Holy, Just & Good
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “Thou shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.
Father, we thank You for that reminder that Your law, Your commandment, is holy and just and good. It is, Father, an expression of who You are, that You are holy, and You are just, and You are good. And in the light of that, as we have considered quite a bit, going through the book of Romans, we recognize that on the ultra-white backdrop of Your holy, just and good character, we are seen for who we are. And Your law, which is holy, just, and good, it reveals who we are. And we see the darkness, we see the disparity, Lord, we see that we are not what we ought to be. But Lord, the heart that has been reborn, born again, it desires that, we desire, Lord, that we would be like You; that You would transform us by the renewing of our minds, that we would prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will, Your will. Lord, that we would shine brightly in the darkness of this world, and it is dark. We see, constantly, it’s bombarding us; the reality of the wicked of this world, when we look at it in the news, or even in the entertainment, whatever it is, God, around us, we see the reality of the fallenness of humanity, and of creation. But, God, we thank You for the restoration that we have in You, and that You have given to us the ministry of reconciliation, that we would carry Your gospel, Your good news to those who don’t know You. So, Lord, work that in us, we pray; for we ask it in Jesus’ name. And all God’s people agreed, saying, “Amen.”
You can be seated.
Perhaps you’ve had this experience, where you’ve gone through the day, and you haven’t really had much of a substantial meal. And then you find yourself, later that evening, at just a wonderful, wonderful place, like Claim Jumper. And, as you’re walking in, and they say, “Ah, the wait’s going to be,” you know, “20 minutes.” And your stomach is already growling. And you’re already hungry, and you smell the smells; and you see the waiters, waitresses walking by with food, and they’re giving it to people.
And you’re going, “Aw, I’m so hungry.” You sit down, and you open the menu, and the menu is like as big as a dictionary. And you’re just going through, and it’s like, “Aw, I want that, and I want that, and I want that. Oh, goodness, I want that.”
And then the waiter comes, and “What would you like?”
“Well, you know, to start, I think I’ll have this. And then, you know, maybe we’ll also have this starter.” And then, you know, you get an entrée. And then, you know, it’s, at Claim Jumper, it’s an entrée built for six. And so, so then they start bringing this food. And then once you get the entrée, you realize, “Man, my eyes were bigger than my stomach.”
Have you ever had that experience? When I looked at Romans 7, I thought, “I can get through this in a couple of weeks.” And my eyes are bigger than my…the reality. And so, we’re just not. I’d anticipated that we would get through this section of scripture in a couple of weeks; but, as I’ve been thinking on it, by the end of this last week, I had twenty pages of handwritten notes on the remainder of chapter 7, and so I’m thinking, “Well, we’re not going to be through this in a couple of weeks.” So, my aim is to finish next week.
But the section that we’re looking at today is awesome. It’s so, so very important. And in the first section of Romans, chapter 7, verses 1 through 6, we considered that the Christian has been delivered from the judgment of God by the death of Christ; that we have died with Him. We’ve already seen this repeated several times from chapter 6 on through to chapter 7. We’ve been crucified with Him. That’s not a bad thing. That’s a wonderful thing. In fact Paul claims that as a praise in Galatians, chapter 2, “I have been crucified with Christ; I no longer live.” It’s a great thing to be in that position. And we have not only been crucified and died with Him, but we have risen with Him to walk and serve in the newness of the Spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter, is where we left off last week.
So we have this new reality as Christians, that we are indwelt with the Spirit of God. The apostle Paul, twice in the book of 1 Corinthians, he reminds the church there in Corinth, that you are the temple of the Spirit of God. So the Christian has the indwelling Holy Spirit of God. And so we are to walk in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. And of course, the oldness of the letter refers to the Old Covenant – the Mosaic Law, given there, to the nation of Israel, there at Mt. Sinai.
But this, of course, begs the question, which is where Paul goes after that statement in verse 6 of chapter 7. It begs the question: Is there something wrong then with the law? If we need to be delivered from the law, then it would seem that maybe there’s something wrong with the law. That there must be some bad or evil in that great body of commandments that God has given. Furthermore, in Romans, chapter 7, verse 5, we saw that the law, it arouses our sinful passions; that within every single one of us, because of the fall of humanity, brought on by Adam there in Genesis, chapter 3, Paul speaks of it in Romans, chapter 5; because of the fall, we all have this fallen nature. Paul, in 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, he refers to this as corruption, this body of corruption.
