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The Law Reveals Sin
This afternoon I had something of a thrill, going through different things as I'm unpacking and packing all this stuff at my dad's house to move out. I found a small box that had about four small silver spoons in it. It seems I had seen this box once or twice before in the last couple of weeks and I turned it over. I hadn't seen before that there was a note on the bottom written by my grandmother who said that this had belonged to her grandmother in 1863. Her grandmother was married to a man named Thomas Henry Stout, Sr. who pastored ten or eleven churches in Alabama and Georgia, I found out, including a chaplain in the Confederacy. I think one of these old pictures I have, a linotype or daguerreotype or something like that with a lot of silver content in them, was one of him. I think there are two or three other pastors in the family tree somewhere, hiding behind the weeds.
We're in Romans 7 now. We've taken a little bit of a sidetrack over the last several lessons to look at passages in other Pauline letters that reinforce what he's saying here; talking about what is the relationship of the Law to the Christian life. This is historically a major problem among Christians. Ever since Acts 10 and 11 when Peter first took the Gospel to the Gentiles and he came back to Jerusalem in chapter 11 and told them what happened and the great concerns about what relation the Law has now to these new Gentile Christians. Are they going to be coming under the Law or just exactly what is their responsibility? In our study on Tuesday night in Acts, we will come to Acts 15 which is called the Jerusalem Council where they hammered some issues out in relation to that, and also the book of Galatians reflects this same issue but it's been a problem ever since then all the way up to the present.
Number one: we have a large number of Christians who don't understand the role of the Mosaic Law in and of itself, in an absolute sense. Number two, they don't understand the relationship of the Law to the present Church Age. There's failure to understand what Paul has emphasized back in Romans 6:14 that we are not under the Law but we are under grace. They don't understand the significance of that statement that we are under grace or the relationship of the believer to the Law which means understanding its purpose in the Old Testament no longer exists. Spirituality is not related to morality. That doesn't mean that spirituality is immoral but it means we don't achieve a state of spirituality or spiritual maturity by following a moral or ethical system.
That's what the Mosaic Law did. It laid out an ethical, moral system based on the holiness and the righteousness of God but it didn't enable the believer to fulfill or obey the Law. So it created sort of a tension that was there, showing that man on his own, apart from some eternal divine change, cannot meet the requirements. So spirituality and spiritual growth are not based on just following moral dictates. That's not going to do it. It's just going to lead to the kind of frustration that it leads Paul to in this particular chapter. So what we see in Romans 7, starting in verse 8, is the explanation that the Law reveals the sinfulness of the sin nature and the sin nature is the cause of spiritual death. If you understand that, then you understand this chapter.
It's pointing out that the Law isn't sin, though it produces sin, because we all know, that whenever you tell someone not to do something that's the first thing they are going to want to do. Even if it never occurred to them before to do it, now they want to do it. So, the Law, through its prohibitions makes certain things clear that you're not supposed to do. In a sense, it exacerbates or sort of energizes the sin nature to do those very things but the sin comes from the sin nature. The sin doesn't come because the Law said, "thou shalt not murder" or "thou shalt not commit adultery" or "thou shalt not have any other gods besides me". That's not the cause of sin. The cause of sin is the internal sin nature and the volition of each individual believer. They make that choice. No matter what the circumstances might be. No matter what the education might be. The problem is always the response of the individual in their volition.
So the Law exposes or reveals the sinfulness of the sin nature and it is the sin nature that is the cause of spiritual death and living a death-like experience, even for believers. So as we come out of the introductory section here Paul concluded in verse 6, "But now we have been delivered from the Law [that indicates a complete release from the Law], having died to what we were held by..." So death, as it often does in Scripture, emphasizes not the cessation of existence but it emphasizes a separation. So we died to the Law, that is what held us, so we are separated from the Law. It no longer has authority. Verse 6 continues, "...so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." Even though there was service in the Old Testament as we've seen, they couldn't serve because internally there is no change.
