A Death Worth Celebrating

Death and loss are usually very sober subjects.  As Christians we know that those who trust Christ live even thought they die, but we still mourn.  There is a heaviness and numbness that comes upon when death touches our lives.  We often feel very much alone.

This morning as we begin studying Romans 7, we learn about a death that we can and should celebrate.  In Romans 6 Paul told us that through Christ we died to sin.  In Romans 7 Paul tells us that we have also died to the Law.

You may be surprised by Paul’s words.  He has been arguing against those who feel that once they trust Christ they can then go off and sin freely because they are confident of grace and forgiveness.  Paul has effectively argued those who truly trust Christ for salvation are set free from their sinful lifestyle and should not return to the slavery of their sinful desires.

In Romans 7 it almost sounds like Paul is contradicting himself. Verse 4 is actually Paul’s thesis statement, “So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ,”. His words raise several questions,

  • What law have we died to? Is this God’s Law or the laws of men?  I believe it is God’s Law since in the verses 7-13 Paul talks about his experience with the law.  In those verses he is talking about the ten commandments, so I can only conclude that Paul is using “law” in the same way in the beginning of the passage.
  • In what sense then have we died to the law?  Can we simply ignore God’s commands? Based on Romans 6 that is not what Paul is saying.

This morning we will try to gain a clear understanding of this important passage.

DEATH TO THE TYRANNY OF A PERFORMANCE MENTALITY

Paul begins the chapter with an illustration.  The illustration he uses is that of a relationship between a husband and a wife.  It’s important to emphasize that this passage is an illustration and that means Paul is not trying to give us rules about divorce and remarriage.  Paul is not teaching about divorce and remarriage any more than he is trying to teach us about good sandwich making. Paul’s subject matter is our relationship to the law.

The illustration is pretty easy to understand.  When a person is married they are no longer free to go out and marry someone else.  In our society when someone goes out an marries someone else this is called bigamy or polygamy and it is an illegal and immoral act. They have entered into an exclusive contract with their mate and in this sense are bound to their mate. However, if your spouse dies, the contract is ended and you are free to marry someone else.

Paul states we are bound to the Law but in Christ we die to that Law and are free to enter into a new relationship with God.

Why do we need to die to the Law?  In what sense are we in bondage to God’s law?  I believe Paul is telling that we have been set free from the tyranny of the performance mentality.

We are tyrannized the standards of the Law.  As we live our lives it is as if the Law is constantly scolding us and pointing it’s bony finger in your face (don’t you hate when people to that?)  The Law condemns us and defeats us.  We view it as the way to know God but it is constantly making us aware of our failure.  Even if you don’t know the Bible, we still face the tyranny of that law that God has written on our hearts.

Ray Stedman points out four evidences of this frustration and tyranny.  These are well worth listing. [i]

1. We are proud of our achievements. This pride shows several things.  First, it shows that we recognize a standard of good and evil. Second, it shows that good achievements are rare and therefore should be spotlighted.  In some respects when we boast about our achievements we are trying to divert attention from our failures.

2. We are critical of others. Paul told us earlier that when we condemn others we actually condemn ourselves because we are recognizing wrong behavior and therefore condemn ourselves when we do the same things. Once again this is a diversionary tactic.  If we can put the focus on the failure of others, we hope it will take the spotlight off our failures. It is well documented that the things that bother us most about others are often the very things we struggle with in our own lives.

3. We are reluctant to admit our own failures. This is the reverse side of boast­ing. It is because we instinctively feel the weight of the law over us that we attempt to cover up our failures. If we didn’t feel the condemnation of the Law we wouldn’t bother to make excuses.

4. We suffer from depression, discouragement, and defeat. There is a sense of failure that sinks deep into our hearts and lives.  We feel we don’t measure up and we can’t do anything to change our situation.

Imagine coming into a job after someone who was really good at their job.  You work hard and all you hear is this, “I remember the way so-and-so used to do this”.  Or maybe you are a student following a sibling who was an exceptional student.  You spend your time feeling that you are comparing unfavorably.  You can’t wait until you graduate and can go to a school where your sibling is “unknown.”

Paul is telling us when we die to Law it is like going to that new school where we can have our own identity and can be free from the comparisons and unfair expectations. The Law pushed us to perform.  It calls us to holiness but we cannot attain that holiness and as a result we live in frustration.

We are set free from this tyranny of the performance mentality because Christ has set us free.  He has met the laws demands.  When we die in Him we are set free from this performance expectation and are able to live with new freedom.

THE FUNCTION OF THE LAW

So, is the law evil?  If the law is evil, why did God give it to us?

7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. 9 Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. 13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. [Romans 7:7-13]

Paul explains to us how the law brings this sense of tyranny into our lives.  The first thing we see in verse 7 is that the Law reveals sin. This is important for two reasons.  First, no one naturally thinks of himself as a sinner.  We all think we are doing as well as can be expected.  The mantra of contemporary society is this: “I’m O.K., You’re O.K.; and That’s O.K.”  The Law hold up a mirror to us that says, “You’re not O.K.; I’m not O.K. and that’s NOT O.K. with God!”

The second reason this is important is even when we are able to admit that we have done bad things, we don’t recognize these things as sin against God without the law.  We excuse our sin as a “mistake” or something that “I couldn’t help” or “I meant well”.

The Law holds up a mirror in front of us and shows us the truth about ourselves.  The Law tells us there is no one righteous . . . not even one.  The Law shows us God’s standards and reveals how far short we fall from these standards.  It points to our attitudes as well as our actions. The law shows us our sin.  When rightly understood every person here will recognize that they have broken every one of the Ten Commandments!

