4 Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.
5 For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.
6 But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. (Romans 7:4-6)
So last night I entered upon this profound mystery, of which I will surely never fully grasp. The first great part of this doctrine shines forward every so clearly. "you died to the Law through the body of Christ for the purpose that you would be joined to Jesus and bear fruit for God" (paraphrase). So, as Paul told us previously in chapter 6, we died to sin through the death of Jesus upon the cross. (Rom 6:2-5, for example) Now Paul continues on to say we have actually died to the Law! How so?
"The law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives." (Rom 7:1) And previously we were under that jurisdiction -in captivity to that which could never give us life. Our flesh was "aroused" (v.5) all the more by it! But when that perfect vicarious and redeeming death of Christ came, we died with Him -not because of anything we have done, but purely by our union to Him as His elect people. Our High Priest, our Mediator, has set us free from our captivity by dying our death in our stead.
Now, to be dead is a glorious thing in this picture. Death is irreversible. When it happens, it cannot be undone -just as our birth cannot. So being dead to the Law is something that is a past and completed fact. Also, death is well-defined. Now in human terms, a man may not be certain if another is truly dead, but the fact remains that if he is dead, he is dead completely. There are no stages of death in this regard. You are either dead or alive. We are not "mostly dead" to the Law, but totally dead to it. What does this mean in practice? It means that it has no power over us to condemn. It is no longer the governor of our estate.
As we live all of our lives in whatever country or state we live, we are under the jurisdiction of a governing power. Yet, if we were to die, does that jurisdiction still remain? No, and this is Paul's point. Therefore, we are no longer ruled by condemnation and threatenings. We are no longer ruled by our inability to obey that higher standard of governance, as perfect and beautiful as it is. We no longer exist under that domain.
But then, what of the Law? That is the inevitable conclusion our fleshly minds race to. "This cannot be, because what about our responsibility as Christians to obey the Law... you make Paul teach antinomianism". But I appeal to the Scripture and it says what it says. Yet there is a purpose unto which we have been freed from that previous domain. Paul says it twice in the quoted passage above. It is so that we would serve in the "newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter."(v.6)
This seems somewhat vague, though. What on earth does it mean? Well, this could be the topic of a book, much less a single blog entry, so I will just pass a few comments here. I believe it is a recapitulation, using different words, of the previous statement made in verse 4: "so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God." Therefore, one thing we can say is that "serving in the newness of the Spirit" is related directly to our union with Christ, and thus, bearing fruit for God. This is echoed in Eph 2:10:
"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. "
One thing that is for certain is that the Law does have a place in the life of the believer. God says that the believer, the regenerate one, is the one on whose heart He has written His Law.
"Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. " (Eze 36:26-27)
"But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jer 31:33)
Thus, the Law for a believer has to do with "want to" instead of "have to". We no longer live in the land of "have to". This is why antinomianism will not overcome the regenerate. This is a principle reason why to say "but then there will be no motivation for the Christian to do what is good if we take away the Law with its threatenings" is completely and utterly screwed up and false. Though we do not live any more under the domain of Law, the principles of the Law have been written on our hearts. We love righteousness, which is what the Law describes. Indeed, Jesus told us:
"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (Joh 14:15)
To sum up, I believe this is what serving in the newness of the Spirit means: that we serve unfettered by conscience or fear of punishment -we serve out of love for God and love for His righteous standard. We are dead to the Law as those who were once under its captivity, under its condemnation. Yet the very same thing that used to condemn us is now our joy because of the glorious God who wrote the Law upon our hearts -as we live daily by faith in Jesus, not by returning, as dead men, to that system or domain under which we once lived, but as men who are alive in a different realm -the realm of grace and gratitude and acceptance for the sake of Jesus. So, to all of us as we daily battle the flesh, let us be reminded of this glorious truth, our deadness to the Law, and move ahead as Paul tells us in Gal 5:
walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. (v.16)