It was encouraging to my own heart to hear testimony from a young lady in baptism about the way the Lord used the series we’re doing on great doctrines of the Bible, in her own life, to bring her to a true knowledge of the gospel and salvation. And that’s, of course, ultimately what we intend in all the things that we teach.
We have moved our way through many great doctrines. We have arrived at the area of sanctification, spiritual transformation, how it is that the Lord grows us in righteousness; grows us in holiness; grows us up into the image of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, increasing us in our obedience, in our devotion to Him, and in our pattern of righteous conduct.
This work of sanctification obviously is the work of God. It is, as we’ve learned, the work of God through the Spirit and the Word. And we have been endeavoring to get a deeper understanding of the actual essential elements of sanctification so that we can truly understand this earthly experience which we are now undergoing as believers. I am in the process of being sanctified, and so are all of you who are in Christ. I am being moved by the power of the Spirit through the work of the Word increasingly toward the image of Christ. I, like you, confess that even though in God’s eyes I may be moving closer, I feel like I am far, far from what I should be. Nonetheless, this is our own experience.
We have to be fascinated by all of the doctrines that we’ve been talking about, because those of us who are believers have experienced them all from the glories of our redemption and all of the elements of that now into the glories of our sanctification and all of the elements of that. And we have learned that salvation is by Grace, and that it is not by law. That is it is not by works, and we heard that a couple of times again tonight. It is a gift that God gives, by His grace and grace alone, to those who in penitence put their trust and faith in Him – that is in the Lord Jesus Christ. Salvation is by grace alone, not by law and not by works. And that is what the apostle Paul taught. And, of course, that posed some very, very interesting questions.
If you go back in the book of Romans, where we’re going to be looking tonight, to chapter 3 and verse 20, the apostle Paul writes there, “By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” - you can’t become right with God, you can’t be made just by the Law – “for through the Law” – verse 20 says – “comes the knowledge of sin. But being made right with God” – verse 21 – “is apart from the Law. It is a righteousness” – verse 22 says – “that comes only through faith.” In fact, God, according to chapter 4 and verse 5, actually justifies not those who’ve made themselves righteous by obeying the Law, but He justifies the ungodly who break and violate His Law.
And further down in chapter 4 and verse 13, we read there that “The promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be the heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. It is those who are made heirs by faith that receive the promise, not by Law.” Verse 15 says, “The Law” - which earlier brings about the knowledge of sin, here – “brings about wrath.”
The Law, then, cannot accomplish our salvation. It can demonstrate sin, and it can bring about God’s wrath because it is violated and it is just for God to be angry and to bring punishment.
In verse 16 he says, “For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who’s the father of us all” – that is not just Jews who were connected to the Law, but everybody – but this promise of salvation comes by grace through faith and not according to the Law. It comes to the one who believes, not the one who can keep the Law.
Now, this is repeated again as we come into chapter 6. We are reminded again, in chapter 6, that the Law cannot do anything for us except enslave us. And the Law is a cruel master; it produces judgment – the knowledge of sin, then judgment, and then death. We find in chapter 6 that if we are slaves of sin - that is to say slaves of the Law who continually violate the Law, according to verse 16 – that it results in death. In fact, verse 23 says, “The wages of sin is death.”
The bottom line that I’m trying to point out to you is that if you just flow through the book of Romans, it would be easy to see the Law as getting a bad rap. It really doesn’t save us; it doesn’t have the power to save us inherent in itself; it doesn’t have the power to sanctify it inherent in itself. I can give us the knowledge of sin; it can bring us under divine wrath; it can enslave us, leading us to death.
And so, it is wonderful news to read chapter 6, verse 14, where it says, “Sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” Wow, that is such a critical statement. Those of us who have come to Christ have been removed from the crushing, enslaving, killing power of the Law. In fact, down in chapter 7, verse 6, it says we have been released from the Law. We have no longer to consider the Law - and sin that comes by disobeying the Law - as our dominant master. In the language of chapter 7, verses 1 to 6, the Law and sin is no longer our husband; we have died, and that bondage we had to that union with sin by the Law is over. The Law then, according to what Paul has been saying – and by that I mean the Law of God which is reflective of God’s holy character; the moral law, not ceremonies and rituals and rites and things attached only to the people Israel; the moral law, the ethical law, the reflection of the holy nature of God – all it can do is show us what sin is, indict us, bring us under judgment, enslave us, kill us, and it is wonderful news that when you come to salvation by grace through faith, not works, not by the Law, that you are no longer under the Law. In fact, you have been released from the Law.
