The Book of Romans
The Limited Dominion of the Law
Viewpoints concerning the place of the law in the Christian life seem to follow two extremes. Some argue that “Since the believer is saved by grace that he is free to live as he pleases.” This extreme leads to a license for the believer to sin. The other extreme is an expression of legalism. Supporters of legalism argue that the believer is saved by grace, but the individual must live under the law if he is going to please God. The underlying principle is that the individual is not justified by keeping the law and that keeping the law cannot sanctify the individual. So does the law have any authority over the believer? Is there any value found in the law for the believer?
The limited dominion of the law is an important topic that helps the believer understand the real meaning of living a life for Christ. Many individuals measure their spirituality by a list of dos and don’ts. The end result for many believers is a feeling of defeat because as they see deeper into their own hearts they discover sin that they did not know was even there. Without realizing it many believer move into legalism and learn the truth about sin, the law, and themselves. The weakness of legalism is that it sees sins but not the root of the problem sin. Legalism judges by the outward life of the individual not the inward or heart of the individual. Furthermore, legalism fails to understand the real purpose of God’s law and the relationship between the law and grace.
The text provides harmony between the constant battle of grace and the law in the believer’s life.
I. The Authority of the Law, Vs 1-6
- The illustration of a husband and wife shows that the believer has a new relationship to the law because of his union with Jesus Christ. When a man and woman marry, they are united for life. The biblical principle of marriage is that as long as they live, the husband and wife are under the authority of the law of marriage. If the woman leaves the man and marries another man, she commits adultery. But if the husband dies the woman is free to remarry because she is no longer a wife. It was death that broke the marriage relationship and set her free.
- This illustration teaches us that when the individual was unsaved, in the flesh, he was under the authority of God’s law. The law condemns the unsaved individual. But, when the individual trusted in Christ he died to the law; but in Christ, he arose from the dead and is now united to Christ to live a new kind of life.
- The law did not die, because God’s law still rules over people. At conversion the individual died to the law and the law no longer has dominion over him. To be dead to the law does not mean that the individual lives a lawless life. The motivation in the believer’s life does not come from the law; it comes from God’s grace through a union with Jesus Christ.
- The believer is no longer under the authority of the law because he is energized by the Holy Spirit as he seeks to obey and the serve the Lord. The law has no enabling power. The Ten Commandments were written on stones and read to the people. God’s Word is written in the believer’s heart. II Corinthians 3:3, Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.
II. The Ministry of the Law, Vs, 7-13
- The law is a mirror that reveals the heart of the individual. James 1:22-25, But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
- The text uses the last of the Ten Commandments concerning covetousness to illustrate its point. Covetousness unlike the other commandments deals with an inward attitude not outward action. The example of the rich ruler in Mark 10:17-27 is a good example for the use of the law and how it reveal sin and the individual’s need for a Savior. The ruler had never committed adultery, robbed anyone, given false witness, or dishonored his parents. When Jesus told him to sell his goods and give to the poor, the man went away in sorrow. The commandment “Thou shalt not covet” had revealed to him what a sinner he really was.
- Believers who try to live by keeping the law will discover that their legalistic system does not make them more spiritual but more sinful. Because of our nature, the law with its commands against certain behaviors can arouse the desire to perform evil behaviors.
- Galatians 3:21-22, Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. The law does not give life it can only shows the sinner that he is guilty and condemned. Legalistic Christianity does not cause the believer to grow and bear spiritual fruit. Believers who are trying to live by the high standards of the law in their own power and energy will become judgmental and bitter.
- The law shows what sin really is and God’s Word reveals the consequences of sin.
III. The Inability of the Law, Vs 14-25
- The law cannot change the believer. V 14, For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. Paul was a dedicated believer serving God, but he continued to fall short of God’s moral standards. It is impossible for the believer to obey the law because he has a sinful nature that rebels against the law.
- Being carnal sold under sin involves a conflict that troubled Paul. Paul found himself defeated at times because by not doing what he wanted to for Christ and doing what he hated to do. The conflict indicates that there is a battle between two identities in the believer. First there is something that acknowledges that the law is good and second that there is something within the believer, which produces sin.
- Because the believer is still in the flesh our desires is to do good, yet the ability to do good is lacking. The desire of every believer should be to align themselves with the new nature God has imparted to them.
- V 24, O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The believer is miserable whenever he is defeated by sin. The believer will be defeated when he fails to live in the power supplied by the Holy Spirit.
- V 25, I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. Paul gives praise to God because there is victory through Jesus Christ. The problem is not the law but the carnal nature of mankind.
The law has limited dominion (control) over the believer because in salvation the believer has died to the law and make alive in Christ Jesus. The believer is no longer under the authority of the law because he is energized by the Holy Spirit as he seeks to obey and the serve the Lord. The law is a mirror that reveals the heart of the individual. If the believer is motivated by the old nature he cannot please God. But if the believer yields to the leadership of the Holy Spirit then he will have the power needed to obey God’s will. The flesh can never serve the law of God because the flesh is at war with God. Therefore, the secret for doing the will of God’s is to yield to the Holy Spirit, which is always in agreement with God’s Word.
Created and Researched by Pastor Dennis Baker
Zion Baptist Church
3485 New Baumgartner Rd. - St. Louis, MO 63129 - Phone: 314-846-1867