There's regeneration 1.0 in the Old Testament. It meant you moved from being spiritually dead to spiritually alive. You went from not having a human spirit to having a human spirit. But that's the most that you got with regeneration. It didn't have all the other features that regeneration has in the Church Age or will have in the Millennial Kingdom. So we have regeneration 1.0 in the Old Testament which is just your basic core concept of moving from spiritual death to spiritual life, gaining a human spirit, which gives the individual believer a certain ability to understand divine truth because the natural man cannot understand the things that are revealed by the Spirit of God. That revelation would be in the Word according to 1 Corinthians 2:14. So we have this basic regeneration in the Old Testament. There's no death to the sin nature. There's no breaking of the power of the sin nature. All of that is part of the Baptism by the Holy Spirit, identification with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection and that just isn't there in the Old Testament.
Now when we get to the New Testament, we get regeneration 2.0. Regeneration 2.0 includes as ancillary features, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the filling of the Holy Spirit. It includes freedom from the sin nature because of the identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. All of that becomes sort of a secondary feature that comes with regeneration. Because the Holy Spirit leaves the earth during the Tribulation period, believers will sort of go back to the Old Testament period, maybe regeneration 1.5. There's a bit of a regression there because there's no indwelling of the Holy Spirit, no filling of the Holy Spirit so it's going to be a different spiritual life in that period of time leading up to the return of Christ.
Then when Christ comes and establishes His Kingdom, the spiritual life is going to take this huge shift, this huge change from what the saved Jews in the Tribulation period experience. It's very similar to the limited regeneration of their Old Testament ancestors. Then when Christ returns and establishes the new covenant which we've looked at the last few weeks, this is going to bring features that go far beyond the spiritual features to regeneration 2.0 in the Church Age. It's going to bring in a complete change of heart, an intuitive knowledge of the Word and the doctrine and it's going to give them a completely new interior spiritual life that is based on this more of a direct knowledge of God than the indirect knowledge of God that we have today. There are a lot of different features that come along in the Millennial Kingdom.
It's not simply regeneration that makes that difference. Basic regeneration is moving from spiritual death to spiritual life. Each dispensation has different features related to God the Holy Spirit. As I pointed out in the last study, the newness of the Spirit emphasizes that this is the new life that comes in this Church Age and it is also connected back to verse 4 of chapter 6 where Paul writes, "Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." So connecting those two statements related to 'newness' we see this is the purpose for which Church Age believers are saved, to walk or to live or to manifest their life in terms of this new spiritual dimension by walking by the Spirit using the language in Galatians.
In this next section, verses 7-12, the question is asked, "Is the Law sin?" In verse 7, Paul says, "What shall we say then? Is the Law sin?" Then he's going to answer it in verses through 12. His answer is "No, it is holy. It's set apart. It's righteous." As he says in verse 12, "Therefore the Law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just [righteous], and good." It is intrinsically good. There's nothing wrong with the Law. It is inherently righteous but it doesn't change the internal makeup of the individual.
In verse 7 he is using the first person pronoun, 'we', which he has done throughout the previous chapter. He switches back and forth with a lot of different pronouns. In chapter 6, verse 1, he says, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" He goes on in verse 2 of chapter six, "Certainly not. How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" And then in verse 3, he shifts from that 'we' to a second person plural, "Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death?" And throughout chapter 6 he continues to talk mostly in terms of first person plural 'we'.
But something changes in Romans 7:7 when he says "...I would not have known sin except through the Law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the Law had said, 'Thou shalt not covet'." So suddenly he shifts from a first person plural to a first person singular. So this has created a lot of tension over the years because this has been interpreted a variety of different ways. There are some who think he is speaking sort of in a way representing the human race, using a first person singular to speak of himself as a representative of the whole human race. There are others who think he is using this in some sort of generic sense as Adam or a Jew in a representative sense but when Paul talks elsewhere in Romans using the first person singular he is always talking about himself. He does this in Romans 14:15. He never uses that first person singular in some sort of representative or referential way. He does it only in terms of himself. So, most likely, he's talking about himself.