Here in this section, we’re going to look at today, he calls it this “body of death.” And so we have within us this indwelling sin, and Romans 7, verse 5 says when we are in the flesh, the sinful passions are aroused by the law. So, the law causes our sinful passions, resident within us, to explode. The potential energy of indwelling sin is ignited by the law of God. So, you would further think that, “Well there must be something wrong with the law. So the inevitable question, and Paul has built his entire discourse over these last several chapters on inevitable questions. He would make a great statement, like in Romans, chapter 5, verse 20, that “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” And then the inevitable question is: Well, then that must mean we should “continue in sin that grace would abound.” And then he goes on to talk about us being dead to the law. Well, if we’ve died to the law, then we’re released, and we no longer have to function as those who follow the law. Well, “certainly not.”
So look at the inevitable question that Paul now lands upon in verse 7. “What shall we say then?” In response to this concept that we have been delivered from the law, how should we respond? “What shall we say? Is the law sin?” Is there something wrong with the law? If we need to be delivered from it, there’s got to be something wrong. So, is the law sin? Well, Paul’s response – “Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘Thou shall not covet.’” So, the law brings “the knowledge of sin,” Romans, chapter 3, verse 20. Romans, chapter 4, verse 15 says that “where there is no law there is no transgression.” And yet now the law has brought the knowledge of sin. The law causes the inward sinful passions of indwelling sin to be excited, to be aroused to produce more sin. So the question would inevitably be: “Is there something wrong with God’s law?” Is there something terrible about it? And yet we’re going to see Paul’s ultimate conclusion is going to be given there in verse 12; he says “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, just and good.” But the question is, “How do you get to that?” How do you get from, “We’ve been delivered from the law, because the law, it excites sinful passions, arouses sinful passions, ” to, “The law is holy, just and good.” So these next several verses in Romans, chapter 7, Paul’s going to be explaining how it is that the law is holy, just and good. He’s going to take us through to show us just what is great about the law. What makes the law good?
The first thing that Paul says is, “I would not have known sin except through the law.” You see, the great thing about the law is that it reveals sin, like an x-ray, like an MRI, like a PET scan. We understand the symptoms of, you know, disease. We might experience the symptoms of some sort of infection, or disease, or a break, or there’s a tear in cartilage; but you don’t know that it’s there until you’re able to come under the observation of the x-ray, or the MRI, or the PET scan. And it reveals that there’s a tear; it reveals that there’s a break; it reveals that there is cancer, and that’s where these symptoms are coming from. And so, if you will, the law is like that x-ray machine, it’s like that MRI. It’s not bad, it’s actually a very good thing, because it reveals what is hidden, it reveals what is there that is causing the painful symptoms of sin. The painful symptoms of sin are coming from something that is deep within. Jesus said, in the gospel of Mark, “It’s out of the heart that proceed evil thoughts and evil actions.” So, the wicked things that we might do, that incur the wrath of God, are coming from something deep within us. “By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” So we can’t make ourselves right by the law, by the keeping of the law. But it surely does expose to us what is wrong. Same thing with the MRI, the MRI machine, it can’t heal you, but it can show what the problem is. It reveals, deep within, that there is a tear; it reveals deep within, that there is a tumor. And then you can begin the process of finding, “How do we deal with this? How do we go about dealing with this problem?” But the MRI machine, it can’t heal you. Just going there and getting an MRI, you don’t walk out and go, “Well, I’m healed!!”
No, you go out and they go, “Well, we got a problem. We’ve got an issue; something that needs to be taken care of.”
So, this being the case, that the law reveals our sin; we can honestly say, “Praise God for the law.” Now, that is the statement of someone who is maturing in their life as a Christian. “Praise God for the law.” And we can praise God for His law because the law reveals the cancer of sin that has infected and is killing all of humanity. But ultimately we will see that not only does the law expose, but it directs us in the right direction for the cure. Because in Galatians, chapter 3, verse 24, there we see that, “Therefore the law is our tutor to bring us to Christ.” So it points us in the right direction. It exposes what’s there deep within us, but then it directs us, “This is how to deal with it.” And once we’ve received Christ, “we’re no longer under the tutor of the law,” is what Paul goes on to say in Galatians, chapter 3, verse 25. But the maturing Christian is the one who praises God for the law. The immature Christian, or the one who might even be called, Paul uses this term in 1 Corinthians, one who might be called “a carnal Christian.” That is a person who, they have put their faith in Christ for salvation, they’ve been transformed by His grace, and yet they’re continuing to walk in perpetual practice of sin. Paul says, you know, to the church at Corinth that “there are divisions among you, and there are these problems with in you. Are you not carnal in this?” When you are showing forth in your day-to-day lives sin, this is revealing some sort of carnality in you. But the disciple of Christ will ultimately come to a point where they delight in the law of God. Psalm 1, that wonderful psalm of David, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the…” What? “In the law of the Lord, and in His law he does meditate day and night.” This is a person who is maturing in their faith in God that they begin to delight in the law. Now, for a person who’s walking, as a Christian, in perpetual practice of sin, this is a person who has no joy in their life as a Christian, and this is a person who has no enjoyment in the passing pleasures of sin, because they have the conviction of the Holy Spirit. And this is a person who does not delight in the law of God. In fact they get quite frustrated and upset with the law of God, if that’s where you’re at. If you are walking in sin, then the law is going to be a bother to you, because it’s constantly convicting you of what you’re not doing right.
