We are in a study of biblical doctrine on Sunday nights and really my effort in this is to kind of go back and deal with some of the very foundational areas of doctrine in the Word of God, knowing how many new folks there are in our church, how our church is growing and flourishing and people are coming to us. And there are many things that we covered in the past years that need to be brought back and foundations laid for our understanding that are germane to our spiritual lives.
And we have come to the doctrine of sanctification. And while we spent on some doctrines one Sunday night, maybe two Sunday nights, sometimes three, with this one we’ve kind of extended it because now we’re in the living zone, where all of us live and move and have our being, in this realm where we are in the process of being sanctified by the Spirit of God through the work of the Word in us. And it’s important to understand that. It’s important for us to understand the great doctrine of sanctification.
We’re looking at Romans chapter 7 - Romans chapter 7. And sanctification, by the way, for those of you who may have forgotten or need a little reminder, means to be set apart. To be set apart from sin. Sanctification is God’s work of setting us apart from sin. It is a progressive work as we grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord. We are increasingly set apart from sin unto holiness and righteousness so that we become, in practice, what we are in position so that having been covered with the righteousness of Christ, God’s seeing us as in Christ, attributing to us His own righteousness positionally as we stand before Him. We then become more righteous in our living as that new creation that is in us is empowered by the Spirit of God in its strength to overcome our remaining flesh and conform us to the holiness and the righteousness that is manifest in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, in the epistle of Paul to the Romans, the first three chapters – or at least halfway through chapter 3 – deals with the need for salvation. This is a great treatise on salvation, and in those first couple of chapters - and then well into chapter 3 - Paul is dealing with the need for salvation as he demonstrates to us the sinfulness of man.
Then in chapter 3, on through chapter 5, is the means of salvation. The need, in the beginning of the book, and then the means of salvation which is grace through faith. Salvation is by grace through faith; he makes that clear.
And then coming into chapters 6, 7, and 8, it is the result of salvation, which is holiness, righteousness, sanctification. And so, we’re in that section and just looking at chapters 6 and 7 now to get a glimpse of what sanctification really is.
Now, you have to understand that it was hard for the Jews, who would be reading Romans – the Jews who would have been converted to Christ even in the church in Rome to be reading this and to fully understand their need for salvation based upon their utter sinfulness because they felt that they were privileged by the Law and being children of Abraham and all of that, that they weren’t as sinful as they – they didn’t think they were as sinful as they really were. That’s why, in Romans 10, Paul says that they do not understand how sinful they are, and therefore, they go about to establish their own righteousness.
And so, Paul has shaken their foundations. The same would be true in terms of the Gentile world, where people in typical religion believe that you please whatever God you believe in by doing good, by being good, by some kind of righteous work.
So, this idea that man is utterly sinful to the core would really be news to both Jew and Gentile. Then that salvation was not a matter of works at all, but a matter of grace through faith, would also be new, and that is still isolated to the true gospel of Christianity. We alone hold to a salvation purely and solely by grace through faith.
Now, the result of this, of course, then comes in chapters 6 through 8, that we then have become new in Christ. We have died in Christ. We have died with Him and risen with Him. We walk in newness of life. We are no longer servants of sin, slaves of sin; we are servants of righteousness, slaves of righteousness. We are progressing in our new life on a path of sanctification, increasingly being conformed to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, Paul talks about this in some very interesting terms. He says, for example, in chapter 6, that we are granted a freedom. Look at verse 14, “sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” We have been delivered from the Law. Now, this is a very strong statement; we have been delivered from the Law.
And the question then comes up, “What does that mean? Does it mean” – in verse 15 – “that we should just go on sinning because we are not any longer under the Law but under grace, and so we might as well let grace go to work to its max? To say that we are no longer under law, does that mean we are no longer to prescribe or lives according to the Law of God, we have no responsibility to obey Him? Is that what that means?”
Well, obviously it does not mean that; it cannot mean that. Down in chapter 7 and verse 6, he makes another statement that’s pretty shocking, “Now we have been released from the Law.” First, we are not under the Law, and saying it another way, we have been released from the Law.
