile of slavery and now he uses the metaphor of marriage – some would say they are very similar! It’s like that old saying: “Love is blind and marriage is an eye-opener.”
Let me just say that this is not the definitive passage on the biblical view of divorce and remarriage. For that, we’d have to survey several Scriptures to understand this completely. In other words, this passage is not so much teaching about marriage but is instead an illustration that we have been released from rules and have entered into a new relationship with Christ. Paul’s main point is that when we’re trying to live by the law we are bound to the law: “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.”
A new relationship is only possible when there is a release from the old. The word “release” is used in verses 2-3 and then again in verse 6 and means “to be discharged, free, at liberty and unconstrained.” It was also used of making the power or force of something ineffective. Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians 7:39: “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.” Marriage is a contract and a covenant that is dissolved by death. That’s why most wedding vows include the words “till death do us part” or “as long as we both shall live.”
True release comes from a relationship with Jesus, not from rules.
3. Application (4-6).
We know that we’re moving to application now from the use of the phrase, “So, my brothers…” Let’s break-down these action steps phrase-by-phrase, taken directly from these three verses.
- Proclaim your death to the law. Look at verse 4: “…you also died to the law through the body of Christ…” Galatians 2:19: “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.” Friend, you and I can never live for the Lord until we first declare our death to the demands of the law. Let me remind you that the law itself is not bad. Galatians 3:24 tells us that the law is a tutor to lead us to the Lord and Psalm 19:7 says: “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” While the law is good, it can’t make you good – it’s incapable and inadequate to do so as we learned in Romans 5:20: “The law was added so that the trespass might increase…”
Would you also notice that the law does not die but rather it is we who have died to the law? Friend, live as one who has been liberated from the law, which you couldn’t keep anyway! The law condemns; it doesn’t commend. It cannot save or sanctify us. We’ll learn next week from verse 12 that the law is “holy, righteous and good” but it can never remove sin. The law always points out what we’ve done wrong but never compliments us when we do things right.
A couple months ago I was driving back from another town and was pulled over by a policeman. Just so you stop wondering the officer does not attend this church. Apparently while I was driving on I-55 the car behind me thought I was weaving a little bit and called 911. The officer pulled me over and asked to see my license and insurance information. I gave multiple assurances that I have not had a drink in over 25 years but that I had been talking on my cell phone and was apparently not paying attention. Officer Friendly reminded me to be careful and I politely and humbly agreed to change my ways. I was in the wrong and should have been pulled over. It was only by grace that I did not get a ticket. Can you imagine that an officer would ever pull you over to congratulate you for driving the speed limit and for being an attentive driver? That would never happen…especially to me. Why? Because the law is designed to condemn, not commend.
- Say “I Do” to Jesus. Verse 4 continues: “…that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead…” Our relationship with rules and expectations has ended and we’ve been released so that we “belong to another.” In the New Testament, the church is described by three words that all start with the letter “B.” The church is called the body, with Christ as the head; a building with Christ being the chief cornerstone, and believers as living bricks; and we’re called the bride of Christ.
In that sense, we’re “married to Jesus,” which is beautiful because when you’re married to someone you have a personal relationship with them. We used to be married to rules before we were Christians, and now we’ve been released for marriage to the Master, Jesus Christ. It would do us well to ponder our betrothal as the bride of Christ.
The Bible declares that as believers we are the bride and Jesus is the bridegroom. 2 Corinthians 11:2 reminds us that we must be faithful and pure: “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.” John looks ahead to the wedding feast in Revelation 19:7: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready” and in Revelation 21:9: “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
Have you ever said “I do” to the love of Jesus?
The key is to make sure that you have a love relationship not a law relationship because love matters more than law. After his wife died this week, Billy Graham made a statement that reveals how close they were: “We’ve rekindled the romance of our youth, and my love for her continued to grow deeper every day.” Do you remember the story of Jacob and Rachel? Laban, representing the law, told Jacob that if he wanted to be married to Rachel he would have to work seven years for her. Genesis 29:20 reveals a heart of true love: “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.” Have you ever said “I do” to the love of Jesus? He’s done all the work so we don’t have to. If not, why not? I not now, when? If you’ve been drifting, it’s time to rekindle your relationship.