Now, at the conclusion that some people would make at this point is, “Wow, that is really good news because that sounds to me like I can live any way I want to live.” And there are people who draw that conclusion. They are classically called antinomians, from the Greek word nomos which is law. They are anti-law. They postulate the idea that because they live in grace, and because they have been released from the dominion of the Law, and they have been released from the condemnation of the Law, that the Law, therefore, plays no role in their lives, and they’re free under grace to conduct themselves any way they want.
This is what is behind the question in chapter 6, verse 1, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” Since the more sin there is in our lives the more God can display His grace and He gets glory from the display of His grace, now what we ought to do is sin a lot so God can display a lot of grace and get a lot of glory for being so gracious? Are we free to do whatever we want and let God display His grace?
And another question arises with regard to this, and it is the question in chapter 7, verse 7, and that’s where we want to start tonight. “What shall we say then?” With this kind of understanding of the Law - that the Law really has inherently no power in it, it has no power to make anybody obey, therefore, in and of itself it, it can’t save and it can’t sanctify – if all it does is show us sin, indict us, kill us, bring us under the wrath of God and judgment, and if we have, in fact, been taken out from under the Law and its dominion, if we have been released from the bondage that the Law held to us, then what shall we say about the Law? “Is the Law sin?” That is to say, is the Law then inherently evil?
It seems as though all the Law does is produce evil. Salvation is by grace through faith, not by the Law. This is a very hard concept, particularly for a Jew to grasp, but frankly for almost anybody to grasp, that God would forgive us and save us, and take us into His glorious kingdom, and wash us and cleanse us and make us new, and give us life, and call us His children and His friends, and take us to heaven forever to dwell with Him, and HE would do that without us improving our lives, becoming righteous and obeying His Law.
Anytime the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone was preached to people who believed you had to earn your way to heaven, it sounded like an attack on the Law. It sounded like an assault on God. It sounded like an assault on holiness and virtue and righteousness. Because basically the whole world believes you earn your way. Certainly the Jews did, and everybody else does. You hear people say all the time, “Well, God would never send me to hell; I’m a good person.” I mean just the man on the street you can ask almost anybody in any setting what they think the path to heaven looks like, and they’ll tell you, “Well, you need to be a good person. I’m a good person, that’s how you get to heaven, and you do what’s good,” by some definition that they think has been set upon them by some higher power, some God.
The Jews, in fact, had a deep commitment to the Law. They had a profound commitment to the Law. They had a commitment to the works of the Law and to earning their own righteousness by maintaining those works to some degree. This message of salvation by grace apart from the Law was horrifying to them. It was like knocking all the fences down and letting everybody run amok. “Oh, it’s all by grace? We’ll just sin up a storm so God can be gracious. And you’ve just said that the Law doesn’t save us, that we’re out from under the Law, we’re released from the Law. And if in being saved you’re released from the Law, then the Law must be something evil in itself.”
Well, there are people who do believe that, but the Jews weren’t among them. And nor are most religious people. Most religious people think you have to do some good things according to the holy book, whatever the holy book to them is. And certainly people within the big scheme of things called Christianity believe that you’ve got to abide by God’s Law to some degree to get into heaven. The Jews believe that the Law was the path to God. And Paul just eliminated that.
