Christian Freedom

Romans 7:1–6

Freedom is one of the highest human virtues. People have fought and died to gain it. Freedom is also a dominant theme in the Bible. The word “free” occurs 98 times, “freed” 6 times, “freedom/liberty” 24 times (in the ESV). We all want to be free. Understanding the true nature of freedom from a Biblical perspective can offer peace of heart and an assurance of our standing before God. Paul tackles this topic in Romans 7:1–6, and to this passage we will focus our attention.

To explain what Christian freedom is all about Paul uses the analogy of marriage. In order to understand the analogy, we need to understand the role of the four entities involved: “Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives… she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive” (Rom 7:2–3).

The first entity is the “married woman,” the wife.

The second entity is the first husband. He does not seem to be a very nice life companion because in 7:3 the possibility of a second husband is entertained.

The third entity is a potential second husband: “she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man” (7:3).

The fourth entity is the marriage law which declares wife and husband married.

According to Jewish marriage law, a wife could not divorce her husband. She was bound to him as long as he was alive. So, if the wife were to live with another man while her first husband was alive, then she would be an adulteress (7:3). However, if her husband died, “she is free from that law” (7:3), i.e. free according to marriage law, to marry a second husband.

Paul takes this everyday reality, and in 7:4–6 gives it a spiritual dimension to explain how salvation works.

The wife represents believers. This is clear from 7:4: “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.” We were first married to one husband, but having “died to the law” we can now belong to another husband, to Christ.

How does one “die to the law,” i.e. not literally, but only legally? “Through the body of Christ,” (7:4) i.e. through His death and resurrection. Paul has already explained this thought earlier in Romans 6:3–4: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Believers are the wife, and baptism is the death according to the law. Who is the second husband?

The second husband represents Christ: “that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead” (7:4). Through baptism a person dies according to the law. The old self is gone and a new life begins. It is therefore the moment of baptism that marks our separation from the first husband, and our attachment to the second husband, Christ.

But who is the elusive and unpleasant first husband from whom the wife wants to be freed? In his exposition of the analogy Paul explains: “For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death” (7:5).

The first husband is our sinful passions! Before coming to Christ, a person is bound to his/her sinful passions without possibility of release in the same way a wife is attached to a nasty husband without possibility (under Jewish marriage law) of release. Paul has already made this point earlier, in Romans 6:6–7: “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.”

We need to pause here for a moment here. Modern commentators, unfortunately, when thinking of freedom, think of freedom from the law of God. But in contrast to them, Paul did not desire freedom from God’s law. He rather maintained that the law “is holy and righteous and good” (7:12 – notice the present tense “is” as opposed to “was”), “is spiritual” (7:14), and something in which Paul delighted (7:22).

Rather, Paul was looking for freedom from the grip of sin: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh… Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (7:18, 24).

In the analogy of the wife and two husbands, Paul explains that this freedom from the “body of death” happens when a person accepts Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and is baptized. When this happens, the power of sin is broken, the first husband is no longer a domineering force. Before baptism, believers were bound to their sin (the first husband), but in baptism both they and their sinful nature die as far as the law is concerned (death of spouse), and now we can legally be married to Christ (the wonderful second husband).

But what happens to the fourth entity? In the analogy of the Jewish marriage Paul uses, marriage law regulates the relationship of the wife to her first husband. But when the first husband dies and she marries the second, it is the same marriage law that is in place to regulate her relationship to the second. Marriage law does not change. It is a neutral and impassionate entity that states facts. It declares the woman bound to her first husband. When he dies, it declares her free to remarry. When she does, it declares her married to the second husband.

In the spiritual application of the analogy, marriage law represents God’s moral law, primarily the Ten Commandments. Before we accept Christ, it declares us sinners, and bound to our sins. It cannot set us free, neither is it bothered to. It is totally objective, impartial, and disinterested. It just states the facts, like the marriage law did in the analogy.

