This morning’s message is an aside, it is something which has been triggered by my reading and praying over the passage, it is alluded to, but not specifically taught – at least only in part and in passing, and even then as an illustration. This is something we were warned against in preaching class (using a passage as a ‘springboard’ into something else), but I really sense God wants me to run down this rabbit hole. It is a really significant thing to consider, and merits some attention. It is something which has over the last couple of generations been under significant attack in our modern society, and something we should really cherish and defend. I want to talk about marriage. And what a significant institution it is.
Romans 7:1-6–“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”.
Let’s have a look at the spiritual significance of marriage generally, and then seek to consider how Paul uses the illustration from marriage to show that belonging to both the Law, and to Christ is tantamount to committing adultery.
The motif of being “married” to God is one which runs as a rich vein throughout both the Old Testament and the New.
- Firstly, in the Old Testament, God clearly sees himself as the husband of his people, He is the husband and they are the bride. This carries through into the New Testament, where Christ is portrayed in various places as the ‘bridegroom’, and his church is described as the bride of Christ.
- Secondly, Heaven is portrayed as a “marriage supper”. And his people are invited to the “marriage supper of the lamb”.
- Thirdly, marriage is seen as a mystery which in some way reflects and proclaims the relationship between Christ and the church.
- Fourthly, marriage can only be broken by death. Anything other than that means adultery is taking place. If death DOES happen, then the surviving partner is free.
- Fifthly, once you become a believer in Christ, giving yourself back to the law for justification is viewed as adultery.
Death in marriage and adultery is the parallel Paul draws in this text, and one which I hope our consideration of marriage in general will throw light on.
Throughout the Old Testament, we read that God sees his relationship with the people of God as like a marriage relationship. He views himself as a husband, and his relationship with Israel as a covenant relationship just as between husband and wife – in other words a marriage. Here are a few verses which will illustrate that…
Isaiah 54:5 “For your Maker is your husband—the LORD Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth”.
Jeremiah 3:14 “Return, faithless people,” declares the LORD, “for I am your husband”.
“It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the LORD”.
“In that day,” declares the LORD,
“you will call me ‘my husband’
“I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the LORD”.
Being married means a number of things, the relationship is a covenant relationship, God made a covenant with Abraham and in Genesis. It is not a compromise, it is not a contract, it is a covenant.
This sense of being a bride carries into the New Testament, but the motif of being married takes on a new meaning—it shifts.
This passage, of course, uses marriage to illustrate our relationship with Jesus,
In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul writes to the Corinthian church, “I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him”.
In his vision, John sees “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Revelation 21:2).
In the parable of the wedding banquet which we find in Luke 14 and in Matthew 22, we see the of heaven being likened to a marriage supper, so Matthew 22:2 says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son”.
In Revelation 19, John describes heaven as the wedding supper of the lamb (I wonder if John was reminded of Jesus’ parable when reflected on his vision), so we read in Revelation 19:9, “Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”
In his teaching about the marriage relationship in Ephesians, supremely, he closes by saying, “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). One thing to note:
Paul doesn’t say Christian marriage is a picture of Christ and the church, he says marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. For this reason, we have a pony in the race as far as marriage in our culture goes. It doesn’t matter whether those getting married are believers or not, what they are doing is reflecting the relationship between Christ and his church.
It is CHRIST we are married to. This for me is real evidence for the divinity of Jesus:
- OT, Husband = God / Wife = Israel.
- NT, Husband = Christ / Wife = the church (in the sense of the worldwide body of believers).
It is also a reminder of the massively important place marriage should take in the body of Christ, it is an example, an illustration to the world of the relationship between Christ and the Church, between God and His people. We must note that GOD, not man, designed marriage. Marriage itself is a recognition of God’s hand on, and His design for, human relationships.
If you are a husband and you don’t love your wife with the kind of love God loves his people, or if you are a wife and you don’t love your husband with the kind of love the Bible says we should love God with, you are doing violence to the witness of the church. If you want to witness more effectively for Christ, your first port of call should be to ensure your marriage is an accurate reflection of the love between Christ and His church.
Breaking the covenant of marriage can only biblically happen in two ways:
- Through the death of one of the partners. In 1 Corinthians, Paul talks of the unbelieving souse being unwilling to live with their believing partner. Given that we died to our old self, it could be argued that this is a form of death, which would fall into this category.
- Adultery. Interestingly, in the Law, the consequence of adultery is not divorce. It is death. The reason divorce is allowed by God is explained by Jesus when he’s questioned about it. He says, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning” (Matthew 19:8). Noting that Moses gave the law to the people, but it was God who gave the Law to Moses.