Now, this all poses a question that we’ve been looking at in chapter 7, verse 7, “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin?” Is the Law sin? Is the Law inherently evil? Since to become a believer you have to be released from the Law, since to become – or having become a believer you are no longer under the Law, since grace surpasses law, is grace good and the Law evil?
And his quick response, in verse 7, “No, no, no, no. May it never be!” It’s the third time he’s used mē genoito, the strongest negative – twice in chapter 6 and here again in chapter 7 – “No, no, please do not misunderstand me!” The Law has its limits, but the Law is not sin. You are no longer under the Law, but that is not to say that the Law has no application in your life.
Now, the Law does have limits, and I want you to think about those for a minute because they set up our understanding of verses 7 and following which we want to look at again tonight. The Law has its limits. “It is a yoke” – Acts 15:10 says – “that no one is able to bear.”
Now, the sense in which that is true has to be understood, and it is this: you are not under Law as a means of salvation. You are released from Law as a means of salvation. You are released from the tyranny of the Law. You are released from the condemnation of the Law. So, in a sense, you are released from a Law as a means of salvation and released from the Law as a reason for your condemnation. There’s more about that, of course, later in chapter 8.
Let me show you the weakness of the Law. In Galatians chapter 3 and verse 10, we read this, “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who doesn’t abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them.’” And that’s right out of Deuteronomy 27:26. If you’re going to be saved by the Law, you’re going to end up falling short of it; you’re going to be cursed, and you’re going to be condemned by the Law.
What the Law does is crush the sinner, condemn the sinner, expose the sinner. So, if you seek to be saved by the Law, you’re not going to make it. You need to be delivered out from under the Law as a means of salvation, and you need to be delivered from the bondage of the Law as a means of condemnation. All the Law does is produce a curse, and I’ll give you some reasons why.
The Law requires behaviors that are opposite the desires of the heart. That’s the first thing. The Law requires behaviors that are opposite the desires of the heart. It goes completely against the grain of the unregenerate heart. It asks for – more than that, it demands, it commands unnatural things. It asks you to do what you cannot do, to love what you will not love and cannot love. It asks sinners – who love sin; who love darkness; who love the world, the flesh, lust – to stop loving all of that and love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength; love their neighbor as they love themselves; to obey the Ten Commandments, which are then expanded in the whole of the moral Law of God. The Law, then, asks the sinner – it requires the sinner – it demands and commands the sinner to do what is absolutely contrary to the sinner’s will and desire.
Secondly, the Law calls for the sinner to do what not only he does not want to do, but what he cannot do. It asks the sinner to do what is impossible, that is to love God, that is to love others, that is to do righteous acts. So, even if the sinner desired to do those things, he could not do them. That’s why the Bible says, “There’s none righteous, no, not one.” We saw that back in Romans 3, “None who understands, none who does good.” Not only is it not the sinner’s desire, it is not possible for the sinner; they cannot do God’s Law, nor do they desire to do so.
Thirdly, the Law exacts on all sinners absolute perfection of performance and accepts nothing less. That is to say you cannot satisfy the Law by keeping some of it or keeping all of it sometime. The Law exacts, as we read in Galatians 3:10, on all sinners absolute perfect compliance, excepting nothing less, so that if you offend in one place, you’ve shattered the whole Law. Sinners cannot satisfy the Law or God who wrote the Law by keeping a portion of it sometimes.
Fourthly, the Law refuses to accept effort as any consolation. Trying doesn’t help. Trying hard doesn’t matter. Doing a few good things on a human level, making a noble effort to be a good person counts for absolutely nothing. You accumulate zero with whatever human good you might have done.
Because the Law is a perfect reflection of the perfection of God’s nature, it is absolutely holy. It sets, then, against the sinner behavior which he doesn’t desire to do; it demands that he do what he not only doesn’t desire but cannot do. It establishes absolute perfection so that nothing short of that satisfies God. And God will not accept effort as any consolation.
Number five, the Law accepts no limited payment for its violators. There is no way that the sinner can say, “I know I have violated Your Law, but I have a plan. Like the prodigal who planned to come home and work off his debt. Sinners who violate the Law will find that those violations the sinner can never undo.
