Deliverance from the Law (7:1-6)

Lesson ▪ 2002-03
Tags: Romans 7:1-6; Sin; Law and gospel; Sanctification; Christian life
Excerpted from God’s Righteousness Revealed: An Exposition of Romans
Related Resources: The Glory of the Gospel: A Christmas Meditation from 2 Corinthians 3


In chapter 7 Paul continues discussing the believer’s hope for deliverance from the dominion of sin. In particular, he focuses on the believer’s relationship to the law under the new covenant. Verses 1-6 provide the statement of, and rationale for, the believer’s deliverance from the law. The remainder of the chapter addresses the proliferation of sin under the law.

Paul begins the chapter in a manner that is familiar to us: “Don’t you know?” (v. 1; cf. 6:3; 6:16). By inference, the truth he is about to discuss is a matter of common understanding among maturing believers. He specifically addresses believers (“brethren”), qualifying this group as people who know the law (v. 1). The truth he presumes that the Romans should know is this: The law exercises dominion over us as long as we are alive (v. 1).

Paul illustrates this truth with the example of a marriage relationship. A married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive; conversely, if he dies, she is freed from her obligations to him (v. 2). The legitimacy of the woman’s marriage to another man is a function of the original husband’s status. If he is still alive, she is called an adulteress; if he has died, she is free to marry (v. 3). Therefore, death liberates the woman from continued obligation to her original husband.

In verse 4 Paul proceeds to draw an analogy between the woman’s deliverance from conjugal duty and our liberation from the law. Specifically, he says, we have died to the law through the body of Christ—a reference to his death on the cross, not the church, which is his body in a figurative sense.24 This death has made it possible for us to be united in marriage with Christ (cf. Eph. 5:25ff). Our new relationship is productive, for we now bear fruit to God. Though Paul’s analogy is imprecise,25 it vividly shows how death terminates the old order and ushers us into the new.

Verses 5-6 explain in fuller detail how death with Christ frees us from the law. In order to understand this freedom, we must first grasp the reality of our bondage. According to verse 5, in our unregenerate state (“when we were in the flesh”), the law aroused sinful passions within our members, leading ultimately to spiritual death (cf. 6:21, 23). Our death to the law that held (katecho) us delivered us from its power, so that we now serve—not in the obsolescence of the written code, but in the newness of the Holy Spirit (v. 6). We are no longer slaves of sin, but servants of righteousness (cf. 6:15-23). The work of the Spirit within us is the key to our victory, a truth that Paul proceeds to illustrate, first negatively (7:7-25), then positively (chapter 8, esp. vv. 1-17).

Romans 7 picks up a number of themes mentioned briefly earlier in the letter:

  • The law produces awareness of sin (3:20).
  • The law does not justify, but brings about wrath (3:20; 4:15).
  • The law confers on sin the status of a transgression (4:15).
  • The law entered the world to create accountability for sin (5:13; 5:20).
  • The law exercises dominion over those who are not in the realm of grace (6:14).
  • The law creates a sense of moral responsibility; the latter persists even though grace has overthrown the law (6:15).


Though this passage addresses believers (v. 1), it has a significant implication for unbelievers: Victory over sin can only be achieved through union with Christ, not through attempts to observe the law. Applications for believers include the following:

  • We should strive to understand the reality that we can overcome sin because we have died to the law.
  • We should uphold the permanence of the marriage relationship.
  • We should live as if we are united in marriage to Christ.
  • We should recognize that, apart from the Holy Spirit’s power, knowledge of the law enhances sin’s dominion over us.


24 There is no logical way that the church could free us from the law’s dominion. Our identification with Christ in His death not only frees us from sin (cf. 6:1-14), but also delivers us from the tyranny of the law.

25 In the case of the marriage relationship, a husband’s death frees his wife from her duty. Yet it is our death to the law that frees us from its dominion. Nevertheless, the lack of precise parallelism leaves intact the truth that death cancels existing obligations.