And a Jew would be asking himself, “Well, if I can’t get to God by the Law, then I can’t get to God, and I just can’t buy the fact that no matter how I live my life, I can go to God and accept a free gift by just believing and He’s going to forgive all my sin.” It was just too contrary to what they’d always believed. They highly esteem the Law of God in every sense. The rabbis had perused the Old Testament to find at least 600 commands that had to be kept – 613 exactly. There were 248 mandatory things to be done. And by the way, the number 248 was related to what they thought was the number of bones in the body. These commands related to God, to the temple, to sacrifices, to vows, to rituals, donations, Sabbaths, animals for consumption, things you ate, festivals, idolatry, war, social issues, family issues, judicial matters, legal rights, slavery, on and on. Two hundred and forty-eight mandatory things to be done. There were 365 prohibitory things not to be done, corresponding, they said, to the solar days of the year – one for every day. And these commands related also to idolatry, to historical events, blasphemy, temple worship, sacrifices, priests, diet, vows, agriculture, loans, business, slaves, justice, relationships. And so, this was a consuming way of life. You spent all your time trying to keep the 248 and avoid the 365. And Acts 15:10 says, “It was a yoke upon the neck which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.” Virtually impossible. But they saw it as the only hope, the only way. They saw it s divine. And they were bound in their thinking by statements made in the Old Testament. It wasn’t as if they pulled this out of the air; they remembered that there were statements in the Old Testament made about keeping the commandments. For example, back in that critical text of Deuteronomy 27, they were reminded, in verse 26, “Cursed is he who doesn’t conform to the words of this law by doing them.” If you don’t do the things in the Law, you’re going to be cursed.
Now, to live that way was an excruciating burden, a very heavy burden. Look at Galatians chapter 3 for a moment, because it’s important to bring this text in; it’s very definitive. It also harks back to the same section of Deuteronomy, chapter 27, and the very same verse that I just read to you, verse 10, Galatians 3, “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written” – and here’s Deuteronomy 27:26 again – “‘Cursed is everyone who doesn’t abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them.’”
So, no one is justified by the Law before God, because no one can keep all those laws all the time. So, verse 11 says, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” That’s not new; that’s back in Habakkuk chapter 2, verse 4. That’s an Old Testament verse also in verse 12, “The Law is not of faith; on the contrary, ‘He who practices them shall live by them.’” If you’re going to try to get to heaven and get to God by the Law, you have to keep the Law perfectly, and if you break the Law anywhere, you’re cursed. What a horrible burden. What an unthinkable burden.
What Paul is saying in Galatians 3 is anybody who accepts the Law as the way of salvation, the way of righteousness, and the way of holiness has to keep the whole Law perfectly, and he’s cursed if he breaks it in one point. The second thing Paul says is, “It’s impossible. Can’t be done.” And the third thing is true righteousness comes only by faith. To break the Law in one point was deadly. James 2:10, “Whoever shall keep the whole law and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”
You know, it’s – breaking the Law of God is not like, I don’t know, breaking one spoke in your bicycle wheel - the wheel still keeps going. It’s like breaking a pane of glass. You break it in one place and the whole thing is shattered.
So, the people were in this bondage to the Law. And they were working so hard to bear this incredible burden to keep the Law and therefore earn their way to God. Along comes the gospel of the New Testament, preached by the apostle Paul, and he says, “Salvation doesn’t come by the Law, because you can’t keep the Law. The righteousness that comes, it comes by faith and faith alone, by the grace of God. If you put your trust in Him, God will grant you salvation.” They were stunned. They were offended. This seemed to them a kind of blasphemy.
And so, they would conclude, then, that if you say that – we can’t be saved by the Law, and what we need to do is to be delivered from the Law, released from the Law – the Law must be sin. This is the kind of thing that the imaginary antagonist – Paul argues with an imaginary antagonist all the way through Romans, posing questions that he knows his hearers and his readers would ask.
And so we come to chapter 7, verses 7 to 13, in our continuing study of the great doctrine of sanctification. We come now to the question, “What role does the Law play?” What role does the Law play? We are in the sanctification section of the book of Romans; we know that. The section on justification wraps up in chapter 5; 6 through 8 deals with sanctification. And so, we are in that section, and the question is posed, “If we are now not under the Law, and if we are now released from the Law, if we have died to the Law, if we no longer serve in the oldness of the letter of the Law, but in the newness of the Spirit” - as verse 6 says – “what then is the function of the Law? What is its purpose? What does it do?” And the answer is profound; it is profound.