Some people say, "Well, no Orthodox Jew would ever make the statement that he would not have come to know sin except through the Law." But that's a limited response. It really doesn't satisfy the usage of the pronoun as Paul does it throughout this particular section. So he asks the rhetorical question; "Is the Law sin?" Believe me, I have had conversations with believers who have said that. They say, "Look at the Mosaic Law. It's just terrible." But the Mosaic Law in and of itself is righteous. It's how it's abused and distorted, for example, by the legalism in the Old Testament and the Pharisees in the New Testament. That's what made it a source of evil during the 1st century.
Paul very strongly rejects that whole idea saying, "May it never be. On the contrary..." Now he makes his point, "I would not have known sin except through the Law." He offers an explanation, "For I would not have known covetousness unless the Law had said, 'You shall not covet'." The English uses just the word 'know' but the Greek uses two different words for 'know' and it uses them in different grammatical senses which brings out a very subtle point. In the first statement, he is saying, "I would not have come to know..." This is just a simple aorist tense which is just understood as a simple past action but it uses the Greek verb ginosko [ginwskw] which has the idea of coming to learn something through a normal process of learning and growth and acquisition of knowledge. So he says, "I would not have known sin..." So he's recognizing the fact that as we develop in our knowledge of any doctrine, of any idea, it is a process. He says, "I would not have known [come to know] sin except through the Law."
Now this reveals one of the first purposes of the Law. It is to teach us what sin is. It does this through all of the different regulations that emphasize what makes a person ritually unclean. Becoming ritually unclean is not the result of committing a sin. There are certain things that a person can do or happens over the course of life that would make you ritually unclean. If you were to come into contact with a dead body, then you're ritually unclean. We learned a little bit about that in our study in Acts on Tuesday nights with Simon the tanner. Simon the tanner would come into contact with animal carcasses as he skinned them and treated the hides every day and he would be ritually unclean until sundown. At sundown that ritual uncleanness ended. But handling animal skins and tanning them certainly is not a sin but it is dealing with the whole issue of death. Death is the result of sin so all these things that rendered a person ceremonially unclean were because they engaged or were involved in some activity that were related to some of the judgments and curses outlined in Genesis, chapter 3.
When you read through Leviticus, it seems like whatever you do, or places you go, or activities you're involved in, make you unclean. The point is that sin is pervasive. Sin influences everything in our life. We constantly sin and we're not aware of it. We have mental attitude sins, we're arrogant, we're angry, we're resentful, we're bitter, we're jealous, we have various lustful thoughts, all kinds of things go on all day long and they may be just momentary, lasting three or four seconds, but all of these sins take us out of fellowship. There has to be cleansing. We need to keep short accounts through 1 John 1:9.
So what Paul is saying is that how he came to learn about sin was through this teaching method in the Mosaic Law through the prohibitions and the various commands in the Mosaic Law. Then he explains it by giving a particular example. That's why he shifts the specific knowledge verb to oida [o)ida] and why he changes the tense. He says, "...for I would not have known.." He changes the tense to oida because it's something you've learned, something you know. The pluperfect tense emphasizes something that's completed but the results continue. So he talking about the fact that he learned it at a point in time in the past and he continues to understand the principle. That's the difference between the two verbs.
So he says, "..for I would not have known..." He learned this in the past and by shifting the verb he's emphasizing the importance of this one example. He says, "...For I would not have known about coveting unless the law had said, 'you shall not covet'." The reason he uses this example is that if you go through the other nine commandments in the Decalogue or Ten Commandments then what you discover is that all of the others are overt sins of some kind: idolatry, murder, disrespect for parents, adultery, thievery, things of this nature. But the last sin is one you can't hide from. That's coveting. It's a mental attitude sin and everybody covets something in one way or another. It's the manifestation of the lust patterns in the sin nature. So Paul zeroes in on this particular commandment because he could rationalize the other nine. "Well, I've never been an idolater. I've never been an adulterer. I haven't given false witness. I haven't stolen anything. I've never committed murder. I am righteous." But when he comes to a mental attitude sin this is the real problem.
