Romans 7:4 says the new covenant believer is “dead to the law [and] married to . . . [Christ].” Sounds like “the law” here is the Sinai covenant for sure, and not something experiential, right? What further light might Scripture shed on this?
In Romans 6–8, Paul evaluates God’s Sinai covenant law and reveals explicitly what we are to die to. Note that Romans 7:7 says he “would not have known sin except through the law” (NKJV) and then quotes the tenth commandment; 7:12–14 says “the law is holy . . . just . . . good . . . spiritual”; in 7:22, 25 he affirms that as a Christian apostle, “I delight in the law of God” and “I myself serve the law of God” (NKJV), something he could not do if he was still living “in the flesh” (8:8). There is not a negative impulse here toward God’s law, which included the Ten Commandments. Did Paul really teach that Christians should die to this holy, spiritual law?
In Romans 6 he identifies explicitly what the Christian is called to die to: in 6:2 he counts himself among those who “died to sin” (NKJV); in 6:6, 8, 10 he says the baptized believer has been “crucified with” Christ, has “died with Christ . . . to sin” (NKJV); in 6:11 he appeals, “Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin” (NKJV). He continues to make those appeals in other letters (compare Eph. 4:22–24; Col. 3:5, 8–10).
Before Paul spoke of dying to “the law,” he first established that the death the Christian is to experience is death “to sin.” To assure no one would accuse him of equating the law with sin, he clarified, “Is the law sin? Certainly not!” (Rom. 7:7, NKJV), and then proceeded to extol the law in the very next verses, as we cited above. Then might there possibly be such a thing as a “law of sin” that the Christian must die to? Indeed there is!
In this very context Paul speaks of a sinister power that seeks to bring one “into captivity to the law of sin which is in [one’s] members” (7:23, NKJV). Even as an apostle who inwardly “serve[s] the law of God,” he still feels in “the flesh” a pull to serve “the law of sin” (7:25, NKJV). In the next two verses, he praises God that even though the inner spiritual warfare still persists, “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. . . . For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (8:1, 2, NKJV).
Now it begins to make sense. In Romans 7:1–6, Paul is not pitting the historical new covenant against the Sinai covenant. He is pitting a converted and saved life (a new covenant experience) against an unconverted and lost life (an old covenant experience). In Romans 7:1–6 (NKJV) Paul is saying, Before you were converted you were not married to Christ; you were held captive, not by the law God gave His people on Sinai, but by the law of sin and the flesh which “aroused sinful passions” in you and the fruit you bore was “fruit to death.” Even your religion was outward and external, of “the letter” only, cloaking a host of evil passions lurking within. The “law of sin” was in control (Rom 7:14–25), rather than the law of the Spirit written in the heart (Rom 8:1–4). But the Spirit of God convicted you through the gospel, and through the process of conversion and trusting the righteousness of Jesus you died to the law of sin; your old self (the first husband in Romans 7:1–3) was “crucified with Christ,” so you could be “married to Christ,” bear “fruit to God” and “serve in the newness of the Spirit.” Thanks be to God, if you will abide in Jesus (7:25) and seek a fresh baptism of His Spirit daily (Rom. 8:5–17), you will have continual victory over struggles, overcome trials in your Christian life, and bear much “fruit to God.”
The danger of interpreting Romans 7:1–6 as a conflict between the historical old and new covenants is that it veils its spiritual message, blinding people to its gospel appeal and assurance.