You shouldn't have any trouble understanding this, friends, for you know all the ins and outs of the law—how it works and how its power touches only the living. For instance, a wife is legally tied to her husband while he lives, but if he dies, she's free. If she lives with another man while her husband is living, she's obviously an adulteress. But if he dies, she is quite free to marry another man in good conscience, with no one's disapproval.
So, my friends, this is something like what has taken place with you. When Christ died he took that entire rule-dominated way of life down with him and left it in the tomb, leaving you free to "marry" a resurrection life and bear "offspring" of faith for God. For as long as we lived that old way of life, doing whatever we felt we could get away with, sin was calling most of the shots as the old law code hemmed us in. And this made us all the more rebellious. In the end, all we had to show for it was miscarriages and stillbirths. But now that we're no longer shackled to that domineering mate of sin, and out from under all those oppressive regulations and fine print, we're free to live a new life in the freedom of God.
But I can hear you say, "If the law code was as bad as all that, it's no better than sin itself." That's certainly not true. The law code had a perfectly legitimate function. Without its clear guidelines for right and wrong, moral behavior would be mostly guesswork. Apart from the succinct, surgical command, "You shall not covet," I could have dressed covetousness up to look like a virtue and ruined my life with it.
Don't you remember how it was? I do, perfectly well. The law code started out as an excellent piece of work. What happened, though, was that sin found a way to pervert the command into a temptation, making a piece of "forbidden fruit" out of it. The law code, instead of being used to guide me, was used to seduce me. Without all the paraphernalia of the law code, sin looked pretty dull and lifeless, and I went along without paying much attention to it. But once sin got its hands on the law code and decked itself out in all that finery, I was fooled, and fell for it. The very command that was supposed to guide me into life was cleverly used to trip me up, throwing me headlong. So sin was plenty alive, and I was stone dead. But the law code itself is God's good and common sense, each command sane and holy counsel.
This is one of those things that many Christians struggle with. So much ink has been spilled on the role of law and grace. How does the law fit into the Christian life? How do we balance freedom and license? Is the law all bad? Do we just chuck it? Seriously, how do we handle this whole thing?
I love how Peterson handles Romans 7:1-12. It’s really a breath of fresh air because it opens up for us the picture that the law is good and it is important and yet its role has changed.
Did you catch that?
The law is good but its role has changed.
Before Christ the law was there to protect and guide us. It was to provide a foundation that would help us learn to love well. But, as often happens, we made the law into something else. In verse 8 Peterson translates that sin turned the law into a “temptation.” Paul’s argument is that sin wasn’t even something that was on our radar until the law pointed it out. This gave sin life, so to speak. It’s like walking along a pond and you’re not even thinking about throwing a rock into the water. Then you see the sign, “No throwing rocks in the pond.” You are then almost compelled to throw a rock in the pond. We have all had this experience. There was good reason for the sign as it probably protected wildlife or the ecosystem. The rule was however disconnected from any context of its meaning. This gave life to something that we hadn’t even considered.
The law was designed to keep the people of God set apart as unique in the world. It was meant to help us remain holy. When the law became an identity to itself it lost its real meaning and simply brought shame. It became an oppressive and overbearing command that nobody could hold up under.
Christ faithfully lived the law, completely. Therefore, in his crucifixion he was able to take the shame inducing power of the law and leave it there. In his resurrection he brought a new identity to the fore. One that was not rooted in law but in grace. The law still provides good moral boundaries that help us live like Christ did. But, it is no longer what shapes our identity. The resurrected Christ free from sin and death does.
Who we are is now connected to the risen Christ.
You are free to live a life of grace.
As Paul writes elsewhere, “For freedom Christ has set us free.”