But when a person has “died” in Christ, the law declares our sins as no longer binding us. Now we are free from sin in Christ. Now that we are joined to Christ, the law is still there, just as the marriage law is there in the analogy in the marriage to the second husband. It defines what is right and wrong. But since we are married to Christ who has paid the price for all our sins, we are no longer under condemnation. The second marriage, is at last a happy one, where the wife, believers, finds true freedom from guilt and its penalty.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8403
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Unfortunately, to me, this is an entirely anachronistic misreading of this text. Paul is not simply speaking to law, or 10 commandments as moral standard or purely legal demand, here and throughout Romans. This is part of splitting Law into moral vs. ceremonial aspects, a later Christian interpretation finding root in the patristic period, and the later reformers.

Instead, Paul is speaking to the entire package of Law/Torah as covenant relationship, the determiner of who is inside and who is outside of the people of God. For a millennium, the Sinai covenant, with its badges of circumcision, and other outward identifying marks of status, were what were required for belonging. The entire covenant code stemmed from the commandments as the central stipulations and representation of that covenant, but the Torah covenant was viewed as one entity.

As Jews found themselves under increasing pressure during the exile and then subsequent Gentile occupation of the land, the adherence to and radicalization of keeping Torah grew in its centrality as the mark of Jewish identity…of who belonged to the covenant people and who didn’t. It was also the present indicator of who would be vindicated in the future. YHWH was going to act to vindicate his people, to make them the head of the nations…and the ones who would be vindicated, rescued, and set into the place of privilege in that future, were the ones who were faithful to the keeping of the Torah/Law in the present. IOW, observance of the Torah, and faithfulness to maintaining its identifying marks, such as circumcision, Sabbath, and food laws, were central not only to the present status of being a member in good standing in the people of God, it was central to their eschatological hope as his people. One must keep this in view when trying to interpret Paul’s statements about the law, otherwise a skewed reading and understanding is the result.

Thus, when Paul speaks of no longer being under the law, he is not simply speaking of the 10 commandments, or their legal condemnation. He is referring to everything outlined above, and more, especially in the context of acceptance of Gentiles as Gentiles into the covenant people, through faith in the Messiah Jesus alone. The law as covenant, and its outward badges, was no longer the determining factor of who was in and who was out. In fact, Paul says, it never was, hence Abraham being counted as God’s person solely by faith, before circumcision. The Law/Torah, its possession, its badges of covenant status, and its observance, could no longer divide Jew from Gentile…all were equally accepted and welcomed into the family as is, and all enjoyed the same eschatological hope through faith in Christ Jesus alone, and the reception of his Spirit.

In fact, Paul saw the law as part of the old age of a divided world, that had now been replaced by the new age of Christ and his Spirit, the power that brings people to God, and brings them together in unity. The old had gone, and the new had come. Attempting to bring Gentiles under the Law through circumcision, was trying to force them to combine the old with the new, to pour new wine into old wineskins, to rebuild the walls of exclusivity and division based on Law that Christ, his Spirit, and the gospel that Paul preached had torn down. All of this is what Paul himself, and, as he says, all believers had died to. This is in keeping with what Paul says elsewhere about his relationship to the law since Christ: “I through the Law died to the Law, that I might live for God.” (Gal. 2:19)

While Paul pinpoints the power of sin as manipulating the holy, just, and good law as its religious instrument of deception and power, bringing condemnation and exacerbating the enslaved human condition through it, Paul never talks about bringing the Law, and the arrangements of that covenant through the backdoor as the arbiter of belonging and life for the people of God in Christ. Rather, he points to the Spirit, and walking and staying in step with him as the definer of God’s people, and the life of his people. The Spirit will fulfill the righteous requirements of the law in believers, later identified as a unifying and other centered love. This is the mark of God’s people in Christ.

Institutional Adventism has its own vested interest in not taking this type of historical and contextual reading of Paul, and especially of Romans and Galatians, into account. We have set up our own cherry picked stipulations from the law, specifically Sabbath and food laws, as the identifying marks of belonging, both now and in the eschatological future. We set ourselves apart from all other Christians on the basis of these marks, paying little heed to the thrust of Paul’s gospel message, and to what Jesus himself said…that the identifying mark of his followers is the inclusive love they have for one another, and the love they show to the poor, the outcast, and the disenfranchised.