Every time you deal with legalists and right now with all the stuff in the news is about evangelicals. There's a lot of stuff about why evangelicals didn't show up to vote. As I start listening to a lot of these reports, sooner or later you start discovering that there's a lot of legalism and legalistic ideas about the Christian life that are buried in a lot of these different mentalities in the evangelical church. The evangelical church today, and in a broader sense, conservative thinking today, you have a situation very similar to what was going on in the 1st century and what was going on in the sixties [not the 1960's but the 1st century sixties], you had the rebelliousness against the authority. Among the conservatives in Israel you had many different parties. The Zealots were one of the most widely known but there were many. They fragmented and that's what arrogance always does.
Arrogance is a hidden mental attitude sin. Everybody starts thinking "I'm right on these nine points. You're different from me on that tenth point so I'm not going to have anything to do with you." Then you would find some other group and they're emphasizing seven other things and they say "because you disagree with me you're out, you're wrong" and they begin to fight each other. Literally. Not metaphorically. Not argumentatively. They literally fought each other during the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Jewish zealot groups were literally killing each other while they were killing the Romans. We're seeing something similar to that today. We're seeing a lot of conservatives fragmenting. This is a trend. It may improve a little bit in the next few years and it may get worse after that. I'm not saying this is an absolute end. I'm not a prophet but it's the kind of thing that's characteristic of carnality.
We emphasize certain overt sins as the worst thing and we don't deal with the lack of humility, the lack of arrogance, the lack of dependence upon God and that's fundamental to living the Christian life. Arrogance is tenacious, number one, and number two, arrogance always camouflages itself. Now we have to pay attention to that second rule. I've never emphasized that before but arrogance camouflages itself. We get into forms of self-justification and self-deception. That's what camouflage is. It's self-deception. We convince ourselves that we're not arrogant while we're being extremely arrogant. That produces very divisive consequences. You can't love and be arrogant. They're mutually exclusive.
I think this is one of the things that Paul is emphasizing in Galatians 5:19-21 when he gives the works of the flesh because among those works of the flesh there's an emphasis on factions and being argumentative and divisive and fighting with one another, all of these things, and in the context Paul is commanding that we as Christians are to love our neighbor as our self. The key to doing that comes two verses later when he says we're to "walk by means of the Spirit and we won't fulfill the lusts [the drive] of the sin nature." Then he talks about the Spirit wars against the flesh and the sin nature, the sin nature wars against the Spirit and then he gives evidences of sin nature control and he lists 13 or 14 different sins there. Several of them relate to this kind of divisiveness and factions and that kind of thing that's the result of the sin nature being in control. Whenever you look at any group and they're backbiting and they're fighting each other and they're schismatic and all this it's because arrogance is underneath all that. There's no humility. They're fighting because they're just filled with arrogance. Everybody thinks they're right and everybody else is wrong and there's no compromise on any issue that is not the primary issue.
This happens in lots of different areas. It's happened in Evangelical Christianity in the last 40 years. When I was in seminary you study systematic theology and you study all these various positions and historical theology. You study how these different theological positions have developed historically and I would say...I don't know how to quantify this, this is just sort of a guess in terms of numbers...but if there were 100 different theological positions in 1975 held by evangelicals, there are 10,000 different positions today. There are people holding views that no one ever heard of forty years ago or no one ever talked about forty years ago. Forty years ago post-millennialism was dead; now post-millennialism is alive and is fragmenting itself in a hundred different ways. It's all because of arrogance. We are emphasizing that we have the answer and everyone else is wrong.
In America we see this historically over the last two hundred years with the development of numerous different denominations. Most of the Protestant denominations in the world came out of America. The major ones had their roots in Europe but in the United States they split all kinds of different ways. Now they're splitting again but now they have a new wrinkle to it. They became non-denominational so that every church becomes its own denomination. Basically every church becomes its own theological faction because of some nuance is better than all these other churches. That just leads to more and more fragmentation and this imploding that's taking place because there's a lack of real humility toward God among believers and it's impacted by the culture and then it impacts the culture.
