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Dead to the Law

By January 10, 20112 Comments

Upon the recommendation of many different sources that I respect, I recently started reading the devotional book Comforts from the Cross by Elyse Fitzpatrick. I’m only a few days in but so far I have enjoyed it! It’s packed with truth and Fitzpatrick has a real gift for re-framing old ideas in new, insightful ways. In fact, I want to share one example of that gift with you today.

One of the more difficult concepts to grasp in the Bible is the idea of being “dead to the Law.” The apostle Paul spoke of this concept a number of times, and while I’ve always had a somewhat healthy grasp of it, it’s also a bit abstract and tough to wrap my mind around. That is why I really appreciated the way that Fitzpatrick explained it. Though very simple, this is probably one of the best and most helpful explanations I have ever read:

It would be ridiculous to walk through a cemetery commanding the bodies in the graves to rise and pay their taxes, wouldn’t it? That’s because dead people have no obligations to obey the law. People who have died and those who demand compliance to the law have nothing to say to each other. That is the very point that Paul is making in Romans 7.

Or do you not know, brothers…that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 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…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. (Rom. 7:1-4)

To summarize Paul’s point, because we are dead, the law no longer has any power over us. Using the analogy of marriage he writes that our former husband (we’ll call him Mr. Law) had no power over us as long as we lived, but now that we have died, we are free to marry another. He says that we have “died to the law through the body of Christ.” That is, when Jesus Christ died, he didn’t die only as a punishment for our sin. He died so that our old husband, Mr. Law, would no longer have a claim on us; when Christ died, we died too. Now that we have really and truly died in his death, we are completely free from our former obligations to Mr. Law. We can freely and joyfully enter into a new marriage to someone else–to Jesus Christ, the one raised from the dead.

Now we’re going to change the metaphor a bit. Rather than saying that we have died, I want you to imagine that it is your first husband, Mr. Law, who has died (Paul uses the metaphor both ways, too).

Imagine, if you will, losing a spouse in death and then entering into marriage with someone else. It would be understandable if it might take some time to get used to living with your new husband. If your former husband was very demanding and disapproving, it might take even more time to get used to the love and acceptance that your present husband wants to shower upon you. But it certainly won’t help you love your new husband if you keep your focus on all your failures in the first marriage…You won’t “bear fruit for God” if you continually think about how you have failed to keep the law. Instead, your heart and mind have to be convinced of the love of your new husband, and you have to delight in him alone. (p. 27-28)

What I particularly love about this analogy is the emphasis on our relationship with the Law. We talk a lot about having a relationship with Christ, missing the point that a relationship Christ is the perfected alternative to our self-destructive relationship with the Law, a relationship in which we served it as a master but received nothing but heartache in return.

I hope Fitzpatrick’s words are as helpful to you as they are to me! When I think of the Law as a past relationship that made for a terrible husband, it brings the concept to life in a way that helps me to free myself from a Law-driven faith, and to shake off the terrible habits I acquired during that marriage.


  • Emily Gidcumb says:

    Reading about this topic made me have a question about this. So, we are not to live under the Law. I understand that. It seems that living under the Law is painted as being really negative, but didn’t God write the Law? So, is it really bad in and of itself? I understand the concepts you wrote about, but it is just a weird thought that something God put into place originally is now bad.
    I don’t know if I’m saying what I’m thinking exactly right.
    ok, love you!

  • Sharon says:

    Emily, that’s a great question! Fitzpatrick actually addresses it later in that same chapter so you may want to check out the book yourself. The short version is that obedience to the Law is a spiritual fruit of our “marriage” with Christ, but it is not the marriage itself. Our master is Christ, not the Law. If we make the Law our master then we will get neither Christ nor the obedience we ultimately want to live out. But if our master is Christ then we will get both.

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