Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime? 2 Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. 3 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.
4 In the same way, my friends, you 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. 5 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. 6 But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.
7 What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived 10 and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.
Romans 7: 1-12 (NRSV)
Do you remember the first time you were allowed to do something on your own without your parents? How about when you finally moved out of your parent’s house and were considered an adult for the first time? If you were like me, you enjoyed this newfound freedom and experimented with bending the rules until your parents realized something had changed.
As we grow older, the relationship we have with our parents evolves into something different than what we experienced in our childhood. The rules our parents expected us to follow no longer apply. Staying up all night, cold pizza for breakfast, and dirty laundry stacked to the rafters are no longer parental issues that require consequences. We are now in charge of our own destiny, taking responsibility for each misstep we make along the way.
The chance for a new relationship with our parents is an opportunity to confide in them, and seek their wisdom. The rules that were once followed provide a framework for our emerging independence and relationship with our parents. There is a mutual trust between each other that strengthens over time.
This new, exciting relationship that develops is similar to our relationship with God. In the scripture reading for today, Paul uses a marriage metaphor to describe our relationship with God. A married woman is bound to the law of her husband until his death. Similarly, we are bound to the law and Christ until his death. We, like the widow, are free from obligation to the law because of Christ’s death and resurrection.
This law that Paul is referring to is the Torah, the law of the Israelites. But why is he referring to the Torah? Paul is addressing a Christian community composed mostly of converted Jews. Because they no longer live under the letter of the Mosaic Law, they may be tempted to reject it outright, considering the law to be a sin. But it isn’t! They cannot cut off the branch on which they are sitting, or rather the trunk of the tree of which they are branches [11:17–24]. Paul’s main point is that human nature, not the law, is the cause of sin. The law provides a framework to help us form a relationship with God.
Paul reminds us through this illustration of marriage that the Spirit gives us new life in Christ. Because Christ died for our sins, God has renewed the covenant in Christ and the Torah is no longer required to create and sustain Israel as God’s people. We are a new people, whose heart will be transformed through the Spirit and bear fruit. Much like the relationship we cultivate with our parents throughout our adulthood, we are invited into new relationship with God through Christ. This is a beautiful gift that we must cherish. Thanks be to God.
God of patience and compassion, cause our lives to bear good fruit so that others may taste and see your goodness and grace through Christ our Lord. Help us to strengthen our relationship with our neighbors and with you during this season of Lent, so that we may be instruments of your peace in a troubled world. Amen.
Heather Woodworth Brannon
First Level, M.Div.
Before following her call to seminary, Heather spent several years teaching music in Raleigh, North Carolina. She currently serves in STEP Richmond and Kairos Torch Prison Ministry. Heather is excited to serve in a congregational setting after seminary.