You know, there is this idea that if you’re really bad and then you’re really good, somehow it all gets cancelled out in the end. And people typically think, “Well, I – you know, at the end, God’s going to take me to heaven because I’ve done more good than bad.” Well, that’s certainly a delusion, but even if it were true it wouldn’t matter - if you sinned once, that would be enough, and your good deeds have no effect upon sin. Nothing the sinner ever does cancels any iniquity. You violate it once, it is permanently established in the book. And were you to do good deeds in the future, they would cancel out nothing.
Number six, the Law is an unrelenting taskmaster. It never eases up; it never lightens the load. The Law never gives the sinner a vacation. The Law knows – here’s the word from modern times – the Law knows no “amnesty.” There’s never a time when God says, “Okay, you all have two weeks off; you can do what you want and you won’t be held accountable for it.” It never eases up; it never lightens the load; it never gives a day off, an hour off, a minute off, or a second off. There is no rest from its demands. No rest.
Number 7, the Law breaks the soul. The Law crushes the soul because when the sinner violates the law, they experience guilt and shame and sorrow and restlessness and pain and futility and doubt and fear and remorse and hopelessness. And the sinner has nothing within himself to recover. This is serious stuff. This is what the Scripture says about the Law: it asks the sinner to do what he doesn’t desire and can’t desire to do. It asks him to do what is impossible for him to do. It asks him to do it perfectly and accepts nothing less. It refuses to accept his best efforts – they mean nothing. And when he has sinned, there is nothing that he can ever do to undo that. It is unrelenting; it never eases up; it never allows a moment’s rest. And consequently, it crushes the soul like an iron rod breaks a clay pot or like a hammer shatters a glass, and the sinner is left with all of the anxieties and fears of his own sinful guilt.
Number eight, the Law promises to punish the sinner eternally in hell. That is to say that there will be no punishment the sinner bears in hell that will finally cancel out his sin or earth sin, being tormented forever, and the sin will not be erased. So, you come under a sentence for which there is no parole, for which there is no end.
And number nine, the Law gives no help to the sinner. There is nothing in the Law that provides strength or power. It doesn’t help us. The Law, in and of itself, has no power. And sinners are powerless to obey its demands. So, the Law establishes a standard and gives you no help to keep it.
Following that thought a little bit and giving you another – maybe a tenth – the Law, once it has been offended, provides no restoration. The Law provides no restitution. The Law doesn’t give a path back to God; it’s not in the Law. It’s why you can’t be saved by the Law because there’s nothing in the Law that saves. Sinners cannot follow some legal path back to God. There is none offered in the Law.
Number 11, the Law listens to no repentance. The Law is deaf. You can cry out all you want, the Law will not hear your cry. You can say you’re sorry; you can say you want to make amends, you want to turn over a new leaf and do things better; the Law is absolutely indifferent to that.
And that’s because, number 12, the Law offers no forgiveness. There’s nothing in the Law to provide forgiveness. You can cry out for mercy or grace from the Law, but it doesn’t have any. And I think we understand that. I mean that is how law works. We live in a society of law, and we understand that when the law is violated, there are consequences. And the law doesn’t provide any path to undo what you did except to take the punishment, to suffer the just and fair consequences. The law doesn’t care about your repentance; the law doesn’t forgive you. Somebody in our system might offer clemency. Somebody might be willing to give the violator a second chance, but it overrules the law to do that; the law offers none of that. So, you see, the Law is a very, very difficult master.
A couple of other things to think about, the Law offers no hope. As long as you’re under the Law, there never will be a better day. You have nothing to look forward to but judgment – nothing but judgment. Nothing but judgment.
Now, since all of this is true, let’s go back to Romans 7. Since all of this is true, is the Law sinful? Is the Law sinful? If we are out from under it – it’s our old master, and we are released from bondage to it, as chapter 7, verse 6 says - then is the Law evil? And we’re right back to where we started.
Well, the answer, of course, in verse 7, is “May it never be! No, no, no, no, no, not at all.” In fact, as we shall see in verse 12, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. And in verse 14, the Law is spiritual, but I’m of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.
