2020 - Romans
The Law Cannot
I want to begin this morning by telling a story. It’s a sad story, but it ends well. The woman's husband was a brute. He had seemed to be a nice guy when she married him. But it quickly became evident he did not want a wife. He wanted a slave. Everything had to be perfect. His meals had to be on time and served to his specifications. His house must be immaculately kept or else she suffered the consequences of his rage. She had to dress just as he dictated with no room for variation. He controlled every aspect of her life. The woman was miserable. His cruelty; his beatings; his sarcasm; systematically destroyed her self-esteem, until she became just a shell of the person she once was. She was hollow inside. All that was there; all that kept her alive… was hate.
So, when the opportunity presented itself, she took it. She quickly; without remorse murdered her husband. There was no guilt. Rather, she felt an overwhelming sense of relief. She was free. She had been given the strength by a new found friend, whom she soon married. Her second husband was a gentle man who rebuilt her with tenderness. She soon did more for this man because of his love, than she ever would have done because of her first husband's hate. As the saying goes, "She lived happily ever after."
This story sounds like it was ripped from today’s news headlines. Or, more likely, an episode of “How do get away with murder”. But this story is… instead, from Romans 7! “Seriously?” Well, sort of.
Romans 7:2-3 Thus, a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress.
Paul, in the letter to the Romans, announced a remarkable revelation… Grace defeats sin… every time!
If that is true, should we just keep on sinning because God will forgive us anyway? No! We died to sin when we were baptized, don't keep getting jump scared by that hideous monster. Be instead an instrument in the hands of God. Be a slave to righteousness. Be the glory to God.
In the midst of showing why we should not sin, in chapter six, Paul makes another stunning statement. He makes it as if in passing, as if you already knew it. But then, he comes back in chapter seven to explain it. Listen to this stunning statement.
Romans 6:14 …you are not under law, but under grace.
In chapter seven it is time to explore what this means. In chapter seven Paul shows how law relates to Christians. He explains what it means to not be under law, but under grace. He begins a contrast between living under a legal system; chapter seven and living under grace; chapter eight.
Isn’t this exciting? There are two ways people can live. Some live under law. While others live under grace. And the understanding of this fundamental difference in how to live, is crucial.
· It is the difference between living a joy-filled confident life or living under bondage.
· It is the difference in loving your Christianity or begrudging your religion as a chore.
· It is the difference in being able to accept your brother in spite of his featuresor being a self-appointed critic of everything and everybody.
· It is the difference in Love and Joy and Peace and Patience or hatefulness and misery and worry and intolerance.
· It is the difference between law and grace.
This morning we are going to look at what the law does not do, or more accurately, cannot do. We are going to be studying Romans 7:1-6. Next time, we will see what the law can do, as we study the remainder of chapter seven.
“Tim, what about the woman who killed her husband?” We are getting back to her in a moment.
Four things the law cannot do…
1) The law cannot make us… right!
Let's review the several times Paul has already mentioned that Law cannot make us right…
Romans 3:20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.
Romans 3:28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
Romans 4:13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
Paul makes it quite clear that the law cannot make us right. The reason he keeps on making this statement over and over again, is that it is so hard for us to learn it. Human wisdom says… we must do something to earn salvation. It only makes sense. We should earn our salvation. We should deserve what we get.
A list of laws has never saved. A box checked has never forgiven a sin. Do's and Don’ts have never made a person right.
Romans 5:18-20 …so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,
The first thing the Law cannot do is… make us right… Grace does.
2) The law does not have authority over us.
Let's get back to the woman who murdered her husband. The story I started with is a little off with what actually happens. Notice carefully what Paul says happens:
Romans 7:2-4 Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies (murdered) she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, (manslaughtered) she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead.
In my original story, the woman killed the first husband. That is kind of what happens. When we are baptized into Jesus, our sins die in the watery grave. We said, last time, that baptism is a double funeral. But it is actually a triple funeral… because law alsodies. Christ is dead in the grave. Sin; our old self, dies in the grave. But also, law dies in the grave of baptism!
