We would like to address an incredible yet oft-misunderstood passage of Paul’s writing — Romans 7 and 8. The lack of understanding among Christians of these crucial chapters is not only a poor reflection on society at large — but it is probably one of the greatest causes of the humanist hell which Christians now find ourselves in. However, this also means that a correct understanding — thankfully — could just be a powerful antidote to the psychological poison our minds have been baptized into since birth.
ROMANS 3 – 6
First — before diving into Romans 7, let’s briefly establish its context. Each chapter in the book of Romans naturally builds upon the argument Paul puts forward — therefore it would not be wise to dive into Romans 7 without considering where it falls within Paul’s larger argument. In Romans 3-5, Paul explains how the Law was incapable of bringing about righteousness — despite a need to “establish the Law” (Romans 3:31). In doing so, he makes an argument for — and lays the foundation for — the “righteousness of faith” (Romans 4:13).
Paul said that “through the Law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). John agrees when he says, “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Moses said that “it will be righteousness for us if we are careful to follow all this commandment before the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 6:25) — confirming that keeping the Law makes us righteous. Even 1 John 3:4-6 says,
4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. 6 No one who remains in Him sins continually; no one who sins continually has seen Him or knows Him.
John establishes that we must keep the Law, else we are sinners — and then proceeds to create a contradistinction between practicing the sin of lawlessness (1 John 3:4) — the result of being “of the devil” (1 John 3:8) — and practicing righteousness (1 John 3:7) — the result of being “born of God” (1 John 3:9).
How then can Paul make a seemingly self-contradicting argument for the righteousness of faith, when righteousness clearly comes from keeping the Law — or not sinning? Paul leaves us with quite a paradox — something which causes many to stumble over his writings just as Peter describes, “there are some things that are hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)
Paul’s argument in Romans 3 begins by observing that all failed to attain to the righteousness of the Law. He emphasizes that even those who had “circumcision” — who maintained the works of the Law — were nevertheless still under sin (Romans 3:9). Therefore, the Law was not able to help those who were given the Law to actually keep the Law, just as Hebrews 7:19 tells us, “the Law made nothing perfect.”
In other words, even those who had the Law in written form — with supposedly clear instructions — were unable to keep it properly. As with all of Paul’s writings, his point here on a logical level is completely irrefutable.
To word this conclusion another way, when Paul says, “if a law had been given that was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law” (Galatians 3:21), he is making a very nuanced point — because righteousness is based on the Law. However, the Law itself cannot make anyone keep the Law — and so no righteousness can come from the Law itself. If only the Law were able to make one keep the Law, then righteousness would indeed be based on the Law. However — as we will see, that which brings righteousness — faith in the Lord Jesus — is that which makes us keep the Law — and makes us righteous.
If a superficial reading of the Law — or even Paul’s writings — were enough to keep the Law, God would not have said to Joshua, “you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8). Likewise, Psalm 1:2 says, “But his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and on His Law he meditates day and night.” And so if anyone thought they could apply the Law after a superficial reading, they have failed to take into account what the Law and Prophets teaches about itself.
Where Paul says that “apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets” (Romans 3:21), he affirms another seeming paradox — that there is a righteousness apart from the Law which is found in the Law itself. He defines that Law as “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:22). According to Peter, the outcome of our faith is the very salvation of our souls (1 Peter 1:9) — in full agreement with Paul.
We see the Lord Jesus saying the exact same thing in His conversation with Nicodemus — attesting that this faith was witnessed to within the Law and Prophets itself when He said, “You are the teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” (John 3:10) The Lord confirms the same righteousness Paul mentioned when He says, “so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes will have eternal life in Him” (John 3:14-15) — in other words, the “righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ.”
Deuteronomy 10:16 says, “circumcise your heart, and do not stiffen your neck any longer.” Therefore, an Israelite may be circumcised according to the flesh, yet remain stiff-necked — with an uncircumcised heart. Paul says that those who are circumcised according to the flesh — yet violate the Law — have their circumcision “turned into uncircumcision.” (Romans 2:25) Again, Paul was completely correct according to the Law.
