Free from the law

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Confrontations about the law between Jesus and the Pharisees and between Paul and the Judaizers can seem a bit remote, until we realise that “religion” and freedom from the law are very relevant issues for every Christian. It is not only Jewish believers who have been “released from the law” (Romans 7:6), but all believers.

Everyone was born into a moral universe where sin gets punished and good behaviour gets rewarded. The Old Covenant spells that out in a concrete way: “do this and you will be blessed, do that and you will get punished.” The law was there to assure you of your righteousness or lack of it, depending on how well you performed.

Grace interrupts all that. We are given righteousness and acceptance as a gift – it no longer has anything whatsoever to do with what we do. Our goodness does not earn God’s favour and our sin does not take it away, even for a moment. Our standing before God is not up for re-evaluation when we stumble, and the law has no say in the matter.

Paul describes this using the analogy of death and marriage in Romans 7:1-4. The law has authority over people only if they are still alive (vs 1); you can’t enforce laws on dead people. If a woman’s husband dies, the law forbidding her to marry someone else no longer applies, because he is dead now (vs 2-3). So if you can somehow “die,” the law doesn’t apply to you any more.

Well, you have died (vs 4). You died with Jesus (see Romans 6:5-6), and you came back as a new kind of creature who is not under the law – you are “dead to the law.” And since you are dead, you are no longer “married” to the law any more – you are free to “belong to another” (vs 4) and be remarried to Jesus, which is exactly what has happened to you.

The law is no longer your (condemning, accusing, unhelpful and cold) husband – Jesus is your husband now. And he is exactly the opposite of the law: uncondemning, merciful, helpful, understanding and loving. And your old husband the law never has the right to tell you what to do ever again.

For reflection:

Being “dead” does not mean “not existing any more”; it means having no relationship with something. Physically dead people do not cease to exist, they just can’t relate to the physical world. A dead corpse cannot see, feel, hear or touch anything.

Being “dead to the law” means that you are no longer in any kind of relationship with the law. It does not apply to you, and you have no obligation to it whatsoever. You don’t need to listen to it, you don’t owe it anything, you never need to check what it wants and it has become completely irrelevant to you. It is as if it’s not even there.

“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 7:6)

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