Christ's Death and the Law
SABBATH SCHOOL INSIGHT #6
"Christ's Death and the Law"
May 10, 2014
She Needs a Savior
After a shipwreck, a lone female survivor was stranded, treading water in the sea with neither food nor drinking water at hand. As far as she could see, there was no dry land in sight. Not wanting to waste her precious energy by swimming in the wrong direction, she considered her options. Even though a distress signal was sent before the ship sank, anxiety arose as she realized that several hours had passed and help had not arrived. Immersed in salty water, exposed to the harsh heat of the sun, and without food or water, she knew her chances of survival weren’t good. Yet she determined not to dwell on the likelihood of her fate if she wasn’t rescued soon. Fighting despondency, she thought, “My only hope is that the ship’s distress signal was heard and that help is on the way.” However, adding to her predicament was the gnawing fearful thought that, “even if I am rescued, will I have the courage to get on board another ship? What if it malfunctions and sinks again? What should I do? ”
Lost in her thoughts, she suddenly realized that a strange fish-like creature had been swimming around her, and to her surprise, it seemed to have been protecting her by warding off advancing predators. Cautious but curious, and with waning energy, she began to watch the creature. Eventually, as if sensing her exhaustion, the creature positioned itself under her, so she could take a break from treading. Amazed, by this turn of events, yet still somewhat afraid, she decided that the creature was not there to harm her, and gratefully allowed herself to rest.
After a few moments, the creature unexpectedly brought its torso out of the water so it could face her. To her astonishment, the creature looked like a man, not a fish! Bewildered, she didn’t know what to think. It was then that he spoke to her. “You need to go back to dry land, but you have a dilemma; you no longer trust sea-going vessels, so if one should come, you may not get onboard, neither can you stay in the water and survive, unless you are like me.” Slow to respond to his words due to her confusion, she eventually asked the creature, “What are you?” To which he replied, “I am a merman.” “Well,” the woman, having regained her composure somewhat, replied, “unless you have some kind of magic to turn me into a mermaid, death is certain” (implying that she wouldn’t get into a rescue vessel). “There is a way,” affirmed the creature. “If I swallow you, our bodies will rest in a cocoon. After three days, we will be released from the cocoon as a newly formed me and a newly formed you.” In gratitude, she consents.
Notice, although the woman’s survival in the water was impossible, the solution did not involve getting rid of the water; they found a way to live with and in the water. In this story, the woman is the individual, the water is the law, and the merman is Christ. The story is given to illustrate how we relate to the Law in our sinful condition and in contrast how we relate to the Law once we choose to die and be resurrected in Christ. Paul’s use of the woman in the beginning of Romans 7 (verses 1-3) is similar to our story above. Take note, however, that this survivor story represents the subjective truth of the Gospel. The objective truth, in a nutshell, is that without man’s consent, Christ saved the entire world from sin.
What Paul is doing in Chapter 7, is using a story, just as we are using a story, to illustrate an event that occurred in the past, so that we can make a decision in the present to allow Christ’s objective history to be ours subjectively.
The married woman in Romans 7 finds herself attracted to a single man, for whom she wants to leave her husband. In fact, she wants to marry this man instead, but knows she cannot for she is already married. Perhaps we can infer from the verses that follow Romans 7:3 that her current husband is a cruel man whose intent is to kill her. But no, that would not be accurate, for in fact, he is a loving husband. It is just that he can neither sympathize with her weaknesses in not carrying out his commands, nor can he help her carry them out.
Similarly, her new love interest is a sweet, kind and loving man who not only wants her to be His, but unlike her husband, he sympathizes with her regarding all of her weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). This man is also able to help her do what she is incapable of doing on her own (Hebrews 2:17, 18). Unfortunately, our woman of Romans 7 has a dilemma. She cannot leave her husband, and she cannot stay. Daily she is suffering a tortured existence. She cannot leave her current husband and marry her new found love without breaking the law of marriage which says “until death do you part.”
The only way out is through death; but, it cannot be through murder. She cannot murder her husband, for that is illegal. And of course, if he kills her, she will not be free to marry, as she would be dead, deceased, gone, and non-existent! So, going to her new love interest, she presents her dilemma. It’s true that neither of them can do away with her husband, which represents the law, for it is “just and holy and good” (Romans 7:12). Thus, the new love interest cannot nail her spouse (the law) to the cross. But He and she can die together, thereby freeing her from her first marriage. In effect, He tells her He will nail her (mankind) to the cross in Himself, and when He dies, she will die and when He is resurrected, she will be resurrected in Him. This solution fills her with hope. In gratitude, she consents. As Paul has said, “Therefore my brethren, you (the wife) also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ.” It is not the law (former spouse) that dies on the cross. It is us (the entire human race) that died in the second Adam, Jesus Christ (cf. I Corinthians 15: 21, 22; 44-47).
In Romans 5:17, we (mankind) are represented both individually and corporately in Adam and in Christ. So, we were in Christ when He died and therefore, in Christ when He was resurrected (Romans 6:3–7). Accordingly, we had no say in what Adam did to plunge us into sin. We also had no say in what Christ, our Divine Lover, did to rescue us from sin. Like our survivor story illustrates, the choice we do have, however, is whether or not to individually receive that gift by grace through faith. In essence, when we acknowledge that we are part of Christ’s body, one with Him, we begin to function in harmony with Him as the head (Ephesians 4:12–16).
You see, love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10). Christ as the divine lover has fulfilled all of that law. When our woman of Romans 7 died and was resurrected with Him (Christ), she also began to fulfill the law through Him. So, while we can neither obey the law in our weakness, nor can the law itself help us to obey, yet, when we accept Christ’s history of obedience, His obedience becomes ours.
In sum, when by faith we accept our death in Christ, recognized through the symbol of baptism, we are liberated from the “dominion and jurisdiction‟ of the law. It is not abolished (as the water in our story couldn’t be gotten rid of), but is placed in the mind and on the heart as promised by God (Jeremiah 31: 33; Ezekiel 11:19; Hebrews 8:10). This is what it means to be under grace, in Christ. We can now bear the fruit of our union together. Glory be to God!