Our Marriage To
The Risen Lord
Our Old Husband Is Dead
In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 28a of 83

1 Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? 2 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.…” (Romans 7:1-6).

There was a godly woman known to most of us. She was married to an authoritarian husband through a kind of arranged marriage. I am not sure if she loved him. But she certainly submitted to him.

She lived with him for many years. She was under his control. She did what he wanted. She allowed him to run her life. She believed that this was the only way she could be happy. But now the husband is dead. His wife is free to marry another. But she does not feel free. She seems to forget that he is dead. She still fears to offend him. She still fears his voice in her heart. She still does what he wished her to do. In a way she is still held on the attitude and belief that she would be happy only if she did what her late husband demanded of her.

Years have passed. She has already been married to another man. But she is still emotionally attached to her old husband. She is inhibited in her relationship with her new husband. Many times she forgets and begins to do things in a way that would have pleased her old husband, but not her new husband.

Beloved, do you know this woman? Do you know who I am talking about?

I am talking about you. You are this woman: You as a church; and you as an individual believer reading this article. I am merely elaborating the illustration used by the apostle Paul. Your old husband is the Law.

Paul has spoken about our natural sinful nature as our old man. But now he speaks about the Law as our late husband. Notice the difference between Law and sin.

Law and sin are closely related. Sin is lawlessness says the apostle John. Paul has spoken about how we have been “made free from sin” (Rom 6:22). We are “dead to sin” (v. 2); “Our old man is crucified with [Christ]” (v. 6). We should no more serve sin because our old man is dead. But though the old man is dead, but we still allow ourselves to be influenced by him. We are emotionally attached to him. This is why Paul sought to persuade us to let go of him (in chapter 6).

But now there is another factor that seems to hinder us from fully enjoying our Christian Life: the Law. Those who are truly Christian know that the Law is good (v. 16) and we must still keep the Law.

But we will struggle. We will struggle not only to keep the Law, but we will struggle with the way the Law should be kept. We will struggle against legalism. What is legalism? Legalism is living a Law-oriented-life in the hope that our obedience to the Law will win God’s favour.

Although we live under grace, we will often forget. And instead of living a Gospel-oriented-life, we will slip into living a Law-oriented-life. As a result, our Christian life is often tasteless and joyless.

This is what the apostle Paul is seeking to correct in our text. He tells us first of all that…

1.  Our Former Husband
is Dead

a.   Our late husband is the Law. And note that Paul is not referring to the Ceremonial Law, but to the Moral Law! He gives an example of what he means in verse 7. “The law had said, Thou shalt not covet.”

Adam was,—as it were,—married to the Moral Law. He was bounded to keep the Law according to the principle of the Covenant of Works. The principle is: “The man that doeth them shall live in them” (Gal 3:12).

b.  Though we fell with Adam, we will by nature try to attain to heaven by good works or Law-keeping.

We were made in the image of God. The works of the Law is written in our heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15). The Law says: “This do and you will live.” By nature we know that we must do good in order that we may live. By nature we know we will perish if we break God’s Law.

Adam fell into sin, and all men are born sinners. The knowledge of God’s Law in our hearts has grown dim. We are already dead in sin and trespasses. But we like to think that we are alive and free. So by nature we continue to attempt in some ways to keep God’s law (or what we know of it) in order to earn God’s favour.

So in general, the average unbeliever will refrain from murder, theft and adultery. He will maintain a religion of works. He will give to charity and to religious organisations. What he is essentially trying to do is to keep the works (or imprint) of the Law that is written in his hearts.

He is married to the Law. He is by nature a legalist. That is why all the man-made religions of the world are legalistic religions. They all teach the same thing: Do good and you will go to heaven.

The unbelieving Jew is also legalistic. Indeed, he takes legalism a step further. He does not only have the works of the Law written in his heart. He has the written Law. Yet, the Law says the same thing: “This do and you will live.” So the Jew tries his level best to keep the Law. He hopes that by doing so, he might attain to heaven.

c.   Now the same is generally true for the Christian. The Christian knows the Law too. If he does not know the Law, he cannot be a Christian, for he would still be living in lawlessness or sin. Christ came to deliver us from sin. So the Christian must know the Law that he might walk in righteousness.

But the trouble is, many will keep the Law with the wrong attitude. They will keep the Law in the hope of attaining heaven. Now, please do not misunderstand. I am not saying we do not need to keep the Law. I am saying that for many professing Christians, the Christian life is merely about doing or keeping the Law. This is the legalism that the apostle Paul is speaking against.

We must understand that our salvation is by grace through faith. Therefore, we must also understand that the Law is dead to us. “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ” says the apostle Paul (v. 4). The Law is dead by the body of Christ in that Christ took on human flesh to live and die for us. He came to fulfil the Covenant of Works on our behalf. He came to do for us what Adam failed to do.

But because He has already accomplished the Covenant of Works on our behalf, the Law is dead to us. Our attitude towards the Law must no more be one of slavish subjection like that of the wife haunted by her dead husband. The Law can no more slay, because Christ was slain for us. We need not fear the Law. And we must not keep the Law in order to win God’s favour.

How then must we live?

…to be Continued Next Issue….

—JJ Lim