Grace For The Journey
In today’s blog we will look into a section of Romans that can quickly become confusing if you are not diligent to carefully follow Paul’s line of reasoning within its context. Too many people end up confused or end up with theological error because they try to understand a verse or a short passage as if it was independent of its context. The same rules of interpretation apply to the Bible that apply to any other book. You must understand the theme of the book and the theme of the chapter in order to properly interpret the paragraph you are studying.
The theme of the book of Romans
Is the righteousness of God
Revealed through His justification
Of sinners who place their faith
In the person and work
Of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul lays the foundation of this theme in the first three chapters by showing that God is righteous in His wrath upon man because all men are unrighteous. No man seeks God on his own. No man does good when examined by God’s perfect standards. Paul then declares the Good News that God has provided a means by which man can be declared righteous through the justification that comes by faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Sinners who believe in the person and work of Jesus are declared “not guilty” in God’s court because Jesus has already paid the penalty of their sin. In addition, the righteousness of Jesus is imputed to them so that they may stand before God in a righteous state. In chapter 4, Paul sets forth Abraham as the example of this type of faith that results in justification.
In chapter 5, Paul begins to explain the ramifications of being justified by faith including having peace with God and a confidence to face any circumstance of life because God has proven His great love for man when Jesus died on behalf of sinners. That love can never be legitimately questioned, and that gives me a foundation of hope for the future that is not a wish, but a confident assurance in God’s promises. Therefore, I can persevere even through the difficult things of life, and God matures me in the process. I become more like Jesus.
We had inherited at birth a sin nature from Adam that was incapable of doing good before God, but through faith in Christ we are given a new nature that can do what is right. Therefore, we are to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. As Paul asserts in chapter 6, the person that we were died with Christ and we were raised to newness of life in His resurrection. Baptism is our physical identification with this spiritual reality. Sin is no longer our master, so we no longer have to obey it. God is our new master, and we should obey righteousness.
In chapter 7 Paul expands on the law and the changed relationship that believers have to it. It must be remembered that Paul is writing to a mixture of Jews and Gentiles. Note in 7:1 that Paul states that he is “speaking to those who know the law.” These Jews will need to understand this change in relationship to the Law if they are to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ and how God wants them to now live. In doing this Paul will not only explain the changed relationship the believer has with the law, but also the relationship between the law and sin, and the continuing struggle the believer will have with sin. We will be discussing that struggle tomorrow.
In verses 1-6, which we studied yesterday, Paul demonstrates that the law no longer has jurisdiction over the one who is justified by faith in Jesus Christ. Why? Because the believer has died to the law in Christ, and the law only has jurisdiction over those that are alive. Verse 6 of chapter 7 declares, “We have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.”
In the next section, which is our passage for study this morning, Paul begins his explanation of the relationship of people to the law and sin. In verses 7-13 Paul deals with unbelievers as he recounts the effect of the law and sin in his own life prior to conversion. In verses 14-25 Paul explains his continuing struggle with sin as a believer.
Consider what God’s Word teaches us about this important truth . . .
Paul begins this section in verse 7 by responding to a question he knew would be in the minds of some of those reading his letter. “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be!” The question is based on an idea that Paul had dealt with briefly in the previous passage, but it is an idea that often occurs to those with carnal minds. In verse 5, Paul had said that his sinful passions were aroused by the law. If the law becomes an occasion for more sin, then perhaps the law is itself sinful. Paul’s response is emphatic and direct no. By no means is the law sinful.
Paul will spend the next 7 verses explaining his own experience with the law prior to salvation and demonstrate by it that the law is holy, righteous, and good. The fact that his own sinful desires would pervert the purpose of the law to work evil in his life does not mean that the law is evil. It only reveals the depth of evil that existed in his heart. An occasion for sin and a cause of sin are two different things.
The Law’s Revelation Of Sin.
Paul first tells the effect of the Law in his own life prior to being saved, “On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” In contrast against the assertion that the law was sinful, Paul states it was the Law that revealed his sin to him. This is a good thing. Paul does not say he was not a sinner prior to the law, but rather that he would not have known he was a sinner except that the law exposed his sin. Keep in mind throughout this passage that Paul is speaking to Jews who know the law about his own experience with the law. In doing so you must also remember that Paul had been a Pharisee and his understanding of the law would have been from that perspective. In Philippians 3:6 Paul says that he had been such a zealous Pharisee that “as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” Paul had been Saul the Pharisee, and from that position of self-righteousness had kept the law. The Pharisees had developed a system that interpreted the law in such a way that a man who was diligent could think he was righteous. But when the Holy Spirit started working on Saul’s heart to convict him of sin, righteousness, and judgement, just as Jesus said the Holy Spirit would do (John 16:8-11), Paul understood the law in a new light.
Notice the specific sin that Paul says he had come to know through the law – Coveting. It is not that Paul had not known that coveting had been included as the last in the list of the Ten Commandments. Like the rich young ruler in Matthew 19, Saul the Pharisee had done a so well at keeping the outward precepts of the law that he thought himself blameless before the law. However, the law is not just about outward actions. It also includes matters of the heart. Coveting is the only sin among the Ten Commandments that is strictly internal in nature.