You remember last week I used the illustration of being married to Mr. Perfect. And Mr. Perfect is great. He’s perfect in every way, until you’ve been married to him long enough to realize that you can never do anything that measures up to Mr. Perfect’s standards. You’re always falling short of his standard. And he always brings conviction. And so, for the Christian who is walking in sin, who is practicing sin, or falling into that “sin that so easily ensnares them,” they do not delight in the law of the Lord. And so I challenge you today; and it’s a very challenging thing; I’ve been thinking about this for myself this last couple of weeks; if you cannot say, “I delight in the law of God,” as Paul’s going to say later on in Romans, chapter 7. If you can’t say that the law of the Lord is a delight, “I praise God for the law,” it may be an indication that you are under the conviction of the law because of your sin. And if you’re in that place, then what do you do? Well, do you just try harder; just try harder to keep the law? No! You confess your sin, because “He’s faithful and just to forgive you of your sin and to cleanse you of all unrighteousness.” And then, as we’re going to see, you seek to walk in what He’s now given you the opportunity and the ability to walk in – the Spirit, which is where we’re going in Romans, chapter 8. But we still have a couple more weeks in Romans, chapter 7.
Now Psalm 119 is a corresponding text with Romans, chapter 7 – Psalm 119. And if you know anything of the Psalms, you know that Psalm 119 is very, very long – more than 170 verses in Psalm 119. And it’s very poetic, it’s beautiful; it follows the Hebrew alphabet; and so for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet there is a section of seven verses to the psalm. It’s just a wonderful Psalm. And there in Psalm 119, we read that the psalmist’s delight was in the law.
Psalm 119, verse 35 – “Make me walk in Your path, Your commandments, for I delight in it.”
Verse 47, Psalm 119 – “And I delight myself in Your commandments, which I love. My hands,” verse 48, “also I will lift up to Your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on Your statutes.”
Verse 92 – “Unless Your law had been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction,” says the psalmist.
Now look over at Psalm 119, verse 176; the last verse. And lest you think that Psalm 119 is all about someone who, “Man, they’re just perfect. They delight in the law of God. They love the law; they’re following the law.” Look at the very last verse. The context of Psalm 119 is this – “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments.”
So, what is the crux of Psalm 119? There is this inward turmoil in the psalmist, “I love Your law; Your law is a delight.” And yet, “I’ve gone astray.”
“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Romans, chapter 7, verse 24.
So there is this turmoil that is represented in Psalm 119, and we see it here in Romans, chapter 7. And this is why these two passages go together so very well.
Well Paul says, back to Romans, chapter 7, he says, “I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘Thou shall not covet.’” Now, when we read, “I would not have known sin except by the law,” it sounds rather ambiguous; it sounds impersonal. It’s just sin, in general. “I would not have known sin.” And sometimes when you’re interacting with someone who’s not a Christian, and you use the term sin, they look at you kind of sideways and go, “I don’t quite know what that is.” So we have to do some defining. We have to explain that sin is lawlessness; it’s breaking God’s law. But that concept just, the idea of sin, it can be overarching, it’s very general, and somewhat ambiguous and impersonal. But Paul brings it very close to home here, at the end of the verse. And he’s very specific. And I believe that Paul is openly indicating a specific sin that he himself had dealt with, when he says, “I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’” And the word that is used here for covetousness, in the Greek, it’s most often translated in the New Testament lust. “I would not have known lust unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet,’” or lust. Commentators go round and round about this section of scripture. And some think that Paul is posing a hypothetical, and he’s talking about some hypothetical Christian that maybe experienced this difficulty of: “The good things I want to do, I don’t do; and the bad things I don’t want to do, I practice.”
And you can read volumes of commentary on Romans, chapter 7, where people are saying, “Well this is just hypothetical. The apostle Paul, he never experienced such a turmoil.”
Or you’ll read other commentaries that will say, “No, Paul is talking here about the unconverted sinner. And that the unconverted sinner is the one who’s going through this turmoil; “The good things I want to do, I don’t want to do; and the bad things I don’t want to do, that I practice.”
