Sermon preached on Romans 7:1-6 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 9/16/2012 in Novato, CA.
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Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“That You May be Married to Another”
Sanctification. That’s the continued topic addressed today as we head into chapter 7. Last week he addressed this with the analogy of human slavery. He talked about how we would serve either sin as our master, or God as our master. But now the analogy changes. Now the analogy turns to marriage and its binding nature. But Paul is still dealing with overall subject of our sanctification. That doctrine that says that Christians are not only declared to be righteous before God in their justification, but God is also making us to be more and more righteous in his sight. Sanctification is that truth we find in Scripture that we are now God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. That is what he developing in us, and that is what he calls us to pursue, in line with what he is doing.
And so today he describes this with a marriage analogy. As we consider this today, let’s start first by understanding his basic point about marriage. Basically, we see here that the common marriage vow that says “till death do we part” is biblical. In other words, marriage between a man and a woman is for this life. It doesn’t extend beyond death. It doesn’t extend into the resurrection afterlife, for example. That might seem obvious to us, but it’s a question people have asked. You might recall that it’s even asked in Scripture by the Sadduccees to Jesus in Matthew 22. Of course, the Sadduccees were asking it because they didn’t believe in a resurrection, and so they came up with a marriage example to try to make the concept of resurrection seem ludicrous. Jesus, however, debunked their example, by pointing to the simple reality of “till death do we part.” We won’t be married in heaven, according to Jesus. And as we see here in Romans, this means that when two people are married, and one of them dies, they are surviving spouse is released from the marriage commitment.
Paul spells out the importance of this understanding with the further example of adultery. This is the point of verse 3. If a woman is married to her husband, and then leaves that husband and goes and marries a different man, then that woman has committed adultery. Jesus said the same thing in passages like Mark 10:12. There Jesus takes it a step further and says that if a spouse divorces their mate for an unbiblical reason, and then remarries, they commit adultery. Even if the spouse officially divorces the mate, if they did it for an unbiblical reason, then they effectively commit adultery when they remarry. It’s a sin. It’s wrong and a violation of God’s holy law, even if it’s not a violation of the civil government’s laws.
The reason for this is the nature of a marriage commitment. A husband and wife enter into a solemn covenant together. That covenant is binding the man and woman together. It’s a type of contract that limits their rights, so to speak. It restricts their freedoms, as I mentioned last week. You become less free, bound to the terms of your marriage agreement. This is clearly a point being made in this passage. Of the six verses we read, four of them use some kind of language of either binding or freedom in this context; either with regard to marriage, or how this marriage example applies to us. Verse 1 uses the language of dominion. Verse 2 uses the being bound, and also the language of being released. Verse 3 talks about being freed. Verse 6 talks about being delivered from that which held captive. My point is to see this language of bondage and freedom. It’s not that marriage is bad when we use that language. But we should realize that a marriage covenant necessarily commits you to that relationship. You are bound to that commitment. People who are not happy about their marriage might say they are stuck in it – not a good description but it reflects the reality. Good or bad, in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, as long as we both shall live. That’s marriage. You are bound, unless you are released, or set free, from that commitment.
And of course, the point is that Bible says there are only two legitimate reasons in this life to be released from that commitment. Only two biblical reasons that you could get a divorce and then be free from that commitment. The first, Jesus says, is the case of adultery, Mark 19:9. Except in the case of sexual immorality, Jesus says you commit adultery otherwise if you divorce your spouse and remarry. The other situation is given in 1 Corinthians 7. There it says that if you are married to a non-Christian and they want to divorce you, then of course, you can’t do anything to stop them if they persist in that desire. In such cases, Paul says you are no longer under bondage, 1 Corinthians 7:15. That language of bondage there by Paul is similar to here in Romans 7. The point is that sexual immorality and abandonment by an unbelieving spouse are the only reasons given in Scripture for how you can be set free from your marriage commitment. Otherwise, you are bound to that covenant commitment.
Well, actually, there is one other way. It’s the way presented in this passage. One of the spouses could die. Before I proposed to Kim, and I made it clear that I was asking for such a commitment, and that her only way out would be to kill me. Thankfully she’s not used that option yet! Obviously, murder would be a sin too. All joking aside, this is the point here. That death in a marriage covenant, frees us from the obligation of the marriage.