To take what Paul says about law, covenants, and old and new age seriously, while trying to hold on to our own emphasis on Law as the present and eschatological identifier of the people of God, I believe, is practically an impossible task. We have to downplay, ignore, and twist the radical statements he makes about the law and the life of the people of God in the Messiah.

But, deal with Paul and his gospel we must, even at the risk of altering the reason for being of Seventh Day Adventism.

Thanks…

Frank

@godknowsyou

Thanks for your feedback, Joseph. I appreciate your well considered thoughts and analysis of the text. I think we can agree that Romans 7 is a notoriously difficult and dense passage to navigate through. With that said, I still stand by my reading of the passage, in light of the evidence within the immediate text, the sweep of the entire letter to the Romans, and of Paul’s stance on the Law in a wider sense, as seen in his other major letters.

Firstly, Paul sets the old way of the letter/gramma,( the Torah/Law) against the new way of the Spirit, in Rom.7:6, saying that believers have been fully freed through death to the former, so that they may serve in the latter. Paul is not simply contrasting an interior obedience to law out of gratitude vs. an outward conformity to earn salvation, a typical caricature of Pharisaic Judaism vs. Christianity. He is contrasting ages, the old vs. the new. This is because Christianity, in Paul’s thinking, is not simply an intensification of the Torah as ethical demand, it is the breaking in of the new age of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the lordship and power of his Spirit.

The Law, as far as Paul is concerned, is not part of this new age; it is firmly on the side of the old. Thus, Paul’s contrast of Law/letter vs. Spirit, is allied closely with his antithesis of Flesh vs. Spirit. Hence, the question posed against his gospel… “Is the Law sin?” While he answers this in the negative, he never says the law has no relationship to sin. It certainly does, as a helpless partner in the condemnation and death of human beings, all characteristic of this present/old age, and life in it. Something that is also not compatible with life in the new age.

Secondly, Paul indicates here, and even more explicitly elsewhere, that the Law as covenant was a temporary arrangement whose time was up, (a parenthesis between the faith of Abraham and the coming of the Messiah, and faith in him). This can be seen in 2 Cor. 3, in which he speaks of the fading glory of the Old Covenant, and its death dealing letter on tablets of stone, vs. the surpassing and lasting glory of the new, that is administered by the life giving Spirit, through the preaching of the gospel. The latter was not simply the internalization or adaptation of the former on a one to one basis, it was more nearly the replacement of the former. The temporary nature of the Law as covenant relationship and definer of the people of God is clear in this text. It is equally clear in Galatians 3-4, whose arguments I shall not go into because of time and space. All of this sheds light on just what Paul is saying about the relationship of believers to the Law in Rom. 7:1-6, and the contrast of the letter and Spirit, the old and the new way of relating to and serving God.

Thirdly, I hardly think that the summation of law as the principle of self giving and unifying love is a 21st century reduction of the Law. It is there through the sweep of the entire letter to the Romans. Paul himself makes this point in Chapter 13 when he says that "Love is the fulfillment (and the entire summation) of the Law." Thus, in 8:4, the righteous/just requirements of the Law is not simply a one to one correspondence with the letter of the Torah, something to which believers have died. It is the fulfillment of the righteousness of the Law in believers through Christ’s own fulfillment of its requirements on their behalf, and the Spirit fulfilling it continually in them as they walk after him.

On a practical level, Paul reveals what this needs to look like in his ethical instruction and exhortation. In Chapter 12, he says that believers should not think more highly of themselves than they ought, but should humbly serve one another with whatever God given gifts they have been given. They should bless those that persecute them, not repaying evil with evil, but instead extend love, even to their enemies.

Finally, in Chapters 14-15:7, Paul exhorts the community to not divide over doubtful matters, in reference to scruples over food and holy times. Whatever the specific issues were, Paul never makes an appeal to the Law to govern their eating or worshipping practices. Instead, he appeals to the love of Christ that can bring together diverse people with diverse views and lifestyle practices into a united fellowship. The unifying love that is the driving force of that fellowship. His appeal is to, " Therefore, accept/welcome one another, as God in Christ has accepted you."