Yet the sacrifices according to the Levitical ordinances were supposed to atone for the people’s sin — thereby making them righteous. But David said in Psalm 51:16-17,
16 For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You do not take pleasure in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, God, You will not despise.
A broken and contrite heart is the opposite of being stiff-necked. Once again, Paul was correct according to the Law and the Prophets. Israel had no recourse through works of the Law to bring about righteousness according to the Law. God despised physical circumcision and sin offerings in the face of a stubborn, sinful heart. In light of all Israel being consigned to sin (Romans 3:9), there was no justification for Israel.
As long as they could not stop sinning — being uncircumcised of heart (Romans 2:25) — there was no work of the Law — whether sacrifices or circumcision — which could atone for their sin. Yet Paul says, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Despite Israel’s completely lost and fallen state, God justified Israel “as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
Therefore, there was no work or anything anyone could have done to bring about this justification. Israel — and even ourselves — started off in a colossal debt of sin with no way out. Thus it was “to demonstrate His righteousness, because in God’s merciful restraint He let the sins previously committed go unpunished” (Romans 3:25). If only we believe in — and have faith in — the work the Lord Jesus did for us — atoning for our sin — we could consider it all written off.
If all of our past sin may go unpunished and through forgiveness we are blameless according to the Law, then through faith we have achieved blamelessness. We have attained the righteousness according to the Law, because none of the sin of the Law is counted against us. Just as Paul quoted Psalm 31:1-2 in Romans 4:7-8,
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, And whose sins have been covered. 8 Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”
David continues to say in Psalm 31:5,
I said, “I will confess my wrongdoings to the Lord”; and You forgave the guilt of my sin.
Then in verse 10-11,
10 …But the one who trusts in the Lord, goodness will surround him. 11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones…
This confirms Paul’s point — using David’s practical example — that those who are forgiven through faith are accounted as righteous before the Lord. In Romans 4 Paul goes on to explain — using the Abrahamic covenant — how the righteousness of faith in Christ Jesus applies to all the Genesis 10 nations. And in Romans 5 he elaborates further on the graciousness of our justification through the death of the Lord Jesus.
The book of Hebrews explains how the gracious work of the Lord — in which we have faith according to Paul’s argument in Romans — was actually a fulfillment of the law of sin offering — that is, “where there is forgiveness of these things, an offering for sin is no longer required.” (Hebrews 10:18) While Hebrews 10:22 literally refers to that faith in saying, “let’s approach God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith,” Hebrews 10:26-31 goes on to say,
26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has ignored the Law of Moses is put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severe punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
After explaining how we are forgiven by faith in the work of the Lord Jesus, Hebrews warns us that if we go on sinning willfully it’s even worse than than if we died according to the Law of Moses. This lines up perfectly where Paul writes, “He let the sins previously committed go unpunished” (Romans 3:25). Paul even explicitly said in Romans 3:31,
Do we then nullify the Law through faith? Far from it! On the contrary, we establish the Law.
Paul tells us that the Law cannot be nullified through faith — that we must still uphold and establish the Law. While Christ Jesus — according to the Law — justified us for our sin and wrote it off, if we continue to sin, there no longer remains a sacrifice for us. Therefore, the aforementioned paradox has not yet been resolved. If we are forgiven by faith and continue to sin, the Law still stands against us. We do not attain to the righteousness of the Law and lose the righteousness of faith. Paul confirms this in Romans 6:1-2,
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 Far from it! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
Over the course of Romans 6, Paul explains why the righteousness of faith must necessarily result in cessation from sin — he is very aware of the error we could be prone to make in light of his argument — so aware, in fact, that he keeps reassuring his readers to stay away from that error — just like in Romans 6:15,
What then? Are we to sin because we are not under the Law but under grace? Far from it!
