Under new management (Romans 7:1-6)

Near where we live is a restaurant. Whilst we’ve been living here, it has changed names a number of times.  There’s a reason for that. The original restaurant had a bad name for poor quality food and dodgy hygiene. However, I think that on a few occasions, the name change was merely cosmetic.  If you went in, you’d quickly discover that the same people owned it and the same chefs worked in the kitchens.  People quite quickly get wise to that kind of trick. On the other hand, sometimes you see a sign outside a bar, café or restaurant saying “under new management”, you may even recognise from the name change that it has been bought out by a different chain like when our local Harvester became a Miller and Carter.  There is a real change. The old owner no longer has any influence or involvement.

Paul has been describing the way in which we are no longer under the old supervision of Law (Torah) and no longer under the power and authority of sin. We are under new ownership or management. We belong to Christ now. He is beginning to show how this has implications for our life.  The implications are meant to point towards holiness and righteous living.  T help us understand a bit more of this, he takes time in Chapter 7 to show how our old relationship to The Law is broken.

This means that We have been released from the rule of the Law and so must serve Christ in the new way through the Spirit. 

How do we know this?

We know this because the law only has authority over people whilst they are alive (v1). Paul says this, writing to people who knew the Law well. Obviously this would include Jewish believers within the congregation but also Gentiles who had become God fearers first and also wee well versed in the Law. The principle here is that the Law was there in order to show people how to live in God’s presence. To move outside of the place of God’s blessing is to move to a place of death and also to bear the penalty of law breaking so that the Law no longer has jurisdiction over your life.

V2-3 To illustrate this, Paul gives an example.  You are bound to your marriage partner for as long as they are alive and if you re-marry whilst they are alive, then you are an adulterer.  However, once they die, you are released to marry again.  The basis for this is Jesus’ understanding of the Law. Moses in Deuteronomy 24 allowed for divorce in certain limited circumstances and remarriage was also restricted. When Jesus was asked about this, he explained that Moses had provided for re-marriage out of compassion and mercy because of their hard hearts. However, Jesus insisted that you could not just go about getting divorced for what ever reason. Unless there had been sexual immorality on the part of your partner, then you could not get divorced and if you did then a future relationship would be adulterous.  As far as Jesus was concerned, God joined people together in marriage so that there could be no separation in this life.

However, Paul observes that if a person’s husband dies then that changes everything. She is no longer bound to him. Her commitment is “to death do us part.” Note that this also aligns with Jesus’ teaching that there is no marriage in heaven. Marriage is a commitment for in this lifetime.  A widow may re-marry. 

As an aside, on the basis of this, I take the view (observing that the strict penalty for sexual unfaithfulness would have been death) that where someone is the innocent party in a marital break up then we should act as though their former spouse were in a sense dead to them. This then is part of the reasoning for permitting remarriage after divorce where there has been unfaithfulness or desertion.

V4 Paul says that we are in the same position. There has been a death. Now, the analogy isn’t a neat like for like because in this case, it is we who have in effect died rather than the hypothetical husband. But the point is this. Death breaks off the obligations and therefore the relationship. We no longer relate to the Law through the Mosaic covenant.  The obligations and penalties no longer have affect. Notice the reminder again that this death is the one we have gone through in Christ through his bodily death and resurrection. The consequence is that we are obligated to a new relationship. We are raised to belong to God and to be fruitful to him.

V5 This is important because when we look at how the Law functioned towards us and the consequences, there was a major problem. The purpose of the Law may well have been to encourage godly living in God’s presence but instead, when it came into contact with our sinful, fallen nature it served simply to tempt, to provoke and encourage us further into sin. Rather than instructing us in the things to stay away from, the Law by describing what is forbidden aroused our appetite for such things and we could not help ourselves.

V6 After conversion, we find ourselves in a new place, that old covenant relationship to the Law is broken. We are free. Our previous situation was that we were held captive by sin.  We are still called to serve, as we have seen, to be free from one master is to be free for another, we must serve something or someone. But our way of serving is a new way, it is through the Holy Spirit.

Digging Deeper – What is our relationship to The Law?

Understanding how believers relate to the Law has caused plenty of debate and disagreement throughout the years. Some have argued for a complete disconnect, we are no longer under the law but under grace. At first sight this appears to fit reasonably well with Romans 7 but how do we square that with Jesus saying that he did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfil it? 

One popular approach has been to split the Law into three categories

  • Moral Law (e.g. The Ten Comandments)
  • Ceremonial Law  (circumcision, sacrifices etc)
  • Civil Law (rules time limited and specific to Israel’s situation, this might include Sabbaths and Jubilees).

Under this approach, the ceremonial and civil laws no longer apply to us but the moral law does.

Whilst this gives some structure to the type of rules, it doesn’t always offer an exact fit. For example, we find that the Sabbath Laws show up in The Ten Commandments. The Laws are not neatly divided up in this way and it doesn’t fit with the holistic approach to life of ancient Israel.

I prefer to think of the Law first in terms of concentric circles. At the heart is the command to love God. How we love God is fleshed out by The Ten Commandments and these are further fleshed out by the laws found in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy.  This Law provides symbols and boundary markers to remind people of its obligations and it provides penalties and remedies for when it is broken. The penalty is death, curse and exile, the remedy is the Temple and the priestly sacrificial system.

Jesus fulfils the Law. He does not come and say “It doesn’t matter anymore.” Instead, he keeps its obligations perfectly.  Then, he takes the role of priest and sacrifice to provide the ultimate remedy for law breakers.

This still leaves open the question, “how do we relate to the Law?”  If it is fulfilled is it now complete and irrelevant.  It might be helpful to think of The Law in its totality not as a list of disconnected rules but as a system, a way of life, a constitution. This constitution has been appropriated by Satan to create a system of tyranny and suppression. He uses the law to accuse and thus to subdue us into slavery to him.

If we now have been set free by Christ, then we are no longer subject to the constitution of Satan’s kingdom. We belong to the Kingdom of God.  So, the Law no longer has power to accuse, condemn and subdue.

Yet, remember that at the heart of the Law is the command to love the one true God wholeheartedly. Is this a bad thing? Clearly not.  Indeed, God has been pouring out his love and calling us to love him back since long before the Mosaic Law was given.  Indeed, Satan’s constitution rips this heart out of the Law.  So are we still obligated to love God? Of course. And now we can do so, through the power of the Holy Spirit without fear of condemnation.  At this point, we realise that Deuteronomy still as benefit as it teaches us how to go about loving God with our whole heart, mind and soul and how to love our neighbours as ourselves.

Conclusion

At the start, I talked about clubs and restaurants that appear to be under new ownership from the outside but once you get inside it is clear that nothing has changed. What about our lives? Is it obvious that we are under the new ownership of Christ?

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