Philosopher, social critic, and writer C. K. Chesterton was addressed by a woman who wrote a letter asking him to write a series of articles explaining what was wrong with the world. The following day, Chesterton penned this classic reply: “Madam, I will tell you what is wrong with the world in two words: I am.” What’s wrong with the world? The answer is: I am. It’s not a political problem, or an economic situation, the real reason for the problems of the world is you and me personally. And what is responsible for the problems within us? The answer is sin. Sin in us causes problems to come pouring out from us, which affects the world around us. Sin is the problem. Sin is the issue.  “The power of sin brings destruction,” wrote Paul in Romans 6:20-21. It’s true; everything I’m ashamed of in my life is always directly linked to sin.

The section of Romans we are currently studying (chapters 5-8), concerns the assurance and finality of salvation beginning with the truth that, having been justified by the work of God in Christ we now have “peace with God,” and ending with the triumphal cry (in chapter 8) that nothing will be able to separate us from that relationship. In the course of this section Paul deals with two questions that arise naturally from his thesis: (1) Doesn’t a doctrine like this lead to immoral behavior, since it seems to be saying that we will be saved eventually regardless of what we do? And (2) doesn’t it make the law of no account, or useless? This second problem would be particularly acute for the Jew who had always rightly regarded the law as God’s good gift.

Paul answers the first question of these questions in chapter 6, showing that the gospel does not lead to immorality but rather to the reverse. This is because, in saving us from sin, God has joined us to Jesus Christ, as a result of which those who have been saved must and will live for Him. Paul answers the second question – “But what about the law?” – in chapter 7. But here is the problem. We live in a day when people have little concern for the law, when most people try as hard as they can or dare to be lawless. In our culture today, people don’t want to talk about sin; in fact we have forgotten the word “sin.” We call people “dysfunctional” or “victims,” but the real problem is just plain sin.  So we put rules and regulations around ourselves in order that we might not sin. But the rules and regulations we think will break our fall into sin lead us to depression and exhaustion as we discover we are unable to keep them. Paul deals with this very issue in Romans chapter 7.

Nevertheless, we are “under law.” The Jew was (and is) under the law of the Old Testament. The Gentile is under the law of nature. And that’s the problem. The law cannot save us, as Paul proved early on in Romans. The law cannot sanctify us either, as he is showing now. Still we are under it. It’s all very good to say that the answer to a holy life is not the law but a person, but that does little good if we are still under bondage to the former. This is where Romans 7:1-4 comes in. For what Paul tells us in these verses is that the solution is death. We must die to one (law) in order to be free for another (Jesus Christ). The law has an important role to play. Paul will explain that carefully in verses 7-13. But his first teaching in reference to law is that we must be freed from it and that the only way we can be freed from it is by death.

In verse 1 Paul states a fact that should be self-evident. As long as we are alive we are bound by the laws of the country in which we live. But if we die, we are freed from those laws. In verses 2-3 Paul gives an illustration from common experience, citing the case of a woman who is married to a certain man. The point of the illustration is simplicity itself: The death of the husband releases the wife from the law that bound her to the marriage. It’s important that we don’t interpret into these verses more than what Paul intended. It is only an illustration and not an allegory. That is, it’s not necessary to assign meanings to each illustration’s parts. In fact if we try to do that, we are at once led into difficulty.

So what is Paul saying in verse 4? Simply that the object of God’s having freed us from the law, to which we were bound, was that we might be joined to Christ and be fruitful. In fact, it is even stronger than that. In the Greek the sentence ends with the words “in order that we might bear fruit to God,” which means that in this case it is the fruitfulness of the Christian, rather even than his union with Christ that is emphasized. And why not? Paul has been teaching that, having been saved by God, we must live a holy life. Now, by the image of a fruitful marriage, he teaches that this has been God’s object in saving us all along. Let us state it clearly. According to these first few verses in Romans 7, God saved us so that we, who beforehand were lost in sin and wickedness, might live a holy life.

One day the great God of the universe is going to throw a party. It will be the most magnificent party that has ever been held. The banquet will be spread in heaven. The guests will be numbered in the billions. The angelic legions will be there to serve these honored guests. Jesus, the Bridegroom, will be seated at His Father’s right hand. And you will be there, too, for this is the great marriage supper of the Lamb. You will be there. Do you understand that? Nothing is going to keep you from that great celebration – if you are really joined to Jesus Christ.

So what are you doing? Are you living a halfhearted life for Jesus Christ now? If you know where you are headed, you will be preparing for that day with every spiritual thought you have and with every deed you do. You will be bearing fruit for God, because on that day of celebration you will be able to lift it up and offer it to Him with pure hands and with joy unspeakable.

Romans 7:1-4 Reflection Questions:

Give examples of how you have seen each kind of fruit recently.

In verses 1-6, Paul tries to illustrate some main points about the law, by which he means the Law of Moses given to the Israelites on Mount Sinai. How is the law a part of the problem for Israel rather than the solution (see vv. 1-11)?

Describe the differences between the two types of fruit referenced in verses 4-5.


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