Proper 8 · Romans 7:1-13 · June 29, 2008
By Anthony Cook,
In the section of Romans preceding this text (6:12-23), Paul illustrates our relationship with God as both instruments and slaves of righteousness, but in this section, the opening illustration is that of marriage. In the same way that a bride is bound to her husband until death, so too we are under the lordship of the Law until death. In today’s society, where the Biblical understanding of marriage is obfuscated by the convenience of civil law, Paul’s illustration speaks to the modern reader on more than one level. Regardless of this “contemporary static,” Paul’s message is clear: the bride is bound to her husband until their bond is broken by death, and any connection with another man would result in adultery, but once her husband has died, she is free to be united with another. In Paul’s application to our relationship to Christ, however, the decedent includes not only the groom, but also the bride. It is through our death in Christ that our relationship to the Law is broken. The watery death of Baptism breaks the bonds of lordship that the Law once held. Through the connection we have in Baptism with the death and resurrection of our groom Jesus, we become His resurrection bride. “Likewise, my brothers, you also 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…”
The concluding portion of verse 4, “…in order that we may bear fruit for God…” provides a transition to the resulting change in purpose that this new relationship brings. This passage is reminiscent of Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” In both cases, the concepts of walking in “good works” and living a life that “bears fruit” for God are both based on the radical change in relationship and identity that comes through the saving work of Jesus Christ. The sequential importance of salvation in Christ preceding the call to “bear fruit” cannot be understated in the same way that the call itself cannot be overlooked.
Paul now turns his focus to what it means to be Christ’s fruit-bearing bride. No longer will our sinful passion go unchecked resulting in the fruit of death, but instead new fruit will be born and this fruit will be born for God. Because we have been released from the confines of the Law, we are now able to serve in a new way—in the newness of the Spirit and not according to the oldness of the letter of the Law. The concept of kv κοανότητι πνεύματος (in the newness of the Spirit) in comparison to the oldness of the letter of the Law is of interest. The letter/Spirit dichotomy is also found earlier, in Romans 2:19, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” And again in 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 we read: “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Dunn in his commentary on Romans explains:
But those who have identified with Christ in his death have been liberated from the vicious spiral of sin, works, death to serve in “newness of Spirit.” The reference is probably to the (Holy) Spirit as the mark of the new epoch and distinguishing feature of those who belong to it…the motivation and direction comes immediately from the Spirit within, that is, the obedience from the heart (6:17), the discernment of the renewed mind (12:2).¹
In the concluding portion of this pericope (7:7-13), Paul wants the reader to know that we are set free from the Law not because the Law was a sinful spouse, from whom we needed rescue, but because we were unable to fulfill our relationship to the Law because of our sin. The Law, like a mirror, reflected back to us the sinful image that made it impossible for our relationship with the Law to be fulfilled. I am reminded of the devil’s promise to Adam and Eve, that if they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, their eyes would be opened and they would know the difference between good and evil. The irony was that once their eyes were opened, the evil that they saw was themselves. It was not God or the tree that was to blame, it was Adam and his bride. Paul reminds us that the Law was meant for life, but that sin used what was good to deceive us and ultimately brought death. This creates an interesting chiasm of “life to death to death to life” in which those who were once alive become spiritually dead through sin, but, through a baptismal union to the death of Christ, receive new life through His resurrection. Chiasms aside, Paul’s point is that the Law is good, but sin is evil and that those who hear and understand his message of liberation from the Law through Jesus should not mistake the Law that is good for the sin that misused what God had given for the good of His people.
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. (Rev 19:6-8 ESV)
Introduction: The image of a bride is one of beauty and purity, that is, unless you have cable TV. The image of the bride presented on reality shows like Bridezillas is something other than pure. One of the show’s recent tag lines proclaimed, “They’re madder, they’re badder, they’re back!” Well, in our text for today, we discover that before we became the bride of Christ as described in the Book of Revelation, we looked more like the bride of Frankenstein popularized on reality TV. In our message for today, we will explore what it means to be a bride who “bears fruit for God” as we explore our second portrait of faith: the fruit-bearing bride.
I. Free from the Law (1-3)
A. Freed through Death
B. Freed to Marry Another
II. New in the Spirit (4-6)
A. To bear fruit for God
B. To serve in a new way
III. Alive in the Lord (7-13)
A. Saved from Sin
B. Saved from Death
C. Saved by Christ
Conclusion: Because Jesus, our groom, gave His life, we are given new life as His bride. We are freed from our relationship to the Law that, because of our sin, resulted in death, and instead we receive a new life in the Spirit. No longer does the sin within our members bear fruit for death, but through our new life in Christ, it is now possible to bear fruit for God. We have been clothed with fine linen, bright and pure. We have been saved from sin and death. We have been saved by Christ, our groom, and through His grace, we have become his fruit-bearing bride.
¹ James D. G. Dunn. Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 38a. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1988), 373.