So, we come to adultery, and it is used as an illustration by Paul in this context.
Note the parallels between the judgement God placed on the people of God in the Old Testament. The judgement of God, his assessment of their worshipping other Gods, is called unfaithfulness and, sometimes, prostitution. It is most graphically shown in the book of Hosea, where Hosea is tall by God to find and marry an unfaithful woman, and the book then tracks this marriage relationship which is marked by desertion and unfaithfulness, contrasted with redemption and forgiveness. Hosea relentlessly pursues and forgives and shows grace to his unfaithful wife, who, incidentally, neither wants nor seeks his forgiveness. She is NOT like the prodigal son, coming to her senses and returning to her husband in repentance. Even at rock bottom, she doesn’t even consider that as an option. She is selling herself to the highest bidder.
Isn’t that just like people in sin? They will do almost anything, it seems, except repent and turn to God. Increasingly, we are seeing all sorts of things being used to try to help people there has been an upsurge in recent years of problems relating to mental health. I would suggest that the one thing which could help in this area is revival. I am not belittling mental health or denying that there are people with real issues, but I am saying that wholeness and inner peace is best found in Christ. He says, “take my yoke upon yourself … and you will find rest for your soul”
Back to Paul. Understanding that our death to our old life released us from any obligations to follow the law, just as a physical death releases the surviving spouse from the covenant of marriage.
I understand that the illustration (like all illustrations) is not perfectly exact, in human marriage, I am released from the covenant when my spouse dies, but I am spiritually released from the obligations of the law when I die, nevertheless, this is the parallel Paul is drawing.
Since we are dead to sin, we are not bound by the Law any more. (Note, again, I am not talking about general rules in churches by which we organise ourselves and regulate our behaviour towards one another). IF you claim to be “married to Christ” and still try to be justified by the law, then you are an adulterer. In the Old Testament, adultery against God was committed when His people turned away from worshipping Him towards worshipping other Gods.
Taking another illustration from the Mosaic Law as it applies to marriage, Mosaic law forbade remarrying a divorced spouse. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is quite clear about that.
So, not only is worshipping other gods seen by God as adultery, once we became Christians, trying to return to the Law for our justification is also viewed by Him as adultery.
V 1-3 are Paul’s use of this illustration, but v4 starts with “so”
The consequences of this reality.
- We died to the Law. We are not bound to it in any way. It doesn’t control us like it controls other people. Becoming a Christian frees us from the regulations of the Law. This is why, for example, we are not bound by the regulations of the Mosaic law about shellfish, or cloths woven from two different threads and so on.
- We now belong to Christ. To another. Going back to the Law is not an option any more, any more than it was an option for a man to go back to a former spouse.
- This is freedom, becoming a Christian is not a burden. People often think that it is a set of rules and laws and regulations to follow. It is not. That is the law. It is those who are not Christians who are not free. It is unbelievers who are under the law, who are slaves to sin, and who are bound up. Dying to that old life has resulted in freedom. Paul says here in v6 that “by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law”
The whole point here is that our freedom comes with implications…
- We are not obligated to the old life any more. In fact, we are obligated NOT to go back to that old way of life.
- We now belong to a new husband, as it were. We serve a new master, we belong to Christ, not to the Law, and our allegiance is (or should be) to Him. And Him alone.
- The reasons are written here…
- “In order that” (v4). We might bear fruit for God. Our new life is one which should be fruitful, we can expect fruitfulness in God, and one of the keys to fruitfulness in God is our death. Jesus says in John’s gospel “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24). So, we died to the Law, and death is a pre-requisite for fruitfulness. Our death to the Law, our death to sin, opens the door to fruitfulness in our lives! That’s great news!
- “So that” (v6). We serve in a NEW way. Our way of serving God has been replaced. No longer are we required to follow the Law, we are called to walk in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5 spells out what this looks like:
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (Galatians 5:16-26).
The way of Christ is so different from the way of the Law, we left our old way of life behind us, it is in the past. In fact, we DIED to it. We cannot go back.
- We have a different husband, we have a different master,
- We have a different way of living, and relating to God and to one another.
- We have a different future.
Not for nothing does Jesus say to Nicodemus in John 3, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians (5:16-20) that we are a new creation, that the old has gone and the new has come, that we are no longer “worldly”, but we are now ambassadors of Christ. That we are citizens and ambassadors of a new kingdom, that we are no longer bound by the Mosaic Law, but that we have the law of Christ embedded in our very being, by the spirit.
Paul says in this passage, in v6 “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.”
Hebrews 10 (and I will end with this) is a declaration for us…
“This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”
Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”
And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary”.