Thus, according to Paul, the law of the people of God, his new covenant community, is the principle of love that unites rather than divides, and is self giving, even to enemies. This is not a one to one correspondence with the letter of the Torah, including the ten commandments. Rather, the best the Law can be in this sense is a temporary and faint shadow pointing all to the self giving love of Christ poured out on the cross. It is this, and it is him, to whom the Spirit points us, in order to guide and empower the new covenant people of God.

We need to get out of the kitchen, poring over the letter of the cookbook, and get into the banquet hall where the Messiah is celebrating his feast with his people.

Thanks…

Frank

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Thank you Frank for your thought-provoking comments. It will be hard for many to accept what you say because it is hard to re-assess long held beliefs, even when they are shown not to be Scriptural.

In response to the article, why is verse 4 of Romans 7 so hard to understand. “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the law through the body of Christ.” How else can we be joined to Christ unless we have died to the law? What Paul is saying here is that it is spiritual adultery to be joined to the law and to Christ. Sinful passions are aroused by the law and the fruit is death.

Verse 6 takes it further still. “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound.” Paul warned the Corinthians that the power of sin is the law and that sin is the sting of death. That is waht Christ delivered us from.

Perhaps the key to these first six verses is this, “…we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” When Paul talks about oldness of the letter we need to recognise that he is talking about letters written on tables of stone that just happens to be the Decalogue. 2 Corinthians 3 is our source.

I extend my question to the SS Quarterly. We find here that law is the Big Ten, essentially the fourth and that must be defended at any cost. Sin and the Ten take centre stage at every opportunity. Sadly, this is at the expense of what Paul is trying to get across.

It should be all about Jesus Christ, grace and living the new covenant experience in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The living Christ is our righteousness which results in a life of holiness that is impossible by trying to keep the law. The Holy Spirit is our guide which is way better than trying to get our guidance from the 10 commandments. It’s God’s grace that teaches us how to live. 1 Timothy 1:8 ought to tell us something. The law is not for the righteous.

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Grace was never an after thought with God. E

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In John 4, Jesus revealed to the Woman at the Well the FREEDOM of worshiping God.
Worship in Spirit. Could be performed anywhere, not just a building or a particular structure.
Jesus spent a lot of time challenging the Bible Teachers, Bible Scholars. They were VERY Particular
about PERFORMING all the requirements of the Torah, and were quick to put down any congregant
who were not as diligent as they were.
But Jesus said they had missed the mark completely, missed the SPIRIT OF THE LAW. Missed
the weightier matters of the law – mercy, love. compassion.
“Worship” in this conversation indicates love and respect. Instead of fright, this kind of "fear of the Lord"
induces esteem and reverence. In this “fear” we actually feel safe. We enjoy resting in His presence,
and we are OK with performing His commands, regardless of their inconvenience.
Psalms, Proverbs tell us “Respect” for the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom, and brings us Good
Understanding. I learn to hate evil – pride,arrogance,corruption, perverse speech. It offers escape from
the snare [things and activities in life] that bring death. It brings security and protection from harm, and
I can pass these teachings on to my children and they will find refuge in them.

As the Spirit of the Law removes the bad, detrimental, dangerous ways I live, the Spirit brings His Fruits into my life – See Galatians 5 – and I enjoy the new exchange in life-style, thinking, and approach to life.

I Find the TRUE SABBATH Rest spoken about in Hebrews which the Israelites on their 40-year journey failed to find. And that 1st generation out of Slavery into Freedom NEVER received the Reward of God’s Rest he had for them. — And THEY were Sabbath Keepers [upon pain of death by stoning].

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I am afraid that what this article and the SS quarterly do is to attempt to keep us married to the first husband - the law. At the same time it also wants us married to Christ. The result is spiritual adultery.

According to Paul, the primary way of sanctification is not compliance to the OT law (or the Decalogue). Rather, our becoming holy comes from beholding Christ and thus being transformed (2 Cor 3). To my chagrin, Adventism has got this backwards - this pops up in the current quarterly and particularly in the one on Galatians. The urge to keep us married to the first husband leads to despair.

