STARTING OVER: FREE FROM THE LAW
God’s Invitation to Grace ❧ Part 36
Romans 7:1-6 ❧ Pastor, Dr. John Denney
A man walked into the doctor’s office and said, “Dr., I have this awful headache that never leaves me. Could you give me something for it?” “I will, “said the Dr. “But I want to check a few things out first. Tell me, do you drink a lot of liquor?” “Liquor?” said the man indignantly. “I never touch the awful stuff.” “How about smoking?” “I think smoking is disgusting. I’ve never touched tobacco in my life.” “I’m a bit embarrassed to ask you this, but – you know the way some men are, do you do any running around at night?” “Of course not! What do you take me for? I’m in bed every night by ten o’clock at the latest.” “Tell me,” said the Dr., “the pain in your head, is it a sharp, shooting kind of pain?” “Yes,” said the man. “That’s it – a sharp, shooting kind of pain.” “Simple, my friend! Your trouble is you have your halo on too tight. All we need to do is loosen it a bit.”
I want us to take a moment this morning and loosen our halos. I want to be very personal. There have been many times in my own Christianity that I have felt a “sharp, shooting kind of pain in my head” from wearing my halo too tight. All of us have. I tried to be a Charles Atlas kind of Christian, a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-boot-straps kind of believer. God saved me, now it is my job to change me. The problem is, I always fail. The harder I try, the more my inadequacy and insufficiency loom like Goliath. My security is shattered, my bootstraps are cut. My Charles Atlas spirituality is resigned to a wheelchair on life support. I need to re-learn the meaning of the word “grace” once again.
In his book, Shame and Grace, Lewis Smedes insightfully points out, Guilt was not my problem as I felt it. What I felt was a glob of unworthiness that I could not tie down to any concrete sins I was guilty of. What I needed was more than pardon was a sense that God accepted me, owned me, held me, affirmed me, and would never let go of me even if he was not too much impressed with what he had on his hands. Grace is difficult for us to understand because it is foreign to the way we deal with ourselves and others; it is not natura or normal.
There is something about human nature that makes us want to go to extremes. In chapters six and seven Paul addresses two extreme sides of the pendulum. In chapter six he answers those who say, “Since we are saved by grace, we can live how we want.” Which is licentiousness.
Now, in 7 he addresses the other extreme – those who have their halo’s on too tight. “We cannot ignore God’s Law,” they argue. “We are saved by grace, to be sure; but we must live under Law if we are to please God.” It is true, we cannot ignore God’s Law. The problem was they did not understand the Law’s purpose. They were trying to gain God’s approval through their own ability to keep God’s Law. This is the extreme expression of legalism. They’ve defined grace in their mind, but it hasn’t filled the hole in their soul.
Wrapping our minds around the word grace is not enough. We need to wrap our whole heart around it as well. There’s a difference between intellectualized grace and internalized grace. To intellectualize grace is like dissecting a frog. It is dead before you finish and has no value except to the scientific mind. Grace that is both understood and experienced is a living, transforming grace.
Pastor Warren Wiersbe writes concerning legalists, In my pastoral experience, I have counseled many people who have suffered severe emotional and spiritual damage because they have tried to live holy lives on the basis of a high standard. I have seen the consequences of these attempts: either the person becomes a pretender, or he suffers a complete collapse and abandons his desires for godly living. I have seen too that many legalists are extremely hard on other people——critical, unloving, unforgiving.
Paul says, …you are not under law, but under grace (Rom. 6:14b). He’s going to illustrate for us what that looks like in 7. HOW ARE WE “UNDER GRACE?” Read: Romans 7:1-6. The word “law” is used 23 times in this passage. In the first fourteen verses alone, it is found in every verse. Paul clearly has those people in mind who have their halos on too tight.
- The Picture – For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning her husband(Romans 7:2). In marriage, when one spouse dies, the other is free to remarry. In the same way the law has no jurisdiction over a person after he or she is dead. Keep in mind, Paul is not teaching about marriage here. He’s teaching about freedom from the law. Marriage is only an illustration.
Paul says the law represents the husband, and the wife represents the Christian. The problem is that both of them are incompatible with each other. Talk about a difficult marriage! The law is always right, always perfect, always correcting. The wife is always wrong, always making mistakes, always being corrected by her perfect husband. Who in their right mind would want to be married to a husband like that? So, the wife thinks, how can I get out of this? I could murder him! I could divorce him!
What the law demands – perfection, the wife is incapable of living up to. What the wife needs is grace; love, understanding, forgiveness. Neither of which the law is incapable of giving.
Stuart Briscoe perceptively captures the heart of Paul’s analogy: Those people who see their hope of being justified centered in their relationship with the law do not have happy marriages to the law. Married as they are to the law which is perfect, inflexible, demanding, and all-encompassing, they are soon driven to despair by their own incapability, in the same way young brides have been known to be destroyed by domineering husbands whose rectitude (character) was matched only by their insensitivity….imagine what it must be like for a bride to be confronted each day by a husband who has a list of things which must be done thoroughly and perfectly. She must continue to do them; she must not only think about them, but actually perform them. No half measures will be tolerated; no concessions of weakness will be made. There will be no excuses, no explanations will be asked for or given, and failure in every case will result in the unfortunate bride being curses for her ineptitude and incompetence.
