Sin and the Law
Let’s remember that the larger subject still is sanctification or living a godly life. Our reminder: the primary focus of Romans 6/7 is - how can we live our lives here on earth in a manner that approximates our righteous standing before God in heaven? So the real issue in these chapters is Change or how to move from where we are to where we ought to be. How can a genuine believer make lasting change - change that sticks?
We are now ready for the third macro question of chapter 6-7. The first two questions were…
A. What then, should we sin habitually so that God’s glorious grace is lavishly displayed? 6:1-14. The answer is “no” - sin is never a good thing even if it results in God’s glory.
B. What then, should we sin with impunity given that grace presently rules over us rather than Law? 6:15-7:6. The answer is “no” - we are now slaves to righteousness rather than sin.
And, the next question is…
C. What then, should we conclude that the Law itself is sinful because it brings awareness of personal sin? 7:7-12. The answer is “no” - the Law is supremely good. In other words, because the Law is so closely associated with sin is it a bad thing? Can the Law be held responsible for our failure to keep it?
Or to frame it differently, how can the Law of God bring about horrible effects including arousing sinful passions (7:5)? The answer is that the culprit is sin, not the law.
Illustration: Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is the youngest signal-caller ever to win a Super Bowl. He is a superstar in the NFL and has been the recipient of a number of endorsement opportunities. However, in June 2006 he gained a new perspective on freedom.
In July of 2005, ESPN reporter Andrea Kremer asked Roethlisberger to explain his decision to ride his motorcycle without a helmet:
ESPN: It's not the law in Pennsylvania to wear a helmet. Why don't you wear a helmet?
Roethlisberger: Because you don't have to. It's not the law. If it were the law, I'd definitely have one on every time I rode. But it's not the law and I know I don't have to. You're just freer when you're out there with no helmet on.
Unfortunately, Roethlisberger was involved in a serious motorcycle accident in June of 2006, less than one year later. When a 62-year-old woman failed to yield at a Pittsburgh intersection, Roethlisberger was thrown into the windshield of her Chrysler Town and Country. His bike was totaled, and emergency surgeons spent over seven hours repairing a broken jaw, a fractured skull, missing teeth, and several other facial injuries.
After being released from the hospital, Roethlisberger apologized to the fans, his family, and his team for risking his health (and life) unnecessarily. In another interview, he was no longer focused on taking advantage of his individual freedom: "In the past few days, I've gained a new perspective on life. By the grace of God, I'm fortunate to be alive." He also added that, if he ever does ride a motorcycle again, "It will certainly be with a helmet." David Slagle, Atlanta, Georgia; source: ESPN.c
- Sin is never a good thing even if it results in God’s glory 6:1-14.
- Christians are now slaves to righteousness rather than slaves to sin 6:15-7-6
So we come to Romans 7:7-12.
- The Law is supremely good. 7:7-12
There is legitimate debate regarding to whom Paul alludes with the personal “I”. However, it seems to make reasonable sense that he refers to his own general life experiences to prove his point. Then in v 13-25 he seems to include others in his frustrating struggle to obey God. So this is not mere theory. In fact, he cites the tangible example of struggling with the tenth commandment, “thou shall not covet.”
A. It is never appropriate to identify the Law with sin, no matter what the circumstances 7a
The question being posed, or perhaps the objection being raised, is whether the law equals sin (“is” is supplied and “sin” is in the predicate nominative position with “law” – (Τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν; ὁ νόμος ἁμαρτία; = “what therefore will we say? The law sin? also see diagram).
The answer is dogmatic – no wiggle room. “May it never be”.
As we shall see, focusing on the law may be the ultimate in blame shifting – the problem is this unfair and unrealistic law that God has given us. But, the issue is never the Law. The issue is always us! I am reminded of NAU James 1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.
So, Paul uses a strong contrast (7b “on the contrary” or “Yet” (ESV) = alla =) to state the truth of the matter. What follows is the real skinny regarding the law and sin and us. Listen up.
