Recently, a friend shared a video with me about a dog. It was a dark brown, medium sized dog, but I don't know what breed or mix it happened to be. When the dog was first spotted, it was clear that it had either been abandoned or had never been adopted as a pet in the first place. It could be seen walking through the wooded outskirts of a neighborhood, but it would do its best to stay out of the reach of human interaction.
The dog was in rough shape. It had very little hair, and what hair it did have was matted down and unhealthy. The dog was also very skinny. It didn't have much muscle mass. You could count every single rib it had and could see every detail of the bones in its legs and joints. When someone was finally able to catch it, the dog looked like it was going to die. It was at the point where it was unable to hold itself up and looked like it had lost the will to live.
But a kind woman took a liking to the dog and decided to try to help it. Instead of the dog wandering outside alone, she took it into her home and began feeding it. At regular intervals throughout the day she gave it water. At first, it didn't look like much was about to change, but then the dog started standing on its own. All of a sudden, its hair began rapidly growing and a strong bond developed between the woman and this dog. This animal that was nearly dead and had given up on trying to survive, was now thriving because he was loved, cared for, and convinced that he belonged to someone who loved him.
We belong to someone who loves us. Before we came to know Christ, we were unhealthy, without hope, convinced we needed to fend for ourselves, and resigned to the fate of an outcast. But now, Christ has redeemed us. He has cleansed us from our sin and given us new life. He has also given us His name and a permanent place in His family. In Christ, we are shown that we belong, and we are relieved from our attempts to survive on our own. Romans 7:1-6 explains additional details of the benefits we are blessed with as those who belong to Christ.
I. We've been released from our bondage to the old law
The law that Paul is speaking of in these verses is the Mosaic law, the law given to the children of Israel living under the Old Covenant. If you've ever read through the Old Testament law, you've certainly observed its many requirements and regulations. There were ceremonial aspects to the law, as well as governmental, moral, and spiritual requirements. God isn't chaotic. He established order and structure for His people, but He also made sure to demonstrate to them, in convincing fashion, that as best as we try, we could never keep His holy law perfectly.
God's law actually exposes our sin nature. When He tells us not to covet, there's a part of us that responds by rebelliously coveting. When He tells us to have no other gods before Him, we respond by worshiping creation and worshiping ourselves. He gave us His law, we broke every requirement, and therefore we stand accused and condemned before Him as lawbreakers as long as that law is in effect. But is that law still in effect? Do we still stand before Him condemned?
To help us understand the nature of what Christ has accomplished on our behalf regarding the law, Paul used the familiar example of marriage. Marriage matters to God because it serves as a powerful example of the love of Christ for the church. That's why Satan hates your marriage, my marriage, and every marriage. He's enraged by those who honor the practice of marriage according to the design God established. It's a devastating reminder to him of the grace and love of God.
Biblical marriage has been under open assault in our culture for decades now. I was chatting about it a few years ago with a friend of mine who serves as a professor of Bible and theology, but he used to serve as a pastor. His comment about marriage stood out to me. As one who, like me, had officiated for many weddings, he said, "It amazes me that people are so casual about abandoning their vows. Don't they realize that they're making these vows before God Himself?"
In the context of marriage, Paul stated that, "a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage." So when are the requirements of a marriage covenant no longer binding? They are no longer binding if one of the parties dies, but if someone abandons their marriage for someone else while their spouse is living, they have committed adultery.
And while marital adultery is certainly tragic, there's an even greater form of adultery that comes before it. In multiple Scriptures, the Lord cautions us not to have hearts that commit spiritual adultery. Spiritual adultery occurs when we're unfaithful to the Lord. It happens when we give our allegiance to a new god or a false gospel.
Adultery is obviously a big deal to God, so it would clearly be a huge deal to Him if we were unfaithful in regard to His law. That wouldn't be a trivial matter. But, as this chapter from Romans reveals, a death has occurred that has released us from our bondage to the law. We have been released from it and enabled to bear fruit for God. Take a look at what we're shown in Romans 7:4...
II. We are enabled to bear fruit for God
When Jesus came to this earth, He did so to accomplish multiple things, in a particular order. Because we are lawbreakers with a sin nature, He came to this earth to keep the law for us while never sinning. Because we deserved condemnation and death because of our sin, He took our condemnation on Himself when He died in our place on the cross. Because we have been overshadowed by death and defeat, He rose from the grave and shared His victory over sin, Satan, and death with us so we don't ever need to experience the fear of death again.
As descendants of Adam, the first man, we were united to Adam in his sin. But now, if we trust in Jesus and confess Him as our Lord, we are united to Him by faith. We are united to Him in His life, death, and resurrection.
So when Christ died, we died too, and our bondage to the requirements of the Mosaic law died as well. That's what Paul was expressing in Romans 7:4. Now we are raised to new life through our union with Christ's in His resurrection, and we're supernaturally enabled to live a fruitful life. We can bear the fruit of righteousness for God's glory because we're united to Jesus.
What do you expect God to do in your life or through your life? Do you think He wants to do something meaningful through you, or do you consider yourself just an "extra" in a cast of main characters? What do you think your reaction will be if at the end of your earthly life, the Lord tells you that He was specifically using you to demonstrate His heart to specific people at specific times with the goal that they would experience His salvation too? What if the character He developed in you was the tool He used to help someone else see their need for His transformative work in their life? What if the well-timed word of encouragement He spoke through you was the testimony He intended to uplift a hurting brother or sister at just the right time? Through your union with Christ, you are being supernaturally equipped to bear this kind of fruit for God. And in conjunction with that, we can serve God in the way of the Spirit.
III. We can now serve in the way of the Spirit
Years ago, I had a job in an office environment for a short season. Even though there was only a small staff working in that building, I learned a lot about leadership and human interaction by observing what was taking place around me. One observation that became very clear to me was that our secretaries didn't last very long before leaving. Every few months, the secretary would quit and a new one would be hired. One of the more vocal secretaries made me very aware of why this was happening. We had a boss that seemed impossible to please and the secretary had to work closer to our boss than anyone else. Serving in a context like that was discouraging and demoralizing. I stopped being surprised when employees left.
Imagine if our relationship with God resembled that office. What if He was impossible to please? At one point, that certainly would have seemed like the nature of our relationship with Him. Paul expresses in Romans 7:5 that before we came to know Christ, while we were still living in sin, we were governed by our sinful passions, bearing sinful fruit, and unable to please the Lord.
But now, as those united with Christ through faith, we are quite pleasing to the Father. As He looks as us, He sees the righteousness of His Son. Apart from faith, it was impossible to please Him. Trying to keep a set of laws or rules through our own power didn't please Him because we couldn't do it right. Our false righteousness and reliance on our efforts to earn His favor was an offense to His holiness. But now we're told that through Christ we have been released from our captivity to that old system, and we've been set free to serve in the new way of the Spirit. At the moment we trusted in Christ, the Spirit of God indwelled us and He is now guiding and empowering our service to God. We can serve with joy because we're confident of His acceptance of us through our union with Christ.
Isn't it a relief to belong to Christ? Our old cycle of self-reliance is done. We've been released from our bondage to the law. We've been enabled to bear lasting fruit for God as the Spirit guides us and the Son empowers us. And we're repeatedly assured that God isn't going to change His mind about us. We belong to Him and will be held forever, securely in His hand.
© John Stange, 2019