We're so glad you decided to join us today!
When we meet in person, we take some time to share joys and concerns. Consider your past week. If you have any prayer requests, you can add them as a comment to this post. When you are ready, use the prayer below (source) to get started.
Lord Jesus, Thank you for the grace and mercy you extend to us. Our sinful nature tells us to sit in our shame and to hide from your light. But you came to this earth and lived the perfect life so that we no longer need to be shackled by our sins. True freedom is found when we lay down our weakness to you.
Thank you for walking through this sinful world. You understand how we are tempted because you were tempted as well, yet never sinned. Your empathy allows us to bring every worry, every fear, and every fault to your feet because we know that you understand.
Help us to approach your throne with confidence because it is a throne of mercy. When we try to hide our sin and shame, remind us of your boundless grace. I pray that we would draw nearer to you no matter what we're going through. Your Word promises that you will give us gracious help in our time of need – help us to believe that today.
In Jesus Name,
Today's lesson is on Romans 7:1-12.
Is the body of law merely a relic from a long ago past? Does freedom from that law mean we can ignore it? Paul addresses the above questions with a look into the purpose and applications of the Old Testaments laws to Christians. Tensions between Christians of Jewish and Gentile backgrounds is a context of the book of Romans- something that is no longer an issue in the church today. Even so, the question of the place of the Law of Moses as regulation for human behavior is still debated. Therefore, while understanding Paul's ongoing argument in Romans is challenging, diligent study of the book is essential for practice of biblical Christianity. The book of Romans is the fullest expression of Paul's teaching – what he calls “my gospel.” Paul refers to his teaching this way as he draws frequently on his Jewish heritage. Romans features more than 50 direct quotes from the Old Testament.
Paul identifies three great tyrants of humankind: sin, death and the law. Each of these has had a role in oppressing men and women and robbing them of the possibility of a reconciled relationship with the Lord. Each of these three has had mastery and authority, the language of tyranny. Death has reigned in terror since the sin of Adam . Sin has reigned in the lives of men and women leading to the consequences of judgment. Law (whether Mosaic or secular) exist as the authority to define and punish wrong behavior. Paul returned to a discussion of the rightful place of the law in God's plan.
For Paul to speak to those who know the law probably indicates the intended audience to have been those Christians who were of Jewish background. His presentation at this point is characteristic of the intricate argumentation of a learn rabbi of his day. It is a style that was both appealing and persuasive to Jewish readers. But Paul was certainly aware that Christians of Gentile background would be listening and some of them were well acquainted with the Jewish law.
Paul begins with a basic legal principle, one that is not confined to the Law of Moses: laws don't apply to dead people. A corpse cannot be charged and convicted of theft, even if the dead body belonged to a person who was a thief before dying. In that sense, death nullifies any authority a law might have over a person.
Paul uses the customs of marriage. We should be careful how we apply this, for he is not teaching about marriage here. Rather, he is teaching about the applicability of law regarding death; in so doing, he uses marriage as an example. Paul's point is that in a marriage the wife is bound by the law to her husband. This recognizes a reality of both Roman and Jewish society of the day. A man might divorce a wife, but among the old-covenant Jews there are no such thing as divorce initiated by a wife.
We should take care to not be distracted at this point by pondering how the modern legal system is superior in this regard. Paul is not defending the divorce law of his day. Rather, he's using that law as an example to make a point: marriage is a lifetime commitment, but the commitment would be terminated if the husband were to die.
In verse 3 Paul says if the bond of the woman's initial marriage had not been broken by death of the first husband then if she remarries she is an adulteress - someone who had violated the seventh commandment. But if her husband died, the situation is different. She is free from lawful requirements toward her deceased husband. She is legally able to marry another man without being an adulteress. But let's not miss Paul's main point: it's not merely that death frees the woman form martial obligations to her first husband, but also that she is permitted to remarry without breaking the law. This is because the situation with her previous husband is no longer applies after his death.
Now Paul turns the marriage analogy toward its spiritual parallel. In the previous chapter, he had presented the fact of Christians' being “dead to the sin.” with the beginning of a new life in Christ. It is not that the law itself had died, but that Christians died to the law. The law that binds her to her husband still stands whether the husband lives or dies. But if he dies, it no longer applies to the surviving wife. As believers who have died to sin – and therefore to the law, since the law defines what sin is – we can belong to another. This is a union with him who was raised from the dead, Jesus Christ. There is no unfaithfulness to our first “husband” (the law) due to the fact that we are no longer under its control. The result is that we begin to live in ways that bear fruit for God. This is the new life in Christ.
Sin's dominion over us uses our own body's impulses to control us. We produce fruit but this is the fruit of sin that leads to death, spiritual death. Sinful behavior wreaks havoc on us personally, on our marriages, on our families and in our communities. It can have deadly consequences in our churches.
