Dead To The Law

As we move on now to Romans 7, we see Paul speaking to his Jewish brethren at the congregation in Rome. The chapter begins, saying: “Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the Torah), that the Torah has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives?” (Romans 7:1). Paul refers to the Torah and specifically calls the attention of the Jews in the assembly at Rome. They are still under the jurisdiction of the Torah, but not for justification, as we explained earlier. In verses 2-4, Paul goes on to say:

For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is still living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning her husband. So then if, while her husband is living, she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress, though she is joined to another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Torah through the body of Messiah, 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.

What does it mean to die to the Torah? Some have attempted to explain Paul’s comparison here by saying that believers are no longer obligated to obey the commandments of God. Is this true, or is Paul saying something else?

First, we must understand that this passage is not isolated, but is a continuation of Paul’s message in chapter 6, which we are going to examine more closely so that we can understand chapter 7. He had been explaining that we who have believed in Yeshua have become one with Him in His crucifixion. How? He says in verses 6-7, “our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” When we believe in Yeshua and accept His sacrifice on our behalf, it is as if our old self has died. 

As a result of this death, we are now able to rise to new life in Him, no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to righteousness. He charges his readers, “present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (verses 13-14). This verse is used by many to say that the Torah is no longer valid. When considered along with the rest of the passage, however, we see that this is far from the truth. So what does it mean to be under grace as opposed to under law? And how does not being under law allow us to present ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness? 

To answer this question, we must relate it to the passage it is contained within. Paul tells us that we have died with Messiah, and therefore sin no longer has power over us, “for he who has died is free from sin” (verse 7). How is it that we are free from sin? If we were truly free from sin, then we would never need to repent or change, because we would already be perfect. Aside from our own personal experiences, Scripture also testifies that even after our acceptance of Yeshua, we will still sin (James 3:2, 1 John 1:8). Therefore, being free from sin more accurately means we are free from the power of sin. The power of sin lies in the fact that all of mankind has sinned and is deserving of eternal death. Therefore, being free from sin means being free from the eternal wages of our sins (Romans 6:23). 

The phrase “under law” does not mean living in obedience to the Torah, but rather it means being under the power of sin, under the weight of our punishment which we have earned by disobeying God’s Torah. Because we are unable to perfectly walk in the ways of the Torah, we are held under the power of sin, for, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Torah” (1 Corinthians 15:56). Those who are under law are those who are still bound to their own debt of sin. How can we be so confident that “under law” does not equate to obedience to the law? Well, let’s look at the verse which directly follows this phrase: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!” (Romans 6:14). Since sin is transgression of the Torah, we can be sure that Paul is not advocating forsaking the Torah. This point is further proved in verse 19, where Paul ties the old man who died with Messiah to transgression of the Torah: “For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to Torah-lessness, resulting in further Torah-lessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.” 

Because we are not bound by the power of sin and the wages of our transgressions as defined by the Torah, we are free to live under grace. This means that we are covered with the blood of the Lamb, and so we can be confident that our sins are forgiven when we come to the cross in repentance. This grace is given not so that we may further transgress the Torah, but so that we may live in the full resurrection power that is within us in order to walk more closely with God through the obedience of His commands, devoting our bodies as instruments of righteousness.

In order to more clearly explain this, Paul continues into chapter 7, comparing a believer to a married woman. According to the Torah, if a woman’s husband dies, then she may marry another man without being considered an adulteress. Therefore she is free from the punishment which the Torah prescribes for one who is an adulteress, which is stoning to death (Leviticus 20:10, Deuteronomy 22:21, John 8:1-5). Likewise, while we were sinners giving in to our evil inclinations, we were “married” to the punishment of our sin as a result of our disobedience to the Torah. But because of the death and resurrection of Yeshua, we are now considered dead to our sinful nature. Since we are dead, we are no longer bound to the punishment of our sin according to the Torah, which is death (Deuteronomy 30:19). We are now set free from slavery to sin and are free to join ourselves to another husband, who is Yeshua, our Bridegroom (John 3:29; 2 Corinthians 11:2). He bore the punishment for our transgressions on the cross so that we would be free to serve Him without fear of punishment. We were previously slaves to sin, but now we are slaves to righteousness.

Paul is not saying that the Torah has died or that it becomes obsolete because of Yeshua, but rather the penalty of eternal separation from God, which we have earned through disobeying God, has been paid on account of Yeshua’s death on the cross. When we put our faith in Him, it is as if we ourselves have died, and indeed our old self has been buried with Him in order that we might walk in God’s ways. He did not come to rescue us from serving Him, but to “rescue us from this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4) so that we may serve Him. It is this same point that Paul is making in Galatians 2

For through the Torah I died to the Torah, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Messiah; and it is no longer I who live, but Messiah lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:19-20)

Having put his evil inclination to death and dying to sin, the believer is now able to perform God’s will in keeping his commandments and to serve God in the newness of life (Romans 6:4).

