Romans (Part 22) – The Marriage Illustration
We have covered a lot of ground since last we listed our outline, so let’s take a look:
Section 1: Introduction (1:1–17)
Section 2: God’s Righteousness (1:18–5:21)
Part A: In COE: Judging TGB (1:18–2:16)
Part B: In CCP: Justification Not by Law (2:17–3:20)
Part C: In CCP: Justification by Faith (3:21–5:4)
Part D: In CCP: Redemption Accomplished (5:5–21)
Section 3: Messiah’s Renewal of Life (6:1–8:39)
Part A: Life Opposing Death (6:1–23)
Part B: Christ Compared to Moses (7:1–8:11)
(Note: Abbreviations in the outline include TGB for God’s Essence of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty; COE for God’s Covenant of Operational Essence (meaning, in his persons, God always operates according to his one TGB essence); and CCP for God’s Covenant of Creative Purpose (meaning, God purposed to create for everlasting love relationship with his image bearers.)
We ended last time with comparing the covenant paths of Moses and Christ, concluding that Romans 6 presented the baptism into Christ’s death providing escape from the slavery of sin (compared to the baptism through the Red Sea providing escape from the slavery of Egypt), Romans 8 (when we get there) will show the Christian led in this life by the Holy Spirit (as compared to the nation of Israel led through the desert by the cloudy pillar of God), and Romans 7, therefore, sandwiched between the baptism and the HS leading, presents the change brought by the covenants (New Covenant for the Christian compared to the Sinai Covenant for the Israelites).
Paul is bringing in these comparisons to clarify that the covenant the Jews experienced with God through Moses, although linked by image to the New Covenant in Christ, is not actually the New Covenant establishing everlasting love relationship. That point has fueled much of his discussion from chapter 2 on.
I am stressing this understanding now because I believe so many people misunderstand the perspective of Romans 7. To the seasoned Christians of the 21st century, having just read about the baptism into Christ’s death with the glorious truth of the end of Romans 6 emphasizing the gift of eternal life, it is quite easy and even logical to move on thinking Paul, in Romans 7, is now talking about a saved individual in the mind-and-heart struggles portrayed. But if we slow down to think as someone who may be new to these concepts—who still may be wondering about the Mosaic covenant, which has controlled his or her life and heritage for years and years, we may begin to see why Paul isn’t hurrying along, dropping this subject to step into full explanation of the New Covenant.
For example, if you hear from family, friends, neighbors, stock brokers, financial geniuses, noted economists—everybody—that a certain stock is absolutely the right investment. And then I come along and say, “Wait, no! You don’t want to invest in that.” Would you simply say okay and leave it there? Probably the first thing in your mind and out your mouth would be, “Why not?” You would want a reason I’m suggesting something different from what everybody else I know tells you. So, imagine the Jew (or even the Christian Gentile having interacted now with the Jews in the church for years), having all his or her family, friends, neighbors, scholars, religious leaders—everybody of his or her heritage—saying that the covenant with Moses declares God’s forever union with your ethnic people, and Paul comes along and says, “Wait, no! The Mosaic covenant does not intend everlasting relationship,” wouldn’t the first thing in your mind and out your mouth be, “Why not? Give me a reason.”
And, yes, Paul has been giving hints along the way about that reason (starting with the end of chapter 2), but purpose for the Mosaic covenant and purpose for the people of Israel would still not be clear in their minds, as it is still not clear to many Christians today, causing all sorts of wild theories. Whole eschatological systems have been introduced to try to give separation and purpose to a continuing covenant relationship with Israel as a group defined by physical ethnicity.
So first, we are going to pause to think about the purpose for Israel so that we can then understand more specifically the purpose for the Mosaic covenant to form a basis upon which Paul can build his comparison of difference in Romans 7.
I am going to present the purpose of Israel in language that would be familiar to a 1990s’ corporate director. It was in the 1990s that the business world fell in love with the terms vision, mission, and objectives. A vision is the notion for the business in the first place—the idea to pursue. The mission is a statement about how the business will pursue that vision. And then objectives are those goals which, upon realizing, will accomplish the mission. It is merely an organization of purpose and how to pursue that purpose.
God, we can say, has a vision, mission, and objectives. It was Israel’s purpose to reveal to the world God’s vision, mission, and objectives. We, of course, understand the only way to know God’s vision, mission, and objectives is for him to reveal them. And he provides that revelation so we can have relationship with him. But God decided to use Israel (and the whole covenant system) to explain to a sin-cursed, estranged world his own vision, mission, and objectives.
God’s vision is, of course, everlasting love relationship. We have stated this countless times. It was the purpose for creation, and now, in the face of fallen image bearers, it is the purpose (vision) for reconciliation. God wants everlasting love relationship with his image bearers. So, then, how will he realize this vision? What will he do? What is his mission to realize this vision? Again, the answer is logically simple: to have everlasting love relationship with this sinful humankind, he must somehow redeem them. So, his mission is to redeem dead (separated) creation. All of this is what Israel as a nation was supposed to reveal to the world—to picture or image for the world. How would that mission be accomplished? In other words, what are the objectives to realize the redemption of dead creation? I can think of four clear objectives that Israel was supposed to reveal to the world. The first is that God wants relationship. Obviously, the world needs to know that—that God is interested in having relationship with them. Second is that faith is the basis for relationship. Third is that God will not have relationship with sin (in other words, he must remain true to his operational essence of TGB). And finally, fourth is that God’s (and Israel’s) Son would be the Messiah Redeemer. (That fourth objective gives rise to more than just revelation because that Son will also literally be born of Israel.)
