Married to Jesus Christ

Romans 7:1-4
P.G. Mathew | Sunday, July 26, 2009
Copyright © 2009, P.G. Mathew

In the opening verses of Romans 7, Paul uses the illustration of marriage to describe a believer’s relationship to Christ. The purpose of this marriage is to bring forth fruit to God, the fruit of holiness.

Paul’s argument about the reign of grace in a believer’s life goes from Romans 5:21 to Romans 8:1-5. Chapters 6 and 7 are, therefore, parenthetical. Chapter 6 deals with the question of antinomianism, which resulted from a misunderstanding of Paul’s statement, “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Rom. 5:20). Paul addresses the error right away: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may abound? By no means!” (Rom. 6:1-2). Antinomianism, which says we can sin as much as we please because grace will take us to heaven, is a curse of many modern churches.

Romans 7 deals with the issue of Pharisaic legalism, which says justification and sanctification are based on keeping God’s law. Paul had already declared that we are not under law but under grace (Rom. 6:14). Yet the Jews thought of law as the bulwark against sin. The question then became whether or not Paul was dishonoring the law of God.

In these chapters Paul is explaining that salvation is not based on our lawkeeping as the Pharisee of Luke 18 maintained, but on Christ’s active and passive obedience to God’s law. We must understand that all Adam’s children are under sin and under law, meaning under the power and control of sin and the law. But the truth is, no one obeys the law perfectly. In fact, it can only incite and increase sin in unregenerate people.

Legalists say justification and sanctification are due to man’s ability to keep the law, while antinomians say justification and sanctification are by grace only so one can sin freely. In this section Paul says that true believers can rejoice in their freedom from law for justification and sanctification, yet we can also rejoice in our freedom to obey God’s law by the Spirit’s power as evidence of our justification by grace alone through faith alone. True believers walk in the newness of life. Living by the power of the Holy Spirit, we delight in God’s holy law. We know the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.

Jesus Christ came to fulfill the law perfectly as our head and representative. In his death, his people also fully kept the law. Jesus was born under the law to obey, honor, and establish God’s law and to redeem us from being under the law.

Every unbeliever is under the power and rule of sin until he is saved by grace by the obedient Son of God. Paul states, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” Then he declares, “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:56-57). So also in Romans 7 Paul asks the question, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Then he says, “Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:24-25).

Romans 7 can be divided into three parts. The first division (vv. 1-6), speaks about our relationship to the law. We died to the law in the death of Christ. Thus having been set free from the law, we are now married to Jesus Christ. In the second division, vv. 7-12, Paul vindicates the law. Notice, the law did not die but we died to the law. So Paul explains that the law of God is not the cause of sin and death; in fact, it is holy, good, just, and spiritual, revealing God’s holy character to us. The last section (vv. 13-25) tells us that the law cannot justify or sanctify. This section is not describing the life of a Christian but that of an unregenerate unbeliever, dead in trespasses and sins.

Free from the Power of Law

Romans 7:1 speaks about the power of the law. Christians know that law rules over a man only as long as he lives. When a man dies, he is set free from law’s power and control. It is like owing a million dollars to the Internal Revenue Service. The moment we die, we are set free from that obligation. In the same way, death releases us from the power of the law and its demands and control of our life.

Sin exercises authority over every unbeliever’s life (Rom. 5:21; 6:14). But when a believer dies with Christ, sin no longer exercises dominion over him (Rom. 6:11, 14). Paul says a believer is dead to sin (Rom. 6:2).

In the same way, Romans 7:1 tells us that every unbeliever is under the rule, control, and power of the law. But since the believer died with Christ, law has no power over him. He is under grace and not law. Death exercises authority over an unbeliever. But since the believer died with Christ in his death on the cross, death no longer has power over him, but is swallowed up in victory. A believer is under grace; King Grace rules him. A believer is under Christ; King Jesus rules over him. The Holy Spirit has dominion over him. We who are believers, who receive an abundance of grace, rule as kings in triumph in Christ in this life (Rom. 5:17).

The death of a man releases him from the power and control of law (Rom. 7:2, 3, 6). So the legal principle here is that death annuls the law, severing one’s bondage and obligation to it. Romans 7, therefore, is parallel to Romans 6. In Romans 6 Paul argued that we died to sin in the death of Christ. In Romans 7 he argues that we died also to law in the death of Christ because Christ died in reference to sin and law.