The Law is not the problem; the criminal is the problem – who breaks the Law. So, what use is the Law? What function does it play? This is very important for us to understand. What is the Law for? Number one – we looked at this last time – the Law reveals sin. Look at verse 7, the Law reveals sin, “On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have know about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” Paul’s speaking the first person here very personally, but this is universally true. The Law, when activated by the Spirit and revealed to the sinner, both in terms of Scripture and in his own heart, the Law shows us what sin is. Not theoretically, not theologically, but personally.
Paul is saying, “When I really understood the Law of God, it showed me my sin.” And he gives a simple illustration, “If I hadn’t read, ‘You shall not covet,’ I wouldn’t have know that coveting was a sin. So, the Law reveals sin. That is not a bad thing; that is a good thing. But not only, as we saw last time, does the Law reveal sin, it aggravates it.
Look at verse 8, “Sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.” If you don’t have any Law, then you’re not alive to sin. Sin is not alive. That is that it’s not a reality in your life. It’s only when the Law comes that you know clearly what sin is. And then, when the Law does come, sin, he says, literally is multiplied. Once you understand that coveting is a sin, once you understand that God forbids us to covet, and you begin to look at that Law in the light of your own life, you begin to see coveting here and coveting there, and then and now and all over the place.
The Law reveals the extent of your coveting, the extent of your sinfulness, an even goes so far as to insight or aggravate the sin. But you see, this is a good thing, because this begins to expose us to the disastrous condition that we in.
We said last time, and I would say it again, it’s so important to preach the Law. Sure we believe in grace; sure we believe in forgiveness. But as I said, the typical approach to evangelism today is to totally ignore the Law and the condition of sinners under the Law.
So, we’re telling people about a grace they can’t possibly understand. We’re telling them about a forgiveness they can’t possibly comprehend because they don’t understand the just judgment and eternal condemnation that comes to the violator of the Law. Is the Law evil? No, it’s good. It reveals sin; that’s good. The sinner needs to know what God forbids.
Two, it aggravates sin. That is it stirs sin up. We begin to see the reality of sin in our lives and even how once we know the Law, that agitates us into more sin.
Thirdly – now we come to verse 9 – the Law ruins the sinner. It aggravates sin and, in a sense, it brings the sinner to ruin. Listen how personal Paul is. And he’s describing his pre-salvation experience, “I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died.” When he says, “I was once alive,” he doesn’t mean I was possessor of spiritual life; he doesn’t mean I was a possessor of eternal life. He’s simply saying, “I was free. I was living it my way. I basically had the sense of freedom to do whatever I wanted to do. I had no thought about what I did. I had no restraint on me, and I had no fear of judgment. I was just having a big time doing what I thought was okay.” That’s kind of a complacent, unperturbed, self-righteous life that he once lived before the violent upheaval and conviction of the Law of God fell upon him.
And it’s pretty typical for people who are unmoved by the Law to feel unconvicted, to feel smug, to feel free, to carry out their sinful lives with a great amount of liberty and a great amount of freedom. We see it in our society probably a lot more than in Paul’s Jewish society where their freedom was contained within an externally self-righteous life. In our world today - our utterly immoral world today - people are happy parade their immorality all over everywhere, seemingly no conviction whatsoever. The unsaved are very often the unconvicted. They feel everything is well; they’re just living out their free freedom. They’re alive, and nobody is going to step into their little world and tell them what they can or cannot do; they are really living. That’s what that idea of “alive” means. Their conscience is not greatly disturbed, because their conscience has been misinformed by an aberrant system of morality to which they have been exposed. They think they’re as good they need to be, and they’re better most people.
And so, sin lies hidden in its full horror, buried underneath the superficiality of the life they freely live. They live up to a flawed morality, a flawed understanding of what is right and wrong. And so, they’re conscience is sedated and scarred and insensitive.
But, verse 9, “When the commandment came” – not the written – not in the sense that it was written, but in the sense that it hit his heart – when the commandment, the Law of God became clear to him, when the Word and the Spirit brought the full force of sin to his mind, when his settled life became unsettled, sin became alive. And I saw it all over the place, and I died.
The sinner is at first alive to himself alive in his own self-esteem until his heart is brought against the Law of God. And then he is shattered by the truth of God’s moral law and the implications. That is why we preach God’s Law and show the sinner that every violation brings a curse that cannot be erased and sets the sinner toward eternal damnation. And we define the details of the Law, that God punishes those who violate His Law.