Now when we think back to Paul’s discussion so far through the book of Romans, we can see that in his argument against the Jews and their own incorrect and contrived purpose for God’s covenant with them, he has really covered all four of these objectives. Back in chapter 1, Paul made it clear that all humankind was in sin, but they were not all destroyed. God revealed his eternal power and divine nature for purpose of relationship. So in chapter 2–3a, Paul refutes the Jews’ idea that the Sinai covenant marked them already for relationship by showing faith as the basis for relationship. Atonement still had to be made, Paul shows in chapters 3b–5, because God will not have relationship with sin. When the Jews wonder whether atonement plus their covenant markings seal relationship, Paul utters a definite no once again. It is death to the former and new life in Christ that brings relationship. And that new life comes through God’s Messiah Redeemer Jesus. The conclusion is that the Sinai Covenant was not the covenant of relationship. Rather it is the New Covenant that brings about relationship.
Those four objectives for Israel to reveal God’s mission actually go along with the four major covenants of the OT.
1. Israel is to reveal that God wants relationship—the Noahic Covenant. God promises not to destroy based on his plans to redeem. (Of course, one could very well argue that Noah was not part of Israel, but the attachment is still certainly there. Noah was the “father” mentioned by Stephen in Acts 7:4—the father whose death signaled Abram’s movement from Haran to the Promised Land. And the point of the link was to link that covenant with Abram’s covenant of world inheritance. Thus, through the Noahic covenant, Israel showed God’s desire for relationship in Abrahamic Covenant fulfillment of the Noahic Covenant.)
2. Israel is to reveal that faith is the basis for relationship—the Abrahamic Covenant. Paul insisted on this point in Romans 4.
3. Israel is to reveal that God will not have relationship with sin—the Mosaic Covenant. This point was part of Paul’s discussion in Romans 2, but it comes out clearer in Romans 7 (which we will begin discussing soon).
4. Israel is to reveal that God’s Son (and Israel’s son) will be the Messiah Redeemer—the Davidic Covenant. Paul tied the Christ (Messiah) to the Law’s and Prophets’ attestation in Romans 3.
So, then, we may realize the purpose for the Mosaic Covenant and the Law (it’s covenant sign) to be a revelation NOT as the Jews had thought of relationship but rather as a revelation of God’s objective of not having embracing sin (or more particularly, those who based their relationships on sin). The point of the Law and of the whole sacrificial system was meant to show that, yes, indeed, humans sinned and could not stop from sinning because their whole outlook (based on the replacement of self for God and the fallen condition of their essence [physical being] to be self-focused) was to seek satisfaction in self. But for relationship with God to work, the Law showed that sin had to be dealt with—the exact requirement for the Messiah Redeemer that God would send through Israel as well.
Now let’s move into Romans 7 to see how Paul brings all this to focus. We must remember that he is not starting a new discussion. We move to Romans 7 from the previous discussion through chapters 5 and 6. In 5:20, Paul had said that where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more. That statement brought up the question of 6:1—will we remain in the status of sin (implied so that grace may multiply even more). But Paul answers no; our status has changed we have died to sin, and thus we are no longer under the Law (6:14). But if not under the Law, will we not continue to sin without anything impeding our own faulty choices (6:15)? Again, Paul answers no; in our new status, we follow God’s essence. Again, Paul insists we have died to the Law. And that death to sin (an emphasis throughout Romans 6) leads to Paul’s thought at the beginning of Romans 7—Law has authority over only those living under it.
Paul begins in verse 1 by calling them “brothers.” I don’t think he means simply the Jews. He is wanting them all to think along with him. Remember the state of the church in Rome. It was started by Gentiles because Claudius had kicked all the Jews out of Rome. When Claudius died, Jews returned, and those saved and being saved were brought into the church. We also learn from Acts and Paul’s other writings that a big problem with the new Jewish Christians was that they were trying to force into Christianity those same concepts under which they lived before as simply Jews. After all, Christianity was not supposed to be a new religion; it was a continuation of God’s plan that he had worked and revealed through the Jews. So many Jews (misunderstanding the reason for the application of Law) were trying to force the Gentiles in the church to live under Jewish Law. And quite possibly, the Gentiles, understanding that Christianity had come from the Jews, were accepting the argument to live like Jews. So Paul calls on all of them to think with him about their shared Christianity.
Law their significant focus, so Paul uses that knowledge to knock down their arguments. He begins by saying, “Okay, so you are experts in Law, right? Who is subject to the Law—people who live under it or people who have died?” Well, the obvious answer is those who are alive and living under it are subject to it. Paul then drives the point home with an illustration of the marriage relationship.
This analogy that Paul proposes may confuse us if we do not take care to keep the purpose and characters straight. There is a law that governs marriage. Two people, as wife and husband, must obey the law because they live in the marriage relationship. But if one dies, the other is free to marry again. That seems simple enough. But the confusion may come as we try to relate this analogy to the subject at hand. Paul seems to treat his audience as the first husband. In the story, when that husband died, the wife was free to remarry. But in Paul’s explanation, when we (the husband) die, we (the dead husband) are allowed to remarry. Who is the wife? Is it the Law that we died to? Shouldn’t the Law (to follow the analogy) be free to marry another?
We are taking the illustration too far. Yes, we are the husband. But we are not married to the Law. We live under the Law because we are married to sin. Now, Paul’s point in the analogy is that when death occurs, it dissolves the marriage. A death (a separation) has occurred so that there is no more marriage, and therefore the Law concerning marriage is no longer in effect. Just so, when we are married to sin, we operate under the Law imposing itself on a union of sin. But when a death occurs, the union with sin is ended—dissolved. We no longer are under a Law with regard to that union with sin. The point then is that freed from that Law due to a death occurring, we may marry another (Christ). In other words, the point of the analogy is not to see who may marry whom. The point is that death frees the parties from the Law that had governed the old relationship.