So what is my relationship to the law in light of this passage? First, I should be thankful to God for the law, because it is the law that God used to open my spiritual eyes to my blinded condition, and my need to receive Christ’s righteousness in place of my own. Notice what Paul says on vs. 19 “I through the law became dead to the law.” The law did a pivotal work that brought me to God. The phrase literally means that by means of the law, I became dead to it. God’s law brought me to repentance and faith in Christ alone. That is something that ought cause us to rejoice. Secondly, I should be thankful to God for making me free from the law. The next phrase is “I became dead to the law.” What does Paul mean when he says that by means of the law’s work, he became dead to it?
In order to understand what Paul means by this statement, we must understand what he does not mean first. He does not mean that once a man is saved he is free to live a sinful life by indulging his flesh. Here is Paul’s clear answer to that logic. In Romans 6:1-4, Paul asks: “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Paul’s says that this logic should never flow from this teaching!
Paul is also not saying that a believer is free from the damaging temporal consequences of sin. Romans 6:23 tells us that the “wages of sin is death.” James 1:14-15 tells us that “when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” In Galatians 6:7-9 he writes that “God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption.” And also Hebrews 12:5-8 says that a believer is not to despise the chastening of the Lord, or faint when rebuked by him: “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Believers are not saved from every temporal consequence of sin. While God so often deals with His children in tender mercies, He is not obligated to insulate us from every form of evil that may come as the direct consequence of our sin.
Paul is also not saying that the moment a believer is regenerated and placed into Christ, that he is free from a struggle with the old nature. In Romans 7:18-20, 24-25 he writes that “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” Sanctification is a process, and practically speaking is a progressive labor into Christ-likeness. While we do become a new creature in Christ, we do not become Christ-like in our character, thinking, and conduct the moment instantaneously. God molds us progressively into His image over the course of the rest of our lives. So then, what does it mean that we are dead to the law?
His point is that the moment that we am placed into Christ, we are free from the condemnation and guilt of the law. We have a new master and spouse. Our relationship to the law is broken forever, and this is a wonderful thought. We are free from its weight and condemnation, so that we can live unto Christ. Romans 6:1-4 says “Know ye not…that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.” By identifying with Christ’s death, we receive His righteousness, die to the law, are freed from its condemnation and guilt, and are wed to Him so that He can live through us. This is what Paul means when he says that through the laws work he became dead to it. If you are in Christ by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, then you are dead to the law. It no longer has its hold on you! This truth is liberating, however it must not be divorced from the rest of the verse “that I might live unto Christ.” We were freed from the law and released from its condemnation that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love. That we should be laborers together with God, and that we should be to the praise and glory of His grace.