At this point, he has reassured us that faith is no excuse to contradict the Law three times (Romans 3:31, Romans 6:1-2, and Romans 6:15). Paul says that “sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under the Law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14) Indeed, after having been redeemed from the Law — and its condemnation through grace — if we continue to commit Lawlessness, we place ourselves back under the Law! Paul explicitly said, “law is not made for a righteous person but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners” (1 Timothy 1:9).
Many Christians imagine that because we are not under the Law that sin — somehow — has disappeared. Yet Paul said, “for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” (Romans 5:13) Yes, sin exists outside of the Law — and we can indeed sin even while not “under the Law.” If we sin outside of the Law, then that sin is still sin — but it is just not imputed or charged against us. The Law was “added on account of the violations” (Galatians 3:19) which were already in the world — because “through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20) In other words, the Law is the prism through which we are able to see sin — but even if we remove that prism, the sin is not removed.
Therefore, if we continue to sin, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10:26). We have thereby removed ourselves from grace — having “insulted the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:29) — and place ourselves back under the condemnation of the Law. Not being under the Law applies only insofar as we do not contradict the Law — because the law is for the lawless (1 Timothy 1:9). Paul says in Romans 6:19,
19… For just as you presented the parts of your body as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your body’s parts as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in relation to righteousness.
Paul contrasts impurity and lawlessness with a righteousness which results in sanctification. Therefore, being a slave to righteousness according to faith means not committing lawlessness. As if this point were not clear enough, Paul states that being a slave of sin means being “free in relation to righteousness” — which is to say, “having no righteousness to speak of.” In other words, if one is a sinner, they are not righteous. When we willfully sin, we remove ourselves from the righteousness of faith in the gracious gift of the Lord Jesus. Conversely, if we continue under grace, we cease from sin.
Therefore, if we continue under grace and cease from sin, we automatically attain to the righteousness of the Law — because “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Skipping ahead somewhat, Paul concludes in Romans 8:4 that “the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us.” We will elaborate in another section, but suffice to say for now that according to Paul, it is still necessary for the requirement of the Law to be fulfilled. To hammer home this point, Paul says in Romans 6:22,
But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.
Remember that Paul contrasted lawlessness with being “slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.” (Romans 6:19) Here Paul further clarifies that being “freed from sin and enslaved to God” results in sanctification. Again, he has equated not sinning with sanctification. Furthermore, without that sanctification we cannot have the outcome — eternal life. Hebrews 10 which we referred to earlier also attests to this truth in verses 14-17,
14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant which I will make with them After those days, declares the Lord: I will put My laws upon their hearts, And write them on their mind,” He then says, 17 “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will no longer remember.”
The Lord Jesus perfected those who have the righteousness according to faith, because they have faith in His promises to them. Recall also how John said, “He appeared in order to take away sins” (1 John 3:5). They have faith in the promise to have the law written on their hearts, which means they do not contradict the law. Conversely, if someone does not have the law on their hearts, they will contradict the law.
ROMANS 7 — THE DEATH AND REMARRIAGE
Context having been established, let us dive right in with Romans 7:1-3,
1 Or do you not know, brothers and sisters (for I am speaking to those who know the Law), that the Law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? 2 For the married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he is alive; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. 3 So then, if while her husband is alive she gives herself to another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress if she gives herself to another man.
Paul proposes a rather simple principle here — a woman may not take another husband unless her husband has died. The act of giving herself to another man while the current husband still lives would be adultery. Leviticus 20:10 says,
If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.
According to this passage, the penalty for being “called an adulteress” (Romans 7:3) according to the Law is death. If a woman’s husband dies, she is released from the law of Leviticus 20:10. Giving herself to another man would not result in the death penalty. Verse 4 continues,
Therefore, my brethren, you also were put to death in regard to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might belong to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.
First — staying with the husband and wife analogy — Paul proposes that the Christian Israelite believer is the wife. He then places the wife’s current husband as the Law — because in Paul’s argument, the woman needed to die “in regard to the Law.” In a way, Israel’s relationship with the old covenant was very much like a husband-wife relationship. Jeremiah 31:32 says,
“… not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.
Just like a marriage, the old covenant was a bi-directional relationship. The Lord faithfully fulfilled His end of the relationship — blessing Israel when they obeyed Him and punishing them to bring them back to Himself when they were disobedient. However, Paul makes it clear that Israel’s covenant was with the Law — a “guardian to lead us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24) — despite the Lord’s husband-like faithfulness to it. In other words, though the prophets compare the old covenant with marriage, Israel was never married to Yahweh Himself. On the contrary, Israel’s covenant was with the Law. Exodus 24:3-4,7-8 says,
3 Then Moses came and reported to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!” 4 And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord… 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it as the people listened; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” 8 So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
The old covenant was very clearly based on “all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances” — the Law. Israel committed to the covenant by promising to keep the Law. Thus showing again that Israel were “married” to the Law. To reaffirm this point, Hebrews 9:19-20 says,
19 For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.”
Yet in this analogy, Paul states that in this dynamic it was not the Lord Jesus who had to die — rather, it was Israel who had to die. He said that “you also were put to death in regard to the Law through the body of Christ.” When he says this, he is merely continuing his argument from Romans 6:2-7, where he explains we are to die with Christ Jesus. Verses 6-7 say,
6 … our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for the one who has died is freed from sin.
Israel needed to die so that they — along with the Genesis 10 nations — could “belong to another, to Him who was raised from the dead.” (Romans 7:4) All who set their faith and hope on the Lord Jesus are crucified with Him, thus releasing Israel from being under the old covenant of the Law. All would join under the new covenant of the Lord Jesus’ blood — being betrothed to Him personally. Israel move from the old covenant with the Law to the new covenant with Christ Jesus Himself.
Indeed, Paul says in Ephesians 5:30-32,
30 because we are parts of His body. 31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.
Paul quoted Genesis 2:24, a creation event which happened on the sixth creation day — as the Lord connects Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24 as part of the same event — on the sixth day of creation — in Mark 10:6-8. So in Ephesians 5:31-32 Paul is referring to an event which is already done, but he calls it a “mystery”. We can see the same kind of logic in Hebrews 4:3-4, where the author refers to the Sabbath as something which still needs to happen, despite it having already happened in the creation account.
Just as the Sabbath still needs to happen according to the author of Hebrews, the marriage event of Genesis 2:24 still needs to happen according to Paul in Ephesians 5:31-32. In Romans 7 Paul is referring to the ongoing fulfillment of that very marriage event — culminating in Revelation 21:2, “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Therefore, we must have died to the Law that we may become a part of the body of Christ.
Now we must make a critical stipulation here, as many Christian circles stumble over this concept of Israel being released from the old covenant of the Law. Remember, Paul affirmed the Law three times (Romans 3:31, Romans 6:1-2, Romans 6:15). Just because Israel were no longer under the old covenant of the Law does not remove sin from the world. Paul said that “until the Law sin was in the world” (Romans 5:13) and that “through the Law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20)
Sin was in the world before the Law — and sin is still in the world. The Law is still the way to identify that sin — regardless of whether Israel are under the old covenant of the Law or not — because sin still exists. Release from the old covenant was not a way to absolve Israel from the responsibility of sin. “The Law made nothing perfect” (Hebrews 7:19) — so the Law wasn’t actually able to keep Israel from sin — despite being the way to identify sin. Hebrews 8:7 says,
For if that first covenant had been free of fault, no circumstances would have been sought for a second.
Verily, Israel needed not only to be able to identify sin, but also to receive the power to stop sinning — they needed a better covenant. And so the Lord Jesus became the “mediator of a better covenant” (Hebrews 8:6) — Who said, “This cup, which is poured out for you, is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:20) Hebrews 8:9-12 quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34,
9 Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers On the day I took them by the hand To bring them out of the land of Egypt; For they did not continue in My covenant, And I did not care about them, says the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, And write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, And they shall be My people. 11 And they will not teach, each one his fellow citizen, and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them. 12 For I will be merciful toward their wrongdoings, and their sins I will no longer remember.”
