The apostle Peter admits that many of the things that his fellow apostle Paul wrote are hard to understand, and because of this, he warns, some people distort Paul's writings to their own destruction (II Peter 3:15-16). This is still happening today. People—some sincerely and some not—are constantly twisting what Paul said in an attempt to show that the law of God is abolished.
A favorite target of the "no-law" advocates is Romans 7:4. In this scripture, Paul writes that a Christian is "dead to the law" and is now "married to another." From these statements, some conclude that God no longer requires a Christian to obey His laws. Unfortunately, those who force such an interpretation on this verse fail to understand the profound truths that the apostle is explaining.
In verse 4, Paul further explains the marriage analogy (Romans 7:2-3) and how this relationship of a woman to her husband bears upon our relationship to the law and Christ. "Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ." Just as the woman in his example cannot be condemned by the law as an adulteress if her first husband dies, so we cannot be condemned by the law because our "old man of sin" has died (Romans 7:1).
In other words, we have become dead in the eyes of the law! At the time of our baptism, the old man of sin was put to death and buried in a watery grave (Romans 6:4). Because Jesus Christ died in our stead, and we have been buried with Him in baptism, the law regards us as having died. Therefore, the penalty for sin (Romans 6:23) has been paid, and the law no longer has power to condemn us to death for our sins.
Paul continues in verse 4, "...that you may be married to another, even to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God." In the analogy of the woman and her husbands, the first husband is the old man of sin to whom we were "married" prior to conversion. After the old man of sin died at baptism, we are now free to marry Christ. Just as He died and was resurrected, so our old man of sin has died, and we have been raised out of the watery grave of baptism a new man, empowered to bear righteous fruit in service to God.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Dead to the Law?
The fruit he wanted to see produced was not new conversions. Philippians 4:17, where Paul instructs a congregation to which he felt especially close, helps to explain what the apostle meant: "Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account." In writing to an existing congregation of converted people, he wanted them to exhibit the fruit of righteousness by making use of faith in God's Word (the gospel). They could do this by yielding in obedience to God's instruction through the power and guidance of His Spirit in them.
As a shepherd or pastor, he claims the fruit would also be his, since it would accrue in them as a result of his teaching them the gospel in greater detail. The teaching in Romans exemplifies the detail of the messages he would have given orally had he been there. The good works that they produced by making use of God's Word would also accrue to him as the fruits of his labors for them. When students do well, their success is the fruit of a teacher's labors.
Conversely, Philippians 4:17 explains that Paul is not being self-centered in this. He yearns that they produce fruit through good works so they can receive the benefits. The fruit accrues to their accounts. Thus, producing good fruit requires sound instruction from a qualified teacher (Acts 8:30-31), the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, a believing and receptive mind, and applying the instruction.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Romans 7:4: