So we might die to the law... - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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To make us die to the law...


So we might Die to the Law and Bear Fruit for God

Text: Rom.7:4
"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."

Suppose one day you received a gift voucher for a Driving Experience at Brands Hatch... It’s less than an hour away and on your way the excitement builds and the adrenaline begins to flow. You’re looking forward to it and then you pass a speed camera which flashes – you know a few days later an unwelcome letter is going to be posted through the door. There’ll be a fine to pay and a few points added to the licence.

But once on the track at Brands Hatch you can drive much faster sure in the knowledge that you won’t set off any speed cameras and free from the curse of the speeding ticket!

Why is it that you can go fast in one place but not another? Quite simply because the laws concerning speeding have jurisdiction over the public highway but not the race track. The laws on speeding simply don’t concern you there – you’re free of that particular law – it just doesn’t apply to you any more than the law applies to a dead man.

Now back in 2016 and again for a number of weeks in 2017 we spent some time looking at a number of reasons that the Bible gives to explain why Jesus died. This evening I want to return to this theme as we consider how the death of Christ impacts the believer’s relationship to the Law of God.

Our text this evening will be:

Rom.7:4 "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."

Let’s see how it breaks down.

Our Standing Before the Law
The first thing we should notice is that Paul is writing specifically to Christians. He addresses them as "brothers" and what he is about to say concerns them as a distinct group – what he has to say does not apply to all and sundry. Christians occupy a different position with regards to the Law of God than do unbelievers.

If you are a Christian this evening you are about to hear how Paul describes the nature of your new standing with regard to the Law of God. You haven’t always been in this position. Before you became a Christian your position was very different and very dangerous indeed. If your position had not been changed then the law would have condemned you, it would have cursed you and it would have consigned you to a bleak eternity under the just condemnation of God.

Earlier in this same letter Paul had described how the Romans (and indeed to everyone else as well) related to the Law of God and this is what he wrote:

Rom.3:19 "Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God."

This Law of God which calls men and women to account is a good law. If men and women were to live their lives respecting this law, exemplified as it is in the 10 Commandments, then our communities would be happier and safer places. We wouldn’t be anxious about leaving our cars or our homes unlocked because others would respect our property rights. We wouldn’t be concerned by all those announcements concerning the latest security flaws in computer technology because no-one would try to steal our identities or raid our bank accounts.

No the law is not the problem. It is good and it promised life to those who kept it. Jesus knew that and affirmed the law when he declared to a lawyer who wanted to test him:

Lk.10:21 "do this and you will live."

The trouble is not that the law is bad but that we are! We simply can’t "do this" and consequently we won’t "live" if all we’ve got to rely on is the law.

The law issues its commands and when we fail to meet them the law can only do one thing – it condemns the law-breaker.

Paul added:

Rom.3:20 "by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight,"   

If we live under the regime of the law and break that law then condemnation is the only outcome under that regime. If we are to have any hope at all it will not be found in our trying harder to be nice, it won’t be found in making a heap of new year resolutions, it won’t be found in trying to pretend that we’re not as bad as others, but it must be found in some kind of regime change. We need to brought somehow to a place where we are no longer under the jurisdiction of the law.

And this is precisely what the Christian message tells us. A regime change is what we need and it is precisely this that is brought about by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ for all who are united to him by faith!

Let’s look at this more closely.

"You have died to the law"
In the immediate context of Romans ch.7 Paul used an illustration drawn from the sphere of marriage. Now the law dealt with questions of marriage, amongst other things it determined whether a union between a man and a woman would be legitimate or adulterous. A person who was married was not free to marry another person if their original marriage had not been properly annulled. To proceed regardless was to deny sanctity of marriage and to commit adultery.

But everything changed if death intervened. A widow or widower could marry again without having to worry about the stigma of adultery being attached to their new marriage relationship. Their new status meant that their relation to the law had changed.

The position of the Christian is analogous. Our relationship to the law has been forever changed because death has intervened meaning the law no longer has the same jurisdiction over us.

When Jesus died on the cross his death marked the completion of his righteousness as he fully fulfilled the will of his Heavenly Father. At the same time his death satisfied the demands of divine justice as he paid in full the penalty due to our sin. In this way all of the law’s demands have been fulfilled for us by Christ – indeed the power of the law to rule over us has been doubly broken:

  • The law’s requirements have been fully met – we have the necessary righteousness that the law demands, we have the righteousness of Christ himself credited to our account. If the law comes to us now telling us we have to do this or that we can respond that we have that righteousness already and he stands representing us in the Father’s presence – his name is Jesus!

