Do you not know, brothers and sisters, for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? 2 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him.3 So then, if she has intimacy relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.
The apostle Paul concludes in Romans 6:14 that sin should no longer have dominion over a believer because they are not under the law but under grace. This doesn’t mean the law is responsible for sin. The law is holy, righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12). However, because believers are unable to perfectly obey God’s decrees, without grace—the law convicts us to the wrath of God and judgment by death.
The new covenant in Christ changes this. In Romans 6:3, Paul states: “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Therefore, the law no longer has dominion over us because of the grace and imputed righteousness by faith in Jesus.
Paul uses this analogy concerning marriage. By law, the couples are bound by covenant. However, if one spouse dies—then that individual is no longer bound by the covenant. They have been released from this contract. Similarly, when our old self was baptized into Christ’s death, we no longer live, but Christ lives within us (Gal. 2:20). We have been released from the law of sin and death, but this doesn’t mean the law has become void. For Jesus did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it through His atoning sacrifice.
4 So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. 5 For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death.6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
Paul writes ἐθανατώθητε to express how we have been put to death by the law through the body of Christ. This analogy calls for the death of the law, but Paul refuses to say that. Instead, he changes the structure so that we have been set free from the law of sin and death through the resurrection of Christ without inferring the law has become void.
In other words, believers do not seek their freedom of righteousness by the law. For by the law no man will be justified in the sight of God. While we still live by the law to please God, we do not rely on it for our salvation. Our salvation is now in a new covenant, for we belong to another—that is to Jesus our Savior so that we abide in Him to bear fruit for God.
In A.T. Robertson’s commentary, the Greek phrase καρποφορῆσα τῷ θανάτῳ illustrates how our sinful passions bore fruit for death in the old way of the written code—which is juxtaposed with how we serve in the new way of the Spirit that bears fruit for life. Paul clarifies this in Galatians 5:4, “For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.” Thus, the law is not sin, but trying to keep the law to be justified is sinful.
7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead.
Following precisely what Paul is saying about the law is crucial for biblical exegesis. He inserts this question, “Is the law sinful?” and then immediately answers his own question: “Certainly not.” It is my assumption Paul understands the dilemma believers are facing concerning the law and grace. Throughout the letter, he reminds readers the law is good, it’s not sinful, and has not become void.
At the same time, he tells believers in Rome that the law of the Spirit who gives life has set us free from the law of sin and death. Paul emphasizes that he would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. The written code kept us accountable to God. As he said, “I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said—you shall not covet.
Moreover, it’s important to interpret Pauline theology within the context of the entire Bible. For instance, the prophet Isaiah states: “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever (Isa. 40:8).” The psalmist declares, “The works of His hands are truth and justice; all His precepts are trustworthy. They are upheld forever and ever (Ps. 111:8). Finally, Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 24:35: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away.”
9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
First, the goal of the law is for us to know God’s will. When we begin to love God and desire to keep his commandments, we realize that our sinful nature is opposed to the law. This realization is what causes us to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.
This is because we understand the law requires perfect obedience—and we have failed in this endeavor. Therefore, the law catapults us to the mercy seat of Christ. The law’s holy, righteous, and good decrees points us to our ungodliness and unrighteousness. As Paul states here, “the commandment confirms that our sin is utterly sinful.”
Therefore, the law was used for good, not for harm. The law is like an x-ray machine; it reveals what is there but hidden. You can’t blame an x-ray for what it exposes. In fact, if you have a broken arm, even if it’s bad news, you would want to know. Similarly, if sin is hidden in your heart, you would want God’s law to penetrate, convict, and lead you to turn from that sin by trusting in the grace of Christ.
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.
In this passage, Paul is revealing the inward struggle between the natural and spiritual man. There is scholarly debate whether Paul is mentioning this idea pre-conversion or post-conversion. I side with the idea that the apostle is currently struggling with his sin. For throughout our Christian journey, we will struggle with sin.
As we mature in Christ, I believe we will become more sensitive to the Holy Spirit. We will recognize our shortcomings even greater. It’s like Einstein once said: “The more I know, the more I find out how little I really know.” God is so holy and great that as we grow in our sanctification, we see that inner struggle between the carnal nature and the spiritual man even clearer than before.
Keep in mind, Paul calls the law good here. He also says that the law is spiritual. This continues to validate the importance of the law as it relates to even new covenant believers. Jesus said not one title or jot will not pass from the law until all is fulfilled (Matt. 5:18). Therefore, as Christians—we are to obey the law to the best of our ability, not use grace as a license for sin, and realize that our justification is in the atoning work of Christ alone.
18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
Paul continues to elaborate on this concept of spiritual warfare going on in the mind of a believer. For in our sinful nature dwells no good thing. The carnal mind is at enmity against God. That is why we must continue to put off the old man and put on the new man, which is Christ. Paul is wrestling with this concept as he speaks to believers in Rome.
As believers, our goal is to conform into the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. When evil tries to lurk in our heart from the past, we will continue to persevere and do good. It’s common for all of us to still have weeds—it will even take time to pluck those weeds of sin out so that we can leave room for planting good seed. Eventually, our garden will blossom in Christ as we quench the desires of the carnal man.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.
The law is at work. It convicts and even condemns us. But in the next chapter, we will see that there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ—who live not according to the flesh but according to the spirit. As believers, there should be an inward desire that delight’s in the law of God. Psalm 1 tells us, “Blessed is the man who delights in the law of the Lord. For He will be like a tree planted by streams of living water that bear much fruit.”
There may be moments in our Christian journey where we feel like prisoners of the law of sin. Temptation is real and the enemy is persuasive. He has been doing this for quite a long time. However, Scripture makes it abundantly clear that greater is He that is in us than he that is in this world (1 John 4:4). Continue to be confident that the Lord—who begin a good work in you—will complete it until the day of redemption (Philipp. 1:6).
24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Finally, here is the climax of Paul’s testimony here. He calls himself a wretched man—and in other places the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). He cries out, saying: Who will deliver me from this body that is subject to death? Of course, he knows the answer. The answer is Almighty God, the maker of heaven and earth.
God will deliver us through His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus took on the sins of the world. He who knew no sin became sin for us, so that we might receive the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). Therefore, we have nothing to fear, not even fear itself. For Scripture clearly tells us that perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).
There is a fundamental principle here: Jesus is our master and Lord. He has authority over our lives—not in a dictatorship way, but a benevolent, gracious, loving way. For God is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He does require allegiance and respect, for He is the holiest being in the universe. While he is holy and righteous, His love is unending and His abounding grace gives us the assurance to continue serving Him with complete faith and honor.
Commentary by Chad A. Damitz (M.Div)