- Make sure your life bears fruit. The last part of verse 4 declares our purpose as believers: “in order that we might bear fruit to God.” This literally means “we do bring forth fruit unto God.” The product of true faith is always fruit. We have died to the law and now belong to the Lamb so that we might be fruit bearers. John 15:8: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” Pastor Jeff reminded us last week that if we say we have faith then there better be some fruit.
If you want to know what this fruit should look like in our lives see Galatians 5:22-23. One pastor refers to these verses as the nine children of the Christian, resulting from our marriage to the Lord, not the law: “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.” Our fruit should be evident in our character, our conduct and in the converts that come to Christ through our witness. It should be seen in our attitudes, our actions and in our offspring. Here’s a question. If your life is a garden, what kind of fruit do people find there?
- Don’t go back to the law. As believers we’re going to have to fight against the performance mentality all the time. We need to remember what that got us before we were believers and determine to not live under legalistic rules and regulations. Look at verse 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.” The word “aroused” means to be awakened to those overwhelming impulses to think and do evil.
I had another experience this week with my car when I smelled gasoline after I’d driven it. Actually, I smelled it for a couple days before I crawled underneath the car to see the problem. Sure enough, gasoline was dripping out of the fuel line, creating a huge puddle of highly-explosive gas, just waiting to ignite and incinerate me. I immediately called for a tow truck and sent it off to a mechanic. I’m just thankful that nothing happened because I had been driving it for a couple days like that. Friend, don’t go back to living under the law. It’s dangerous and explosive and will only bear fruit for death.
Paul asks a penetrating question in Galatians 3:3: “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” Incidentally, Galatians 5:19-21 tells us that if we live by the law and serve the flesh we will grow a different kind of fruit: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”
- Serve in the power of the Spirit. We have been set free in order to serve. Look at Romans 7:6: “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.” That leads to a couple questions. Are you serving the Savior or are you just sitting back? Have you discovered the new way of the Spirit or are you still doing things the old way? Do you find serving exciting or is it excruciating because you’re trying to impress God and others? I haven’t mentioned much about this being Father’s Day but I do want to make a tie-in here. I received a phone call from a woman about a month ago. She was really burdened by the fact that many men are not serving. She made this statement that really stuck with me: “If people see men serving they’ll know that it really matters.” And that got me thinking. We do have a lot of men serving. If you’re a man and you’re striving to make a difference through serving, would you please stand right now?
To summarize, Paul is essentially repeating what he spelled out in Romans 6:14: “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” One writer says: “Law implies that God requires me to do something for Him; deliverance from law implies that He exempts me from doing it, and that in grace He does it Himself.”
True release comes from a relationship with Jesus, not from rules.
I don’t have to be paralyzed or perform for Dr. Easley or for the Almighty. The funny thing is that the only time I met him was a year ago when he was wearing khakis and a t-shirt as he unloaded cars to help students move in. He was a servant. Friend, Jesus is a servant and you are now under grace, not under the law.
Accepting a relationship with Jesus is more important than adherence to rules. But first we must die. Jesus said in Matthew 10:39: “…Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” It ultimately comes down to this: It’s not performance according to some principles but pleasing a Person that matters most. Christianity is not a religion of “do’s and don’ts” but a relationship where we say “I do” to Jesus Christ.
I love the words to this hymn called “Free from the Law.”
Free from the law, O happy condition,
Jesus has bled and there is remission,
Cursed by the law and bruised by the fall,
Grace hath redeemed us once for all.
Once for all, O sinner, receive it,
Once for all, O brother, believe it;
Cling to the cross, the burden will fall,
Christ hath redeemed us once for all.
Several years ago Ruth Bell Graham proposed her own epitaph to be written on her tombstone: “End of construction. Thank you for your patience.” I like that because it shows that we’re all in process…and that we need to be patient with each other until God finishes His work.
A relationship with Jesus is more important than rules or rituals. And the best way to grow as a believer is to be in relationship with others. Here we’re following a simple process. Step one is for you to participate and engage in our Sunday services. Step two is to join a small group. And step three is to serve. If you’re attending on Sundays, your next move is to join a group. If you’re in a small group then your next step is to start serving.