Romans Bible Guide – Day Seventeen
March 2, 2016
Previously, in Romans: Since sin kills us, Jesus went and killed it. Or he was killed by it. Or he buried it with him when he died. Actually, all of the above. So now we get to live with Jesus. If we want to. Or as our friend Red from The Shawshank Redemption says, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”
7 Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime? 2 Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. 3 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.
4 In the same way, my friends, you 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. 5 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. 6 But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.
7 What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived 10 and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.
Points of Interest:
- ‘brothers and sisters’ – I really wish Paul had written in English, in concise sentences, in the kind of snappy modern prose I like, or even in lush but not too-abstract poetry. I wish that my sacred texts used the metaphors and imagery of my culture and era and corner of the world. Then I’d get everything that Paul had to say without so much work and educated guessing. Except that I don’t entirely wish this. Part of the delight of Bible reading is listening in on someone else’s conversation. It reminds me that I am not the center of the universe. My concerns, my language, my century are just one mark on the big map of human history. By seeing my life as part of God’s big story, I get to find my place in a long game that I only partially understand. So digging around in these scriptures grounds me and teaches me, and it also humbles me – not only because I can’t be 100% sure about exactly what Paul means and how it applies to me, but because even when I’m relatively sure, he’s calling out to me and you as brothers and sisters across language and time and so much else, linking us to a family of God that is deep in history and wide in scope, and includes us and our little lives as well.I had to say this some time, and since today isn’t the most riveting passage for me, well, here it is.
- ‘the law’ – Paul has spoken about the law now and then throughout Romans, and not on the most positive of terms. He criticizes its frequent use as a source of pride or boasting. He says working the law won’t give us acceptance from God. And he calls it a post-Abrahamic addition to the superior law of faith. Before he pushes on, Paul apparently has a few more things to clear up to his mixed Jewish and Gentile audience about the Hebraic law that we’ll hear later has become a source of tension and division in their house churches, or between their house churches.
- ‘you died to the law… so that you may belong to another’ – Paul’s pretty clever here. The whole woman remarrying after her husband dies thing wasn’t just a picture of one law or rule – the marriage to the first husband – expiring. It was a set-up for a marriage metaphor for union with Jesus. Accepting first century marriage patterns of male domination for a minute (I know… not cool, but it was the case then, so bear with me for a minute….) Accepting that, we see that Jesus followers used to be bound to the Law, including its primary effect of exposing people’s shortcomings (4:15), but that hit-man Jesus has effected the death of this marriage to Law. Now we can be married to Jesus and give God the happy children of good and fruitful results in our lives.
- ‘so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit’ – Mixing metaphors quickly from marriage to slavery, we get this take on human dependence. Our lives are always in the service of something or someone, either that which produces captivity and death at its worst, or the Spirit, which leads to new life.
- ‘if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.’ – The big question in this speech that continues through the rest of Chapter 7, is who and when is the “I”? Is this Paul talking in the present? Or Paul back before his connection to Jesus, when he too lived by the law’s guidance? The switch to the past tense here is a good indication that Paul’s taking us back to his law-following days.
- ‘You shall not covet.’ – To illustrate what happens with the law, Paul quotes the tenth commandment, which prohibits the desire of your neighbor’s stuff.
- ‘the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.’ – Those law-following days weren’t all that great, I guess. The law itself might have been a good set-up in every way, but even the most devoted law-follower such as Paul twisted it into something of death. The case study of covetousness doesn’t seem accidental. Zeal for law adherence became its own kind of ladder for status, a way of coveting honor and the approval of God and people. For Paul, twenty years earlier, this zeal had led him to at least indirect involvement in the actual killings of early Jesus followers. This must have been a vivid picture for Paul of how complying with any standards, even those that it seems God has, in order to win the approval of God or others, only yields bad results.We’ll continue with bad religion, Part II tomorrow. But for now Paul says it’s not God’s fault, it’s the thing in us that’s always looking for ways to prove ourselves in comparison to others, so we’ll even use God and religion – maybe especially use God and religion – to divide people and people groups into inferior and superior and keep ourselves on the superior side of our ledgers.
Taking It Home:
For you – Have you experienced religion that is focused on compliance, status, comparison, or honor more than new life in the Spirit? Is that still true in any way for you? Ask Jesus to make any expression of your spiritual life – including reading this Bible guide and your whole 40 Days of Faith – a source of life for you that makes you more generous, not more smug – toward your friends and your world.
For your city/church – Perhaps your city has come to associate Jesus-related religious expression as dead, narrow or enslaving. If so, pray that Jesus will put to death those experiences and associations and give people freedom to taste the Spirit’s life.