Paul, Part 4: Dead to the Law
We, as believers in Yeshua (Jesus), have died to the Torah (Law, God's commandments). This is the way Paul describes us as well as all of those who accept the sacrifice of Yeshua on their behalf. What has been a subject of confusion, however, is what exactly this means and what it looks like to effectively live our lives as dead to the Torah. In this brochure, we will examine the context surrounding Paul's use of this phrase to get a good idea what it means and what its implications are for believers.
In Romans 7, we see Paul speaking to his 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). He goes on to create a parallel between a married woman and a believer in Yeshua. If the woman's husband dies, she is free to marry another man without being considered an adulteress, and therefore she is not required to bear the punishment which the Torah describes for one who commits adultery, which is death (Leviticus 20:10, Deuteronomy 22:21, John 8:1-5). He then goes on to say, "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" (Romans 7:4). Traditionally, this and the following verses are used to claim that the Torah is no longer binding upon a believer. We must examine this passage within its context to find out what Paul is actually saying. In chapter 6, Paul tells us that we have been crucified with Yeshua (Jesus) and have become one with Him in His death (verses 3-7). This took place so that "we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin." 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). 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?
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. 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 under 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 our old self which died with Messiah to transgression of the Torah: "For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, 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.
In order to more clearly explain this, Paul continues into chapter 7 with his illustration of a married woman. With our explanation of the preceding verses in mind, the meaning of this passage now comes into clear focus. While we were sinners giving in to our sinful nature, we were "married" to the punishment of our sin according 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, which according to the Torah is death (Deuteronomy 30:19, Romans 6:23). We are now set free from our past marriage to sin and are free to join ourselves to another husband, who is Yeshua, our Bridegroom (John 3:9, 2 Corinthians 11:2). He bore the punishment for our transgressions on the cross (Galatians 3:13) 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. Note that Paul is not saying that the Torah has died or that it becomes obsolete because of Yeshua, but rather its penalty of eternal separation from God no longer applies to us because of our reliance on Yeshua's righteousness to achieve our justification. We are the ones who die, not the Torah. Yeshua 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 wholeheartedly.
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 Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ 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" (verses 19-20). Yeshua lived out the commandments of God without fault. The more we allow Him to live through us, the more like Him we will be. He is the very Word made flesh. The Torah is perfect, and so as we draw nearer to God, becoming more like Yeshua, we will be living in line with God's commandments (Romans 6:4, 7:12, James 1:25).
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 if the Torah is spiritual, then what is the difference between serving in newness of the Spirit versus in oldness of letter? The difference is not the Torah, but the place on which it is written. As we see in 2 Corinthians 3:6, this is talking about the difference between the old and the new covenant. In the old covenant, the Torah had been written on tablets of stone and only pointed out man's sinfulness, but provided no way to overcome this (Exodus 32:16, 1 Corinthians 15:56). Man could see in that he did not live up to the standard of the Torah, but he could not free himself from his own sinful nature. With the dawn of the new covenant, the Torah can now be written on our hearts (Ezekiel 36:26-27). It is 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). Paul tells us that "the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:7-8). When we give our lives to God and trust in Yeshua for the forgiveness of our sins, He will begin to do His work in our hearts as we draw near to Him in love and repentance. It is only through the power of the Spirit that we can hope to live the way God desires for us, which He has revealed to us through His Torah.
What have we learned from Paul about being under the Law? In the passages which we have examined, he is explaining the relationship between a person and sin. When we come to belief in Yeshua, we become one with Him in His death. This death frees us from the power of the sinful nature, which is death. Sin derives this power from the fact that we as fallen mankind are unable to perfectly adhere in obedience to the righteous 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). He does not change, and neither does His righteous standard. Torah-observance alone does not free a person from the sinful nature; that was never its purpose. First we must die to the sinful nature through the righteousness of the Messiah Yeshua. Only then are we free from the penalty of sin and can experience regeneration so that we may obey God's Torah in faith. As long as we are bound by the evil inclination, it is impossible for us to please God. In short, being dead to the Torah means that in the eyes of the Torah, it is as if we have died with Yeshua and already paid the penalty for our sin. Since this is the case, let us always strive to continue putting to death the sinful nature as we daily await our glorification.