With Dale Ratzlaff
We continue our study in Romans 7:7-13.
What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! 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.” But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. 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 an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 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, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.
Romans seven raises many questions. Is Paul writing about his own experience? Is he primarily addressing Christians, Jews, or perhaps everyone? Is he speaking about people who are regenerate or people who have not been born again? Actually, answers to these questions may not lead us in the right direction. Paul is unquestionably, in my opinion, discussing the function of law. For the Jews, as well as many of the early Christians, the law was the focus of life. Before we unpack the fuller meaning of the reference above, let us review what Paul has taught concerning the law thus far in Romans.
• The righteousness of God is revealed apart from law (Rom. 3:21).
• We are justified by faith apart from works of the Law. (Rom 3:28).
• We are no longer under the law (Rom. 6:14).
• We died to the law (Rom. 7:4).
• The law arouses the sinful nature leading to sin and death (Rom. 7:5).
• We have been released from the law (Rom. 7:6).
The Jews, early Christians, and some church groups today would immediately conclude that Paul was antinomian—seeking to do away with the law. Yet we all know that the law was given by God. Do we then impugn God for making a law that did not produce righteousness? So what Paul does in our passage is to explain the nature and purpose of the law in a positive way, then in the most controversial verses of Romans 7:14-20, I believe he will show the results of the misuse of the law.
Paul asks the question many have asked, “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be!” Paul uses the optative mood to express in the strongest terms showing once and for all that the law is not sin. He then goes on to state that he would never have known coveting was a sin except for the commandment in the law that said, “Thou shalt not covet”. In Romans 2:11-16 Paul spoke of the law of conscience that operates in the life of gentiles, people who do not have the law—or we could add, everyone. He states that one’s conscience can—or should—be a moral guide to right behavior. This innate moral compass is in our DNA and often it will parallel many of the moral principles written in the law. For example, most cultures have norms dealing with personal relations such as: honoring parents, murder, adultery, stealing, and lying. However coveting—wanting what someone else has—is not something the innate conscience would flag as wrong. Coveting only becomes sin when one reads the law, “Thou shalt not covet”. Paul said when he understood the law against coveting it made him realize how often he sinned in that area of his life. So, he concludes, it was not the law that caused the problem, rather it was his sin that the law brought out into the light. The law made his sin appear exceedingly sinful. Coveting is an attitude of the mind, while the other moral commands such as honoring parents, murder, adultery, stealing, and lying are actions.
Paul says the “commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me”. In this sentence Paul is speaking of his own experience. However the principle he teaches is universal. Sin is very deceptive. Eve was deceived. Today, sin often wraps itself in a beautiful package. Like the fruit that tempted Eve, sin often hides behind what looks beautiful and creates visions of personal satisfaction in our imagination. We see many pictures of smiling, laughing people inviting us to sample their special flavor of sin while hiding its deadly, addicting poison. The function of the law is to bring out into the open the hidden sins that may be lurking undercover. It points out sin and makes it exceedingly sinful. That is the positive function of the law, especially for the Jew who had the law.
However, for the regenerate the function of the Old Covenant law to expose sin is surpassed by the new covenant law of love. While this is not explained in the reference above, nevertheless because many of our readers may have questions about the function of the law to point out sin in the life of a Christin, I will make a few comments here with more coming in future lessons.
The new covenant law of love exposes the attitudes of the heart. The sin of murder, for example, is expanded from the old covenant act of killing to the attitude of heart. The sin of adultery is extended from the act to just a thought of lust. Therefore, the function of the old covenant law to point out sin is superseded by the “law of Christ”.
If one looks at the bulleted points above, it is clear the majority of them deal with the misuse of the law. This was one of the main problems of Judaism and there are some Christian churches which appear to continue to promote the law either as a means of achieving righteousness or measuring legalistic obedience. Both of these are to be rejected by the regenerate Christian. The Old Testament law is not sin, and it served its positive function in revealing sin, primarily to the unsaved. Perhaps some will see this more as theology rather than something which can be applied to life. However, understanding the true function of the law will keep one from much discouragement and confusion.
May I understand the correct function of the law in my life. Help me to move beyond the letter of the old law to the spirit of the new law of Christ.
In Jesus name