It is the strong desire or craving to have what you do not have instead of being content with what God has given you. It is primarily a sin of rebellion against God’s will. When coveting becomes expressed outwardly, it will result in stealing, or dishonoring parents, or adultery, or lying or anger even to the point of murder. Saul had done well at holding his desires in check so that he did not act upon them, but the Law eventually destroyed his self-righteousness when he had to face the truth of the commandment to not covet.
The Law neither caused Saul to covet, nor did it make coveting sinful. The Law is the revelation of God’s standards by which He will judge man. When Saul was coveting before knowing the Law, he was already sinning and breaking God’s standards. Ignorance of the law does not exempt you from the law or its consequences.
A few years ago a friend of mine received a ticket for making a left turn at an intersection where it was illegal to do so. The fact that he did not notice the “No Left” turn sign did not exempt him from the consequences of not following its instructions. The officer, who he had turned left in front of, still gave him the ticket and he had to pay the fine.
Ignorance of the law
Is not an excuse
For not obeying it.
The Law simply revealed God’s standards to Saul. The Holy Spirit then used the law to bring him to the conviction that he was guilty before God for breaking those commands.
There are many today who are like Saul was then in regards to coveting. They do not regard the desire to do evil as sin unless the action is taken to try to fulfill the desire. They still want to reduce the Law of God down to some list of specific actions by which they can justify themselves by avoiding what is prohibited and doing what is commanded. They, like Saul, often claim to be well versed in the law of God, but in truth they remain ignorant of it. The law encompasses the inward thoughts and desires as well as the outward actions. That is why Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 was so hard on the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus revealed that the sin was in the thoughts and desires that existed before any action was taken. Jesus equated hatred with murder (Matthew 5:22) and lust with adultery (5:28). In addition, righteous actions have their foundation in a righteous desire. Promises are kept as a matter of integrity before God (5:33-37). Righteous acts and prayer are done to please God and talk with Him and not for the purpose of impressing people (6:1-18). God and His kingdom are sought instead of one’s own wealth and kingdom (6:19-34). Evil actions are always the result of evil that is already in the heart. Jesus told this to His disciples in Matthew 15:18 when explained to them that “the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.”
The Law had exposed Saul the Pharisee’s sinful heart. It was that conviction that opened the way for him to repent and come to Christ in faith and be regenerated into the Apostle Paul.
Sin’s Use Of The Law.
In verses 8-11, Paul explains how his sin nature had perverted the law and made it an opportunity for increased sin, “But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin [is] dead. 9 And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me.”
The law commanded him not to covet, but the sin nature that resided in him rebelled against that command to produce in him all manner of coveting. I pointed out this principle yesterday. We are all familiar with this idea. You give your children instructions and at times they seem to respond like you just gave them new ideas of how to disobey you. You see the sign that says, “Do Not Touch, Wet Paint,” and suddenly there arises within you a desire to touch it. You would not have considered touching it until you saw the sign. Whatever the speed limit is set at, your desire is to go a little faster. If it is 40, you want to do 45-50; If it is 55 you want to go 60-65; If it is 65 you want to go 70-75. That is what Paul is talking about here in saying that sin takes opportunity through the commandment. Sin prods the unregenerate to rebel against the commandment given.
In Paul’s case, the particular commandment was to not covet. Sin in him rebelled against the commandment and produced in him coveting of all kinds. The problem is sin, not the law.
Sin’s Relationship to the Law.
Paul says at the end of verse 8, “for apart from the Law sin [is] dead.” Some have taken this to mean that sin only exists where there is law. The context here is clear that Paul does not mean that, otherwise Paul would have to conclude that the law is sinful since it produces sin. But Paul is adamant that the law is holy, righteous, and good. He does not blame the law for sin, but rather blames sin for using the law as an occasion for sin.
The idea here is that sin becomes excited by the law. Without the law, sin is dead in the sense of being inactive. It is already in control, and there is nothing for it to rise up and rebel against. As soon as the law comes sin becomes excited to rebel against the rules and be in charge again.
For example, all of us must eat in order to live. At times you may eat too much or the wrong thing and gain more weight than is healthy for you. The result is that you decide that you need to go on a diet and loose the weight. What suddenly happens to your desires as soon as you restrict yourself and go on a diet? You suddenly find that you have strong cravings for foods that you had not given much thought to before. The rules that restrict your diet arouse the sin within and make it alive and active.
Some have taken this thought and advocate from it this idea that you cannot legislate morality. While it is true that unregenerate man will rebel against the laws given, that does not mean you can solve the problem by refusing to make laws that will define the moral standards. You do not make a person moral by refusing to define immoral behavior. That is an idea rooted in thinking the law itself is evil, therefore where there are no laws there is no evil. That is a fallacy. It was not the law that produced Paul’s coveting. It was sin that took opportunity from the law given to produce sin against that very law.