Second, The Law Provokes Sin  The very first sin in the Garden is a prime example.  All the trees in the garden of Eden were available for the delight and pleasure of Adam and Eve EXCEPT ONE.  Which is the tree that occupied their attention?  The forbidden tree.

Why is this so?  It’s because we have a deep-seated rebellion in our hearts and lives.  Just last week we had a youngster in our home once again.  This child was beating on the vertical blinds we have in the living room of our home.  I said, “Don’t do that!”  Do you know what that little “child of a missionary did”?  He looked at me, thought for a second or two, and then did it again!  The sin nature in us naturally rebels against the Law.

If you see a sign that says, “Wet Paint” what do you want to do? Of course, you long to touch it!  If you are told to stay away from certain foods, what food do you crave?  Highways have signs on them that say Speed Limit 55 or 65 and almost no one drives that speed!  Why, because we are rebels!  St. Augustine wrote about this tendency to disobey 1500 years ago.

There was a pear tree near our vineyard, laden with fruit. One stormy night we rascally youths set out to rob it and carry our spoils away. We took off a huge load of pears . . . not to feast on ourselves, but to throw them to the pigs, though we ate just enough to have the pleasure of forbidden fruit. They were nice pears, but it was not the pears that my wretched soul coveted, for I had plenty better at home. I picked them simply in order to become a thief. . . . The desire to steal was awakened simply by the prohibition of stealing. (Quoted in Kent Hughes, Romans, p. 140)

We have a deeply ingrained rebellious spirit.  This again is the evidence of that nature of Adam that we talked about in Romans 5.  Paul tells us that when he heard the command against coveting he found himself coveting all the time!

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones argues that this is the reason why “sex-education” is a mistake in schools.  It does not inform students, it incites them to engage in deviant and dangerous behavior!  The more you tell someone not to do something, the more they believe they are the ones who can “get away with it!”

Third the law brings us to the end of ourselves. Paul tells us that the Law produced death.  It condemns us.  It brings us to the end of our excuses and hopes.  It shows us that we are utterly and completely sinful.  Paul says the law was given to us so that “sin might become utterly sinful” (v. 13).  The Law shows us our need for a Savior.  The Law brings us to the end of ourselves so that we will be open to God’s mercy and grace.  As long as we think we can make it on our own, we will not place our trust in Christ.

This is why Paul declares the “law is holy, righteous and good.”  It is not the Law that is bad; we are the ones who are bad.  The Law is doing for us what must be done.  The law is like a CAT scan machine.  It reveals the disease in our soul.  We do not call the CAT scan evil because it reveals what is bad . . . we are grateful for this machine because it alerts us to a problem that can now be addressed.

THE RESPONSE OF ONE WHO HAS DIED TO THE LAW

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. 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. 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. [Romans 7:4-6]

Paul tells in verse 6, “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.”

When we trust Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we are freed from that tyranny of the Law and joined to the Lord.  We are made new and filled with God’s Spirit.  We live our lives gratefully and now we want to please God.  And do you know how we work to please God . . . you guessed it!  We seek to please God by obeying the Law of God. The Law not only reveals sin; it also reveals the heart and delight of the Lord.

Let me use an illustration I read this week.  Think about your little boy or girl.  You have to coerce them into taking a bath.  Your little tyke plays in the dirt all day long and seems to think that taking a bath at the end of the day would ruin what he/she worked all day to produce!  Your child may cry, make excuses, and even try to fall asleep to avoid taking a bathe.

Then puberty hits!  All of a sudden this dirt loving child realizes that smelling bad and being covered in dirt is not appealing to the one he/she now wants to attract. As the teenage years move forward you are suddenly pleading with your child to get OUT of the bathroom.

What has changed? There is now a new motivation.  No longer is the bath a requirement; it is now a way to express delight for the one you love.

It’s like that with the law.  Before we are transformed by Christ we resist the law, we fight it, we look for ways to get around it.  However, once we die to the law in Christ; once we come to the end of our own efforts, we see the law in a new light.  Now God’s Spirit gives us a hunger to obey.  We long to bring glory and honor to the Lord!  The one who has died to the Law is actually the one who loves it most.

CONCLUSIONS

What are we to learn from all of this? First, we are reminded of our rebellious nature once again.  We are all prone to think we can save ourselves by being “more obedient”.  We put pressure on ourselves not to fail but we fail continually.  We must run to the Lord and hide ourselves in Him.  If you are living under the tyranny of the performance mentality please stop and recognize the futility of your life.  It is time to recognize that you need help.  You need someone to rescue you and set you free.  That someone is Jesus.  Today, rather than trusting yourself, turn and trust Him for the forgiveness and new life that you need so desperately.

Second, we are reminded that we cannot legislate morality.  The law will only stimulate sin, not cure it.  There must be a change of heart before their can be a change in behavior.  This reminds us that the most important message we have to proclaim is not our disgust for the behavior of the world; it is the truth of the gospel.  The gospel confronts sin but it confronts it with God’s grace, not human resolve.

Finally, this text challenges us to change our focus.  Our focus must change from “doing more” to knowing God more fully.  The secret to living a more obedient life is to take our eyes off our ourselves and learn to be enjoy the freedom of His grace. As we grow to love Him more, we will be set free to serve Him and obey Him.  A. B. Simpson once wrote:

Once twas busy planting, Now tis trustful prayer.

Once twas anxious caring, Now He has the care.

Once twas what I wanted, Now what Jesus says.

Once twas constant asking, Now tis ceaseless praise.

Once it was my working, Hence it His shall be.

Once I tried to use Him,  Now He uses me.

Once the power I wanted, Now the mighty one.

Once for self I labored,  Now for Him alone.

That’s what happens when we die to the Law.  This death is one we should not only eagerly seek but also celebrate.