Listen, I’ve never met an unconverted sinner that has that turmoil. I’ve never met a non-converted person in the world that says, “I delight in the law of God.” It’s just not there. This is not speaking of a non-believer. This is speaking of a Christian. And Paul personalizes it: “I would not have known lust unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’”
Now that’s challenging, because, to be quite honest with you there are a lot of people in the church who honor Paul on a level with Jesus. And there is a way in which the church can deify Paul the apostle because he wrote, you know, 13 letters that comprise 2/3 of the New Testament. And so people look at that and they go, “Well see, it’s the apostle Paul, he’s practically immaculate.”
And so there’s a way in which people honor and lift the apostle Paul, and you know, he’s a great man of God, he could say, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” The reality is, he’s not Jesus, and he’s not perfect, and the apostle Paul was a sinner saved by grace. The apostle Paul knew that, because in the last letter that he ever wrote, 2 Timothy, he said, “I am the chief of all sinners.” And I think that one of the reasons that God inspired the apostle Paul to write that in 2 Timothy is because He knew, God knew, that there would come a time that we would look at all the things the apostle Paul did and think that, “What an amazing guy this guy was.”
And yet he says, “I am the chief of all sinners.”
So, it’s important to see that Paul is speaking about the experience of a Christian; the experience of a Christian who has been freed from the law. But more specifically, I think Paul is giving us insight into his own personal struggle; his own personal struggle here as a converted and convicted former Pharisee, a former Pharisee. Why is that important? Well, prior to Paul’s conversion, prior to him being a follower, a disciple, of Jesus Christ, he was a Jewish Pharisee, one of the highest religious orders in Judaism. He was, for all intents and purposes, his occupation was, he was a lawyer, he was an expert in the Law of Moses. He understood it. He probably memorized the entire Law – the Pentateuch. The first five books of the Bible were probably memorized by the apostle Paul. His expert use of it in his letters makes that very, very clear. Now he doesn’t always have the exact perfect, you know; he doesn’t say, “Deuteronomy, chapter 2, verse 7…” He doesn’t do that. He’ll just say, “It was written in a certain place,” which I appreciate. Because there were no verse and chapter references until about 1,000 years ago. So, the Bible wasn’t… Paul didn’t say, “Can you back up to verse 4 and let’s re-word that?” He’s just writing a letter here, when he writes these things.
So Paul is cluing us in to his personal struggle as a converted former Pharisee. And as a Pharisee, Philippians, chapter 3, verse 6 indicates to us – write that down, Philippians 3:6 – indicates to us what his view of himself was as a Pharisee. He says, “According to the law, I was blameless.” That’s a heavy statement. “According to the law, I was blameless.” No one could bring anything against the apostle Paul, when he was Saul of Tarsus, Pharisee there in Jerusalem, against him in his following of the law.
But following his conversion, the blinders of his Phariseeism, and when I say “Phariseeism,” I mean faith in one’s own works for their salvation. The blinders of his Phariseeism were removed, and Paul comprehended for the first time, I suggest to you, he comprehended for the first time, the spiritual nature of the law. You see, prior to his conversion, the law was a body of commandments to be followed. And after he kept those things, in whatever rituals and routines that he had developed in his life, he believed that he was blameless according to the body of those commandments. But when Paul became a follower of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit of God now indwelt this former Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, now he sees the law from the spiritual perspective, that it is not just a body of commandments to try and keep and do, but now the law began to reveal to him the depths of his own carnality. He begins to understand his carnality, and now the commandment – “You shall not covet” – took on a whole new meaning; and it cut deep into his heart. The law effectively convicts us of our sin, of our sin. When we’re going through the law, it effectively convicts us of our sin.
How so? What is that supposed to mean? Well, the law says there, in the 8th commandment (10 commandments, the 8th commandment), “You shall not steal.” Now, if you’ve never, in your life, ever stolen anything, never even had the thought to steal anything; perhaps you grew up with great privilege, you have not need to steal anything; when you read, “Thou shalt not steal,” you stop there, you say, “I’m righteous, I’ve never done that.” But then, if you move from the 8th commandment to the 9th commandment, and then you read, “You shall not lie; you shall not bear false witness.” If you’re a pathological liar, now all of a sudden the law convicts you of your sin; it becomes very personal. And then you say, “I would not have known sin, I would not have known lying unless the law had said, ‘You shall not bear false witness.’”