Our new existence allows us to be free from sin and, therefore, released from the law. This does not mean we are delivered into a state of permissible lawlessness. Paul has already made the point that freedom from sin is not a license to sin. Instead, the focus of our new life in Christ is no longer to be “the flesh” reveling in the passion of our body. The focus and driver of our new life is the opposite of material existence; it is the new way of the Spirit.. Serving God is not simply a matter of keeping rules, obsessing over the old way of the written code. We no longer behave in a right manner out of fear or in hope of being rewarded. Rather, we obey Christ's commandments out of love for God, and for others. This yields the fruit of the Spirit as live transcends restrictions of the law.
If death to sin frees us from the dominion of the law, then what is the purpose and value of the law? This is a concern often debated in the history of the church and even today. It can be framed more broadly as questioning the value and applicability of the Old Testament to the Christian and the church.
Paul often drives his teachings with rhetorical questions. These are questions he asks for which the answer is obvious. By having the readers answer these questions as they read, they follow Paul's line of thinking in the direction he desires. In this case, Paul anticipated that his readers would ask themselves, Is the Law sinful? He has drawn parallels between sin and the law. Both have been described as enslaving dominion over humankind. So, it is important to recognize that there is no sin without the law's definition.
We might further say that there would be no need for the law if there were no sin. The connection is strong that some might see an equivalency, such that the law wears sin as its clothing. So Paul answers his own question with a strong statement, Certainly not! To conclude that the Law of Moses – Paul's area of expertise – was just sin in another form would be both ridiculous and insulting. So then, what is the connection between sin and the law? Paul chooses the tenth commandment, the prohibition against coveting. Coveting is the desire to having something possessed by another person and to which we have no right. Coveting is characterized by lust, but this refers to more than sexual desires; it includes all sorts of greed, jealousy and obsession.
If coveting is a natural impulse of our self-centered, material nature (the desire to have the best for ourselves), then why is it sinful? Paul's answer is simple: the law forbids it. The Lord, is giving the command against coveting, knows what is best for us as individuals and as larger society. Coveting is a sin.
The point is that apart from the law, we would be unaware of God's desires. We would experience the destructive effects of covertness and inflict it on others without thought of its being inherently wrong or sinful.
Without the law, Paul had been alive, oblivious to the definition and consequences of sin. This could describe the behavior of a child, who may have no guilty feelings about selfishly taking a toy away from another child. But it also describes the pagan world of Paul's day where ambitious self-gratification was often encouraged and celebrate, even in the laws.
When such a “pre-law” person is confronted by the commandment, then sin takes on a new life. The result might seem like harmless greediness, but its toll is much higher: spiritual death. One cannot know of God's commandments, spurn the, and be in a relationship with him. Therefore, Paul's ironic conclusion is that even though the law was given for our benefit, our violation of it leads to death.
Here we become aware of a dangerous deception as it plays out in modern culture: whatever happens between consenting adults is proclaimed to be nobody's concerns but their own. We want to be allowed to follow our desires as valued by today's world. Yet this is a fraudulent approach on life. Our lust and desires are too often fed by self-centered sin. We think we find the rich life by following our passions, but the end of our pursuits is death.
Is the law sin? The law of Moses is neither sin nor sinful. It is not the cause of sin, but the definition of it. The law is holy because it defines, and is the definition of moral purity. It is righteous because it promotes justice. It is good because it was given by the Lord for people's benefit.
While Christians may disagree over certain aspects of the applicability of the Old Testament law to today, we should agree as to its value and place for study. We will never understand sin and its dire consequences if we ignore the law and its teachings. It is still holy. It is still just. And most of all, it is still good.
First Peter 1:15 says “be holy, because of I am holy.” We may disagree on which aspects of the Law of Moses still apply in the New Testament era, but this is one area where there is no doubt. We press further when we wonder how to be holy as God is holy. That is a profoundly important question, and we must commit to growing in holiness throughout our lives.
To be holy requires a distinction from that which is unholy – and God is the one who makes that distinction known in his laws. Same thing with being loving versus being unloving. If there is no God, no lawgiver, then there can be no absolute laws with regard to being holy, loving, etc. But God does exist, and he has given laws for the good of humankind. The way to counteract deadly, worldly influence is to study the way God intends as presented throughout our Bibles.
Lord God, may we never despise your laws! May you guard us from the deception of the world which claims that sin is good and satisfying. May your Spirit continue to form us to become more and more like your Son, Jesus, the one without sin. We pray these things in his name. Amen.
Questions for discussion
Today's benediction is from the New International Version.
Next week's lesson is on Galatians 2:11-21.
We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.