So the Hebrews author concludes in verse 13,
When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is about to disappear.
ROMANS 7 — THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW
Romans 7:5-6 continues,
5 For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were brought to light by the Law, were at work in the parts of our body to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.
Here Paul introduces two new concepts to his argument — “the flesh” and “the Spirit.” He connects the idea of the flesh with that part of us which was crucified with the Lord Jesus. The flesh contains “the sinful passions” — sin proceeds from the flesh — and it bears fruit for death — “for the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Paul tells us it was the law itself which “brought to light” that sin, because “sin is lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4)
Then Paul tells us what the natural result of being released from the Law and dying to the flesh needs to be — to “serve in newness of the Spirit.” As he concluded already in Romans 6, “dying to the flesh” means no longer sinning. Therefore, serving “in newness of the Spirit” also means no longer sinning — or no longer contradicting the Law.
Skipping ahead somewhat, Paul says in verse 14, “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am fleshly.” Herein lies a key problem between the Law and the flesh — even the reason why the law is so at odds with the flesh. If the law is Spiritual, how could the flesh have perceived it in the first place? Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14,
But a natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Yet Paul created another distinction within the Law itself — the “newness of the Spirit” and the “oldness of the letter.” The law is Spiritual — and we are to serve in the newness of the Spirit — but what does that mean? The first and most obvious observation we can make is that the “oldness of the letter” represents what we are free from — whereas the “newness of the Spirit” represents what we are now bound to — the part of the Law which is spiritual.
Furthermore, we find the most vivid explanation of the spirit of the Law in Hebrews 7-10 — which explains how the Aaronic priesthood — according to the tribe of Levi — was replaced by the priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews tells us that the law changed along with the law of the priesthood — “For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.” (Hebrews 7:12)
After all, the laws of priesthood say nothing of a priest according to the order of Melchizedek; therefore, the law must necessarily change with a changing of the priesthood. Moreover, everyone in the Kingdom of God will be priests according to 1 Peter 2:5. Indeed, all Israel were supposed to be priests according to Exodus 19:6. In each case, the law and prophets attested to the change. Hebrews explains the priesthood of Melchizedek in detail — and Exodus 19:6 already attested to all being priests as we mentioned.
At the same time, the Lord says in Matthew 5:17-18,
17 “Do not presume that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter shall pass from the Law, until all is accomplished!
In other words, the law cannot be abolished by a “change of the law” (Hebrews 7:12) — what a paradox! However, as we have explained in the case of us all being priests — and as the Hebrews author explained in the case of the priesthood according to Melchizedek — the Law and Prophets themselves attest to the changing of the Law. Therefore, the changing of the Law happens within the confines of the Law — the Law is able to change without an abolishment of the Law.
Herein lies the answer to the difference between the “oldness of the letter” and the “newness of the Spirit.” The law changed from the letter to the Spirit — so us having died to the letter and having moved into the spirit also represents a change in the Law itself without abolishing the Law. The Hebrews author states rather plainly how this applies in the context of the priests and the tabernacle to which he refers in Hebrews 8:3-5,
3 For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer. 4 Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; 5 who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “See,” He says, “that you make all things by the pattern which was shown to you on the mountain.”
The writer states that the old high priesthood was merely a “copy and shadow of the heavenly things” — indicating that the earthly existence of the high priesthood was only a weak representation of the heavenly high priesthood. Much the same way a shadow is a weak representation of whatever has cast that shadow. The author reiterates that the law “has only a shadow [the letter] of the good things to come and not the form of those things itself [the spirit]” (Hebrews 10:1).