And so the apostle Paul, Acts, chapter 9. How many of you remember Acts, chapter 9? The apostle Paul is on the road to Damascus; let me remind you we’re actually studying through the book of Acts, we’ve just taken a short detour through the book of Romans. [laughter] Short detour. Acts, chapter 9, Saul of Tarsus, who would become Paul the apostle, is on his way to the city of Damascus, with letters from the chief priest to find anyone who was a follower of the Way, that is a Christian, a follower of Jesus, that he might bring them back bound to Jerusalem. And as he’s approaching the city, at about noonday, a bright light flashes in the sky; he falls to the ground and hears a voice from heaven, Jesus, saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” He has this discourse with Jesus, and he’s an instant convert to Christ. And then, the law of God now takes on a completely new meaning to this guy. He now begins to comprehend the scriptures in a different way; because the Lord enlightened his understanding. Luke, chapter 24, verse 45, there it says that Jesus “opened the understanding of His apostles, that they might understand”, or comprehend, “the Scriptures.” They grew up with the Scriptures; they’d heard this their entire lives; and then Jesus, after His resurrection, He opens their eyes, and they comprehend what it means. For the first time, the spiritual nature of the law of God and the word of God, it now touches them at the deepest level.
And this is what Jesus did in His ministry, was He opened peoples’ understanding to what the word of God really meant. When He says to them in Matthew, chapter 5, “You have heard that it has been said of them of old time, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that if anyone looks upon a woman to lust after her, he has committed adultery with her in his heart.”
“You have heard that it has been said of them of old time, ‘You shall not murder.’ But I say unto you, if you hate someone without cause, you have murdered them in your heart.”
And so now Jesus begins to open up and enlighten, by the law spiritually directed, enlighten the depths of our hearts. Because the book of Hebrews says: before Jesus everything is naked and bare. He lays it open, in light of God’s law. How many of you today, after becoming a Christian, you had a better understanding, a greater understanding of the depths of your own wickedness? You didn’t realize it was quite that bad!! Someone would tell you, “You need to come to Jesus because you’re a sinner and you’re going to go to hell.”
And you probably would have said, “What are you talking about, I’m a sinner? I’m a pretty good person.”
And then all of a sudden you put your faith in Christ and the blinders come down and you go, “I’m not a good person.”
“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
So, the law, it exposes sin, verse 7. Well then what’s the problem? This would seem like a good thing. Well look at verse 8 – “But sin,” so it reveals that it’s there, “sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead.” The problem is, is that as the law reveals to the Christian the depths of indwelling sin, we begin to realize, like I discussed last week, that sin has internal power; it has potential energy. Indwelling sin has real power, and the law, we see it right here in verse 8, the law, it kindles that, it ignites that sinful passion. There in verse 5 of Romans, chapter 7 again, “For when we were in the flesh, sinful passions which were aroused by the law.” So we see that the potential energy of indwelling sin, it’s there. And the law exposes that indwelling sin. But then the law also acts as an igniter upon it, and all of a sudden that sin bursts forth into, not just now potential energy, but kinetic energy. It becomes sin, active sin in our lives.
And so it’s wrong to think that the law was given to make us righteous. But there’s a lot of people who think that. There’s a lot of Christians who, after being saved by grace through faith, a work of the Spirit of God upon their dead life – you who were dead in trespasses and sin, He has made alive; seated you together with Him in heavenly places. “By grace are you saved,” Ephesians, chapter 2. So God, He wrought this work in us by His Spirit, by His grace. And then now we’ve been transformed, and we look, and we say, “Well, I’ve been set free! Now I can do the law.”
Well there’s a problem. The law, it exposes sin, and then when sin comes in contact with the law, it just breaks forth like a wildfire. The law was not given to make man righteous; but we fall into that. And there are many, I would suggest there are many people in churches all over the nation who have fallen into that. This is the snare of the very first group of churches that the apostle Paul planted. Paul and Barnabas, Saul and Barnabas, they planted churches in modern-day Turkey, in a region called Galatia. And after Paul left this church, it, having begun in the Spirit, began to try and make itself better or more righteous by the flesh. Listen to this, Galatians 3:21 – “Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.”
So Paul says to the church at Galatia, he says, “You cannot make yourself right by the law.” If you could, then Jesus would not have needed to come and die. God’s law was given, Romans 5, verse 20 says God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they are.