And so imagine what this looks like. Take this truth about the institution of marriage and paint the worst case scenario. Imagine being in some nightmare marriage that seems like a prison. You might be married to someone who hasn’t been unfaithful to you, doesn’t want to abandon you, and hasn’t killed you. In other words, you might not have any biblical grounds for being freed from your marriage commitment. And yet you look at your marriage and feel so trapped. Now, don’t over read into my example here. For the Christian, I do believe that every Christian should have hope that even if they are having difficulties, they can grow in their marriage, and rekindle lost love and joy. And so I’m not commenting on that hope for Christians in struggling marriages. But for the sake of where Paul’s going with his argument, imagine a situation where you feel stuck in a bad marriage. Normally, there is no good way out in that kind of situation. As Paul turns to apply this marriage example to us, we see that he talks about us being in a sort of bad marriage, married to the law. And he talks about how we’ve been freed from that bad marriage, to be married to Christ.
And so let’s turn then to consider how Paul applies this example of marriage to our relationship to the law and to Christ. Let’s think first then about the law as our former spouse. Clearly that’s the first part of comparison that Paul’s making here. He starts in verse 1 to talk about how we are under dominion to the law as long as we live. Verse 4 talks about how we’ve been separated from the law via our death. Verse 5 talks about our time with the law as our time “in the flesh.” To be in the flesh for Paul, is his way to talk about our time when we were totally controlled by our sinful natures, not having been born again yet. Sometimes we still act like we are in the flesh, of course, and we can still struggle with the things of the flesh, but we aren’t in the flesh in this way anymore. Paul sees this as our former marriage now. We were married to the law. But as he goes on to show, we are no longer married to the law.
We should understand Paul to be making the point essentially he made in verses 14 and 15 of last chapter. There he talks about no longer being under law as Christians. The point is that before we became Christians we were under the law. Last week we defined this as saying that we were under the law as a covenant of works. In Adam, the law demanded perfect righteousness, and we failed. Apart from coming into this covenant of grace, we were still bound up in our commitment to the law. And so Paul describes this relationship to the law as a covenant of works as a kind of marriage. The law demanded perfect righteousness, and we kept falling short. That left us condemned in that relationship.
Verse 5 describes how this marriage went and where it was taking us. Sinful passions that were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. We’ll talk more about how the law aroused such sinful passions in next week’s passage, but we’ll basically see that it’s by the law we know what sin is, and so that awakens us to the reality of sin. But the point of verse 5, is that in our marriage with the law, bad fruit is born. That bad fruit of course is various sins. Remember last week we saw that such sin leads to more and more sin. The end result it says here is that this fruit leads to death. It’s the law itself that brings the condemnation. Paul describes this living in verse 6 as serving in the oldness of the letter. That was our old life. The letter of the written law. Our old life was to serve the law in order to be right before God. But we didn’t do it. And so the law condemned us at every step. That’s the kind of marriage we were stuck in before.
Now to be fair, it wouldn’t be right to say that the law was a bad husband. It’s not like the law was wrong when it condemned us. It’s just that the law kept telling us every little thing we did wrong. The law was the most critical spouse you could imagine. But what made it even worse as the spouse listening to the law was that the law was right! Argh! How frustrating that every time your spouse complains about you and they are exactly right and fair and never wrong in their assessment of you! But what’s even worse, is that no matter what we might have tried to do what the law demanded, you couldn’t do any better. Of course, in fact, even though you knew law was right, you didn’t actually want to change. But you didn’t like his criticism and condemnation either.
And so this is a bit of the tension we had in our old marriage with the law. But how could we get out of that marriage? Only by death, Paul says. But that would be a death, that by our own strength, would swallow us up. But this passages shows that there was another way. A way we could be set free from our marriage to the law so we could be married to another. Verse 4. Let me pause right here and point out what commentators like to point out, and what you may have already noticed. Here is where Paul applies his marriage example in an interesting way. Clearly in the example, we are the wife bound to her husband, us being the wife, and the law being the husband. In his marriage example, he says the wife can be free to remarry only if the husband dies. So, as he applies the example to us, we might expect him to say that the law, as the husband, had then died. If law as the husband died, then we’d be free. But that’s not what he says. He doesn’t say we are free because the law died. He says we are free because we died!