Four things the Law does - four things the Law does. Number one, the Law reveals sin. The Law reveals sin. Verse 7, “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin?” Mē genoito no, no, no, no, unthinkable. “May it never be!” The strongest negative in the Greek language. “On the contrary.” The Law is not sin, but the Law reveals sin. I would not have come to know sin except through the Law.
What are we going to conclude from all this? That the Law is evil? That is an outrageous thought. Absolutely outrageous. But it apparently was a common thought, because Paul addresses it again in Galatians 3, verse 21, “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God?” Mē genoito again – no, no, no, no – “May it never be!” But don’t think the law is given to impart life, because righteousness is not based on the Law. But what the Law does – Galatians 3:22 – is shut up all men under sin. It’s the same thing that he said back in chapter 3 and verse 20, “Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” The Law reveals sin.
Now, that in itself, beloved, proves that the Law is not evil, but it is righteous. It defines sin by establishing the righteous standard. The Law cannot redeem; the Law cannot save; the Law can’t even, in and of itself, sanctify because the Law has no power. But the Law is not sinful. Rather, the Law sets such a perfect, holy standard that it becomes clear to us what sin is. Paul gets very personal back in Romans. Very personal. And you see the first person pronoun – I. “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law.” It’s talking about the moral Law here, not ceremonial law and ritual law which had been set aside, was being, of course, set aside - first when Jesus came and was really finally crushed in His death, and eventually obliterated in the destruction of Jerusalem. All of that went away. But he’s talking about the moral Law.
Now, what he’s saying here is very personal. He’s not saying that the law reveals sin theoretically. He’s not saying the Law reveals sin scholastically or academically or theologically. It’s not revealing sin by some definition that he’s concerned about, although the Law certainly does that, but he is saying, “I would never have come to know sin in my own life except through the Law. It is the work of the Law to show me my sin.” It’s not outside of me; it’s not theoretical. It’s experiential, practical, and personal. “I myself, when I put my life up against the Law of God, found out that I was a sinner.”
And, of course, this is where the path to salvation begins and continues there. The path of sanctification in the life of a believer is a direct reaction to the Law. How do you know your falling short of what God wants you to be? Because you know what the standard is. “I,” Paul says, “with regard to my own personal sinfulness, became aware of what a wretched sinner I am because of my exposure to the Law.” That’s why, at the end of his life, when he writes his last epistle, before he’s about to die, he calls himself the chief of sinners. You would think he would have an opposite assessment of himself. But the fact is so much revelation, so much exposure to the Holy Law of God, so much understanding revealed to him by the Spirit of God about the standards of God, about the holiness of God, that he was becoming increasingly aware of how unrighteous he was.
And, of course, as that is the important beginning point for salvation, it is ever and always the constant foundation of sanctification. True sanctification, the progression of sanctification, occurs continually in someone who’s continually exposed to their own sinfulness. It is a terrible thing to cheat people who are Christians out of an ongoing, careful understanding of the Law of God, which then allows them not to be brought to the tribunal again of the Law to see their own unholiness and therefore to pursue holiness.
So, Paul, in the first person, is relating the fact that he would never really have known how wicked he was if he hadn’t known the Law. He thought himself pretty secure. If you read Philippians chapter 3, he thought he was righteous. He says in Philippians 3, “If anybody had a right to have confidence in the flesh, I do” - verse 4. “I was circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, I was blameless.” Wow.
I would say if you think you’re blameless before the Law of God, you don’t understand the Law of God. “I thought I was doing fine. I thought I was doing fine, and then I saw Christ, and then I suffered the loss of everything and counted it but rubbish, and I wanted to be found in Him not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but a true righteousness that comes through faith in Christ.”
Up to that point, the apostle Paul was a typical Jew, a typical religious person trying to earn his way to heaven, thought he was doing well. His assessment of his life was, “As according to the Law, I was blameless.” But until he heard the true gospel and a true assessment of his own wretchedness. Once the Law was really made clear to him, it had a devastating effect.