  • The law’s penalties have also been fully met. Every sin and failure has already been atoned for in the death of Christ – a death which Paul affirms signifies the death of the believer to the law.

All this means that if we are united to Christ then death has intervened bringing about the necessary regime change and we are no longer under the law which demands and condemns but we are now under Christ! It is true that he too has his demands but these are accompanied not by threats of condemnation but with gracious giving!

For a purpose
The Christian by virtue to his union with Jesus and particularly his union with him in his death has been set free from the regime of the law. He has not however been set free to live in a kind of no-man’s land as an independent and isolated individual – the NT knows nothing of such a position of seeming neutrality! No? The Christian has experienced a regime change: in being freed from the law he has at one and the same time come under the regime of Christ and his grace.

  • Belonging

Paul describes this regime change in terms of "belonging to another" adding that it was for this very purpose that Jesus died. Having died in the place of sinners he now welcomes all who will come to him in faith so that they might belong to him!

Belonging is such an important factor in human life. We have been created in the image of God to be social creatures, to have and to enjoy relationships, and that entails a true and proper sense of belonging.

Wikipedia describes "belongingness" as:

"the human emotional need to be an accepted member of a group. Whether it is family, friends, co-workers, a religion, or something else, people tend to have an 'inherent' desire to belong and be an important part of something greater than themselves. This implies a relationship that is greater than simple acquaintance or familiarity. The need to belong is the need to give and receive attention to and from others."

It goes on to add that to lack a sense of belonging is serious having dire consequences for us.

Being under the law is demanding. Under the law we are left with an endless round of trying to do enough to somehow meet its demands in order that we might be accepted. Being under the law means constant and inevitable failure. But in Christ we have been freed by his death from the law and we are immediately fully accepted, we belong. We belong not just to a new group of friends – our fellow believers – but we belong to the greatest of all people imaginable!

Paul builds up the tension: he writes that the purpose of Jesus’ death is that Paul’s Christian brothers in Rome might belong to another – who is this other? It is none other than the One who has been raised from the dead. It is important for humans to belong somewhere but what an astounding privilege is offered to us in the gospel – not just to belong somewhere to someone or another but to belong to Jesus. Most of the well-known and ‘important’ people of this world couldn’t care two hoots about us but here he is, the Lord of Glory, the Prince of Peace, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Incarnate Son of God who is not only willing to take us but died for us that we might belong to him! And so every Christian belongs to him and will do forever and forever. What a price he has paid that we might have such benefits!

  • Fruit-bearing

And that is not the end of it. He intends for us, in union with himself, to be productive fruit-bearing Christians. He died to free us from the law, that we might belong to him and that we might bear fruit that is acceptable and pleasing to the Father!

We bear that fruit now, not as we might have tried before becoming Christians by desperate effort to do what the law commanded in letters written on stone, but belonging to Christ a new longing for righteousness rises within us. Believing in Christ we are united to him by faith and as we abide in him, trusting him, believing him, communing with him, he causes fruit to be produced, to grow and to mature.

The commentator William Hendricksen put it like this:

"It is clear ... that the genuine Christian life is not that of bondage but that of freedom. It is not motivated by external regulations but by love for the One to whom believers belong, even Christ. It is not guided by selfish interests but by the Spirit. And it is not barren but fruitful."

Jesus taught his followers not that every good tree must try hard to bear fruit but he said:

Mt 7:17-18 "So, every healthy tree bears good fruit" he went on to add that "A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit."

This is the new way of gospel obedience where fruit-bearing replaces law-keeping. And the fruit referred to is that of that good attitudes, good aspirations, good words and good deeds. Such fruit is described elsewhere in the NT in various ways:

  • It is the fruit of the Spirit:

Gal.5:22-23 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law."

  • It is the fruit of light:

Eph.5:9 "the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true"

  • It is the (peaceful) fruit of righteousness:

Phil.1:9-11 "And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."

This sort of fruit brings immense personal benefit but that is not its primarily goal. God is worthy of all honour and he is gloried as his children bear such fruit:

Jn.15:8 "By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples."

Bearing fruit as we abide in Christ does not make us disciples of Christ but rather it is the evidence of our discipleship – it is only made possible by our genuine union with the Saviour and as his life flows through us in energising power.

Just as bearing fruit is the natural and normal state of a tree in nature so bearing fruit is the natural and normal condition of the believer who abides in union with his Lord. Jesus died for his people not to make it possible for his followers to bear fruit but to make it inevitable as they abide in him.

May we each do that to the glory of our Heavenly Father!


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