As a part of this whole argument, the author explains how the earthly priesthood represented the Lord Jesus who entered into the holy place in “heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24) and “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” (Hebrews 9:26) Therefore, the law moved from an earthly shadow to a heavenly fulfillment. In other words, the law changed without the law being done away. Indeed, the Lord Jesus fulfilled the law — He did not abolish it (Matthew 5:17).
However, we must pay careful attention to how the heavenly fulfills the shadow — especially using the Lord Jesus’ fulfillment of the sin offering as an example. Many Christian circles believe that when the Lord Jesus “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26), that He took the place of the animal sacrifices performed by the Levitical priesthood. In other words, many Christians view the Lord Jesus as perpetually fulfilling the animal sin offering laws.
This erroneous idea encapsulates the faulty theological framework on which concepts like “once saved always saved”, “salvation by race” or “salvation by grace” rest. The idea is that if animal sacrifices literally take away sin — and if the Lord Jesus perpetually fulfills the law of animal sin offering — then all of my sin is never counted against me — because the High Priest perpetually atones for my sin. This doctrine fails to take into account one vital principle — the law of animal sin offering is just a shadow.
The law of animal sin offering could never have taken away sin, as Hebrews 10:8 quotes Psalm 40:6 saying, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and offerings for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure in them“. The law of animal sin offering was a shadow of a future event — the death of something perfect which would literally take away our sins. Yes, the shedding of the Lord Jesus’ blood literally takes away our sin. Not in a superficial kind of way like those who offered animals and continued to sin — but in great glory and power, the Lord Jesus causes us to cease from sin by His sacrifice.
As Hebrews 10:9 states, “He takes away the first in order to establish the second.” Indeed, the law of animal sin offering has been completely removed — it no longer applies in any way whatsoever. “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14) by placing His “laws upon their hearts” and writing them “on their mind” (Hebrews 10:16). Note how the heavenly fulfillment is practical — it actually achieves that which the shadow represented — the cessation of sin.
By the example we show that the shadows always points to the heavenly fulfillment. The shadow event is also separate from the heavenly fulfillment — as different as the works of animal sin offering and our Lord Jesus’ actual removal of sin are from one another. When we see the shadow, we look forward to a great and wondrous fulfillment which will actually achieve what the shadow points to. The heavenly fulfillment completely takes away the former in order to establish the latter — the heavenly fulfillment does not retroactively fulfill the shadow.
Thus we are no longer under the earthly letter of the Law, but we have moved into the heavenly fulfillment of the Law — the Spirit of the Law. In the letter of the Law, priests performed literal sacrifices at a physical temple — whereas in the Spirit of the Law, Christians themselves are “living stones… being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices” (1 Peter 2:5). Paul said, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). If Christians are the spiritual house, then they must likewise act according to the Spiritual fulfillment.
If they are the spiritual house — and the letter of the Law has been taken away in order to establish the Spirit of the Law — then the laws of the physical house no longer apply to them. The physical house was represented in the physical temple and the Old Covenant. Jeremiah said that the New Covenant is not like the Old Covenant (Jeremiah 31:32). Verily, the new covenant is Spiritual, eternal and perfect — whereas the Old Covenant was nullified “because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect)” (Hebrews 7:18-19).
In Colossians 2:8 Paul introduces the idea that the letter of the Law is merely the “elementary principles of the world, rather than in accordance with Christ.” And Paul continues in Colossians 2:20-23,
20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of man? 23 These are matters which do have the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and humility and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
Some argue that Paul is not referring to the letter of the Law here, but rather that he is referring to the “traditions of men” outside of the Law. Yet if they are “traditions of men,” then there would have been no need to die with Christ in order to be released from them. Therefore, he must be referring to the letter of the Law itself.
Paul argues that these things are “of no value against fleshly indulgence” — after all, how could abstaining from certain foods bring about true righteousness? Likewise, how could the law of animal sin offering actually remove sin from our lives? Of course they cannot. The Lord says in Matthew 22:37-40,
37 … “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 Upon these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets.”
