The triumph of grace over the power of the law (Romans 7:1-6)

The triumph of grace over the power of the law (Romans 7:1-6)

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church on Saturday, April 17 and Sunday, April 18, 2021

John Ortburg writes:

My friend, Jimmy, and his son, Davey, were playing in the ocean down in Mexico, while his family—his wife, daughters, parents, and a cousin—were on the beach. Suddenly, a rogue riptide swept Davey out to the sea. Immediately Jimmy started to do whatever he could to help Davey get back to the shore, but he, too, was soon swept away in the tide. He knew that in a few minutes, both he and Davey would drown. He tried to scream, but his family couldn’t hear him.

Jimmy’s a strong guy—an Olympic Decathlete—but he was powerless in this situation. As he was carried along by the water, he had a single, chilling thought: My wife and my daughters are going to have to have a double funeral.

Meanwhile, his cousin, who understood something about the ocean, saw what was happening. He walked out into the water where he knew there was a sandbar. He had learned that if you try to fight a riptide, you will die. So, he walked to the sandbar, stood as close as he could get to Jimmy and Davey, and then he just lifted his hand up and said, “You come to me. You come to me.”

If you try to go the way your gut tells you to go—the shortest distance into shore—you will die. If you think for yourself, you will die. God says, “If you come to me, you will live.” That’s it—death or life.[1]

The Bible talks about this in Romans. We are now in Romans 7 and this small passage is a continuation of chapter 6. Chapter 6 was about how our sin nature died with Christ. Chapter 7 now illustrates how we died to the law and we are free to live by the Spirit.


We are released from the law, bound to Christ

Application: Walk in Jesus (Col. 2:6)

Read with me Romans 7:6:

But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

Let’s also read Col. 2:6:

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him…

  • Look at verse 6. We are released from the law.
    • The Bible says that we are dying to what once bound us.
    • We were bound to the law, but not anymore.
    • Do you think the law helps us to live for Jesus?
    • Do you think the law makes us righteous?

Experiment Shows How the Law Leads to Sin

Robert Cialdini, a researcher and an expert on the theory of persuasion, conducted an experiment at the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. The park had a problem, as it made clear on a warning sign:


The sign plainly appealed to the visitors’ sense of moral outrage. Cialdini wanted to know if this appeal was effective. So he and some colleagues ran an experiment. They seeded various trails throughout the forest with loose pieces of petrified wood, ready for the stealing. On some trails, they posted a sign warning not to steal; other trails got no sign. The result? The trails with the warning sign had nearly three times more theft than the trails with no signs.

How could this be? Cialdini concluded that the park’s warning sign, designed to send a moral message, perhaps sent a different message as well. Something like: Wow, the petrified wood is going fast—I’d better get mine now! Or: Fourteen tons a year!? Surely it won’t matter if I take a few pieces[2].

  • That is a humorous example and psychologist could get into how some people are natural law keepers and others are natural law breakers. I remember being taught about that in college.
    • For example: some of you are driving down a country road in the middle of the night and you come to a red light and you will stop and wait, and, wait, and wait. No one is coming, but you wait, and wait, and wait. Is that you?
    • Others come to the red light in the middle of the night, and you wait a second and think, “no one is coming, I am going.”
    • A better example is when the sign says “No right on red.” Isn’t it easy to say, “Come on it is 2:00 am?” But others would not dare disobey that law.
    • The law does not make us righteous.
    • This passage is not meaning the law is bad.
    • Just turn to Psalm 19 or Psalm 119. The law is good, but we could not keep it.
  • So, we are to serve in the Spirit.
    • With children it is said to make sure you replace things if you take something away.
    • In that manner we are released from the bondage to the law and instead we have the Spirit.
    • The point is that our first husband was the law and he died, so we are free to marry our new husband Jesus.
    • Paul writes about that in verses 2-5.
    • The law side died with our sin nature when we committed to Christ. The law was good, but we could not keep the law.
    • This goes along with Romans 6:3-4: By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
    • We are free to walk in the Spirit or live by Christ. Look at Col. 2:6: Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him…
  • Let’s apply this:
    • We now serve Christ out of grace, not because of a law.
    • We are not “in the flesh” (verse 5), we are no longer bound by our sin nature and the sinful passions. We are in the Spirit. We must live in the Spirit, being an imitator of God (Ephesians 5:1-2, 8 and 15; Col. 1:10 and 2:6).
    • Now, in the newness of the Spirit we produce fruit, spiritual fruit.
    • We must live in Christ victoriously, not as if we are defeated and stuck in sin.
    • Our old sin nature, flesh nature, died with Christ (Romans 6:3). So, we are “pre-resurrected” with Christ as well. We must live this way (Romans 6:4).

God gave us grace and mercy.

Max Lucado shares:

The bank sent me an overdraft notice on the checking account of one of my daughters. I encourage my college-age girls to monitor their accounts. Even so, they sometimes overspend.

What should I do? Send her an angry letter? Admonition might help her later, but it won’t satisfy the bank. Phone and tell her to make a deposit? Might as well tell a fish to fly. I know her liquidity. Zero. Transfer the money from my account to hers? Seemed to be the best option. After all, I had $25.37. I could replenish her account and pay the overdraft fee as well. Since she calls me Dad, I did what dads do. I covered my daughter’s mistake.

When I told her she was overdrawn, she said she was sorry. Still, she offered no deposit. She was broke. She had one option, “Dad, could you…” “Honey,” I interrupted, “I already have.” I met her need before she knew she had one.

Long before you knew you needed grace, your Father did the same. He made an ample deposit. Before you knew you needed a Savior, you had one. And when you ask him for mercy, he answers, “Dear child. I’ve already given it.”[3]


[1] John Ortberg, in the sermon The Way of Wisdom,

[2] Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Think Like a Freak(William Morrow, 2014), pp 115-116

[3] Max Lucado, Cure for the Common Life (Thomas Nelson, 2008), pp. 69-70

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