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Romans 7:1-6


Or do you not know, brothers- for I am speaking to those who know the law - that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.





Dead to the Law

Thursday of Easter 4

30 April 2015

There are 1,143,358 lawyers in the United States. This means that the United States has the highest number of attorneys per capita in the world. There is one attorney for every 265 people living the U.S. The congregation I serve has a much lower ratio; about 1 to 40. I don't think this is because Lutherans are in trouble with the civil law more than the general population or that they are more litigious than other folks, probably the opposite.


One wonders if we in the U.S. are the most litigious society in history because there are so many lawyers or that there are so many lawyers because we are the most litigious society in history. This "chicken and egg" dilemma admits of no solution. The one thing that such a "statistic" identifies is that legal patterns of thought are fairly well established in our social fabric. Lawyers are involved in every area of our lives: politics, medicine, business, death, sports, and entertainment. They have a quasi-priestly status in our communities as arbiters of right and wrong and dispensers of wisdom. The concepts of justice, rights, acquittal, and guilt before the law are in the public discourse constantly. We are in a completely positive sense a legalistic society; positive because a rule of law is infinitely superior to rule by personalities, which would be tyranny.


It is strange then, that so-called Christian theologians have declared that Christianity can no longer express the theology of justification as its main gospel proclamation. Justification of the sinner before God is fundamentally a legal concept: acquittal from sin by the judge eternal and a remission of all penalties for the sake of Christ, who is our substitute in the dock before the bar of eternal justice. Paul the Apostle used these legal terms in a society that was far less legalistic than our own, so why shouldn't the most legalistic society in history recognize these arguments and rejoice in them? We understand the law. We know about guilt and acquittal. So why should the church decline to preach the divine acquittal of sinners through the death of the law and indeed by reason of the death of the sinner? Suppose I would be in prison for murder. If I should unexpectedly pass away while awaiting trial, my trial would not proceed. It would be a waste of social resources to conduct trials in which the dead would be a defendant. Criminal law simply doesn't apply to the dead. The dead are beyond the power of the law to convict and punish.


We should understand and rejoice in the death that has been worked upon us in our baptisms then, knowing that the dead cannot stand before the bar of the law. If we are dead under the power of Christ's death, then the law has no more say. "All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death" (Rm 6:3). The criminal case falls apart, because we can no longer stand as defendants.  But God leaves nothing to chance in the matter of the acquittal and our appropriation of it. How hard it is to believe that we are dead, for we struggle with very real sin and weakness. We don't feel untouched as the cadaver does under the medical student's scalpel. So our Lord not only assures us that because we are dead with Him the law has no power over us, but the law has been put to death as well. The law is dead and we are dead. We criminals who know it rejoice that we have been acquitted by God for Christ's sake.


John Chrysostom


"'Or do you not know, brothers  - for I am speaking to those who know the law - that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives' (Rm 7:1)? Since Paul said, we are 'dead to sin,' he here shows that not only sin, but also the law, has no dominion over them. But if the Law has none, how much less has sin? To render his language understandable, he uses a human example to make this plain. Paul seems to be stating one point, but offers at the same time two arguments for his proposition. One, that when a husband is dead, the woman is no longer subject to her husband, and there is nothing to prevent her from becoming the wife of another man. The other, that in the present case it is not the husband only that is dead but the wife also. So one may enjoy freedom in two ways. Now if when the husband is dead, she is freed from his power, when the woman is shown to be dead also, she is much more free. For if the one event frees her from his power, much more does the concurrence of both.


"Since he is about to proceed then to a proof of these points, he starts with praise for the readers: 'Or do you not know, brothers  - for I am speaking to those who know the law,' that is, I am saying a thing that is quite agreed upon, and clear, and to people who know all these things well, 'that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives.' He does not say, husband or wife, but 'person,' which word applies to both: 'For whoever  is dead is freed from sin.' The Law then is given for the living, but to the dead it ceases to be ordained (or to give commands). See how he sets forth a twofold freedom!"

John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 12

Lord Christ, You pleaded our case before the Father's throne. You have displayed for Him the signs of Your death: hands, feet, and side pierced for us. The penalty has been paid. We have been hidden in Your death by baptism and died with You. Give us peace to live under the acquittal You have won for us. Send the Spirit that we might confess our freedom from the law to those who remain oppressed under the law's power; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.


For the Sunday School of Memorial Lutheran Church, that the Lord Jesus would be proclaimed to the little ones for their comfort and growth in faith


For Walter Friend, that the Lord would grant him healing and a recovery of strength following surgery


For all those who are seeking gainful employment, that the Lord would send them work in keeping with their vocation 

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Resurrection (1515)

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