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i have always appreciated dr. kim’s gift for clarity and cutting to the chase…i think particularly of two of his articles i happened to see some time ago, namely his brilliant discussion on why Col 2:16-17 doesn’t abolish the seventh-day sabbath:
(http://archives.adventistreview.org/article/5139/archives/issue-2012-1506/does-colossians-2-16-17-abolish-the-sabbath),
and his effective rebuttal of dispensationalism:
(https://spectrummagazine.org/article/sabbath-school/2010/09/04/does-romans-11-envisage-end-time-salvation-jews )…

in this article, dr. kim’s conclusion that in Rom 7:1-6 paul isn’t discussing freedom from the law, but freedom from sin, concords perfectly with the words of christ, whom one would think would know what paul was getting at…specifically, we have the following:

“Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” Jn 8:34-36.

in this parallel contrast, it is evident that committing sin, and thereby being the slave of sin, is being contrasted with the freedom of christ, which can only mean no longer committing sin…the notion that being a slave to sin and being free in christ both mean committing sin is illogical…it is obviously not what christ is discussing with the pharisees, especially in light of his own sinless claim, v.46…

given this concept of freedom outlined by christ, it is clear that paul is really saying that freedom from the law means freedom from the condemnation of the law, not because the law has been set aside, but because what the law condemns, namely sin, no longer exists…he is saying that serving “in the newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter”, Rom 7:6, means living without the sins that brought condemnation from the law…and it is evident that paul is here discussing the decalogue since, “thou shalt not covet”, v. 7, is the tenth commandment from the decalogue, and not a provision from the statutes, the ceremonial law, or any aspect of the mosaic law outside of the decalogue…

there is also the encounter between the rich young ruler and christ, in which christ directly answers the question of what is required for salvation…it is interesting that the rich young ruler is not told to dispense with obedience to the decalogue, nor is he told to walk in the spirit in the newness of life that he was witnessing with his own eyes in the life of christ…instead, the rich young ruler is told to keep the decalogue on a much more comprehensive plane than he’d imagined…and we know that obedience to the decalogue is being referenced from the specific commandments enumerated…

every time evangelical assumptions are compared to what paul or especially christ is really saying, we tend to see not only a marked absence of logic, but a shocking evasion of what is in the text…probably the main reason evangelical theory succeeds as well as it does is because people naturally want to believe that they can be saved without expending the effort that it can take to render obedience…and the notion that the requirement of obedience to the decalogue has been abolished at the cross is the knight in shining armor that delivers them from their doleful dread of individual responsibility and effort…of course what we are really discussing when it comes to evangelical theory is the objection to keeping the seventh-day sabbath - a defined day of rest that is hardly about effort, but that many find galling…that is, evangelicals don’t generally argue for an entitlement to steal, murder, or commit adultery, even though these commandments also come from the decalogue…praise god that there is one church on earth, seventh-day adventism, that gets it right…

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We can’t get into the heads of the evangelicals to make that determination, but that is the line we have been fed. This assumes, of course, that we actually “keep” all the commandments. It all depends on what “keep” means, I suppose.

I like what the article says in the last paragraph:

The law then becomes our guide to life - not a means to salvation. Of course, Jesus (sermon on the mount) made the law even more difficult for anyone to think they can “keep” it.

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“… Paul never talks about bringing the Law, and the arrangements of that covenant through the backdoor as the arbiter of belonging and life for the people of God in Christ…The Spirit will fulfill the righteous requirements of the law in believers, later identified as a unifying and other centered love.”

Frank, coming to the Spectrum site is worth it just for the opportunity to read some of your posts. Thanks for making your insights public.

I agree that God’s covenant people’s pre-messianic relationship with and identity in the law gives way under the New Messianic Age and the presence of the Spirit, but I’m not sure that your shift in the article from emphasizing that the LAW refers to the “entire package of Law/Torah” (against any moral/civil splits) to saying that the law’s requirements are basically unifying love can be sustained. I mean if Papaioannau’s split of the law into moral/civil categories is anachronistic from the patristic period, your reduction (if you mean that actual Torah requirements no longer apply) of the law to simply unifying love is a greater 21st century anachronism.

