III.5. Romans 7:1-6. Freedom from the Law by Union with Christ.
St. Paul is full of two thoughts. The first is that of life out of death, living by dying. He had lived an old life in which 'those multitudinous motions of appetite and self-will which reason and conscience disapproved, reason and conscience could yet not govern, and had to yield to them. This, as we shall see, is what drove Paul almost to despair.' He had passed to a new life in which he found in actual, blessed experience that he could do the thing that he would. He could do all things — through Christ that strengthened him. For it was Christ who had been the means of transferring him from the old life to the new, and that by His own way of dying to live. Christ Himself had lived 'by the Spirit' deliberately and always. He had never failed morally to do the thing that He would. But so violent was the antagonism between His life of divine obedience (with the claims that it involved upon other men) and 'the sinful, wilful, weak world around, that the world could not tolerate His presence in it; and it came to this — that He could only live by the Spirit at the cost of dying to the world, i.e. choosing to be put to death sooner than give up obedience to His Father. He chose to die, and thus dying He lived through death in the life of the Spirit, and was raised again from death in body also. Now Christ had brought St. Paul — as He would bring all men — into union with His new life, and by the same method. St. Paul had had to die to the sinful world in order to live to God. But he, being not only a man but a sinner, was obliged not only, like Christ, to die to sin in the world — he had also to die to sin in himself. In other words, he had to 'crucify his flesh with its affections and lusts' — that is, 'his old man' or old way of living. He had, by the help of Christ's Spirit, to assert his inner self or personality against a false self — a false way of life — which had appropriated him and held him captive. Only by being emancipated from the 'old man' could he come to live 'in Christ.' It is this transference from the 'old man,' or old way of life, to the new, by means of a death that St. Paul here describes under the figure of a second marriage. The man's true self was as a wife married to 'the old man.' The old man was nailed to Christ's cross (vi. 6) — that is, the old way of life was put an end to, even with violence. Thus the wife, the human personality, is, according to the law of marriage, free to contract a second union with Christ, the second Man. This is one of the main thoughts in St. Paul's mind.
But it is entangled with a second. The 'old man' was closely associated with 'the law' — the law which had awakened it out of its life of moral apathy by its stern reminders of the will of God. The law had reminded, instructed, enlightened; but it could not give the inward power needed to obey its requirements. It served but to bring to light the tyranny of sin which made man incapable of yielding obedience to the will of God; it even augmented its power by stimulating it to opposition. The law therefore belonged purely and simply to the old condition of moral impotence — the life 'in the flesh' and not 'in the Spirit.' It fulfilled the only function it could fulfil in awaking the consciousness of sin. Thus to pass from 'the life of the flesh' to 'the life in the Spirit' was to pass out of its dominion. This is the other thought with which St. Paul is occupied in the passage we are just going to read. This too he expresses with the help of the figure of death. Human law only regards a living man. Death acquits him from law by taking him out of the region where it applies. Therefore, when a man dies with Christ to the 'old man,' he passes out of the reach of the law which threatened the old man but had no function beyond that.
Each of these two thoughts is quite distinct and clear; but they are fused in the present passage. St. Paul begins with the second, to show that the 'dead' Christian is free from the law (ver. 1; cf. vi. 7). But marriage law is taken as an example of law, and by this link we pass from the second thought to the first. But the second thought requires the man's self to die with Christ to escape from the region of law. The first thought, on the other hand, requires the 'old man,' or old mode of life, to die, to leave the man's real self free to be married to Christ; and this change of subject introduces confusion into the passage. The attempts to show that there is no confusion are not successful. In ver. 1 the idea plainly is that the self dies, as in vi. 7. In ver. 4 the main idea plainly is that the 'old man' is dead, and has left the self free to contract a new marriage. But the other idea is still sufficiently dominant to cause St. Paul to say 'you died to the law,' instead of 'your old man was crucified.' Morally, of course, the two phrases mean the same thing; and one who, like St. Paul, is dictating a letter, is specially liable to verbal confusions even when his thought is clear.