Paul had a superficial understanding of the Law of God because he was a Pharisee. But that superficial sort of understanding of the Law never seemed to puncture his bubble of self-righteousness, and he was feeling good about himself, feeling noble as a persecutor of the church. But by the Holy Spirit and by the power of the Word, he lost that opinion of himself. When the Spirit burst upon his heart on the Damascus Road. That’s the physical experience. Philippians 3 is the spiritual experience, and he saw that all of that self-righteousness was dung – manure. And he really saw the righteousness of God. Very different than the righteousness of his own. And he says, “Sin became alive.” The once dormant depravity came to life. It was aroused.
Once he had no sense of guilt. Once he had no fear of punishment. Once he had no dread of painful consequence of the sin in his life. But when the full force of the Law came, sin was awakened, and he says – and these are such simple words, but so profound – “I died. I was ruined. I was a dead man. All my security was gone. All my sin was exposed. All my goodness unmasked as hypocrisy.” This is the pre-salvation conviction.
And I say again, we are not called to give people a message of self-esteem so that they’ll feel good about themselves. They already have been led down that primrose path to hell. Just the opposite, we let the Law of God slay them with conviction of sin and guilt and judgment. This is the Holy Spirit’s work. We remember that the Spirit comes to convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment, John chapter 16. Even our Lord Jesus says, in John 15:22, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. And if they hate Me for it, they hate Me because they hate My Father.” And they may hate you. They hated Him.
It wasn’t, as I’ve said so many times, that they killed Him because they didn’t want heaven; they didn’t kill Him because they didn’t want to be blessed; they didn’t kill Him because they didn’t want the kingdom of God. They killed Him not because of the cure, but because of the diagnosis. They hated Him because He showed them their sin, and they refused to see it.
When Paul said here, “I died,” he means, “I became poor in spirit.” He really was catapulted into a beatitude – the first one – chapter 5, verse 3, of Matthew – “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” He was crushed. He was devastated. He had thought he was so godly, and now he finds out that he is one of the ungodly that he says, in chapter 5, verse 6, Christ died for.
Can I tell you the best way to evaluate your status before God? The best way to evaluate your status before God or anybody’s status before God, is not by your reaction to God’s love; it’s not by your reaction to God’s grace; it’s by your reaction to God’s – what? – Law. That’s the real story. It’s not by your feelings of righteousness. That’s very, very dangerous, but it’s by your feelings of sinfulness. If you think you’re fine, and you’re doing well, and you’re certainly going to go into heaven because God couldn’t possibly turn away somebody like you, and your good stuff way overbalance your bad stuff; and if you’re feeling good about you, and if you’re feeling good about your holiness, you might have a serious deception. It’s how you feel not about the grace of God or the love of God, but how you feel about the Law of God. It’s not how you feel about your holiness that marks a true believer, it’s how you feel about your sinfulness. What is your reaction to the prospect of hell? What is your reaction to your own constant wretchedness?
True believers, even though they are new creations, and because they are new creations, have a built-in nature that despises remaining sin. And no matter how they would want to feel good about their spiritual progress, they continually feel like disappointments to God, hating the flesh that clings to that glorious new creation.
Listen, the first sign of spiritual life is not to feel good about yourself. The first sign of spiritual life is to feel dead, horrible, to feel crushed by the weight of the Law, to feel that you have violated the Law of God, to have your sin thrown in your face in all its fullness, and to literally take away the life you once enjoyed.
This takes us back - and I told you this morning that I can see so many things in the story of the prodigal son – this takes us back. What brought the prodigal to his father was his destitution. When he came to his senses and realized the condition he was in. This comes from the Law. The Law reveals sin. The Law rouses sin and the Law ruins the sinner’s security and confidence.
Paul follows this thought further in verse 10, “And this commandment” – speaking again generally of the Law of God – “this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me.” Now, this adds a very important dimension, and I have to say this, because you want to rescue the Law from those who might depreciate it in some way. The Law does provide for us a demonstration of what true spiritual life look like.
So, he says, “This commandment, which was to result in life” – that is these are the things that God says will produce a blessed life. The purpose of the Law was to show you what a blessed life is. Do this and live; do this and be blessed.