As most scholar’s agree (at least since Kümmel), Romans 7 is Paul’s apologetic for the law. As you concisely and eloquently state, it is not the law, but the power of sin that is, “manipulating the holy, just, and good law as its religious instrument of deception and power, bringing condemnation and exacerbating the enslaved human condition through it [the law].” But as you know in context, this power of sin is broken under the Spirit’s reign and therefore sin can no longer exploit the law for its own unrighteous and fatal ends, but on the contrary, “the righteousness of the law” is now fulfilled in those walking in the Spirit (Rom. 8:4). Do you really think that Paul went from lamenting SIN’S abuse of the law (because we lived “in the flesh”) in terms of the entire Torah (as you rightly suggest) and then, after explicating the Spirit’s resolve through Christ of that unholy dynamic, then switches his definition of law at the climax of his argument? I say no way.

I don’t think there is any good reason in Paul’s tight argument in Romans 6-8 to change your original definition of law “as the entire package.” Of course there is type/antitype fulfillment and ethnic markers (circumcision) that Paul specifically reorients (e.g., heart circumcision) but he says the Torah is “spiritual” and therefore there should be no conflict between it, love, commandment keeping, and unification. So though I think you gave an excellent historical background to the context of Paul’s letter, I think Papaioannou ended with an apologetic for the law that your background clarification supports. Shalom

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How would anyone simplify this chapter to present the essence and crucial cognitive processes to achieve progress for the rookie Christian?

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Jeremy, I hope you don’t mind but I think it would be worthwhile to further explore some of your statements because I feel they are widely held in Adventism.
From your comments here and on other articles posted recently relating to Paul’s explanation of the gospel in Galatians and Romans, it’s clear you feel we must be obedient to the decalogue before we are saved. (If I understand you correctly, this means that faith in the blood of the lamb, the sacrificial death of Christ, is not enough to save us.) You also say that because the Adventist Church is the only Christian church obedient to the fourth commandment of the decalogue only the SDA church has the truth about salvation.
Does this then mean that proper sabbath-keeping Adventists are the only ones saved?

You also state that to partake of the freedom Christ offers can only mean no longer committing sin, the idea of being free in Christ and committing sin is illogical, and the concept of Christian freedom means ‘freedom from the condemnation of the law not because the law has been set aside but because what the law condemns, namely sin, no longer exists’.
So, does that mean that you are now sinless, i.e., perfectly obedient in every action and thought?
How do you interpret 1John 1:7-10?
I agree that we are free of the law’s condemnation but not because we no longer sin, but because the penalty for all our sins was paid when we died in Christ on the cross (Gal 2:19-20; Rom 7:4; 2Cor 5:19). The law no longer has a claim against us because the ultimate penalty has been paid. The law has been satisfied.
Please don’t misunderstand. We are under an obligation to our kinsman-redeemer, our new master Christ to follow His will for us. But this, our journey to sanctification, is not the cause of our salvation but our thankful response to it.

You say that Christ directly answered the question of what is required for salvation in his response to the rich, young ruler, i. e., the necessity to obey Christ’s more comprehensive rendering of the decalogue. I think you are forgetting which Covenant was in effect when Christ addressed the RYR. The Old Covenant states that salvation is based on one’s promise to obey the law (Ex 19:8). In contrast, the New Covenant is based on the grace and mercy and resulting gift of God to us as manifested in Christ and ratified, or put into effect, by His death on the cross (Heb 9:16-17). Hence, the OC was still in effect when Christ spoke to the RYR so Christ’s answer about obedience was perfectly appropriate. How could He hope to explain the gift of salvation, the NC requiring His future sacrificial death, to someone brought up with the idea that one’s obedience would earn salvation? It was so radically different that even the disciples themselves had no idea what the NC was to be about until after Christ’s death. How in the world could the RYR be made to understand it? (BTW, Christ quickly showed the RYR he was deluding himself. His attitude toward his riches proved he was violating the first commandment.)
This NC was so revolutionary that it was necessary for God to choose someone, Paul, to explain the gospel after Christ’s death and resurrection. (It was so alien to our concepts of crime and punishment that Paul had to receive it by divine revelation (Gal 1:11-12)). We still have difficulty comprehending it after two thousand years of reflection.