On the one hand, you may choose to serve your own sinful desires; on the other hand you may serve God. If one chooses the latter, then he must die to sin and become alive to God (Romans 6:11, 1 Peter 2:24). Torah observance on its own does not free a person from his evil inclinations; in fact, it brings knowledge of the evil desires within him. Instead, he must first die to his evil inclinations, and then he will be free to obey the Torah in faith, obeying God. Yeshua Himself uses a similar analogy in Matthew 6:24 to illustrate that it cannot be both ways: you are either serving God or are in slavery to the flesh. Paul is going back to his argument in Romans 3:19-20, that through the Torah comes the knowledge of sin. When we see that our behavior does not line up with the righteous standard God has given us, we realize just how sinful we are. Not only that, but the punishment for sin in the Torah is death (Deuteronomy 11:26-28, 30:19). 

In Romans 7:4, Paul explains what this means for us in a practical sense: “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Torah through the body of Messiah, 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.” A person may only “live to God” by dying to the Torah through the Torah. This death takes place so that we may “bear fruit for God,” which is our good deeds which we do in the fullness of the Spirit (Luke 3:8, John 15:1-10, Galatians 5:22-23). Righteousness and salvation are the fruit which God gives to His children who have the inheritance of eternal life (Proverbs 11:30, Isaiah 3:10, 58:6-8). The fruit (rewards) of sinful deeds is death and destruction, whereas the righteous inherit eternal life. A person must be free to serve one master, either to serve his own flesh unto death or to serve the Creator unto eternal life. We crucify the flesh so that our death leads to the inheritance of eternal life by walking according to the Spirit of Truth (Romans 6:4-5). 

The Qumran community describes man’s total dependence on God’s grace as the only way to be justified: 

And I know that righteousness is not of man, nor of the sons of men perfection of way, to the Most High God belongs all the work of righteousness, whereas the way of man is not firm unless it be by the Spirit which God has created for him to make perfect a way for the sons of men… for it is thou who hast established them from before eternity and the work[…] they shall recount Thy glory in all thy dominion. For thou hast caused them to see what they had known {by bringing to an end} former [things] and by creating things that are new, by setting aside the former covenants and by {setting up that which shall remain for ever}… and thou hast cleansed man of sin because of thy glory that he may be made holy for thee from all unclean abomination and from (every) transgression of unfaithfulness… that this vermin that is man may be raised from the dust to [Thy] secret {of truth} and from the spirit of perversity to [thine] understanding… That he may be renewed with all [that is] [and] shall be and with them that know, in a common rejoicing.

In Romans 7:6, Paul goes on to explain that release from the Torah corresponds to dying to sin:

But now we have been released from the Torah, 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.

The newness of the Spirit is here placed in opposition with the oldness of the letter. This bears similar language to passages such as 2 Corinthians 3:3-6. A cursory reading of these verses might cause one to assume that the letter is the Torah itself. This does not make sense, however, especially considering Paul’s own words in Romans 7:14: “For we know that the Torah is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” So the difference is not the Torah, but the place on which it was written. In the old covenant, the Torah had been written on tablets of stone and only pointed out man’s sin, but provided no way to overcome this (Exodus 32:16, 1 Corinthians 15:56). With the dawn of the new covenant, the Torah can now be written on our hearts (Ezekiel 36:26-27): not a different Torah, but the same Torah which has always existed, for in it is expressed the very character of God (Psalm 119:1-3, Isaiah 51:4). Since we have been released from the sinful nature, we can begin to obey God in the way which He has always desired (Deuteronomy 32:46, Psalm 37:30-31, Jeremiah 31:31-33). 

Dying to the Torah means dying to sin and the punishment which the Torah describes is necessary because of it. Paul uses many types of substitutionary words like “circumcision” for Jews and “uncircumcision” for Gentiles, and he is doing something similar here with the phrase “dying to the Torah.” He knows what these terms mean, and the people he was writing the epistles to knew what they meant. As people failed to recognize Paul’s background and the fact that he never gave up his Jewishness, it naturally follows that his theology has been misunderstood as well. It is not that Paul is ever saying that the Torah should not be kept, for he continues in verse 7

What shall we say then? Is the Torah sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Torah; for I would not have known about coveting if the Torah had not said “You shall not covet.” 

