7:1-6 You are bound to know, brothers--for I speak to men who know what law means--that the law has authority over a man only for the duration of his life. Thus, a married woman remains bound by law to her husband as long as he is alive; but, if her husband dies, she is completely discharged from the law concerning her husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she marries another man while her husband is still alive; but, if her husband dies, she is free from the law, and she is no longer an adulteress if she marries another man. Just so, my brothers, you have died to the law, through the body of Jesus Christ (for you shared in his death by baptism) in order that you should enter into union with another, I mean, with him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit to God. In the days of our unaided human nature, the passions of our sins, which were set in motion by the law, worked in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are completely discharged from the law, because we have died to that by which we were held captive, so that we serve, not under the old written law, but in the new life of the spirit.
Seldom did Paul write so difficult and so complicated a passage as this. C. H. Dodd has said that when we are studying it we should try to forget what Paul says and to find out what he means.
The basic thought of the passage is founded on the legal maxim that death cancels all contracts. Paul begins with an illustration of this truth and wishes to use this picture as a symbol of what happens to the Christian. So long as a woman's husband is alive, she cannot marry another without becoming an adulteress. But if her husband dies, the contract is, so to speak, cancelled, and she is free to marry anyone she likes.
In view of that, Paul could have said that we were married to sin; that sin was slain by Christ; and that, therefore, we are now free to be married to God. That is undoubtedly what he set out to say. But into this picture came the law. Paul could still have put the thing quite simply. He could have said that we were married to the law; that the law was killed by the work of Christ; and that now we are free to be married to God. But, quite suddenly, he puts it the other way, and, in his suddenly changed picture, it is we who die to the law.
How can that be? By baptism we share in the death of Christ. That means that, having died, we are discharged from all obligations to the law and become free to marry again. This time we marry, not the law, but Christ. When that happens, Christian obedience becomes, not an externally imposed obedience to some written code of laws, but an inner allegiance of the spirit to Jesus Christ.
Paul is drawing a contrast between the two states of man--without Christ and with him. Before we knew Christ we tried to rule life by obedience to the written code of the law. That was when we were in the flesh. By the flesh Paul does not mean simply the body, because a man retains a physical body to the end of the day. In man there is something which answers to the seduction of sin; and it is that part of man which provides a bridgehead for sin that Paul calls the flesh.
The flesh is human nature apart from and unaided by God. Paul says that, when our human nature was unaided by God, the law actually moved our passions to sin. What does he mean by that? More than once he has the thought that the law actually produces sin, because the very fact that a thing is forbidden lends it a certain attraction. When we had nothing but the law, we were at the mercy of sin.
Then Paul turns to the state of a man with Christ. When a man rules his life by union with Christ he rules it not by obedience to a written code of law which may actually awaken the desire to sin but by an allegiance to Jesus Christ within his spirit and his heart. Not law, but love, is the motive of his life; and the inspiration of love can make him able to do what the restraint of law was powerless to help him do.