So the aspect of mental attitude sin is foundational for understanding sin. This is why it's so silly and superficial when people start worrying about doing something that causes them to lose their salvation. It really renders mental attitude sins somewhat superficial, focuses on some sort of external sin. But even the most minute mental attitude sin is as disruptive to your relationship to God as the most socially unacceptable overt sin. And yet we want to focus on these five or six really bad sins just because of their nature, rather than looking at the divisive, very small mental attitude sins. So Paul says that it's that commandment that exposes mental attitude lust.
By following the Law he could never achieve what the Law and righteousness demanded. Mostly because he would get proud every time he would think about how successful he was obeying the Law. He was coveting that approbation as the very motivation for obeying the Law and this just exposed his complete inability to ever achieve any kind of righteousness. As we look at what Paul says in Romans 7:1-12, in answering the question about is the Law sin, he says in verse 12, "Therefore, the Law is holy and the commandment holy and just and good." And verse 14 states, "And we know that the Law is spiritual..."
Now this points out another aspect because a second debate comes into issue here. That is, whether or not Paul is speaking in verses 13-25 as an unbeliever, in a pre-salvation state, or whether he is speaking as a believer. There are theological partners that go with this. If you take a position that he's an unbeliever, that's a position that's more consistent with a "Lordship salvation position." Lordship salvation position says basically that if you're truly regenerate, then you're not going to commit certain sins or if you do it won't last very long. They don't understand the sinfulness of sin. Now they'll talk a lot about that but they really have a problem when it comes to people who commit certain kinds of sin. They'll always say, "Well, I always thought that person was saved but if they were saved, how could they do 'X', whatever it is." It's the fact that they don't understand that the sin nature is still a problem so when they look at all this struggle Paul talks about in verses 13-25, they say, "Well, if he was saved, he wouldn't have that degree of wrestling with sin." But if he weren't saved, he wouldn't understand the aspect of the Law as spiritual. He wouldn't have the struggle with sin because if you're not saved, you're spiritually dead and the only thing you do is get led around by the sin nature.
So Paul emphasizes this quality of the Law. It's just, holy, and spiritual. Second thing he points out is that the Law reveals and illuminates sin. It exposes sin so that we understand what our fallen condition is. Earlier, in chapter 5:20, Paul talks about how the Law provoked sin. He says, "Moreover, the Law entered that the offense might abound." He's pointing out that if you're told not to do something you're going to think about doing it. So the Law just sort of exacerbates the problem; it was already there but now it's surfacing. 1Timothy 1:8, Paul says "But we know that the Law is good when it's used lawfully." Also, in the Old Testament a couple of different verses in Psalm 119 talk about the fact that the "one who follows the law [has wisdom from the Law] has life." The Law is what gives life.
The question then is, what is the role of the Law in relation to sin? Christianity has historically been confused about this. I want to go over a couple of points. That the Law here in this whole passage is not talking about a generic law or generic principles. It refers specifically to the Mosaic Law. The word nomos [nomoj] is the Greek word for law and it's used approximately 195 times in the New Testament. 180 of those times refer to the Mosaic Law. Interestingly, if you skip down to the last 3 or 4 verses in this chapter, we see a couple of examples where 'law' is used and it's not the Mosaic Law. In verse 21, Paul says, "I find then [when he discovered sin dwelling in him] a law that evil is present within me..." Now that's not talking about the Mosaic Law. In the next verse he says, "For I delight in the Law of God [the Mosaic Law] according to the inward man." In verse 23, he says, "For I see another law [not the Mosaic Law] in my members warring against the law of my mind [not the Mosaic Law] bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am. Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the Law of God [Mosaic Law] and with the flesh the law of sin [not the Mosaic Law]." So you see several places he uses the wordnomos and it's not related to the Mosaic Law but most places it is. So Law refers primarily to the Mosaic Law as it does in the first part of this chapter.
