Sin, law, grace, … and marriage??
I love the fact that twice in chapter 6 of Romans, the ‘logical’ conclusion of what Paul says is “let’s keep sinning because of grace”. To me that shows good grace based teaching. Of course the conclusion is wrong (hence the inverted commas around ‘logical’). However when grace is preached properly and in its full glory, the conclusion seems to be just that: “Are we to sin because we are under grace?” Paul spends the rest of today’s passage explaining why that is exactly the wrong conclusion.
Yesterday we saw how we have died with Christ and are therefore free of sin. Today Paul points out the difference between being slaves to sin and slaves to God. (The term “slave to God” [or to righteousness], Paul only uses to help us understand the difference between the two. “I am speaking to you in human terms, because of your natural limitations.” – verse 18. This is because we are behaving like slaves to righteousness [a good thing] by letting the Holy Spirit lead us to holiness.) Verse 23 nicely summarises it: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It is a very black and white choice: sin and die, or Christ and live. It becomes very obvious that ‘keep on sinning’ is not an option. However if you try to give up sinning without grace, your only option is the law, and Paul illustrates in the next bit of the passage what the law is like.
I suspect Romans 7:1-3 is the passage that is used out of context more than almost any other part of the bible, because this passage is not about marriage. Paul is talking for several chapters about law and grace, then writes three lines about marriage, then continues with law and grace. That doesn’t make sense to me. The only logical explanation would be that those three verses are also about law and grace. Let me paraphrase what Paul is saying in chapter 7:1-6.
Imagine you are a woman (yes, even if you are a man), and you are married to Mr Law. Now, Mr Law is perfect, he is always right, never does anything wrong, and expects the same from everyone else. A typical dinner time would go something like this. Housework and cooking is not your strong side, but your husband insists you stay at home and do it anyway (and he is always right). You have worked hard to get the house and the dinner ready for your husband. You know he will walk in at 5:30 pm exactly, as he always does that. However you have tried a little harder than normal to get the house perfect (even though he will always find the bits you missed), and because of that you have had to rush the meal. It is 5:30 and your husband walks in.
“Woman, why are my slippers not at the door, and where is my newspaper!” Oops, forgot about that, been trying too hard with cleaning and cooking. You quickly fetch his slippers and newspaper, and burn the meal a little in the process. “Why is the meal not yet on the table? And why is there still dust on the hands of the clock on the mantelpiece?… This food is burned, and if you had read the recipe you’d know that you should have used 5 grams of salt, not 6 grams!” You get the picture, not only are you miserable, you want to do things wrong just to annoy him (see Romans 5:20). You want to get out of the marriage, but divorce is not an option, so your only chance is to outlive him; however Mr Law never dies. Then one day something wonderful happens: You die! (You are crucified, died, and buried with Christ.)
When you wake up again (you are raised with Christ and seated in heavenly places) everything still seems the same, except that you are no longer married to Mr Law (marriage is only for life, and you died), you are now married to Mr Grace. The first thing Mr Grace says to you in the morning is “Why don’t you leave the housework and cooking today, and just rest. I’ll do the cleaning later, and we’ll have a take-away Chinese tonight”. He then goes to fetch your slippers, coaxes you into your favourite chair and lets you enjoy your favourite TV programme. He can’t do enough for you, and allows you to do those things you really enjoy.
The first few days are great, but then it somehow begins to feel wrong, this is not what you are used to, it is too good to be true. So you go back to your old ways of doing the housework and cooking in order to please your new husband. And that is what Paul refers to here as adultery, because you have just gone back to your old husband (Mr Law) and are trying to please your new husband by doing what the old one demanded of you.
Going back to the law when you have been set free by grace is not just stupid, it is wrong, it is adultery. Because of grace you are now free. Free from sin (free not to sin), and free to be the new creation God has made you (which takes some time to discover), free from striving, free from condemnation. You are free from the old slave master called law, and instead you are married to the most powerful, protective, caring, gentle, loving husband you could possibly imagine, a husband who lives to see you shining and fulfilled. You are truly free indeed. Use your freedom to draw close to God, not to pull away from Him.