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Why Paul Used the Marriage Law Example in Romans 7:1-4

Notes & Transcripts

In the passage below, the apostle Paul is writing to the Gentile believers in Rome (Rom 1:5-6), and he is using the marriage law as an example to reveal something fundamental about people’s need for salvation. It is something that should help all of us, as believers, to be determined to live victorious Christian lives. Further, my hope is that everyone will benefit from what Paul reveals.

1 Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? 2 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 that binds her to him. 3 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 if she marries another man. 4 So, my brothers and sisters, 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 for God (Rom 7:1-4 TNIV).

Paul presented the passage in three steps; he states the marriage law (v. 2), explains how it works to show how the law has authority over a person as long as that person lives (v. 3), and then he concludes his example and explanation (v. 4). Because he is using marriage as the example, his conclusion, verse 4, is drawing a similarity between the wife and believers; every believer is the wife who has been released from her marriage because of death. A major difference is that the wife, the believer, is the one who dies. Another major difference, which will show up later, is that it had not been a physical marriage. Thus, the revelation, so far, is, believers had been in a previous marriage. The question, then, arises. “To whom or to what had believers been married?” Since the believer is the one who died and was released from the marriage, finding the answer to this question means identifying what believers died to.

For starters, Paul says, “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 for God” (Rom 7:4). Though believers “died to the law,” this, however, does not mean we were married to the law; scripturally, no one is married to the law. Nevertheless, it is pointing to our previous marriage. We were also released from the authority of the marriage law at the time we “died to the law,” that is, the authority of the entire law of God (cf Ga 2:19), which we could not keep because of our sinful nature (Rom 8:8). What else did believers die to through the body of Christ that would identify to whom or to what we had been married? According to the passage below, the only other thing we died to is sin.

2 We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Rom 6:2-4).

Consequently, in our previous marriage, believers had been married to sin! This is the crux of what Paul is trying to reveal to every believer. As such, we had to submit to our “husband.” The verses below are further proofs that we died to sin through the body of Christ.

6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin (Rom 6:6-7).

10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God (Rom 6:10),

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:11).

18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness (Rom 6:18).

22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Rom 6:22).

24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness (1 Pt 2:24).

Believers’ previous marriage to sin, as expected, took place in the Garden of Eden. Paul also tries to reveal this when he said to the Corinthians,

1 I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me! 2 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. 3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ (2Cor 11:1-3. See also Ho 2:19-20).

The event leading up to the marriage began with a command from the LORD God to Adam, Eve’s husband, before Eve was created.

15 The LORD God took the man [Adam] and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die’ (Ge 2:15-17).

18 The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’ (Ge 2:18).

21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man (Ge 2:18, 21-22).

Later on, the woman, Eve, showed that she knew the command applied to her; she must obey it and not eat from the tree.

2 The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die’ (Ge 3:2-3).

The serpent Eve was speaking to had come to deceive and tempt her to eat the fruit (Ge 3:1; Rev 12:9; 20:2)

4 ‘You will not certainly die…5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’ (Ge 3:4-5).

The serpent succeeded in tempting her. Desiring (Jas 1:13-15 NKJV) to have the things the serpent said would happen to her, and believing the lie that she would not die, Eve ate the forbidden fruit to satisfy her desire.

6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it (Ge 3:6 TNIV)

Afterward, the LORD God came to the garden to walk in the cool of the day and to see Adam and Eve, but they hid from Him (Ge 3:8). Eventually, the LORD God questioned Eve.

13 ‘What is this you have done?’ (Ge 3:13).

She said,

13 ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate’ (Ge 3:13; 1Ti 2:14).

Subsequently, the LORD God pronounced punishment on Eve, because she did what God commanded her not to do.

16 I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you (Ge 3:16).

Surprisingly, even though the LORD God was pronouncing punishment on Eve, some of what God said to her was not. Why? Because the promise to one husband, Christ, which Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 11:1-3 and the existence of believers previous marriage to sin were both concealed in these words, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Instead of punishing, the LORD God was blessing! He was promising Eve another husband, Christ (Rom 7:4), because He knew that in pursuing her desire and eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, she had become bound to sin. From His perspective, she was married to sin because of her desire. In love and mercy, God Himself was promising to turn her desire away from sin toward Christ, who would rule over her; sin would no longer rule over her. God knew that if He did not help (John 6:44), no one would be spared; every human being would be punished, eternally!

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:23).

God also knew that overcome by her knowledge of evil, she now had a sinful nature, and sin would use the members of her body to commit other evil acts.

18 I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out (Rom 7:18).

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourselves to sin as an instrument of wickedness (Rom 6:12-13).

5 For when we were controlled by our sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death (Rom 7:5).

8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God (Rom 8:8).

For God to keep His promise of another husband to Eve, however, her marriage relationship with sin had to end first, the way God intended marriages to end, the death of one of the parties. Thus, demonstrating His integrity to uphold His own marriage law, God ends the marriage by pronouncing the wife, believers everywhere, male and female, dead to sin through the body of Christ.

2 We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Rom 6:2-4).

6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin (Rom 6:6-7).

Additionally, Adam understood God’s words to Eve, the promise, for in the midst of having the sentence of death hanging over her, he named her “Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living” (Ge 3:20). The “living” (Mt 22:32; Mk 12:27; Lk 20:38; Jn 5:21, 24-29; Acts 26:8; Rom 4:17, 11:15; Eph 2:5) is the bride of Christ (2 Cor 11:2), those who have put their faith in Christ and have received the gift of eternal life (Rom 6:23). We will not perish (Jn 3:16-17), because the LORD God keeps His promises even if He does not act immediately for everyone to see.

In conclusion, more and more, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth (Jn 15:26) is showing us ways in which God is faithful. Revelations of God’s faithfulness is to help us remain hopeful and to encourage us to live victorious Christian lives. Is there any like the LORD our God, who has released us from sin, and saved us from His wrath to come through the body of the Son He loves (Col 1:13; Rom 5:9)?

15 He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us: he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross (Col 2:15).

3 Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations. 4 Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed (Rev 15:3-4).

4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope (Rom 15:4).

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