He says in Galatians 1, “You heard about my former manner of life in Judaism. I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, tried to destroy it; I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.” He really thought he was heading the parade into the kingdom of God because of his righteous achievements. And that’s essentially – right back in Romans 7 – that’s what we’re learning here about him, “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law. I thought I was doing fine until I really saw the Law for what it was.” And he’s speaking here for all of those who’ve come to know Christ, all the unsaved who come to Christ come this way because you don’t come for forgiveness unless you know you’re a sinner.
I mean if you’re like the rich young ruler in the Gospel of Matthew and repeated again in Mark, and if you’re like that young man and you come to Jesus – and also in Luke, and he says, “Well, you have to keep the commandments,” and you say, “Well, I’ve kept them since my youth.” And then you’re not going to ask forgiveness because there’s nothing to ask for.
Or if you’re like the 99 who have no interest in repentance – Pharisees and scribes – if you’re the self-righteous who need no repentance, you’re not about to come for forgiveness. Everybody who comes to Christ comes the same path. You come because you’ve been exposed to the Law of God, and you see yourself for who you really are; you see the reality of your sin in its depth. The Law reveals that reality.
Charles Hodge, the great theologian, wrote, “The Law, although it cannot secure either the justification or the sanctification of men, performs an essential part in the economy of salvation. It enlightens conscience; it secures its verdict against a multitude of evils that we should not otherwise have recognized as sins. It arouses sin; it increases its power; and making it, both in itself and in our consciousness, exceedingly sinful, it therefore produces that state of mind which is a necessary preparation for the reception of the gospel.”
He further says, “Conviction of sin, that is an adequate knowledge of its nature and a sense of its power over us, is an indispensible part of evangelical religion. Before the gospel can be embraced as a means of deliverance from sin, we must feel that we are deeply involved in corruption and misery.”
“And further,” he says, “if our religious experience does not correspond with that as detailed in the Scripture, we cannot be true Christians. Unless we have felt as Paul felt, we have not the religion of Paul and cannot expect to share his eternal reward.”
What is the typical attitude that people have toward their condition? “Eh, I do some bad things, but God couldn’t send a good person like me to hell; He just couldn’t. I think my good things overbalance my bad things. I’m very religious, and I try to not harm people, etcetera.” You’ve heard it all. But when a person comes face to face with the full reality of God’s moral God, sin is seen for what it really is. And this is what is absolutely necessary to drive a person to salvation. And I will say this: continuing exposure to the Holy Law of God, through the pages of Scripture, is what drives the saved person toward sanctification. We must preach the Law. We must preach the Law to bring sinners under conviction that they might be saved, and we must uphold the Law to bring Christians under conviction that they might pursue the path of sanctification.
The whole effort of the Law comes down to this: it is to bring man into the sense of their sin so that they know they need to be saved and they know they need to be sanctified. It is to produce in them a permanent beatitude attitude where they mourn over their sin and feel inadequate and unworthy and weak.
And Paul uses one illustration at the end of verse 7. He says, “For example - I wouldn’t have come to know sin except through the Law; for example, I wouldn’t have known about coveting if the Law hadn’t said, ‘You shall not covert.’”
You see, the heart of man is deceitful and depraved. And he needs a very blunt and plain and straightforward command. “I wouldn’t have known about coveting except the Law said, ‘Thou shalt not covet.’” That’s the last of the Ten Commandments. He thought he was doing great. He didn’t understand the real condition of his heart.
The law of coveting is a very interesting law. It really does unbear the heart. Coveting is epithumia, deep desire, evil desire, lustful desire. Paul thought that he was doing pretty well on the outside, but he knew there were things – illicit things – that he coveted on the inside. And when he really came to grips with the tenth commandment, when the Spirit of God brought that to bear upon his life and produced conviction, he knew that his heart was unclean and filled with evil desire.
The Law, then, reveals sin. That’s why it’s so critical. It’s the only way you can come to salvation, and it’s the only way you can stay on the path of sanctification. Let me just expand that a little bit with you tonight. And look to Romans 10. This is a text that we’ve talked about before, but just to touch on it – Romans chapter 10 – again, I want you to understand this, because we have to understand the role the Law plays in evangelism and in our own lives. Chapter 10, verse 1 – remember what he says – “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is for their salvation” – that is for Israel. He is deeply distressed that they are not saved. “I bear them witness they have a zeal for God” - they are zealous for God – “but not in accordance with knowledge.” And the first thing they don’t know – they don’t know about God’s righteousness. That is they don’t understand God’s Holy Law. They don’t know how righteous God is and, as a result, they seek to establish their own righteousness and don’t subject themselves to the righteousness of God. They do not understand God’s righteousness; they do not understand their own sinfulness and inability.