There are many Christians today, sadly many Adventists among them, who still operate under the OC. They say that the NC means that the Holy Spirit has been sent to help them achieve a salvific level of obedience. That view is but a strengthened OC because salvation is still based on lawkeeping. Again, if I understand you correctly, you appear to promote a gospel made up of obedience and then mercy, of works and then grace because you have said that Christ adds his perfect merits to our spirit inspired responses and efforts in order for us to be saved. In an earlier thread I asked you to please give some Bible verses to support your view. Perhaps you missed my comment, so I repeat that request because this is such an important topic and I want to see how you have arrived at your conclusions based on Scripture.
Thank you.

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Frank, This is the way I too understand the relationship between law/old covenant and Jesus/Spirit/new covenant. You have provided a brief but grand summary statement of Paul’s understanding of the two ages and of the way that God, in Christ and through the Spirit, has fulfilled the law and the prophets! I hope that this way of framing the covenants and comprehending the work of Christ will take hold and spread not only in Adventism but in the broader Christian world.

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It’s always amusing to read the comments on this site. It’s like several people arguing about the length of a fence never realizing that one person measured in feet, another in meters and another in cubits.

Before discussing Rom. 7, we need to first clarify the theological method used. Some parts of Scripture are literal and others figurative. Some parts are to be taken as is and in other parts, the biblical authors are attempting to communicate with a specific audience from within that audience’s own perspective, without actually agreeing with that perspective (think rich man and Lazarus). And the question we have to answer is, how do we differentiate between distinct types of text to know where to anchor our theology?

And, Christianity has essentially produced three responses to this question: the Catholic approach, the Liberal approach and the Canonical approach.

The Catholic approach claims that a 3rd-party interpreter is needed to make sense of Scripture. The Liberal approach sees no need to make sense of Scripture, as it is essentially a man-made book, and attempts only to get as closely as possible to the author’s intended meaning, for historical purposes.

The Canonical approach is the only logical alternative left and necessarily assumes that the interpretation must be derived from within the text itself. This leads to several unavoidable implications:

  1. That we can hold no opinion regarding theology to be used as a lens through which to interpret Scripture since there is no external, superior authority to Scripture.

  2. That there IS such a thing as a Canon; a clear delineation of the data set we have to work with in developing theology.

  3. That we derive our theology using the ENTIRE data set.

  4. That we follow the trajectory that the data provides when taken chronologically. (Basically, since the canon was given over several hundred years, each generation understood present revelation through the lens provided by previous revelation. Therefore, we also must allow earlier revelation to provide the context in which we interpret later revelation.)

  5. That we allow the Scripture to develop its Grand Narrative and then interpret the details in light of this narrative.

That said, the majority of Protestants today don’t do canonical theology and are therefore theologically in no-man’s-land. They make use of Catholic and Liberal methodologies when interpreting Scripture not realizing that these methodologies make no sense when divorced from their Catholic or Liberal pressupositions. Because of this their theology is completely arbitrary, which is why Protestantism is split into thousands of denominations.

So what then can we say about Romans 7? Sure, if we read the chapter in isolation, the most sensible interpretation of the passage is that the Jews were under an old covenant relationship from which the death of Christ provided a complete break. But there is no sane reason to read this chapter in isolation, if not working within a Catholic or Liberal paradigm.

Canonical theology tells us that this section is not meant to be used as an anchor point for our soteriology because Paul here is simply condescending to the limitations of his audience in order to bring a point across. How do we know that? Because the rest of scripture has already provided a baseline from which to interpret segments like this.

We already know, for example, that people before the cross were saved by grace through faith to the same extent that people after the cross are. We know that the Mosaic rites and ceremonies never had saving value but were simply living illustrations or symbolic dramatizations of the gospel. We know that the old covenant was God’s commitment to bless Israel as a nation as long as they kept the knowledge of God alive by participating in these rituals.

