Paul begins this chapter by relating the simple rules of marriage/divorce/remarriage: The woman that is married to a husband is bound to her husband for as long as he lives. If the husband should die, she is released from the law of her husband. But, if she marries another man while her husband still lives, she will be an adulteress because she is still under the law of the marriage. But if the husband dies, she is of course free to marry another.
Paul paints this picture of law in marriage to relate to the Romans the idea that they are no longer under the old law now that Christ came and established the new covenant. Followers of God now known as Christians are effectively dead to the old law through the body of Jesus Christ and live primarily in the spirit, denying bodily lusts. Paul takes the analogy further, explaining that this new shift in the faithful man’s relationship with God does not mean that the old law is equated with sin. Rather, as we have touched on previously in this study, the old law existed to reveal the sin in the lives of those that would follow God: “…sin that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.”
There is also the idea that the old law produced sin in that when there are rules, there will always be those that will seek to break them. In this sense, the commandments brought death. Ironically, this was eventually proved to be a good thing because man, aware of the parameters set forth by God, sought not death but life and in that pursuit, man avoided breaking the commandments. This led man to avoid sin and as a result come closer to God.
Verses 15-21 are a masterful treatise on the human condition and the vague frustration and ennui that can encroach on our souls. If we seek goodness, we are doing something noble, righteous and good, because we are seeking to please our Creator and also are putting our God-given faculties and blessings to their proper use. But we live in a fleshly body, the appetites of which can more often than not produce desires that, when not properly expelled or fulfilled, lead us to sin. So, what we want to do, which is serve God and be righteous, we do not do, because we find ourselves seeking to fulfill fleshly desires, which lead us away from God because we are fulfilling them in the wrong ways. This is the sense in which we do those things that we do not want to do. This push and pull is a lifelong struggle that few, if any, ever truly grasp, and fewer still understand and master. It helps us immensely to understand this passage because it can be an answer to the seemingly unanswerable questions:
- When will I ever be happy?
- Why can’t I ever seem to be happy?
- Why is life so difficult?
- Why do I seem to be the only one that is struggling with this sin?
- Why is everyone against me?
- Why am I always alone?
- Why won’t others behave like they should?
We will find that when we are steeped in God’s Word, in prayer, in service, that we are able to identify the stumbling blocks that prevent happiness and peace. When we are honest with ourselves and seek to truly eradicate those practices and habits that have us going against the grain of God’s design for us, we will find that our spirits can be happy indeed, and that (oftentimes surprisingly), there is a way for us to be able to master our human appetites, transcend our bodies, and serve God in spirit and in truth.
We value Jesus Christ so highly for many reasons. Chief of them is that He provides the way to salvation. Perhaps the second most important is that Christ also shows us how to live spiritually with all people, proclaiming the gospel of peace, going two miles with a person that asks us to go with them one, and thinking more of others than we do of ourselves. Of course, the answers are not so simple in the morass of close relationships and the relationships we have with those that do not believe in, much less obey, God. But what we do get is a glimpse of heaven. When we pass from this life, and we are ushered into the heavenly home, where there is no time, no tears, no agony, we will need only to praise God in His presence and will not have this body of flesh, that brings temptation, sin, and separation.