Those that advocate the idea that you cannot legislate morality need to face the fact that every society legislates their moral standards. The only real question is whose morality will be adopted into law as a means of defining the moral standards of that society.
There has been a great effort by homosexuals and other sexual deviants to remove the laws against their behaviors from the codes that govern our society. In doing so they hope to gain acceptance by society. However, removing those laws will not make them moral. God has already defined the standards of morality and man cannot change them. He can only redefine them in terms acceptable to himself, but which will leave him condemned before God. The Pharisees had done that, but in the end it left them with a false sense of security that they were favorable to God when they were actually under His wrath for their actual unrighteousness.
Self-Righteousness, The Law, and Sin.
In verse 9 Paul states that he was once alive apart from the Law, but that when the commandment came, sin became alive and he died. When Paul was self-righteous Saul the Pharisee, he thought himself as being alive unto God and even zealous for what he thought was God’s work. At that time Paul thought he was keeping God’s law and was therefore pleasing to God.
There are many who live like this today. They think they are doing a great job of obeying God and therefore have achieved righteousness before Him. This is common among religions and cults that have defined salvation in terms of a works-based righteousness. This would include Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, Jehovah Witnesses, as well as the many smaller religions and cults. It is also common among professing evangelicals who have traded God’s standards for their own set of rules and regulations. Legalism quickly puffs up with pride and ignores God’s actual standards of holy living. However, when the sinner comes face to face with God’s actual law it strips him of self-righteousness and false hope because it reveals the sin that is actually there. In addition, as Paul has already said in verse 8, sin uses the commandment as an opportunity to produce even more sin. The sinner is condemned even more, and the wages of sin is death.
The commandments promised life to those who would obey. God says in Leviticus 18:4-5. “You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the Lord your God. So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the Lord.” What was missed by the Pharisees and is still missed by so many today is that . . .
Included among the statutes and judgements of the Lord
Aare loving Him with all their heart,
Soul and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4)
And to circumcise their hearts (Deuteronomy 10:16)
And walk with Him by faith (Proverbs 3:5;
Habbakuk 2:4) as Abraham had done.
Paul states in verse 11 that “sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived [him], and through it killed [him].” That is the nature of sin. It is deceptive. The commandments that self-righteous Saul the Pharisee thought would bring him life proved instead to be the source of his death. The commandments not only revealed his sinfulness to him, but they also aroused the sin nature within him resulting in even more sin and they killed him. Instead of living in a righteous relationship with God, his unrighteousness separated him from God. That is spiritual death.
How deceitful can sin be? The false teachers Jesus condemns in Matthew actually thought they were busy in the Lord’s service making prophecy, casting out demons and doing many miracles in the Lord’s name. Their sin deceived them into not only thinking they were acceptable to God, but actually doing many wonderful things in His name. The truth is that they were those who practiced lawlessness. They were not true followers of God. They were in fact practitioners of sin and followers of their own doctrines.
The Nature of the Law.
Paul does not find any of this as a negative reflection on the law. In fact, in verse 12 he declares that this working of the law is good. “So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” There is nothing sinful in the law. Paul uses both the term “law” and “commandments” to emphasize his declaration. The law as a whole and in each of its individual precepts are holy. They are in opposition to
whatever is sinful. Even though sin sought to use it as an occasion for its own purposes, the fact remains that the law still accomplished its purpose in declaring God’s righteous standards. Paul says that the commandments are just. There is nothing deceptive in them. They are in perfect conformity to the character of God and reveal the righteous standards of God. The commandments are also good for they arise from the character of God and direct people to reflect that character. Every commandment of God, if followed, will promote the glory of God and benefit those who keep them. The fact that people do not obey God and will rebel against His law is not a reflection of God’s commandments, but rather a reflection of the sinfulness of man. The commandments are also good because they revealed to Paul his own sinfulness and therefore his need for a righteousness that was apart from the law.
The Sinfulness of Sin.
Paul says in verse 13, “Therefore did that which is good become [a cause of] death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.” Paul finds no fault with the law. The fault lies with sin. Sin was the cause of his death, his spiritual separation from God. God’s commandments reveal the utter sinfulness of sin in that sin will seek to even use that which is good for evil purposes. Sin is so evil that it can twist and distort the very law that was to bring life into a condemnation of death.
Those who do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are still in the relationship to the law and sin that Paul describes here. They have no hope in themselves or in the law, for man cannot be justified by the law (Romans 3:20). The only means of salvation from sin is through being justified by faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Talk with myself or one of our church leaders today if you do not yet know if you will suffer His wrath for eternity or be with Him in heaven. We greatly desire for you to know the forgiveness of sin that we have received through Jesus.
Those who are justified by faith in Jesus Christ have a different relationship to sin and the law. As we will see next week, Christians still struggle with sin, but we are no longer under its mastery or its condemnation. Thus the challenge for all Christians is to live according to what we are now in Christ and not in the slavery to sin of what we used to be.
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!