And even though they do not subject themselves, because they cannot, to the perfect standard of God’s righteous Law, they still think they’re good enough. As I’ve said before, they think God is less righteous than He is. They think they are more righteous than they are and they can work their way into a relationship with God. This is pretty standard stuff. This is the way most people feel, “Hey, I’m good enough to go to heaven. God certainly wouldn’t send me to hell.”
So, for effective evangelism – preaching, teaching, personal witnessing – to be effect, you must bring people under the tyranny of the Law. What leads to true salvation is an understanding of the absolute righteousness of God, the utter holiness of God. The Law of God expresses His perfect righteousness and His holiness and puts a demand on every soul that if you break this Law in one place you’re damned. Where’s that message today? What leads to true salvation is an overpowering, frightening sense of the implications of breaking the Law. The truth about righteousness and holiness and sin and judgment is what awakens the slumbering sinner.
You can’t just go to people sitting out there, thinking they’re pretty good, and say, “By the way, Jesus would like to come into your life and make you happy.” That’s an absurd approach. Long before you talk about what Jesus is prepared to do for the sinner, you’ve got to talk about the sinner’s situation.
Jeremiah 23, verse 22, says, “But if they had stood in My council, then they would have announced My words to My people, and would have turned them back from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds.” And He’s describing the lying prophets. “If they really represented me, they would have said My words” – that is they would have disclosed My Law – “and brought the people under the tyranny of that Law, the threat of that Law, the punishment and condemnation of that Law, and thus turned them back from their evil way and the evil of their deeds.”
Salvation is not about making you happy. Salvation is about delivering you from the consequence of violating the Law of God. And the language of evangelism is the language of law and sin and guilt and curse and judgment and fear.
Let me say it this way, the most necessary and the most successful evangelism is that which aims at a radical conviction of sin. And sinners do not become concerned about their sins; they don’t even know, in some cases, what they are – especially in this culture – until they are face to face with God and God’s Holy Law.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to say, “The sinner is a monstrosity in God’s universe, and he needs to be made aware of it.” And by the way, the righteousness of God – the Law of God – informs the sinner that God is at the center of the universe, not him.
Now, we’ve turned God into this beggar who’s running around asking if He can come into somebody’s life and help them be a better person, as if they’re the center of the universe. The righteousness of God – the Law of God – informs the sinner that God is at the center of the universe, and He has to be dealt with.
Proverbs 16:6 says, “By fear of the Lord men depart from evil.” By fear of the Lord, men depart from evil.” Why is anybody going to change his life if he has no fear of God? We have to alarm the sinner. We have to activate his conscience by informing it about the truth, not letting him have a conscience that responds only to a watered-down morality that he has been taught by the world. We have to take the sinner, turn him face to face to the Law, square him up with the Law, and make him see the standard of perfect righteousness, “Be ye holy even as I am holy.”
We have to preach righteousness and Law. By this people understand their sin, and they understand the consequence of their sin, and the helplessness in which they exist. When this conviction of sin is absent, conversion is usually false.
Look, the initial objective for evangelism is not to get people to be attracted to Jesus. The initial effort in evangelism is not to get people to be attracted to the happy life of a Christian. Salvation doesn’t come that way. The objective is to bring upon the head of the sinner fear of the judgment of God upon him or her for violations of His Holy Law that are going on all the time in his or her life.
What we want to do is convict that person, by the work of the Spirit and the Word through us as we minister, to come to a place of such conviction and fear and dread of divine wrath that they desire to flee to the rescue available in Christ. But even conviction won’t save. The sinner has to move from conviction to faith in Christ.