Now in keeping with the illustration that the law acts as an igniter releasing the potential energy of indwelling sin, the Greek word that is translated here in Romans, chapter 7, verse 8, it’s translated as opportunity. It metaphorically speaks of a starting point from which the attack is made. It’s like the igniting point. So the law ignites; the indwelling sin has a base of operations. And the law ignites that base of operations to an attack in the life of the Christian. And it produced, Paul says, “all manner,” notice this, Romans 7, verse 8. The law, when it met indwelling sin, “it produced in me all manner of evil desire.” The exact same word that’s translated, in the previous verse, as covetousness, or lust. It’s the Greek word epithymia. And that Greek word is covetousness or lust or evil desire. So, he says, “in me;” he’s being very personal and open here. He’s saying, “the law of God,” me, a former Pharisee, saved by grace, the Spirit of God comes into me, a former Pharisee thinks, “I can now keep the law even better. I have the Spirit of God in me.” And so, Paul, I believe, early in his converted life, he sought to try and apply his old pharisaical ways to following God and honoring God, and there he is met with the problem. Because indwelling sin that he didn’t even realize was there until the law of God exposed it, now indwelling sin leapt on to the scene, and lust overwhelmed the apostle Paul. Lust for what? We’re not told. Oftentimes the word lust is associated with lust of a female. But maybe it was lust for power. Maybe it was lust for… Who knows? We don’t know, but it seems that the apostle Paul dealt with the realities of sin in the same way that all of us do. We all fall short of God’s glory.
“And so it produced in me all manner of lust.” And then he says this amazing thing, “For apart from the law sin was dead.” Now again, this is Paul’s experience, church. Being a former Pharisee, can you imagine the identity crisis that Saul of Tarsus went through? I just want you to imagine this for a moment. Saul of Tarsus is a Jewish lawyer, there’s lots of them; and he’s a Pharisee there in Jerusalem. He is potentially on the ruling council called the Sanhedrin. If he’s not a member of the Sanhedrin, he’s on his way into that political sphere in Judaism. He is a pupil, a disciple, under one of the most well known Rabbis of the day, Gamaliel. He receives letters from the chief priests to go and find Christians and to persecute Christians. And then all of a sudden Saul of Tarsus meets the risen Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, and the God he would have sworn he was serving now tells him, “You’re fighting against Me.” Everything in Paul’s life came to a slamming halt in about a nanosecond.
And then, not only did he realize that, although he thought he was serving God, he was actually fighting against God, now all of a sudden the law of God that he lived by – he found his entire identity in the law of God as a Pharisee – the law of God that he lived by, that gave stability to his life, all of a sudden, that which he sought to keep to honor God, he thought that he was blameless according to the law, all of a sudden it reveals that, “no, actually you’re a deep, terrible sinner.” And now sin just overwhelms him like never before. I just can’t even wrap my mind around the identity crisis he must have gone through. And we wonder why there were so many years of silent obscurity for the apostle Paul. Fourteen years there’s nothing happening in his life for the faith of Christ. And just going through, I think, the ringer. He thought that, and this is speculation, but I think that there are places in the scripture that support this – I think Paul, when he received the indwelling Spirit of God as a Christian, now a follower of Jesus, he thought, “Man, if I could keep the law before having the Spirit of God, just think what I could do now.” And now all of a sudden, that’s not the case.
At the new birth, he, like all Christians, Paul experienced the glorious release from sin. We saw that we’ve died to sin. In Christ we’re dead to sin; Romans, chapter 6, verse 2: “Certainly not! How shall we who have died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us that were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead, we should raise with Him to walk in newness of life.” Verse 6 of Romans 6, “Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should not longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died is freed from sin.” So these are glorious words. This was Paul’s experience; this is our experience when we become Christians, we are freed from sin. “Where there is no law there is no transgression.” So it would make sense that now that sin is dead let’s walk in righteousness by keeping the law, but in trying to keep the law to maintain righteousness that you’ve now received as a gift from God, in trying to maintain that righteousness by your own keeping of the law, what you find is that sin just explodes in your life, because the purpose of the law is exposing sin. It’s very effective at that. That is the purpose of the law. We’ve got to get that into our minds; the purpose for which God gave His law was not that the nation of Israel could be the most holy and righteous people because they kept the law, but that they could see just how totally depraved they were and cry out to God for His mercy and His grace. And God, who is merciful and gracious and slow to anger, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin, might forgive them and give to them His Spirit like He gives to us.
The release, this death, it came about by the Spirit, but now we try, so many try to maintain righteousness by working out the law by their own might, by their own power. How do you think Paul came to the conclusion that he came to, that he shared with the church at Galatia; Galatians, chapter 3, verse 1: “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to know from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?” How do you think Paul came to that conclusion? He went through it! He experienced it! One of the greatest teachers is experience.
