“Since I am speaking to those who know the law, brothers and sisters, don’t you know that the law rules over someone as long as he lives? For example, a married woman is legally bound to her husband while he lives. But if her husband dies, she is released from the law regarding the husband. So then, if she is married to another man while her husband is living, she will be called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law. Then, if she is married to another man, she is not an adulteress. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you also were put to death in relation to the law through the body of Christ so that you may belong to another. You belong to him who was raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions aroused through the law were working in us to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the law, since we have died to what held us, so that we may serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the old letter of the law.
What should we say then? Is the law sin? Absolutely not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin if it were not for the law. For example, I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, Do not covet. And sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind. For apart from the law sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life again and I died. The commandment that was meant for life resulted in death for me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good. Therefore, did what is good become death to me? Absolutely not! On the contrary, sin, in order to be recognized as sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that through the commandment, sin might become sinful beyond measure.” (Romans 7:1–13, CSB)
Read it slowly.
Then read it again. And again.
Those looking for affirmation of their attachment to “the letter of the law” will be disappointed. The sole function of the law is to remind us of our sin, to kill us by our sins, and to make us deserving of eternal wrath.
When we are confronted with sin, a cycle begins. Either we see our sin and are mad that it is called sin–maybe our case is an exception, or we try to fix our sin with good works. When our works aren’t enough, we become frustrated and hostile because of this oppressive law.
Our will and humanity are bound by this law. The law is what we wanted in the Garden–knowledge of good and evil. And we got just what God warned us of–death. The law is not evil. It’s our evil nature that cannot handle the way that the good law demands good from us.
But when our old self dies with Christ, then our will is free.
“Not that conscience should now do nothing; rather, it should now for the first time truly cling to its second husband, Christ, and bring forth the fruit of life.” – Martin Luther, Preface to Romans
Our will is free to be bound once more to a better husband. We are free to “serve in a new spirit” and “bear fruit for God.” We are removed from the original tree that caused us to only produce evil, and we are grafted into the True Vine and source of life.
Illustratively, this reminds me of Luke Skywalker in the Empire Strikes Back. When Luke feels the pull towards the cave on Dagobah, he asks, “What’s in there?” Yoda replies, “Only what you take with you.”
The cave motif is used extensively in literature to show metaphorically what lies beneath the surface of a person or an internal struggle–think Odysseus. For Plato, the cave was a false reality for persons who were trapped and confused.
What Luke sees in the cave is the evil Vader, who is revealed to be Luke himself. This fear of the evil within, wanting to fight it but not knowing how, it shapes the rest of Luke’s story.