After these explanations the analysis shall be made as brief as possible. St. Paul, having, in the latter part of the sixth chapter, shown that the abolition of the power of the law is no excuse for sin, recurs to and develops the principles which he has now guarded from abuse, viz. that the power of the law is past for the Christian. He is writing, he says, to men, whether themselves Jews or not, who understand what law means, and that its dominion over a man ends with his death. It has no jurisdiction beyond the grave. He takes the marriage law ('the law of or 'concerning the husband,' ver. 2) as an illustration. Without noticing the exceptions in the way of possibilities of divorce which the Jewish law admitted, he lays it down generally that 'the law of the husband' binds the wife till death, but death dissolves its power. When her husband is dead she is 'discharged' and free to be married again. (Here we have passed from the idea of a man escaping by death out of the dominion of law to that of his death dissolving the force of law in the interests of another, viz. his wife.) That is the state of the Christian's real self. Christ's body, St. Paul says, was nailed to the cross, and you were put to death there with Him; or rather, your 'old man' was put to death there, and you were left, like wives discharged from the marriage law by the intervention of death, free to be united to the risen Christ, and to see fruits of your new union such as God can approve. There were fruits from the former union with the 'old man,' in the days when you were still under the power of the flesh. The body was subject to feelings and emotions which, under the provocation of the law, became the instruments of sin; and these all at work in our limbs (constituting the 'old man,' and having ourselves for the subject-wife) brought forth the fruits of actions fit only for a kingdom of death. But now we are discharged from the law, like the wife whose husband is dead, having died to that in which we were held captive, and come to life in a new region; so that we can be slaves — that, as we have seen in the last chapter, we must always be, so far as yielding a complete obedience is concerned — only no longer under the old bondage of a written law, but in the new freedom of the empowering Spirit.
Or are you ignorant, brethren (for I speak to men that know the law), how that the law has dominion over a man for so long time as he lives? For the woman that has a husband is bound by law to the husband while he lives; but if the husband die, she is discharged from the law of the husband. So then if, while the husband lives, she be joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if the husband die, she is free from the law, so that she is no adulteress, though she be joined to another man. Why, my brethren, you also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ; that you should be joined to another, even to him who was raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were through the law, created in our members to bring forth fruit to death. But now we have been discharged from the law, having died to that wherein we were holden; so that we serve in newness of the spirit, and not in oldness of the letter.
1. If we ask ourselves what is practically meant by St. Paul's idea of the marriage of the redeemed soul to Christ, which supplements his thought of the whole Church as the bride of Christ, the answer seems to be that it is made up of a moral and a theological factor. The moral factor is the idea of the devotion of the believer to Christ — 'as a young man marries a virgin.' The theological idea is that of the risen Christ making the soul of the believer fruitful in good works by infusing into it His own Spirit or life.
2. The conception of the freedom of the redeemed from the moral and ceremonial law is very easily realized by reference to our ideas of civic freedom in connection with the criminal law. The criminal law exists, and the policemen are among its administrative officers, but the respectable citizen is free in his relation to the criminal law, and passes the policeman without any sense of alarm — not because he is at liberty to break the law, but because he has become accustomed to a way of living with which the agents of the law are not called upon to interfere. It is in a sense like this that St. Paul conceives the Christians to have escaped from the bondage of the Mosaic law.
3. What is the meaning of the common phrase our 'passions'? It refers to those feelings which we experience without any action of our will. It may be a mere neutral sensation of smell. It may be a feeling of hunger, thirst, desire, anger. These are our 'passions' as opposed to our actions. These appeal to the will as motives, and it appertains to the will to determine whether it will yield to them and so translate passions into voluntary actions. When the will is weak, and passion is allowed to pass into action uncontrolled, the man becomes the slave of sin, and his passions, in themselves innocent or only constituting the material of temptation, become the 'sinful passions' of which St. Paul speaks in this place.
 Matthew Arnold, St. Paul and Protestantism, p. 76.
 Eph. v. 22.
From St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, Vol. I A Practical Exposition by Charles Gore D.D. Reprinted in 1900. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012.
Reach for the Calling Creator
To the Romans, vol I - C. Gore
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your calling be the best.