Iain Murray wrote, “Legal conviction doesn’t itself dispose men to believe in Christ. Still law doesn’t qualify them to receive mercy. No one is saved because they feel bad about their sins. It is not necessarily the awakened sinner that is saved; it is the awakened sinner who then puts his trust in Christ.”
George Whitfield called preachers to wound deeply before they heal. He even said, “Lord, pardon me for giving comfort to soon.”
Spurgeon wrote, “Sometimes we are inclined to think that a great portion of modern revivalism has been more a curse than a blessing” – Spurgeon – “because it has led thousands to a kind of peace before they have known their misery, restoring the prodigal to the Father’s love, and never making him say, ‘Father, I have sinned.’ Unhumbled, they came into the church, unhumbled they remain in it, and unhumbled they go from it.”
The gospel without law produces faith without repentance. And where Christianity is nominal, the Law must be preached. Nothing is more important in this contemporary culture of quote-unquote evangelicalism, whatever in the world that means – nothing is more important than to preach the Law.
But you know, the battle has always been there, and I took you back to Martyn Lloyd-Jones in the twentieth century, back to Spurgeon in the century before that. Let me take you back to 1793 and Thomas Scott. Listen to what he wrote, “Leave out the holy character of God, the holy excellence of His Law, the holy condemnation to which transgressors are doomed, the holy loveliness of the Savior’s character, the holy nature of redemption, the holy tendency of Christ’s doctrine, and the holy tempers and conduct of all true believers; then dress up a scheme of religion of this unholy sort; represent mankind in a pitiable condition rather through misfortune than crime; speak much of Christ’s bleeding love to them, of His agonies in the garden and on the cross, without showing the need or the nature of satisfaction for sin; speak of His present glory and of His compassion for poor sinners, of the freeness with which He dispenses pardons, of the privileges which believers enjoy here, and of the happiness and glory reserved for them hereafter. Clog this with nothing about regeneration or sanctification or represent holiness as somewhat else than conformity to the holy character and Law of God, and you have made a plausible gospel calculated to humor the pride, soothe the conscience, engage the heart, and raise the affections of natural men who love not God but themselves.” End quote.
Preach the Law to the lost. Preach the Law to the saved. It is the Law that drives the lost to justification. It is the Law that drives the saved to sanctification. Where there is absence of conviction, there is absence of repentance. Where there absence of repentance, there’s no salvation and there’s no sanctification. There must be fear of God. We’re not offering happiness with Jesus. We’re not offering some mystical, personal relationship to Jesus that somehow makes you feel better about yourself.
And by the way, God has planted in the human heart an ally to this message of law. Romans 2, verse 14, it says, “When the Gentiles” – the heathen – “which do not have the Law” – the written Law – “do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts.” There is a basic, moral code programmed into every human being. So, when you preach the Law of God, you have an ally in the human heart.
You say, “Well, this is foreign to people; they don’t get it; they don’t understand.”
Oh yes they do. Oh yes they do because God has written His Law in their hearts. They know their sin. Romans 1 says they know their sin, and they even know judgment because they can see it experientially, but they still do what they do. In Acts 24:25, Paul was discussing righteousness with Felix, and Felix became frightened. Sure. He wasn’t saying, “What are you talking about?” He panicked because when Paul was talking about God’s righteous Law, and Felix was measuring his own heart against the Law, it scared him. And it should. Conviction first, then conversion.
So, what is the function of the Law? Let’s go back to Romans 7. The first thing that you need to know about the Law is that the Law reveals sin. I’m going to give you one other thing to think about tonight. Secondly, the Law aggravates sin. Look at verse 8, “But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.” He says, in verse 7, “The Law revealed coveting,” and then he says in verse 8, “And the Law produced coveting.” Wow. The Law not only reveals the sin that’s there, but it rouses more. What a strange thing. “Sin, taking opportunity through the commandment – the Law – produced in me coveting of every kind. I didn’t think I was a coveter. I was doing fine. Then I saw the Law. Wow; I’m a coveter. And the more I understood that Law, the more coveting I found.” There’s a real sense in which the more exposure to the Law, the more your sin is aggravated.