Those who believe in Christ’s death and resurrection are set free from the imperious authority and bondage to sin, law, and death. We therefore are no longer under the dominion, control, and power of sin, law, and death. We are not under the wrath of God but under grace-powerful grace, grace that is greater than all our sins. That is why Paul exclaims later that nothing in all creation is “able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).

Illustration of Marriage

In verses 2 and 3 Paul adduces a marriage illustration: “By law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive” (v. 2). If a married woman lives with another man while her husband is alive, she is called an adulteress. But if the husband dies and she marries another, she is not an adulteress. She is set free from the law that bound her to her first husband.

Death severs the law of marriage. Such severance enables the living one to enter into a new marriage. So if the husband dies, the wife can now remarry. Death cancels one’s obligation to the dead person. Marriage is a lifelong relationship for God’s people; only death should break the marriage bond.

Verse 4 is the key verse in this chapter because it applies the illustration of marriage, death, and remarriage to our Christian position: “Therefore, my brothers, you also were put to death to law through the body of Christ that you might be joined [married] to another, to the one raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God” (author’s translation). Paul is saying that when we were unbelievers, we were under sin, law, and death. We were married to the law, which said, “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezek. 18:4) and “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Therefore, a sinner, having violated God’s law, must die. But thanks be to God! In God’s plan, another could keep the law and die in our place. Paul writes, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son-born of a woman, born under the law-to redeem those under law” (Gal. 4:4). This Son is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). He is the one who died, the just for the unjust. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21). Paul says, “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God” (Gal. 2:19).

Jesus Christ honored, established, and fulfilled the law in our place. So through Christ’s keeping of the law we died to the law so that we might live for God. We are not justified by observing the law but by faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul states, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). How can a sinner be released from his bondage to a law he cannot keep? The answer is by his death to the law in the death of Christ, which the law dictated and our sin merited. Simply, it is by faith in the gospel.

The law cannot die because it is God’s law. But thank God, we can die to the law in the death of Jesus Christ. Jesus met all the obligations of the law in our behalf as our representative head. When Jesus, therefore, was put to death on the cross, we also were put to death in him. When the law demanded death, we died in Christ and now the law has no further claim upon us. Discharged from the law, we are now are outside of the jurisdiction of the law.

Not only did we die with Christ, but we have also been raised with him to live for God in this life. Our new husband, our Lord Jesus, replaced our old husband, the law. We are under Christ, submitting to him in everything. Christ’s resurrection declares that God’s law has been fully satisfied and God has no further legal claim on us. It was all taken care of when Christ his Son lived and died.

Law no longer has a claim on us. We are not under law and sin; we are under the regime of God’s enabling grace. We are married to the risen Christ who dies no more, and our marriage to him is eternal. He lives forever and so will we-no divorce or death for us.

Listen to Paul’s language about this marriage to the Lord Jesus Christ: “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish but holy and blameless. . . After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it just as Christ does the church . . . This is a profound mystery, but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:25-27, 29, 32).

The Purpose of Salvation: Bearing Fruit for God

We are set free from law and are now married to Christ. When we married to the law in Adam, we were barren, incapable of bearing fruit to God. But now through the ability of our new husband, we can bear fruit to God, which is the ultimate purpose of this new marriage relationship. (PGM) This fruit is the fruit of the Spirit, the fruit of holiness. Therefore, if a person is living in sin, he is not a Christian because the ultimate purpose of our union with Jesus Christ is to bear fruit consisting in holiness.

Let’s look at some scriptures to demonstrate this truth that we must bear fruit to God.

  1. What [fruit] did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the [fruit] you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (Rom. 6:21-22). When we were wicked, we had fruit-the fruit of evil. But now we bear the fruit of holy living.
  2. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29). Paul is speaking about holy brothers.
  3. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10).
  4. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Eph. 1:4).
  5. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-6).
  6. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).
  7. For the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth” (Eph. 5:9).
  8. To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy-to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen” (Jude 24-25).
  9. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)” (Rev. 19:7-8).
  10. The king is enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord. . . . All glorious is the princess within her chamber; her gown is interwoven with gold. In embroidered garments she is led to the king; her virgin companions follow her and are brought to you” (Ps. 45:11, 13-14).