To understand the Mosaic Law we have to understand the basic concept of a covenant. The Mosaic Law defines a covenant God made with Israel on Mount Sinai. It was a temporary covenant. A covenant is something like a contract between one party and another party. In this case it's between God and Israel. It clearly defines who the parties to the covenant are. If you have own a house and have a mortgage contract, that mortgage is between you and the mortgage company. If you're leasing a place, that lease contract is between you and the owner of the house. Now, if you live in an apartment complex, you may be in apartment 110 and you have a lease agreement with the owner of that apartment complex. Then your next door neighbor may have lived in that complex much longer than you did and he has a lease agreement with the same apartment owner but his terms may be different from yours and you can't make his terms your term. You can't say, "Well, he's supposed to pay twice a month, I'm supposed to pay once a month, he pays $900 a month, I have to pay $1100 a month. I think I like his terms better so I'll pay his terms instead of my terms." You can't do that. The contract is between the owner and the leasee, or in the case of a mortgage, the person who is buying the house.
Same thing with your credit card company. You have a credit card with Chase Bank and you have your contract with Chase Bank. The next door neighbor has his Chase Bank account. He probably has a pretty similar contract but it may be a little bit different in terms of the percentage point but you can't go and apply his, if he has a better percentage on his credit card, and apply the figures and pay his percentage. The contract is a legal document that defines the relationship between two parties. So the Mosaic Law only applied to Israel...the house of Judah and the house of Israel. It didn't apply to the Gentiles. There's no place in the Old Testament where you can find a Gentile being held accountable for anything that is unique to the Mosaic Law.
If you read through Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the minor prophets, there are many places that announce judgment on all the Gentile countries but they're never held accountable for violating the Sabbath or the Sabbatical year. Yet Israel is held accountable for that and the land had to have seventy years of rest. That's why when Israel was taken out during the Babylonian Captivity, it lasted seventy years. Daniel read about this in the beginning of chapter 9. He's reading about this in Jeremiah that this would last for seventy years. He gets out his TI calculator and calculates all the numbers and realizes he's at the sixty-eighth or sixty-ninth year and he began to pray that God would reveal to him how God was going to restore Israel to the land. It's operating on the assumption that God means what He says. This is all spelled out in the Mosaic Law.
When we get into the Church Age, we're not Jews. We're not a part of the house of Israel, the house of Judah. We're not spiritualized, allegorized Israelites. We're not a spiritual Israel. That term is never used for Gentiles or Church Age believers. There's one passage in Galatians 6 where Paul says, "Give my greeting to the Israelites among you." It's not talking about the whole group of believers there but to the Jewish believers within the total body of believers there in Galatia. So the Mosaic Law was a particular covenant between God and Israel and it was temporary. It had a time stamp on it and when the Cross occurred, that was the end of the Mosaic Law. So the conclusion is that the Mosaic Law was a contract between God as the party of the first part and the nation, Israel, as the party of the second part. It had nothing to say to Christians, except by analogy, except by application.
As we look at other problems with relation with the Law, we see four basic confusions. The first confusion is that the Law is thought to be the basis for salvation in the Old Testament. But the Law was never the basis for salvation in the Old Testament. It was designed to expose the need for salvation and the inadequacy of people to save themselves. Romans 3:20, "...for by the Law is the knowledge of sin." Not salvation. Romans 5:20, "Moreover the Law entered that the offense might abound, but where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more." Then 1 Timothy 1:8-9, "We know that the Law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and mothers, for manslayers.." It's not that it changes them or saves them. It is to protect society from those who are unruly.
So as we look at Romans 7:8, Paul says, "But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire." When Paul heard the prohibition he started lusting after all sorts of things. He had approbation lust, power lust, probably sexual lust, and all sorts of other lusts because he was told not to lust. "For apart from the Law, sin is dead." What he means by that is the same thing that James meant in James 2:17 when he made a similar statement, "Thus, also, faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." It doesn't mean it doesn't exist; it means it's non-operational. It doesn't produce anything. Faith without works isn't non-existent; it's not fulfilling it's objective, it's not producing anything. Same thing that Paul says in Romans 7:8, "...For apart form the Law, sin is dead."