And so Romans 7, verse 8, he says, “apart from the law sin was dead.” Verse 9, “I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.” So in verse 8 Paul says, “apart from the law sin was dead.” Verse 9, the exact same words: “apart from the law I was alive.” So how did Paul come to a place where he was “apart from the law?” Up until his conversion he was never apart from the law. He’s a Pharisee. He’s a follower of Judaism, to every jot and tittle of the law. He wasn’t apart from the law one second of his upbringing as a Jew. And then he’s set free by Christ. We saw in Romans, chapter 7, verses 1 through 6, that when Christ comes, we die with Him to the law, and we’re set free from the law. So Paul says, “apart from the law;” immediately after his conversion, Paul experiences this release that every Christian experiences – the release from the judgment of the law; no longer over his head. You see under Judaism Paul always wondered, “Will I really be righteous when I stand before God on that day? I gotta maintain my righteousness.” And so he was always under the judgment of God’s law. But then set free by Christ, now we have total assurance of salvation. We’re not wondering if we’re going to be saved; we are saved. And so he says, “apart from the law,” verse 8, “sin was dead.” “Apart from the law I was alive.” This is the glorious reality of salvation.
“But when the commandment came sin revived and I died.” What is happening here? Only this: Saul of Tarsus receives Christ as Lord and Savior; he’s set free from the judgment of the law, sin is dead. He’s alive to Christ spiritually for the first time ever, because of the work of Jesus, because of the grace of Christ. And then, I think, Romans 7 proves this: he thinks, “Well, I’m not righteous in Christ, I need to maintain my righteousness by the keeping of the law which I’ve always done before.” And so now he applies the law of God to now his newly converted heart that desires to obey God. That’s what happens; the Christian desires to obey God. And you apply the law to that, and what happens? Well, you find that there is deep indwelling sin, and it bursts forth into active sin. It revives! You see, when he says that sin was dead in verse 8, it just means it’s inoperable. But then, all of a sudden, it revives. And what revives it? Well, the law of God.
So we have two possibilities as a Christian. We are alive to Christ and dead to the sin, or we are alive to sin and experiencing spiritual deadness. It’s either / or. One is by the newness of the Spirit, the other is by the oldness of the letter. Can you see why the apostle Paul was so ardently against a pharisaical Christianity? What do I mean by this? Everywhere Paul went, whether he was planting churches in Galatia, or in Asia, or in Greece, or in Macedonia, or he was in Jerusalem, or he was at his home church back in Syria, wherever Paul was, throughout his entire ministry, he was fighting for the simplicity of Christ in the gospel. He was fighting against those who were called Judaizers, who were trying to bring a legal sort of righteousness into Christianity; who were saying to newborn Christians, that “well it’s great that you’ve put your faith in Jesus, but now you need to be circumcised, and you need to keep the feast days, and you need to keep the Law of Moses.” And Paul fought against this his entire life as an apostle. Why? Because early in his conversion, early in his life as a Christian, he experienced what that really brings. I think that he tried to live out righteousness by the law as a Christian. And what did he find? He was overcome with the realities of sin.
Verse 10, Romans, chapter 7: “And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death.” Paul’s view, when he was Saul of Tarsus, the Pharisee in Judaism, his view through his entire upbringing, as a Hebrew of the Hebrews, his view was always that the law brings life. That’s the view of the Jew. The law brings life. How so? Well that’s what they’ve been taught. Leviticus, chapter 18, verse 5: “You shall therefore keep my statutes, my judgments, says the Lord, which if a man does them, he shall live.” From his earliest life, Saul of Tarsus was taught – life comes by the law. Deuteronomy, chapter 4, verse 40: “You shall therefore keep His statutes and His commandments which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, that you may prolong your days and live.” Paul was schooled in the concept that the law brings life. Deuteronomy, chapter 5, verse 16: “’Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord God has commanded you, so that your days may be…’” What? “’…long, and that it may be well with you.’” Deuteronomy, chapter 6, verse 3: “Therefore hear, O Israel, be careful to observe all the law, that it may be well with you.” Deuteronomy, chapter 30, verse 19, this is how Moses ended, after he states the law to the people the second time, just before they come into the Promised Land. He says, “I call heaven and earth witness against you this day, I set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; choose life, that you might live.” What would be choosing life? Keeping the law.
So what does Paul say? Romans 7, verse 10: “The commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death.” His entire upbringing reinforced this concept – the law brings life. And then…identity crisis. “I thought this was going to make me live.” And there he is, overcome with sin. How so? Verse 11: “For sin, taking occasion,” or opportunity, “by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.” Powerful verse. Note two things – First: sin is what deceives, and kills. Sin is deceptive, and sin is deadly. So sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, “sin deceived me,” and by the commandment, “sin killed me.” Because “the wages of sin is…” What? “…death.” New Living Translation says, “Sin took advantage of those commandments and deceived me; and it used the commands to kill me.”
