In Romans 6:15-23, Paul is talking about being slaves to righteousness; no longer are we slaves to sin, but we are slaves to righteousness, to which we are indebted and from which we derive obedience.
15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
(Romans 6:15 ESV)
Yet the law has not passed away, because it is the baseline from which we can determine righteousness, even though we’re not justified by the law. It serves to condemn us (Romans 1) and inform us (Romans 7:7).
And there we proceed to Romans 7:
7:1 Or do you not know, brothers — for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. 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 Likewise, my brothers, you also 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 For 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 released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
(Romans 7:1-6 ESV)
Okay… whoa. The thing that stuck out to me was the freedom from law because we have died to it.
I’ve mentioned before the whole concept of freedom in Christ, and here we have it yet again, expressed as freedom from the law as opposed to “freedom in Christ.”
It’s a little more forceful here, though.
Yet the law still has meaning to us, does it not? Or does it? I say it does, because, again, it’s the measure for proper behavior and feeling. (If one has no desire to murder, or steal, or covet, this is good…)
Paul, however, is still thinking like a Hebrew and writing for a Greek audience, using the polemic invective of the day. He is overemphasizing his point, to “scare them straight.”
Scaring Them Straight
“Scaring them straight” is what the anti-drug commercials of Reagan’s presidency were trying to do; overemphasize a point, in the hopes that some of the point remains.
The logic seems to be something like this:
If, for example, someone retains only 10% of a message, we can help them retain 100% of the message is we emphasize it ten times.
This ignores diminishing returns, but it seems to fit the mindset.
Where is Sparta?
Sparta is in Greece, of course. But the declaration – from Zach Snyder’s “300” – of “This! Is! Sparta!” was so … comical that it seemed to fit.
The thing about Paul’s declaration of death to the law – such that we’re free from it – is based on context.
Paul is writing to the Romans; he is explaining the theology to people who may or may not be theologically sound – as shown by his constant references to those who know the law, as a subgroup of the Roman church.
That means that he has two missions for his invective.
One is to connect to those who study the law, who expect the invective and passion. (If you’re not willing to fight for it, you must not believe it very much.)
The other is to overemphasize his point through passion, so that some retention was achieved.
Yet the law does not pass away; we still consider the law the metric for sin.
The key is to remember that Paul’s statement of death to the law is not a final word. It exists in context; it co-exists with everything else said about the Law, which is that it’s the standard by which we are able to judge behavior, and that it communicates to us part of God’s Will.