Across the table from me, a young man, maybe fifteen years old, was pouring out his heart. While we ate our burgers and fries, he shared how he loved the Lord but struggled to apply the gospel daily. His friends were regularly doing things that he, as a Christian, would not do, and he felt cornered. For him, following Jesus felt like a crushing weight and not freedom.
I thought about him while reflecting on Romans 7:4-6 because I have often shared his struggle. I have felt confined by my Christian faith as well and need God’s word to correct me. I need to be reminded that in Christ, I don’t live under the judge’s gavel but serve in the King’s palace.
In Romans 7:4-6, Paul applies the marriage illustration from the prior verses. The spouse we were bound to was the law, and the fruit of our relationship, Paul says, was the “fruit of death” (Ro 7:5). Sin was the offspring of that union. However, in the death of Jesus, “we have died to the law through the body of Christ” (Romans 7:4). As a wife is “released” from her husband when he dies (Romans 7:2), Christians are no longer bound to the law but “belong to another” (Ro 7:4). We are now the bride of Christ (Eph 5:32) and therefore freed from the bondage of the law. Charles Simeon says, “[Paul] represents men as by nature married to the law, and bringing forth fruit to sin and death; but afterwards, as separated from the law, and married to Christ, in order to their bringing forth the fruits of holiness to the praise and glory of God.”
Free to Belong to God
Fighting for freedom makes a compelling movie. Gladiator ropes us in to watch and cheer for Maximus in his fight for freedom. In many of these stories, freedom means the main character finally can choose their path. Since they are free, they belong to themselves. The gospel, likewise, tells a story of freedom from bondage but with a different and better ending. The gospel tells the story of Jesus winning his people from bondage to belonging not to themselves but God.
Earlier in Romans, Paul shows the outcome of being left to our desires. When we belong to ourselves, we become our own cruel master (Ro 1:18-32). Belonging to God is a better ending and a better freedom than belonging to ourselves.
What God says to Israel at the beginning of Ezekiel 16 is a wonderful picture of his care for his own. He says, “I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine… You were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord God” (Eze 16:8,13–14). God cares for those who are His. He does not crush them.
When we belong to God, we are free not to give in to temptation, free from the guilt and shame of our past, and free to worship God with joy and not fear (Luke 1:76). We belong to God because we have died to the law in the body of Jesus Christ (Ro 7:4).
The Fruit of Belonging to God
Our freedom has a purpose. We are freed to belong “so that we may bear fruit for God” (Rom 7:4). Jesus makes the same connection between belonging and bearing fruit when He says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).
What does it mean to bear fruit? Like me, you probably hear this phrase so much you are not sure what it exactly means. The structure of the passage helps us understand because the arrangement of verse 6 is like verse 4. In verse 4, the outcome of belonging is bearing fruit for God. In verse 6, the outcome is serving “in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Ro 7:6). Christians bear fruit for God by serving Christ in the power of the Spirit and not the will of the flesh (Ro 7:5-6). We glorify God by serving Christ energized by the Holy Spirit in us.
Notice how tangible the doctrine of the Trinity is in this passage. We die to the law in the death of Jesus Christ, to belong to God, and serve him empowered by the Holy Spirit. God does not tie our hands and keep us from enjoying life. Rather, as a loving spouse, Jesus fills his bride with the fullness of joy (John 15:11), and she bears the fruit of holiness to the praise of the glory of God.
In our freedom, we can serve the Lord with gladness. Serve him in daily Bible reading. Serve him in evangelism. Serve him in caring for people in need and discipling other Christians. In Christ, you belong to God to bear fruit for his glory.