Paul knows that the Torah is good because it has shown us what sin is, it is in fact the opposite of sin. It reveals to us how we could be if we were the way God would have us: pure and holy, free from sin. When we see this righteous standard God wishes us to live by, we are reminded of our human weakness. Is the fault, then, with God for showing us His ways? Or is the problem with the Torah because it reveals God’s will? Of course not. A by-product of our knowledge of the right ways established in the Torah is the temptation to disobey, to rebel, to follow our own desires and the temptations of the enemy: “For apart from the Torah, sin is dead” (verse 8). If God had not given the Torah or revealed His will for mankind, then there would be no such thing as sin, since there would be no righteous standard to compare our behavior to. Since we do know God’s standard, however, we must join ourselves with Yeshua in His death in order to defeat sin in our lives.

Paul continues to entertain this thought in verse 9, where he begins to speak of himself in a simpler time: “I was once alive apart from the Torah; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died.” When was Paul alive apart from the Torah? For he had been raised in a Pharisaic household, learning the customs of his fathers from an early age. He is speaking of his youth, before he reached the age of responsibility. According to Jewish tradition, until a child reaches his Bar Mitzvah, he is not obligated to keep the full responsibilities of the covenant, because he is still a child. Once Paul reached this age of responsibility, the Torah came along and revealed to him his evil inclinations:

And this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. (verses 10-11)

Paul was able to so beautifully form the analogy comparing a woman and her husband to a person’s relationship with sin before coming to faith because he knew exactly how it felt. He, too, had found that his sinful nature had warranted him a death sentence because of the Torah. Paul is speaking like one who has been deceived by a friend—a friend who now becomes an enemy attempting to kill him. It is reminiscent of the serpent deceiving eve in Genesis 3:13

He recognizes that the enemy is not the Torah, however: 

So then, the Torah is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful. (verses 12-13)

Paul is emphatic in explaining that the fault is not with the Torah, but that it is in fact the sinful nature within him that brought death. The Torah does not cause us to sin, but it requires perfection, which following our flesh does not allow us to reach. Sin becomes revealed for what it truly is when compared with the perfect Torah. 

When a person chooses to serve the God of Creation, the giver of the Torah, then he must die to himself. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:24, “Now those who belong to Messiah Yeshua have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Death is painful, and yet once we have died, we are free. Messiah came so that we may be free—free from the Torah? May it never be! Free from the sin that had us in bondage? Yes! We were slaves to sin (Romans 6), which is equated with leaven (1 Corinthians 5:6). We were members of the kingdom of darkness, or this world (2 Peter 2:19), which is equated with Egypt. And so we too as believers have our own Exodus and our own Passover, as Yeshua has taken us out of the kingdom of darkness into His Kingdom of Light (Colossians 1:13-14).

So what have we learned so far? Paul has been teaching about the relationship between a person and sin. When we come to belief in Yeshua, we become one with Him in His death. This metaphorical death frees us from the power of the sinful nature, which is death itself. Sin derives this power from the fact that we as fallen mankind are unable to perfectly adhere to the demands of the Torah. Therefore, since we are no longer under the power of sin, we are also no longer under the condemnation which the Torah dictates for one who violates it. Now, this does not mean that the Torah is no longer the righteous standard which God has given us to live by. On the contrary, now that Yeshua has set us free from the power of our sinful nature, we have been invigorated by the Holy Spirit and the circumcision of our hearts so that we are able to draw ever-nearer in relationship with God by keeping His commandments (John 14:15).

In Romans 7:14 Paul continues his discourse, going more in depth on the spiritual and physical battle that takes place within man. In verse 15 he says, “That which I am doing, I do not understand….” Here once again Paul speaks of having to choose between serving two masters. He finds himself doing that which he does not wish to do, and so he is in need of God’s grace.

The Qumran scrolls speak of God’s gift of wisdom, His sophia in Greek, as the source of man’s justification. In God’s grace, He gives man knowledge of His truths, His mysteries, by which the “sons of light” may walk according to the Spirit of holiness so that they may do what is right and good: 

All the judgments of chastisement are in Thy wrath and abundance of pardon in Thy goodness. And Thy mercy is obtained by all the sons of thy lovingkindness, for Thou has made known to them Thy secrets of truth and given them understanding of all thy marvelous Mysteries. (Qumran scrolls)

The Qumran community believed that God had given man the knowledge of how to walk according to the Spirit of holiness, truths which they called His “mysteries.” This Spirit of holiness which was revealed to them in part is what we know to be the Spirit of Yeshua, the Righteousness of God.

Paul goes on to describe his struggle between the two ways: the way of righteousness and the way of sin. Paul knows that the Torah is right and good. He also knows that his own will is powerless against his sinful nature, and that it cannot be overcome simply by observing the Torah. One can not put down his evil inclinations by sheer brute power of will. He may be able to overcome individual temptations or desires at particular times, but he is unable to change who he is on the inside. The flesh does not want to give up its rule. It is only through becoming dead to self that these desires can be overcome.