But that makes sense. You see, the law was never in the wrong. Law’s condemnation to us was completely right. He said our sins deserve death. Law on the other hand is holy and good. What a humbling point to realize then as we think about how stuck we might have felt in that marriage with the law. We were the problem, so to speak. And yet Paul shows us that through our union with Christ, we have died. This means that by our death, we have been set free from our commitment to the law as a covenant of works. We’ve been set free from that marriage to the law, so we can now freely marry another. This is the point of verses 4 and 6. We are free from being bound to the law by our death. We became free to marry another.
And that other is Jesus Christ. That’s what verse 4 tells us, we’ve been free to marry he who was raised from the dead; that’s Jesus Christ. This leads us then to our final point today to consider how we have been set free to marry Christ. This is of course what we find elsewhere in Scripture as well. Ephesians 5 comes instantly to mind as we think about the relationship of Christ and the church as one between a husband and a wife. The picture flushed out in more detail there is that we have now been betrothed to Christ, and we await his return when the marriage will be consummated. Here the contrast given in verse 6 is between the old and the new and the law and the Spirit. We don’t serve in the oldness of the law, but the newness of the Spirit. In other words, that in this new marriage, Christ has given us his Spirit. This new Spirit inside us makes all the difference. This new Spirit is now growing us in godliness.
You see, verse 4 says that we are supposed to now bear fruit to God. The old marriage bore bad fruit. Fruit that led to death. This new marriage has the intention to bear good fruit. That’s why God has brought us into this marriage with Christ. To bear good fruit to God. That happens then by Christ’s Spirit. That’s the connection with the call to live in the newness of the Spirit and bearing fruit to God. We can begin to bear fruit to God because of this newness. Before in our old marriage to the law, that was the very problem. In our old self, we didn’t want to bear good fruit. We were content to bear bad fruit, and law kept pointing it out. But Christ took us as his own with the intentions to work on our hearts.
That’s a central part of the newness. New hearts where this new Spirit lives. Jesus gives us this with the very intention of growing us in godliness and righteousness. Realize something very important then. It’s not like law and Jesus have different standards of righteousness. When we compare these two marriages, it’s not like law is all uptight about righteousness, and Jesus is all fast and loose with it. That’s not what makes this a better marriage. The difference is that law was powerless to make us as his spouse, any better. The law couldn’t change us to be what law demanded. That’s the problem with our earthly marriages so often. Someone gets married to another with the intention to change some undesired trait in their spouse. That almost never happens, and can become a source of tension and conflict. For the most part, we are pretty powerless to change our spouses into what we want. We are not God. Well, law would have had us to change to be righteous, but was powerless to bring it about. What we needed was God. God can change us. And that’s what God does in our marriage with Jesus. Jesus changes us from the inside out via his Spirit.
This is what Christ has done in our justification, and what he is doing in our sanctification. Ephesians 5:5 expresses it this way, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” And so this is the point we’re making, and it’s made in Ephesians as well. Christ is sanctifying us now. He’s cleansing our hearts with the goal to see him in glorious consummate unity. This is what makes our marriage with Christ so wonderful. He’s making us into that perfect spouse. He’s making us into that which we should have always wanted to be. We then look to live this way, because that’s what he’s doing in us. That’s then the continued exhortation of Romans as we have been considering the doctrine of sanctification. Because in Christ he is sanctifying us, we are called to look to live anew. We are called to walk in the Spirit. That Spirit which is bearing fruit in our lives. His work in our hearts is enabling us to finally do what we couldn’t do before – to keep the law. Let us strive for such.
Let me close our message with one final encouragement. When we were married to the law, surely we couldn’t wait to be set free. In Christ, we died and were set free. But being married to Christ, we have such a wonderful union, one we would never want to leave. And so then I point you back to chapter 6 verse 9. Christ dies no more. And if we are in Christ, we will die no more either. In other words, this union with Christ is a permanent one. Be encouraged in the eternal union we have with the best spouse we could ever have. What love he has shown us. He knew what our track record was married to the law, so to speak. But he wanted us anyways. And think what he did so he could forever be with us. Praise God that we have known such love. Amen.
Copyright © 2012 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.