B. The relationship between the Law and sin is clear: the Law brings personal awareness of sin to us 7b-11
It is true that there is a coalition between the law and sin. He makes this all very personal by using first person verbs (“I”) and personal pronoun “me” in vs 7-11 and rest of chapter– just so we won’t be tempted to dismiss his statements as mere nebulous theory. What is true of Paul and of Israel under the Mosaic Law is true of all people under the rule of God. Thus, “I” language is the best way to capture the thought.
- I experienced sin through the law 7b
This is a vivid statement – “I did not know sin except through law.” Paul is speaking of his own general experience (not necessarily a specific event). Law is the very channel (dia + genitive = through) by which he became aware of sin in a personal way. He both understood the sinfulness of sin and also that he actually sinned.
To help us come to terms with this, Paul cites coveting, a violation of the tenth commandment, as an example of what he means. This shows how deeply the law boroughs into our beings; coveting is an internal issue. I might more readily understand outward actions as sinful; but because of the law, I have come to understand that even inward thoughts can be sinful. Further, by choosing this commandment, there is no doubt about whether I can fully keep the law.
Open question: If you were to categorize coveting in relationship to other sins, where would it rank? What other sins would be “greater” sins?
- When I covet (or whatever) I am a willing participant in a lethal progression 8-11
- First, the law provided an opportunity for sin in principle 8a It is aorist participle: “(sin), after having taken an opportunity through the commandment….” “Opportunity” is aformh (from apw + ormh = a violent movement, impulse, assault). Therefore, the reference is to a starting point; in war it is a base of operations (A/S 72). So, “metaphorically it is that by which an endeavor is excited and from which it goes forth” (Thayer). Only used seven times one of which is Galatians 5:13 ¶ For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
- Then, sin in principle produced the sinful act of coveting in me 8b Even though we know that we are responsible for our sinful conduct – ie we can’t blame the law or the sin principle (the sin nature?) – none-the-less, the principle of sin is viewed here as “producing” sinful acts. Paul says it this way in order to make sure that the Law is not tarnished by this transaction. It is not the Law; it is the principle of sin.
- Sin was dormant until the Law entered the picture 8c
A point of clarification is now given. The sequence goes something like this: the commandment, “do not covet”, entered our conscience. Sin was aroused to activity (prior to this it was inactive or “dead”). In turn, sin caused coveting. This is the basic idea that “stolen fruits are the sweetest” (Mounce 164).
Illustration: Mom says to the child, “no cookies”. The child didn’t even know the cookie jar was full until Mom said “no cookies.” In fact, he wasn’t even hungry. But now everything changes. He checks to see if Mom is looking before he reaches in the jar.
So, sin comes alive.
- Finally, when the Law entered the picture, I died 9-10 It is precisely in conjunction with sin coming alive that I died. What is this death?Haven’t we learned that we are dead to sin? Further, Paul was spiritually dead long before he became aware of the law. And, he was born spiritually dead so how can it be said that he was once alive? What is going on here?
This is difficult indeed. The sense might be something like one author suggests (Benoit in Moo 429):
“…though ‘I’ had sinned, and was condemned before the law came, the coming of the commandment gave sin greater power and destructiveness than ever before, making me fully and personally responsible for my sin. The coming of the law brought to me, then, not life but death (“I died”.)”
Now, we might not be able to point to a time when this encounter with the law actually occurred in Paul’s life, it still is probably a general reference to the “…days before he had grasped the full scope and power of the law’s demands.” (Mounce 164). It can be said that he was “alive” then, but after his encounter with the Law he “died.” Sin now was alive and Paul realized he had the sentence of death upon him.
Here is a lesson for us – it is generally true of us that when we become aware of the Law, we learn how hopeless our state is. In this sense, we die! Living under the Law is no treat!
- The bottom line: I was deceived before I was killed 11
After (aor part) sin seized the opportunity, it swiftly deceived me and killed me. The “starting point” may have been innocent enough, but the ending point was devastating. Beware the small things! The hidden agenda is death. The method is deception.
Illustration: It's hard to imagine how excited Norrie Gill must have been in May, 2005, when she won the big "100 Grand" contest run by her Lexington radio station, WLTO-FM. According to the Associated Press, "She won by listening to the station for several hours and being the tenth caller at a specified time." The night before she went to collect her prize, she promised her three young children that they were going to get a minivan, a home with a backyard, and lots of shopping.