Second thing: the commandment, here mentioned, it could mean the law in general, but most likely, because Paul makes a difference, in verse 12, between the law and the commandment, most likely the commandment that Paul is speaking of here is the specific commandment that he mentioned back in verse 7 – “You shall not covet.” So sin, covetousness, indwelling him, took occasion by the commandment – “You shall not covet” – and “sin deceived me,” and “the commandment,” because of sin, “killed me.” And so the converted, spiritually alive Christian, Paul experiences a deadness in his life, as a Christian.
“Therefore,” verse 12, because of all of this, “therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, just and good.” In answer to the question: “Is the law sin?” Paul’s conclusion is no, the law is holy. The law is holy. We’ve considered this many times before; God is holy; His law is an expression of His character; so therefore the law is holy. But although the law is holy, it cannot make you holy. Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 1: “For the law, having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach holy,” or “perfect.” The law cannot make you holy. It points to the One who can, because the law is our schoolmaster to lead us to Christ. But the law cannot make you holy. It constantly, for the Christian also, points them back to Jesus. You see the law is still good in the life of the Christian, because what does it do? It brings the conviction of sin, and it points us to Jesus who forgives us of our sins, and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness. But if you zero in on the law and say, “I just got to try harder. I just got to keep this better. I just got to do this, and do this, and do this. And I just got to keep the Sabbath. And I just go to make sure I eat kosher. And I got to make sure that I never sit on seat that was occupied by a woman who was going through her menstrual cycle, because then the seat would be unclean.”
Come on!!! Who can do that?!? The law is holy in every respect. And then he says, “The commandment is holy and just and good.” So he makes a separation between the law, which is the overarching general body of all the commandments – 613 of them in the Old Covenant, 613 laws, and probably very few of us in here memorize 10 of them, the 10 commandments. 613 of them; Paul was an expert in them; memorized them; said, “according to the law I am blameless.” And then he says, “Sin revived and I died, and I realized that I’m covetous, I lust. As a Pharisee, he never experienced that. Under his religious experience, he never experienced the reality of his lust. And then, as a Christian, his eyes are opened to it, and he has an identity crisis.
So, there is a separation – the law is that overarching general, the law of God, and then he says, “and the commandment,” which is probably again, pointing us back to chapter 7, verse 7 (“You shall not covet.”), “the commandment is holy and just and good.” So what does this mean? Well again, this commandment is an expression of God’s character. What does it tell us about God? He’s not covetous; He’s generous; He needed nothing. So He is holy. That commandment, “You shall not covet,” it’s holy; it’s right; it’s righteous; it’s just. God is just; therefore the commandment is just. His commandment is righteous; it demands perfect obedience to its precepts; it is impartial, completely impartial. The law doesn’t have one standard for this side of the room and another standard for this side of the room. The law is impartial, and everyone must follow it and keep it. God is impartial; He is just. God is good, and so His law is good. The commandment is an expression of Him. And so there is no need to be angry with the law, it merely, it is merely holy and just and good. But what it does is it exposes that you and I are not holy, just or good. It reveals our unrighteousness by showing what righteousness is. We are cursed, we are unjust, we are wicked. “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of this death?”
You see, that’s where we’re going next week. That impassioned cry: “Who will deliver me?” I thank God it doesn’t say What will deliver me, or How shall I be delivered? “Who will deliver me?” You see, the law points us to the “Who” that delivers us, because we need a Savior; we need salvation. And even if you have been a Christian for six month, six years, or 35 years, you still need the gospel of your salvation. You still need Jesus, the Deliverer, the Savior. Because, the amazing thing is, is that the longer you walk with Christ, the closer you get to Him, the more you realize how sinful you are in this body, and how in need you are of His grace.
Perhaps as you come here today, you’ve not experienced the gracious touch of God. You’ve seen for the first time, in light of God’s law, your own sin; it’s been brought to the surface. Or perhaps you are a Christian, but you have found yourself easily ensnared by sin. I have good news for you, making right with Him is not committing to do better or try harder. Making right is confessing your complete inability, and asking God, by His grace, to transform you. That’s what the gospel is all about. And so, in just a moment, when we stand, I’m going to give you and opportunity to receive His grace; maybe it’s again, because you’ve been walking in perpetual practice of sin, and you need the Deliverer. Or maybe it’s for the first time; you’ve never received His grace. But the great thing about grace is that it’s freely given by the One who is gracious; the only One.
Let’s stand and pray.
Father, we thank You, we thank You that in You we can have life, “and that more abundantly.” Thank You that You set us free from sin and death, to walk in righteousness, not in the oldness of the letter, but in the newness of the Spirit. So God, be speaking and teaching us; speaking to us and teaching us how we can live and walk in the Spirit, not fulfilling the desires of this sinful flesh. How we can glorify You in that way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.