Married to Christ
The theme of Romans is the gospel, God's power to save all who believe (Romans 1:16-17). This is equivalent to saying we are justified by faith apart from the law (Romans 3:20-31). The law that is no part of our justification is the law given through Moses to Israel (Romans 2:12-27; 3:21).
Two questions need to be answered. Is the law by which we are not to be justified limited to the so-called "ceremonial law," or does it include the Ten Commandments? Has this law actually been abrogated, or is Paul simply teaching justification by faith alone apart from keeping any law? The apostle answers both these questions in Romans 7:1-7.
A favorite theme of Paul is freedom or liberty (Romans 6:18,22; 7:3; 8:2,20-21; Galatians 2:4; 4:26, 31; 5:1,13). In Romans six Paul argues that Christians are free from sin (Romans 6:17-18). In chapter seven he argues that those in Christ are free from the law (Romans 7:4).
In Romans 7:1-6 the apostle answers the question, How and why did freedom from the law occur? He does this by using an analogy with marriage. Law has dominion ("jurisdiction" - NASB) over a person while that person lives (verse 1). The Mosaic covenant provided for the remarriage of a woman whose husband had died (Deuteronomy 25:5). Thus, the law implied that a woman could not be married to another man so long as her husband lived (Romans 7:2). Of course, this was the general principle, for the law did allow the husband to divorce his wife for uncleanness (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). But that is irrelevant to the apostle's illustration. Thus, the woman who married another man while her husband was living was an adulteress (Romans 7:3; cf. Leviticus 20:10). But the death of the husband freed her to marry another (Romans 7:3).
The principle of law is that death ends one's obligation to law (whether marital law, spiritual law, civil law, or any other). When her husband dies, a woman is released from his rule (Romans 7:2-3).
They were dead to the law (Romans 7:4). It is true that Jesus' death on the cross abrogated the law (Colossians 2:13-14). But in this passage, it was the Jewish Christians who had died, not the law. When we are baptized into Christ, we are united with His death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:3-6). As He died, we die with Him (Galatians 2:20). As He lives anew, so do we. Their death with Christ had released them from the law, so they could be married to Christ. If they kept the law, they were guilty of spiritual adultery against Christ. Now that they were married to Christ, rather than sinning, they should bear fruit to God.
The Old Covenant was fleshly (Romans 7:5) in that under that covenant membership was by means of fleshly descent from Jacob, the token of the covenant was fleshly circumcision, the promises primarily pertained to the flesh, and the laws themselves dealt with such material things as proper and improper foods.
The end result of the law was "fruit" (sin) leading to death (Romans 7:5).
But, thankfully "we" (Jewish Christians, including Paul) were delivered from that law that brought only death (Romans 7:6). This occurred by their dying to the law when they died with Christ. Now they were to "serve in the newness of the Spirit" (the New Testament; Romans 7:6; II Corinthians 3:5-8).
This does not mean the law is sin (i.e., the cause of sin) (Romans 7:7). Rather, it affords the one under it the knowledge of sin (Romans 7:7; cf. Romans 3:20). Jews knew it was wrong to covet what belonged to others because the law said, "You shall not covet" (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21). Of course, this is a direct quote of the last of the Ten Commandments. The law to which we are dead includes the Ten Commandments.
What are the answers to our questions? The apostle is neither making a distinction between "moral law" and "ceremonial, law," a difference nowhere found in Scripture, nor is he teaching justification by faith alone. The law that was abrogated includes the Ten Commandments. We are dead to them, no longer under their jurisdiction. Thus, not only are we not justified by keeping them, we are not to subject ourselves to them. To do so is to commit adultery against Christ. We must obey the law of Christ (Hebrews 5:8-9; James 1:25).
Does this mean we can worship idols, use the Lord's name in vain, curse our parents, commit murder and adultery, steal, lie and covet with God's approval? No, the law of Christ, which we are under (I Corinthians 9:19-22), forbids all these sins (Acts 14:14-15; 17:22-31; II Timothy 3:2; Ephesians 6:1-3; I John 3:15; Hebrews 13:4; Ephesians 4:28, 25; Colossians 3:5).
I was born in Southwest Texas. Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836. The law of Mexico forbids murder. Does that mean murder is legal in Texas? No, because the law of the State of Texas also forbids murder. One who illegally takes human life in Texas will be punished, not because he violates the law of Mexico, but because he violates the law of Texas.
It is sinful to worship idols, use the Lord's name in vain, curse our parents, commit murder and adultery, steal, lie and covet, not because the Ten Commandments forbade these things, but because Christ does.