The Jewish community in Paul’s day had completely misinterpreted God’s means of salvation and assumed that their participation in the Mosaic system had saving value. They viewed the death of Christ as simply an addendum to an existing salvation process. So instead of dismantling their entire paradigm, Paul here rather steps into it himself and walks alongside them in order to show them that, even if salvation had previously been through the Law (though it hadn’t), the death of Christ still superseded that entire system.

In reality, there is no major break between the old and new testaments. The break is between the Jewish misinterpretation of the old testament and God’s plan of salvation in both the old and the new. Therefore, Adventists are entirely justified in carrying over elements from the old testament that still apply today.

The dietary laws, for example, were never meant as a means of salvation, but were simply there to improve the community’s heath. Adventists avoid unclean foods and often meat altogether not in order to be saved through some old covenant but because, unlike most Christians, we reject the anthropological dualism of the Greeks.

We don’t use that Sabbath as an identifying mark of exclusion but rather believe that it will be used to identify and exclude us in the final crisis, the way the star of David was used by the Nazis to mark and persecute Jews. Neither is any part of this theology in conflict with love for the poor, the outcast, and the disenfranchised.

Theology cannot be done haphazardly; we can’t just grab on to some random passage and build an entire theology around it. If we believe in sola scriptura we must let scripture make its entire case and submit our personal opinions to the testimony of Scripture as a whole.

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I would like to thank everyone who contributed to the discussion. Every contribution is valuable and worthy of consideration. I would like to offer a rejoinder, a reaffirmation of relevant convictions arrived at through years of study.

  1. Biblical Greek has a noun and an adjective to describe existence without law – anomia and anomos, “law-lessness” and “law-less”. The two are used 24 times in the New Testament of which 14 in Paul’s epistles. A simple read through the relevant texts indicates how strongly Paul felt on this issue. We need to tread very carefully on this topic.

  2. The law and the Spirit. A person without the Spirit cannot live in harmony to the law: “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Rom 8:7).

Conversely, a person with the Spirit will live in harmony to the law. Paul declares: “We know that the law is spiritual” (Rom 7:14). The adjective “spiritual” means that the law is “from the Spirit,” or “in harmony with” the Spirit”. It follows that a person filled with the Spirit will live in harmony to the law. Just like Jesus did.

This is why Paul can declare: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Gal 5:22-23). A person filled with the Spirit does not have God’s law against simply because he/she lives in harmony with it!

This is the point Paul also makes in 2 Corinthians 3: “You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” The promise of the new covenant is that God will write His law on our heart. Paul says that this had became a reality in the lives of believers in Corinth. Notice the phrases “tablets of stone” “tablets of human hearts” both of which point to the Ten Commandments.

Corinthians Gentiles were notoriously immoral. But now as Christians, Paul considers them as a letter of recommendation (vss 1-2) not because free from the law they can live as they please, but because the law of God has been written on their heart by the Holy Spirit. The letter of recommendation is transformed lives by the Spirit.

Of course, we often fail the standard. Thankfully, the grace of Jesus abounds. The key issue is not how law abiding I have, or can become; the key issue is to realize that law and Spirit exist in harmony, not in conflict or juxtaposition.

  1. The view that Romans 7:1-6 abolishes the law is a very popular reading of the text among some evangelicals (thankfully not all); popular but incorrect. It is based only on four words, “released from the law”. It disregards Paul’s own definition of the first spouse from which Paul sought release: “For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death” (Rom 7:5). The horrible spouse was our sinful passions. The law bound us to the that horrible spouse; the law was not the spouse!

This is why Paul can declare in Romans 7:24: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Paul sought release from his sinful nature. The answer comes loud and clear, Jesus Christ!

To be “released from the law” means to be free according to the law from the old spouse, and free to remarry, this is what the whole analogy is about!

You might be interested to know of my most recent book which focuses on Pauline theology and tackles primarily but not only, the question of law, with a special focus on Galatians.

Peace!