You say, “Well, what in the world? I mean come on; it’s bad enough that the Law reveals sin. Now you’re telling us the Law aggravates it. The Law doesn’t produce it; it aggravates it in the sense that it exposes it, and as you’re continually exposed to the Law, the more you’re brought into subjection to the Word of God, the more you see the hidden elements of covetousness.
You know, most people – think about it – most people that attend churches hear an evangelism without the Law, and they hear about a Christian life without the Law. See, the benefit of systematically teaching the Word of God, line upon line, precept upon precept, over and over, is that this is the Holy Law of God. And one, it will reveal your sin so you can be saved. It will reveal your sin so you can hate it and pursue holiness in your sanctification, but it will even exacerbate your sin. Not that it produces the sin, although it may do that because the more you know the law of God, the more you may tend to rebel in your fallenness. But more than that, it just – the more exposure to the Law, the more you begin to see the covetousness that’s everywhere.
But please notice, very important, verse 8, “Sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind.” It isn’t the Law that produces the coveting; it is sin that does it. Sin is the culprit, not the Law. The Law does a good thing: it reveals sin. That drives us to salvation and sanctification. The Law does another good thing: it aggravates sin, that is it makes us aware – more aware of our sin. The villain here is not the Law; the villain is sin. That is indwelling sin in our flesh.
I’m sure there are antinomians who say, “Well, the Law is the problem; get rid of the Law and we can be free.” No. The problem’s not the Law; the problem is sin that runs in violation of the Law. And thus, the more you know about the Law, the more sin becomes apparent.
In fact, sin takes the opportunity, through the commandment, to produce every kind of coveting. Apart from the Law, sin is dead. It lies dormant until it’s exposed to the Law. If you have no rules, and you have no laws, you have no way to define sin. There are people like that in aboriginal areas of the world that basically operate off a warped residual of the Law of God written in their heart and nothing more than that, and their whole code of life is completely different, immoral. But when the Law of God is brought to bear upon anyone’s life, sin is therefore manifest more and more as there is more and more exposure to the Law.
John Murray writes, in his wonderful book Principles of Conduct, “The more the light of the Law shines upon and in our hearts, the more the enmity of our minds is roused to opposition, and the more it is made manifest that the mind of the flesh is not subject to the Law of God.” The Law really does aggravate sin. An amazing thing to think about, that it inflames sin in us.
Bunyan’s wonderful – I’ll close with this – Pilgrim’s Progress, there is a scene in which Christian is taken into a room. Some of you will remember it. And he’s taken into the room by Interpreter. It’s a large room, and it’s thick with dust, and the dust is lying settled where dust should stay. A man walks in with a broom, in this closed room, and he starts sweeping the dust. And so much dust arises in Bunyan’s scene that Christian is virtually suffocated by the dust. And Bunyan, in his marvelous imagery, is telling us the large room is the heart. The dust is sin. And it lies settled until Interpreter takes Christian in. And they’re in there, and Interpreter is interpreting the truth. And the man that comes in with the broom is the Law, and what the Law does is just raise dust everywhere, enough to choke you. And the more the Law sweeps, the more choking the experience is.
Nothing wrong with the Law. The Law reveals what sinners we really are. The Law actually agitates, activates, exacerbates, aggravates sin everywhere. This is a good work, because this is what drives us to salvation and the pursuit of sanctification. There are two other things the Law does, and we’ll look at those next time.
Your Word is so rich, Father, and so wonderful for us. We thank You for Your Law. We agree with what the apostle Paul said, “The Law is holy, just, and good.” We love Your Law. As David said, “We delight in it,” even though it sweeps our sin into an almost suffocating experience. But how else can we be driven to salvation? How else can we be driven to pursue sanctification?
Thank You for the good work of Your Law that so clearly defines Your holy standard by which we long to live and also clearly demonstrates sin. Do Your work with Your Law to save; do Your work with Your Law to sanctify until that day when we pass from this world into Your glorious presence and keep the Law forever perfectly, without sin. And what a glorious joy that will be. Till that day, may Your Law always do its work and, seeing our own sin, may we flee to Christ and flee to the Spirit for salvation and sanctification. In our Savior’s name we pray, amen.
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