If the whole Law and Prophets hang on those two laws, then each law must be explained in the context of loving our God or our neighbor. Simultaneously, the Lord said that “not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter shall pass from the Law, until all is accomplished!” (Matthew 5:18) Therefore, each law can indeed be explained as a heavenly fulfillment in such a way that one’s adherence to the spirit of that law results in true righteousness. To reiterate this point, Paul says in Colossians 2:16-17,
16 Therefore, no one is to act as your judge in regard to food and drink, or in respect to a festival or a new moon, or a Sabbath day— 17 things which are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance [or heavenly fulfillment] belongs to Christ.
The whole law — every letter and stroke — applies to our lives in a heavenly way — and is “a shadow of what is to come.” For example, Leviticus 11:7 says “the pig… is unclean to you.” Yet in the context of unclean foods, the Lord said that “whatever goes into the person from outside cannot defile him” (Mark 7:18). Exactly as Paul said, mere food can do nothing to defile one, make one unclean — or conversely, bring about true righteousness by abstinence.
Yet the Lord continues to say, “That which comes out of the person, that is what defiles the person.” (Mark 7:20) As Leviticus 11 stated, we are not to be unclean — yet the Lord taught the heavenly fulfillment of what it means to be clean and unclean — the condition of the heart and one’s motives. If it weren’t obvious enough, Mark wrote, “Thereby He declared all foods clean.” (Mark 7:19)
In removing the letter of the Law, the Lord taught and established the spirit of the Law. Thus “we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6) — simultaneously no “letter or stroke” passed from the Law. We have also interpreted that law of uncleanness through the requirement of Matthew 22:37-40, because when our hearts are clean and pure, we naturally seek to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Part of having a clean heart means having clean thoughts. The Lord stated that even anger towards a brother constitutes murder (Matthew 5:22, 1 John 3:15) — and even lustful thoughts toward a woman constitutes adultery (Matthew 5:28). Paul goes as far as to say even outbursts of anger, jealousy and envy are grounds to be removed from the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:20-21).
As another example, Hebrews 4:9-11 says,
9 Consequently, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. 10 For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. 11 Therefore let’s make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following the same example of disobedience.
Therefore, in order to apply the heavenly fulfillment of the Sabbath in our lives, we must perpetually strive to enter the eternal Sabbath rest of God. Paul says that some “value every day” (Romans 14:5) — as opposed to valuing merely one day of the week. Verily, if we seek to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5), then we must value every day as if it were a Sabbath. Isaiah 58:13 says,
“If, because of the Sabbath, you restrain your foot from doing as you wish on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a pleasure, and the holy day of the Lord honorable, and honor it, desisting from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure and speaking your own word
The Sabbath is not a day to seek our own pleasure — but a day to seek the will of God. As such, we should not judge one another about a specific day, so long as we each strive to enter the heavenly Sabbath — God’s rest.
As we already alluded to, marriage between men and women is also a shadow of the heavenly fulfillment — the wedding supper of the Lamb. This is why sexual immorality remains a grievous sin for any Christian as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20,
12 All things are permitted for me, but not all things are of benefit. All things are permitted for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, however God will do away with both of them. But the body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. 14 Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are parts of Christ? Shall I then take away the parts of Christ and make them parts of a prostitute? Far from it! 16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” 17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. 18 Flee sexual immorality. Every other sin that a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought for a price: therefore glorify God in your body.
See how Paul connects everything we do — even our sin — with the heavenly fulfillment of the Law. We can see that despite no longer being under the letter of the Law, in many ways the spirit of the Law is far more strict. To this end, the Lord warned us, “unless your righteousness far surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)
Verily, Paul — a Pharisee — stated that he was blameless according to the letter of the Law — so none should consider it “easy” to exceed that righteousness. Neither does the Lord’s repeated condemnation of the Pharisees make it any easier. Before Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, he gave his life to his religion — and so did many Pharisees. Yet despite his “blamelessness” according to the letter of man-made religion — giving his whole life, Paul counted that righteousness as loss compared with Christ (Philippians 3:6-7).
