Does Paul in Romans 7:1-6 state that we have been freed from the law? If so, why do we still have
to submit to it?
In dealing with your concern I will comment on the context of the passage, summarize my understanding of Paul’s argument, and discuss the nature of the law in this particular passage.
1. Context: The connection between sin and law is briefly mentioned in Romans 5:20 and 6:14, but in this passage Paul discusses the connection between sin, law, and death. He clarifies that the law does not belong to the sphere of sin. He establishes boundaries for the role of the law (Rom. 7:1-6) and indicates that the culprit is sin that has misused that which is good and holy, i.e., the law of God (verses 7-25).
There are some striking contextual connections between this passage and Romans 6. Sin and the law reign (Rom. 6:12; Rom. 7:1); they rule while we are alive (Rom. 6:7; Rom. 7:1); we have to die to both (Rom. 6:9; Rom. 7:4); we die with Christ (Rom. 6:7) and through Christ (Rom. 7:4); we change masters (Rom. 6:17; Rom. 7:4); the fruit of sin is death (Rom. 6:21), and because of sin the law
leads to death (Rom. 7:5); Christians are to bear fruit (Rom. 6:22; Rom. 7:4); there is an old self (Rom. 6:6) and the old letter (Rom. 7:6); and there is newness of life (Rom. 6:4) and of the Spirit (Rom. 7:6). The parallels indicate a general, continuous theme, namely that the law is somehow involved in the link between sin and death.
2. Summary of the Argument: Paul states a principle: The law reigns over us as long as we live (Rom. 7:1). Once we die we are free from the law. This principle is illustrated using the example of a married woman. The law related to her marriage rules over her as long as her husband is alive. Once he dies she can marry another man without being condemned by the law as an adulteress (verses 2, 3).
Paul proceeds to apply this principle to believers (verse 4): We have been delivered from the power of the law because we have died to the law through Christ; we now legally belong to Him. The law cannot condemn this new relationship. Paul explains that the bond between sin, law, and death is found in our rebellious sinful nature. Sin uses the law to stimulate our sinful passions, and the result is death (verse 5). In that setting the law functions as a guard, keeping us confined in the prison of sin (verse 6; Gal. 3:23). When sin and law work together, the result is deadly. But since we already died through Christ, we can now serve in newness of Spirit, not in the old way of the law that as a written code (“letter”) condemned us to death (Rom. 7:6).
3. The Law: Paul discusses the role of the law in a world of sin and its misuse by sin. First, the law in this passage describes the law before the coming of Christ and the Spirit. At that time the law ruled over humans and in conjunction with sin led to death (condemnation). This was when we were controlled by our sinful passions (verse 5), the time of “the oldness of the letter” (verse 6). Second, this was when the law condemned sinners to death, and sin used the law to stimulate sin in us (verse 5). We were under power of both sin and the law. We needed freedom from both. Third, freedom from both came through our death! The sin-law-death connection was broken by Christ who died for us, and in whom we have died to sin through baptism (Rom. 6:1-7). The condemnation of the law, the curse of the law, was realized in the death of Christ (Gal. 3:13). The law did not die, but we did! Fourth, the law is now placed in its proper Christological perspective. Through the Spirit we are enabled to do what we, because of sin, could not do before: The righteous requirements of the law are now fulfilled in us who “do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4).
Through Christ we have been freed from the power of sin and the condemnation of the law.