Are you holy and blameless? Or are you wallowing in the mud while pretending to be a Christian? How can we know that we have died to law and sin and are married to Jesus Christ? The proof of our marriage is fruitfulness of holiness. We are married to Jesus Christ, the Mighty One, who enables us to keep the law as evidence of our salvation.

Justification is evidenced by sanctification of the Spirit. Arrayed in beautiful garments, we who are the bride of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, obey God’s law that is now written not on a stone but in our hearts. We delight in God’s law. It has become our nature to love our Lord and keep his commandments. We are new covenant people of God. Our God is in us. We know and love God. Our sins are forgiven and now we have a new heart of flesh, a new spirit, and the Holy Spirit of God dwelling in us, teaching us and empowering us. We have new life, a new relationship with Christ, a new purpose of bearing fruit to God, and new power to do God’s will.

Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Paul said, “I can do everything through him who gives us strength” (Phil. 4:13).

The Benefits of Marriage to Christ

What a wonderful, blessed life it is to be married to Christ! We were nothing. But we married up as we married into Christ, and as a result, we have great privileges.

  1. We bear his name. Our old name is gone now. We have a name that is above every name, the name of our royal bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
  2. We have the privilege of standing. Ruth was a nobody, but she married up to Boaz, who was described as a man of standing. Like Boaz, our Lord Jesus Christ is a man of great standing. We had no status, but now we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places.
  3. We have access to God the Father. We could not approach God before because of our sin. Now in Christ we can come into his presence with confidence to pray, fellowship, and enjoy wonderful sweet communion with the Father.
  4. We have provision. We are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. Paul says, “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). He also says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20). This is abundant provision. “So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future-all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (1 Cor. 3:21-23).
  5. We have protection. Jesus promised, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Elsewhere he declared, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29). Do you need protection? Come to Christ!
  6. We have the service of angels. Angels serve believers as they served Jesus Christ. “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1:14). See how they took care of Lazarus: “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side” (Luke 16:22).
  7. We reign with Christ. Paul inquires. “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!” (1 Cor. 6:2-3).
  8. We enjoy the very presence of God. How many people miss out on this fellowship when they do not spend time in Bible reading and prayer! As we read the Song of Solomon, we notice that above all else the beloved desires, not material objects but the presence of her lover. In daily fellowship with our heavenly husband, we enjoy special communication of his love to us. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones speaks of this great joy:

    Do you give Him an opportunity to tell you [of his love]? Do you put everything on one side in order to look into His face and listen to Him? Or is it that, when He comes to you, you are busy with other things? Or, like the bride depicted in the 5th chapter of the Song of Solomon, have you gone to bed and put off your clothes, and when you hear Him at the door, you say to Him: “I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet, how shall I defile them?” Then you suddenly realize how foolish you have been, and you get up and you open the door. But He has gone and you have nothing left but a smell of the myrrh that has been dropping from His fingers. And you do not know what to do with yourself; and you seek Him. If you would know the love of Jesus “what it is,” give Him opportunities of telling you. He will meet you in the Scriptures, and He will tell you. Give time, give place, give opportunity. Set other things aside, and say to other people, “I cannot do what you ask me to do; I have another appointment, I know He is coming and I am waiting for Him.” Do you look for Him, are you expecting Him, do you allow Him, do you give Him opportunities to speak to you, and to let you know His love to you? We are married to Him.1

    As Christians, we are entirely outside of the jurisdiction of the law because Christ received the just and full penalty demanded by the law. Jesus paid all our debts. Therefore, we are no longer afraid of law with its condemnation, death, and judgment. We are in Christ, married to him.

    This freedom from the law is not secured by the abolition of the law, but rather through Christ’s vicarious fulfillment of all the law’s demands. The law exacts penalty for sin, which is death. This penalty was fully paid by Christ by his death. It is to this Christ we are now married and by his power we bear fruit of holiness by fulfilling his will by love power. Paul said the love of Christ impelled him. May the love of Christ also impel us to fulfill God’s law and be holy.


1 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: The Law: Its Functions and Limits (Exposition of Chapters 7:1-8:4) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973), 62.