If the Law exacerbates sin, then if the Law's not there, then sin is not going to be exposed and exacerbated. It's going to just sort of lie dormant. It's sort of like if you were a child back in the fifties and sixties and had chicken pox, then that chicken pox is still in your body but it's dormant. Then something can come along and activate that and the next thing you know you have shingles. Or you could have Bell's palsy or some other things that are related to that chicken pox virus. It's dormant until there's something external that energizes it. The Law is that way towards our sin nature. The sin nature is going along in a rather dormant case and then the Law comes along and says, "Don't do that. Don't do this. Quit doing that. Quit doing this," and all of a sudden everything flares up and we start committing a lot of sins.
Then Paul says, speaking of his own background, in verse 9 "I was alive once without the Law but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died." It doesn't mean he just started to sin; it means it just wakes it up. It goes out of its dormancy and becomes very active and he is talking about death here in terms of its operational impact. It renders him ineffective in terms of his spiritual life. So we read in verse 10, "And the commandment which was to bring life, I found to bring death." The commandment was to bring life; if you obey the Law you'll be prosperous. The Psalmist in Psalm 1 says, "Blessed is the man who meditates on the Law day and night." The picture here is of a man who is very fruitful and very prosperous as a result of his application of the Law. So the Law was to bring life, but Paul says it brings death because it activates the sin nature.
Verse 11, "For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me..." At the core of sin is arrogance. "I want to do what I want to do apart from what God wants me to do." The five "I wills of Satan" at their very core is "I want to do what I want to do and disobey what God wants me to do." So sin is "I will" rather than God's will. So sin, or arrogance, becomes self-deceptive and it destroys us. He's not talking about going from spiritual life to spiritual death. He's talking about carnal death and being non-productive in your spiritual life. Then he concludes in Romans 7:12, "Therefore the Law is holy and the commandment holy and just and good." What he's been showing all the way through these six verses is that the Law is good but it exposes and aggravates the sin nature.
Starting in verse 13, he asks another question, "Has then what is good [the Law] become death to me?" And again, he denies that. There's nothing negative, there's nothing harmful in the Law. "Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good..." See the Law is the means God used to expose sin and to make us realize that we were fallen and needed to be completely dependent upon God. He continues, "...so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful." I could get away with a veneer of self-righteousness covering over my sin until the Law started getting into all this detail about what I could and couldn't do and that just inflamed my sin nature and I realized how sinful I was. Then he says in verse 14, "For we know that the Law is spiritual..." So again, good things about the Law, "...but I am carnal sold under sin."
Once again, is this Paul before he's saved or Paul after he's saved? If it's Paul before he's saved, what he would be saying is that he is in bondage of sin but what Paul teaches everywhere else is that we're born that way. This isn't something that comes about as it's exposed by the Law. So he says it creates carnality because we follow the sin nature rather than reckoning that we are dead to the sin nature so we put ourselves back under bondage to sin. It's the picture of the slave market. The slave's been set free but he runs back and says, "Put the manacles back on me. I would much rather live in slavery."
This is like Israel after they've been redeemed and freed from their slavery in Egypt and they get out in the wilderness. God is taking care of them and they have complete freedom. They say, "I want to run back to the leeks and garlic of Egypt and I want to be in slavery again." They didn't have the capacity for freedom which means they don't have the capacity for responsibility. It's like the generations growing up in the United States today. Many of them have become dependent. They don't think in terms of independence anymore. Independence from government. The first thing they do when there's a problem is think, "How can I get more from the government?" It's a mentality of slavery so when they created this dependency mentality they're going to vote for further dependency and further provision. They don't want to be independent.
Historically immigrants came to this country so they could get away from government and make something of their life themselves. We've lost sight of that. It comes down to a spiritual issue, whether you want to be spiritual slaves or not. So Paul uses that same issue here. Notice that nowhere here does he talk about the Holy Spirit and that's the point. All through chapter 7 Paul is simply trying to live out his spiritual life on the basis of obeying the Law. There's no mention of the Holy Spirit until we get to the eighth chapter. This is the believer trying to please God on his own out of the power of the flesh or just simple morality.