Let me give you a picture of just how domineering and controlling the law was. During the time of Christ, the law had become so distorted that the people could not discern between the laws of Moses and the opinions of the rabbis. Jesus confronted this in the sermon on the Mount. “You have heard it said,” referring to the opinions of the ancients (stated 6 times in Matthew 5). “But I say to you,” bringing the people back to God’s real intent of the law. The law became a complex and confining web of 613 precepts that were divided into 365 prohibitions and 248 commands. All of them were designed to give practical interpretations of the Old Testament for everyday living and new situations that arose. During the time of Paul, none of them were written, but handed down verbatim from memory. When the Jews were scattered around the world, they decided write them down in what became known as the Talmud (“Learning”). When they finished, the Talmud consisted of some 35 volumes, 15,000 pages and 2.5 million words. It covered nearly every area of responsibility in life and has often been called the “educator of the Jewish nation.” Jewish youths would spend 10-15 years submerged in learning the endless pages of instruction. It is what made many of the Jews world class physicians, mathematicians, astronomers, grammarians, philosophers, and businessmen. Einstein, Freud, Kessinger, Begin, Elie Wiesel, Shimon Peres, just to name a few. It is little wonder that 23.6% of the Nobel prizes have been won by those of Jewish decent!
Even today if you go to Israel when you step onto an elevator on a Saturday it stops at every floor because the “law” says they can’t do any form of work on the Sabbath. The law never lifts a finger to help. It just sets the standards and leaves you feeling frustrated. It does not help us become or be a Christian.
- The Point – Therefore my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that you may bear fruit for God. for while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death(Romans 7:4-5).
The point that Paul makes is that for the law to no longer be binding, a death had to take place. That death was our death at the very moment we accepted Christ. Like the husband that pointed out all of his wife’s faults, the law could only condemn men to death for their sin (Rom. 6:23), but it had no power to redeem them from it. Now, through our faith in Christ, we died to the law and its penalty.
Vance Havner, a well-known pastor from the south use to tell the story of demented lady who had a plantation in the south prior to the Civil War. She was a brick shy of a full load, as the saying goes. When her husband died, she had him stuffed and placed in airtight glass case in their parlor. Her neighbors thought she needed a serious vacation. So, she traveled for a couple of years. Then she met another man, fell in love, and married him. They decided to move back to the plantation. When he carried her through the door, the first thing he saw was her previous husband and promptly dropped her. In a voice filled with revulsion and shock he asks her, “Who’s that?” “Oh, that’s my old husband.” “He’s got to go.”
V.4 Another – Paul says we belong to another. You have a new master, a new husband in Christ. He is totally different than the law. Paul says we belong to “another.”
There are two ways he could say another: 1) Another of the same kind (Jesus did this when He said He was going to heaven, He would send another comforter to be with us, the Holy Spirit – exactly like Jesus (αλλος – allos). Paul uses a different word here: another of a different kind (ἕτερος heteros – heterosexual). He says, now you have a husband of a different kind than the law. Life with the law was an endless litany of rules and regulations which produced a never-ending stream of fears and frustrations. It’s not that way with Christ.
During the building of the Golden Gate Bridge over San Francisco Bay, construction fell badly behind schedule because several workers had accidentally fallen from the scaffolding to their deaths. Engineers and administrators could find no solution to the costly delays. Finally, someone suggested a gigantic net be hung under the bridge to catch any who fell. In spite of the enormous cost, the engineers opted for the net. After it was installed, progress was hardly interrupted. A worker or two fell into the net but were saved. Ultimately, all the time lost to fear was regained by replacing fear with faith in the net. That is what grace is to the Christian – grace like the net takes away the fear of failure. That’s what it means to be married to Christ. The law was satisfied through Christ for us and now because of our faith in Him, He has given us the gift of His righteousness. God’s grace is a net that catches us when we fall.
- The Purpose – But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter (Romans 7:6).
Paul goes on to say that when we die to the law, we are able to serve God in a new way. That new way does not mean that have the freedom to sin, but just the opposite, we have freedom for the first time to do what is right.
For years there was a poem that hung on the wall that served as a constant reminder to me of giving our girls the freedom to be who they were, the freedom to make mistakes, freedom to know they have mom and dad’s approval, love, and acceptance no matter what.
Children Learn What They Live by the late Dorothy Law Nolte.
If children live with criticism, They learn to condemn. If children live with hostility, They learn to fight. If children live with ridicule, They learn to be shy. If children live with shame, They learn to feel guilty. If children live with encouragement, They learn confidence. If children live with tolerance, They learn to be patient. If children live with praise, They learn to appreciate. If children live with acceptance, They learn to love. If children live with approval, They learn to like themselves. If children live with honesty, They learn truthfulness. If children live with security, They learn to have faith in themselves and others. If children live with friendliness, They learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
God is saying, “Losen your halos. Stop trying to please Me by maintaining a list of does and don’ts.” As believers, we’re dead to the Law as far as its perfect demands and biting condemnation are concerned. We’re now free to love and serve God in obeying His will without fear of failure and condemnation.