“For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Yeshua the Messiah, abound to the many” (Romans 5:15). Paul knows that he is totally dependent on God’s grace in Yeshua to cleanse his whole being through the Spirit of holiness. He expands on this thought in Titus 3:5-7

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Yeshua, the Messiah our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

In Romans 7:17-20, Paul says that it is no longer him doing the sinning, but the sin that dwells within him. He knew that nothing good dwelt in him, that is, in his flesh. Even though he wished he could do good, he did not do the good things he wished. In Second Temple Jewish thought, the word “flesh” was a specific term which was used to mean the part of a person which motivates him to do evil. This flesh was set in direct opposition to what was called the spirit. The spirit then was the part of man which was naturally inclined to obey God’s commandments. Therefore when Paul says that nothing good dwells in his flesh, he was not maligning God’s creation and claiming that matter itself was evil, nor was he attempting to excuse his behavior by saying it wasn’t really him who was sinning, but rather that sin itself was sinning through him. His point was that the evil part of him, symbolized by his flesh, is the wellspring of sin in his life. This idea of two natures within man was prevalent within both Qumran and the mainstream Judaism of the day, and the idea is also carried into the New Testament. Because of this inherent part of our nature, mankind becomes dependent on God for grace and forgiveness when we stray from His ways, but even more than that, we must long for Him to change us so that we will no longer sin (Psalm 119:33-40). Another way to understand the flesh is that it represents mankind outside of God’s grace. Our sinful nature is directly opposed to God, synonymous with sin, and thus spirit is the opposite of this sin/flesh. Since walking in the flesh means walking in sin, then walking in the spirit is done through obedience, which itself is only truly doable on account of God’s grace and mercy in our lives. 

Starting in verse 18 Paul talks about the battle between the “Spirit” and the “flesh.” Within us, we have the evil desires of the flesh, and these desires are at war with our desire to do good. If we desire to do good but continue to do evil, this is the flesh still having mastery over us. 

In verse 21 Paul says, “I find this law at work.” The Greek word for “law” is nomos, and Paul usually uses this word to refer to the Torah, although the word itself is not only used to refer to the Torah. Here in this phrase, his use implies a different meaning, one of a rule or principle. This rule, or law, is the root of our struggle with sin: “when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” Paul’s struggle, like ours, is with the fallen, sinful nature of man. This is something that is within each one of us from the time we are born. Even a young child has within him from an early age this same struggle. He wants to do what is right, but something within him pulls at him, begging him to go the other way. Paul has found that this fact is like a law, something which cannot be argued against, but is simply the way it is. Although he wishes the sinful nature was gone, it seems to be a rule that these desires are not so easily quenched.

In verse 22, Paul says that in his inner being he delights in God’s Torah. He is showing us the conflict within. He knows that through the righteousness of Yeshua we have been renewed (2 Corinthians 4:16, Ephesians 3:16, 4:24). When we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Yeshua through death to the sinful nature and rebirth through the Holy Spirit, we receive this righteousness, which gives us the power to walk according to God’s righteous standard. Just like the Psalmist, Paul has found delight in the Torah in his innermost being, his soul (Psalm 1:1-2; 119:16, 77, 174). The inner man has been renewed in righteousness, and therefore it longs to obey God and to do His will.  

Humans are not purely spiritual, however, for we also have physical desires which are contrary to those of the spirit. Paul continues with the illustration of this secondary law, that of the sinful nature, to show the conflict that goes on in the life of the believer: “But I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members,” (verse 23). 

So this “other law,” the “law of sin,” is the very existence of these evil desires that rage within us and pit us against obeying God. When we give in to those desires, we are taken captive by them (2 Corinthians 10:5). So strong is Paul’s desire to obey, yet the flesh reacts, pulling him the opposite direction. We can feel the conflict and the pain he is feeling at this: “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). Paul is acknowledging his miserable state, realizing that he cannot free himself, but is in desperate need of a Savior. It is a harrowing predicament Paul has found himself in, and he is not alone in it, for we all are in the same desperate position.

Only God can save through the power of Yeshua the Messiah! It is only through His atoning work that we can have the victory over the sinful nature. After describing the miserable state of man, Paul lifts us back up again by telling us how our place in the body of Yeshua changes all of that: “Thanks be to God through Yeshua the Messiah our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin” (verse 25). Paul says that in our “mind” or our will, we desire to obey God’s Torah, but in the “sinful nature” or our flesh, we are slaves. But thanks be to God that He has given us His Son to pay the penalty for our sin and set us free from the power of our sinful nature! This redeemed state is further explained in chapter 8.

What have we seen so far in regard to the law of sin? The law of sin is not the Torah of God, but is the fact, the law/rule, that we were previously slaves to sin. This law lies in opposition to the Torah, and it was this law which we were submitting ourselves to before we came to put our faith in Yeshua. There is an inner conflict within us, where we desire to obey God, and yet our sinful nature must be continually put to death so we may become slaves of righteousness. 



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