Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.
So, my brothers and sisters, 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 for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. 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. (NIV)
Romans chapters 6-8 are the Apostle Paul’s pointed discussion of how we become holy in a real and practical way. The theological word we typically use for this is “sanctification,” which means “to become holy,” and “set apart” for God. To be delivered from sin, death, and hell through the person and work of Jesus Christ is not the end of the story; it is just the beginning of becoming a new creation.
Becoming holy and righteous in our everyday lives boils down to this: identity and belonging. One of the healthiest ways of looking at the entirety of the Bible’s message is that we belong to God. Our identities are thoroughly wrapped around Jesus. The process of realizing this and coming to grips with it is how we grow as people in holiness and righteousness.
Because of Christ’s finished work on the cross, we have been delivered from the realm of sin. Our change in status from condemned to accepted provides us the awareness to make daily affirmations of faith and live a new life. However, the sinful nature (flesh) or the old person is still there. Although it is now toothless, our past can and often does exert a powerful influence on us. Even though there is a medium-rare T-bone steak on the table for us to enjoy, there are times we go back to the old bologna sandwich with stale white bread.
Yet, we need no longer live falling short of our true humanity because we belong to God. We are adopted into God’s family, having been orphaned by sin’s cruel influence. Yet, just because we have been saved from the power of sin, sin itself has not become extinct. We still must deal with it. We are alive to God and need to take up this great spiritual reality and live into it, for the force of sin still exists in the world.
We deal with sin’s continued presence (the world, the flesh, and the devil) through embracing God’s grace versus trying to overcome it with the law. Paul used an illustration from marriage to expand our understanding of grafting grace into our daily lives. By law, a married woman is bound to her husband (keeping in mind this sense of belonging was the predominant view of marriage in Paul’s day). Yet, if the husband dies, the wife is released from the legal marriage. If she were to give herself to another man while her husband is still alive and they are married, then she becomes an adulteress. However, if she is a widow, then marries again, she is not an adulteress.
Paul applies this understanding to our relationship with the law. Death has separated us from the law. We died with Christ. Therefore, we have been set free from the law and have become alive to grace. As believers in Jesus, we “belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead” (Romans 7:4). “When Christ’s body hung upon the cross, when God spared not his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32); “when Christ took on himself for us all the curse of the law which inflicted all of us (Galatians 3:13); then, we died to the law. God’s grace has made the death of Jesus the death of all from the realm of sin (2 Corinthians 5:14).
As a married man, let me use Paul’s illustration to get down to the gist of his teaching. Yes, I am legally married and belong to my wife. I made vows to my wife on our wedding day which bind me legally to do what I said I would do. Yet, if I fulfill those vows in a strictly legalistic manner, I can vouch for my wife that this would qualify as an acceptable situation for her. You see, my wife (and, me, too!) are freely bound to one another in love and grace. I care for my wife because I love her deeply, and not because it is my legal duty to do so.
The Christian life was neither designed nor meant to serve as a bare legal contract or covenant between us and God. God forbid such a thought! Jesus died to clear us from all the legality stuff so that we could freely love and serve God with joyful abundance and gratitude. You see, I am follower of Jesus because I love him deeply. What impels and motivates me is God’s grace. The law is there and has its place. However, it is not the law that causes me to be a Christian; it is the love of Christ which saved me from myself and compels me to live like Jesus.
We pray that God himself, the God of peace, will make you pure—belonging only to him. We pray that your whole self—spirit, soul, and body—will be kept safe and be blameless when our Lord Jesus Christ comes. The one who chose you will do that for you. You can trust him. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, ERV)