In Romans chapter 7, the apostle Paul provides an allegory of two marriages in order to help us further understand Christian conversion—a transformation that is worked by the Holy Spirit.
The first marriage stands for the law of God, also known as the Old Covenant1. The first husband stands for any person who is under this law; and the wife stands for the very soul of that person. (Of course, there is no distinction between a person and his or her soul.)
The apostle asks this question concerning the marriage covenant: “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law2,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?” (Romans 7:1).
Paul points out that if the first husband in his allegory dies, then his widow is “loosed from the law of her husband”—i.e. loosed from the marriage covenant of her deceased husband. And in that case she is legally free to enter a second, subsequent marriage—without this being considered adultery (v.3).
Then he reasons that the case is similar for the Christian, but with a most important difference: “Wherefore, my bretheren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ” (v.4a).
A death has occurred. That death brought an end to the Christian’s being “under the law.” But that death was the death of Christ on behalf of his people. Christ’s death is counted by God the Father as being his people’s death to the law.
The law of God condemns all who are under it to Hell, because Adam our first parent disobediently ate of the forbidden fruit, breaking the law (see Genesis 2:16-17; 3:17-19; Romans 5:2; 1 Corinthians 15:22). Moreover, we each heap up further condemnation every time we ourselves sin (Romans 3:23).
But now we are delivered from the condemnation of the law because we have become dead to the law by the body of Christ, who died for us. And as we have seen3, this deliverance was applied to our souls at our conversion—by the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Paul’s “wherefore” argument (v.4a) doesn’t stop there, for there is a second marriage in his illustration.
At their conversion, Christians are transferred from the covenant of life that was broken in Adam—to the covenant of grace that was established by Christ’s sinless life and death for his people.
“Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God” (Romans 7:4).
The true Christian has become “married to another”—he has been covenanted in the New Covenant to the Lord Jesus Christ, who has risen from the dead—and therefore he or she brings forth spiritual fruit by the power of God the Holy Spirit.
For this reason, we are freed from the law as a condemning covenant of works—but we are not free to “continue in sin” (Romans 6:1, 15)4.
The apostle’s purpose in his two-marriages allegory is not only to teach us concerning what the Lord Jesus Christ has accomplished for his people (in his sacrificial death that ended the first marriage), but also to teach us what is being accomplished in his people (in the second marriage) by regeneration and sanctification.
The Christian’s “old man,” his totally depraved nature, was not a keeper of the law of God. Indeed, it took the law as a provoking challenge to sin all the more (see Romans 7:1-11)! But now you, born-again Christians who read these words, are freed from the domination of your old natures—“freed from sin” by being now “dead to sin” (Romans 6:2, 7).
That was the death of your “old man” in the crucifixion of Christ for you.
That is what you were freed from, Christian. And this is what you are freed to:
You are free to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 7:4);
You are free to “yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (v.13);
You are free to “become servants to God” (Romans 6:22a; see also 7:6);
And it is in this true Christian freedom that “ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life” (v.22b).
That is the regeneration and ongoing sanctified living of your “new man” in the resurrection of Christ for you (see Romans 4, especially v.25).
Dear Christian, you are now free “…that ye should be married…to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God” (Romans 7:4).
Before conversion: “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death” (v.5).
After conversion: “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (v.6).
Paul’s allegory of the two marriages in Romans 7 re-emphasises some of the things that Christian baptism signifies in Romans 65—but then he goes further.
In his teaching about Christian baptism by the Holy Spirit at conversion (Romans 6:3-4; see also Titus 3:5), Paul had emphasised the death of our old, fallen nature in the crucifixion of Christ, and our being raised to newness of life in Christ’s resurrection (Romans 6:6-7).
Now, in his two-marriages allegory (Romans 7:1-7), Paul teaches us that in the event of our conversion:
You have undergone a change of covenant (vv.2-3);
You have undergone a change of covenant-headship (v.3);
You have undergone a change of life-allegiance (vv.1, 5-6);
You have undergone a liberation (or, deliverance) from the dominating power of sin (v.7);
You have undergone a change of life-obedience (v.6); and
You have undergone a change of fruit-bearing (v.4).
All this began in you at your conversion.
Many of the early Christians were Israelites; and the early Gentile Christians also became students of the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible (e.g. see Romans 11:1; 1 John 5:2-3). ↩︎
Of course, as Christians, we should obey God’s moral law—the disobedience of which is the very definition of sin (compare 1 John 3:4). The apostle Paul does not teach that Christians have a licence to sin! Either Paul’s theological opponents had accused him of this, or Paul expected that they would. But he denies it in the strongest terms (“God forbid,” see Romans 6:1-2). And he lays out a long argument in Romans chapters 6 and 7 that proves Christians are not freed from the law to become people of lawlessness (i.e. immorality) but to become saints—the holy people of God. However, Paul’s purpose in his epistle is not so much against his gainsayers as it is toward the Church—to encourage Christians in newness and holiness of life. (We have discussed this at length in chapters 31-35.) ↩︎