When we rise out of baptism, we leave sin; we leave our old self; AND we leave law, dead in the grave! Because the first husband of law is dead, we are free to marry another! We marry grace! We marry the grace of Christ. We marry the grace-filled Jesus!
Here is a trick question? So be careful. Is a Christian today supposed to follow the Ten Commandments? Don’t answer. The technical answer is no. We are dead to law. We do not follow any part of the Mosaic Law or any law. But, as we will see next time, we do observe the Ten Commandments because it pleases God. The Ten Commandments give us an insight into what pleases our new husband!
Now, are we not under the Law of Moses. We are not under any law. Legal systems hinder true faith. Legal systems inhibit true expression of our love for God. Legal systems have no authority over us, because we left the law in the grave!
3) The law does not motivate us.
The fundamental difference in not being under law versus being under grace is one of attitude. Going back to our illustration of the woman who killed her husband. In her second marriage, she actually worked harder for her new husband. Why? Because she was motivated by love, rather than by fear.
If we live under a legal system our motivation comes from avoiding guilt, or fear of punishment, or, at best, a sense of duty. Our living is an obligation, something we must do. It is all about and being tough, and working hard, doing it right, fighting the fight. Legal motivations are all hard.
The two men had been lying under the house all day. The night before a pipe had frozen and burst. So, all day the man and his neighbor had labored in the freezing water repairing the leak. As day began to turn into night, the two men finished. As they began to collect their tools, the man whose pipes had frozen turned to his neighbor and asked, "What do I owe you for helping me all day?" With a hurt expression on his face, the neighbor said, "You couldn't afford to pay me to spend the day under your house. I did it because we are friends."
That is what Paul is talking about in verses 5+6:
Romans 7:5-6 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.
The old way of the written code was a way of duty. All legal systems are based on what is expected of you. The new way of the Spirit is a way of appreciation, because He has done so much for us.
· It is not a difference in obeying the law or not obeying the law.
· It is not a difference in sinning of not sinning.
· It is not a difference in one being more holier than the other.
It is, however, a fundamental shift in the why we do what we do. I like 1 John on this…
· We love because he first loved us. – 1 John 4:19
· If you love me, you will keep my commandments. - John 14:15.
· For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. - 1 John 5:3
· There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. - 1 John 4:18
One reason God has given us a grace system is because it motivates us by his tender love. Whereas, law just makes us bitter.
4) The law does not bear fruit in us.
Romans 7:4-5 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.
Legalism does bear a kind of fruit. Legal systems grow. One law leads to another. Which procreates into two more, Until, soon you have so many laws there is no way to even keep track of them. Legalism bears fruit for death.
But law does not bear real fruit. It does not develop mature Christians, who love the Lord. Love, joy and peace, patience and kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; are the kind of fruit which grows in the soil of grace.
Living with a God who loves you; Knowing a God who is graceful; Knowing a God who is going to make it all right… leaves us to grow fruit of grace… in our interactions with each other. So, we can…
Romans 15:5-7…live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
Next time, we will study what the law positively does do, as we study the rest of Romans 7.
This morning, we have seen what the law does not do…
--Law doesn't make us right.
--Law has no authority over us.
--Law provides little, long-term motivation.
--Law doesn't produce desirable fruit.
Some of you may remember Thomas Sutherland. He was dean of agriculture at the American University of Beirut. He was kidnapped by Islamic Jihad members from his home on June 9, 1985. He was released on November 18, 1991, having spent 2,353 days in captivity. Six years of chains, jail cells, abuse, disease, harassment and neglect. Hey, look on the bright side. He didn't have to worry about losing his job. He didn’t have to worry about paying the bills. He didn't worry about getting along with his co-workers. He didn't have to worry about what to wear. He never anguished over whether to go out for supper or eat in. He made few, if any decisions for over six years. He was told exactly what to do. He was totally under law!
Then, he was released. He went back to making all the decisions of freedom. He experienced all the problems of freedom. He went back to his loving family and grace.
Thomas Sutherland works as a metaphor of living under law or living in grace…
Los Alamos Church of Christ
October 4, 2020
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