Somehow our actions must exceed the actions of Paul and the Pharisees who kept the letter perfectly. How would this be possible except if there were a heavenly fulfillment — the spirit of the Law — attained only through faith?
Moving on to the subject of reward, the Hebrews author says that the New Covenant was even “enacted on better promises.” (Hebrews 8:6) Further on he says the Law “has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the form of those things itself” (Hebrews 10:1). Then even the promises of the Law have changed to the heavenly fulfillment, which is “the promise of the eternal inheritance.” (Hebrews 9:15)
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:13,
12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Paul compares our current existence with looking into a dim mirror — much the same as the Hebrews author comparing our existence now with a shadow. He tells us that in spite of knowing only in part now — seeing only dimness and shadows — that we will fully know in the next life. Yet he gives us an absolutely critical insight into the next life — “faith, hope and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
In other words, despite seeing only dimly now, these qualities — faith, hope and love — which we even have in this life will persist into the next. Put another way, these qualities are the only things in this life which are not shadows — the next life will not give us any extra insight into them. That is exactly why the spirit of the Law hangs on love — and why everything must be seen through the lens of love — first to our God, then to our brethren.
Furthermore, that is why “without faith it is impossible to please” God (Hebrews 11:6) — and why the righteousness according to faith is so highly esteemed by God. Faith is another quality we will take into the next life. Faith is also not a shadow.
By love and faith we live this life according to the spirit of the Law — which persists forever. Paul says to Timothy, “the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5) In doing so, we put off our flesh and “become partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4) We put on the new self, becoming conformed to the image of the Creator (Colossians 2:10). There is an aspect of our eternal nature and incorruptible bodies which we are able to grow into in this life already.
It is only possible for us to do so by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit — because the Law is spiritual. This is why we “were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of the promise, who is a first installment of our inheritance.” (Ephesians 1:13-14) That divine nature granted to us by the Holy Spirit — love and faith — is the first installment of our eternal inheritance. Any who lay claim to an eternal inheritance must have received the first installment in this life already. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:4-5,
4 For indeed, we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. 5 Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a pledge.
Paul explicitly tells us that the Spirit is the pledge of our eternal existence. If we do not have the Spirit, we have no pledge. If we have no pledge, we have no guarantee of the eternal inheritance — regardless of our Israelite flesh (Philippians 3:3-8).
If we are building ourselves into a spiritual house (1 Corinthians 3:16, Ephesians 2:21-22, 1 Peter 2:5) — and are in the spiritual house, then we must open our eyes to the spiritual house. How else could we know how to treat our fellow cohabitants — the house itself? If we have died to our flesh in Christ, then we are alive in the Spirit in His spiritual house — and we should start to act as such.
At some point our fleshly bodies will be given up for new bodies, but we have already been given the pledge — and arguably the best and most vital part of our inheritance already — the Holy Spirit. We have been given the eyes with which to see far beyond this fleshly world — and we have been given eyes with which to see far beyond even angel’s eyes. If any creature — whether flesh or angel — is not a vessel of the Holy Spirit, it is utterly blind.
For us to understand the spirit of the Law, we must close our fleshly eyes and open on the eyes we have in the Spirit. We must gaze out into eternity with our new family in our new house, knowing we will inherit spiritual bodies. That is the Spirit of the Law — beginning our eternal destiny, despite not having yet received our eternal bodies.
In summary of Romans 7:6, Paul tells us that our death with Christ Jesus took us out from the “oldness of the letter” — the “elementary principles of the world” — and brought us into a heavenly fulfillment of the law — the “newness of the Spirit.” If we are to build ourselves into the eternal Spiritual temple, we must exhibit eternal Spiritual qualities.
In Part 2, we will continue in Paul’s discourse and show how this applies in our lives.