The next morning she went to the station but was asked to return later. When she got home, there was a phone message from the station manager explaining that she had won a Nestle's 100 Grand candy bar, not $100,000.
Norrie sued them for deceptive advertising. The station manager offered her $5,000, but she wouldn't go for it. "I said I wanted $95,000 more. Nobody would watch and listen for two hours for a candy bar." AOL News (6-23-05); submitted by Lee Eclov, Vernon Hills, Illinois
So here is another tool for our Toolkit for Lasting Change:
Tool #11 - Know this: A principled (rules based) approach to godliness results in ungodliness, 7:7-12. Do this: Focus on internals rather than externals. Love God and you will love His rules (Psalm 19; John 14:23). But, true and lasting spiritual change and growth is never accomplished by keeping a list of rules. It doesn’t make any difference whether the law-list is composed of a few or a few hundred principles or whether it is God’s law or man’s laws. Which is more important to you - sensitivity to sin or Sunday School pins?
Think about this. The more you rely on keeping the Law for your spirituality, the more you open yourself to deception. Sin uses the Law! The Law promises life, but we are deceived if we think we can attain life through the Law! In fact, attempts to find life through keeping the Law only lead to death.
Work groups: Draft a brief working definition of genuine spirituality.
Ask the class: We need to apply this tool to specific issues that are common struggles for Christians. The specific area I would propose today Coveting. So, now what? How can we apply the tool, “Focus on internals rather than externals”, to this situation?”
Reminder: the common “First Steps for Change” to be applied to all situations are:
- What have I done or not done? (Be specific)
- What does God say? (Bible)
- Is this sin? (If so, seek forgiveness and make restitution when possible.)
4. What must I do? (Be specific)
Points I would mention (along with appropriate Scripture) if not brought up by class members would be:
- List as many “spiritual” benefits or blessings you have as a result of salvation (Eph 1:3 “…who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing…”)
- List all the non-spiritual blessings you have and schedule a time to thank God for each one specifically. And then do this again, and again, and again.
- List every benefit or blessing someone else has that they will be able to take with them after death.
- List every reason why God should give you as much as someone else has.
C. We must always conclude that God’s Law is good 12
This is a summary verse – “so then.” The Law is good. In this instance, the individual commandment against coveting is good; coveting is bad. Everything about God’s Law is holy.
Sin is the perpetrator, not the Law. Recall the story about Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh quarterback? The helmet law wasn’t the problem – his foolish decision was.
Therefore, we who are believers must learn a vital lesson. True and lasting spiritual change and growth can never be found in a list of rules, whether 10 or 10,000.
The conclusion is simple. Salvation can never be earned by keeping the Mosaic Law or law of any kind. It is only found in the grace of God.
Illustration: Show video? Joshua Bell emerged from the Metro and positioned himself against a wall beside a trash basket. By most measures, he was nondescript—a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money and began to play.
For the next 45 minutes, in the D.C. Metro on January 12, 2007, Bell played Mozart and Schubert as over 1,000 people streamed by, most hardly taking notice. If they would have, they might have recognized the young man for the world-renowned violinist he is. They also may have noted the violin he played—a rare Stradivari worth over $3 million. It was all part of a project arranged by The Washington Post—"an experiment in context, perception, and priorities—as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste. In a banal setting, at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?”
Just three days earlier, Joshua Bell sold out Boston Symphony Hall, with ordinary seats going for $100. In the subway, Bell garnered about $32 from the 27 people who stopped long enough to give a donation.
Here is the point: we tend to see spiritual junk as treasure and dismiss spiritual treasure as junk. Living here on earth in a manner that reflects our standing in heaven is treasure. All else is junk. - even rule keeping.
Try to recall instances when you didn’t do what you wanted to do or you did do what you didn’t want to do. Consider sharing these in class.
And our ongoing assignment: Chose one personal specific issue/area that you want to change. Then work out how to use this week’s tool to help bring about change with the chosen issue. (This will be the issue/area that you will focus on for the duration of the class unless you arrive at the point of making satisfactory progress on the issue. If so, then tackle another issue.)”
© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2017. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.