Then we get to the big tension in the next six verses where Paul talks about the conflict that occurs. He says in verse 15, "For what I am doing, I do not understand.." In other words he's talking about doing something that is disobedient to the Law, something immoral, something unethical, something that violates the law. He says, "I'm doing this and I don't understand." "...For what I will to do, that I do not practice..." As much as he tried to make himself do the right thing, all that happens is he focuses on that and he does the wrong thing. He ends up doing the wrong thing which is disobeying God. He says, "...but what I hate, that I do." He's saying, "I'm not doing what I want to do and I get short tempered, I'm tired, I'm lustful, I'm lazy...whatever the sins are such as arrogance...the more I focus on it, the more I'm sinful." That's the conflict. He can't figure out how to rise above that because there's not a focus on the Holy Spirit.
In verse 16, "If, then [and we're going to assume it's true], I do what I will not to do [in other words, if I do what I don't want to do], I agree with the Law that it is good." He's saying he does what he doesn't want to do and he realizes he shouldn't do it because his conscience is telling him that it's wrong, so now he's agreeing with the Law that the Law is good. In verse 17, he says, "But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me." Now some people have taken this wrong and say, "Well, this is like a spiritual split personality." That's not what he's talking about here. He uses himself to explain that in light of his new position in Christ, it's no longer himself that's doing it but it's the sin nature and he's let the sin nature get the best of him and it's his volition.
Verse 18, further explains, "For I know that in me, (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells..." This is a recognition that we're all sinners and that's so important here. Even after salvation we still have a sin nature that deceives us, that leads us into all kind of corruption and the only way to conquer it is not by just 'pulling ourselves up by own spiritual bootstraps' but by learning to walk by the Spirit on the basis of God's Word. So he recognizes this, "For I know that in me, (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells for to will is present with me [I want to do the right thing] but how to perform what is good, I do not find."
Now there's not a single Christian who wants to live the Christian life who doesn't experience this tension. We say, "I just don't know how to do it on my own." Good, you can't do it on your own. It's not that the spiritual life is hard; it's impossible. You can't do it on your own. You can only do it through dependence on God the Holy Spirit and His Word. And it takes time; it takes a lot of retraining and reeducation. Verses 20-21, "Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, [what a great expression of total depravity. Evil still dwells within me as a believer. Now the Lordship crowd can't say this. This is one reason why they say someone can't be a Christian who says evil dwells within him because that's just like an unbeliever. Regeneration never removes the sin nature. It just removes the tyranny of the sin nature.] ..the one who wills to do good." As much as I want to do the right thing there's still this something in me that's pulling me in the wrong direction.
Verse 22, "For I delight in the Law of God according to the inward man." See he couldn't say that if he was an unbeliever. No unbeliever says, "I delight in the Law of God in my inner man." It just doesn't work; they're not regenerate so they can't do it. He has this conflict which shows he must be a believer. Verse 23, "But I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind..." This is the same conflict of the flesh warring against the spirit, the spirit against the flesh in Galatians 5: 17-18 and when this law is warring against the law of my mind which wants to follow the Lord, verse 22 continues, "...it brings me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members."
This brings us back to chapter six where we put ourselves back under the slavery to the sin nature. And then to wrap it up, Paul just in a scream of spiritual agony says in verse 24, "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" He's saying, "I just try to do it on my own. I'm just miserable because the more I try to do the right thing, I do the wrong thing. The more I don't want to do the wrong thing, I end up doing it anyway. This is horrible. How do I get out of this endless cycle of carnality?"
In verse 25 he begins to shift, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then with the mind I myself serve the Law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin." Then as soon as we get into chapter eight, he immediately starts talking about the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ. It's the Holy Spirit that gets us out of this downward spiral of carnality and basically operational death, not spiritual death, but we're living like we're a spiritually dead person so he's back to the same kind of position he's talking about at the end of chapter six where he says in verses 22 and 23, "But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Whether you're a believer or an unbeliever, the wages of sin is death. It's a death-like existence for the believer. You're living like you're a spiritually dead person. So we'll come back next time and get into Romans 8:1 and begin to focus on the upward, positive trajectory of the spiritual life.