Go back to Deuteronomy 27-28, back into that whole section, God says, “You obey Me, you’ll be blessed; you obey Me, you’ll be blessed. Here’s My Law. Do what it says; you’ll be blessed. That is this commandment was ordained to show you what full, rich, blessed life is. And it’s still that way.
When you now read any of God’s Law, you know that it is telling you what God wants you to do so you can be blessed. In Proverbs 3, “My son, do not forget my teaching; let your heart keep my commandments; for lengths of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.” God says, “Here it is. Do this and live; do this and rejoice; do this and be blessed; do this and have peace.” Nothing wrong with the Law; it is a reflection of God’s holy nature, and, if obeyed, produces blessing. The Law shows us righteousness, but there’s nothing we can do to keep the Law. And therein lies the problem.
He says in verse 10, “The commandment, which was the way of life, the path of life, ordained to life – this is how to really live – proved to result only in death for me” - it was designed to be the path of life, but it killed me; it destroyed me because I could not keep it. And that is the whole point of preaching the Law – to demonstrate to the sinner his true condition as dead, and in his desperation, hopefully to turn to the only remedy – of course coming in Jesus Christ.
Let me take you to verse 11 as we move along. This repeats the same idea that we read about in verse 9 and 10. Verse 11 – I want to just draw one key word out of here – “Sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.” So far he says the Law came along and revealed sin, the Law roused sin, and now the Law really ruins the sinner; it literally kills. Is it the Law that is the culprit? No. “Sin” – verse 11 – “taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.” This is a very important element to add to this discussion. How did sin deceive him? Sin is very deceptive. How does sin deceive? By leading us to expect one thing and experiencing another.
What did Paul expect from the Law? Well, he’s a Jew – a self-righteous Jew and a Pharisee. He’s doing his best to keep the Law, to obey the Law the superficial way that they had interpreted the Law. And he’s expecting then to get life from the Law. That’s right; he’s expecting that the Law is going to result in true spiritual and eternal life for him, because he’s working real hard to keep the Law. But instead, as he says in verse 10, “It proves to result only in death for me because sin deceived me. I expected to get out of my effort at Law keeping life, and all I got was death. I expected happiness, and all I got was misery. I expected holiness, and all I got was corruption.”
You see, he felt, like all people who want to work their way to heaven, that all the desirable spiritual goals were available through the Law if he just kept the Law and did what the Law said. When he learned the truth, that he couldn’t keep the Law and all the Law did was kill him, then he knew he had been deceived.
The exceeding deceitfulness of sin, beloved, is that it makes people think they can please God on their own. The most deadly sin of all sins – think of it this way – the most deadly sin of all sins is the deadly sin of thinking you can earn your salvation. That will damn you every time. Sin – the pride of sin – makes people think they can please God on their own, and that is the deception. “I’m okay; I’ll be okay. I’m religious; I’m good. In Paul’s case, “I’m a Pharisee of the Pharisees, zealous for the Law, blameless before the Law.”
The Law can’t save you, but it can condemn you. The Law can’t make you happy, but it can make you miserable. And sin will deceive you into thinking that you can be alive to God through the Law. Satan wants people to think that. Satan is in the business of religion. Right? He is in the business of religion. He’s disguised as an angel of light, making people think that they’re going to be okay with God because they’re basically keeping some level of the Law. And all the Law does is destroy and kill the sinner. And that’s a good work because it shows the sinner that he has been deceived. Paul had lived a life of being deceived.
So, the Law reveals sin, the Law rouses sin, and the Law brings the sinner to absolute ruin. We can praise God for the work of the Law because if anybody’s going to be saved, sin is going to have to be revealed, roused, and the sinner ruined.
Now, Paul’s going to add one final thought in verse 12 and 13. This is a – let’s just call it a fourth work of the Law. The Law reflects the sinfulness of sin. The Law reflects the sinfulness of sin.
Let’s come back to verse 12 – we mentioned it earlier – “So then, the Law is holy.” It is holy because it reveals sin, rouses sin, ruins the sinner. It just shows sin to be what it is: a deception. “The Law is holy; the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” Verse 14 – we should add to it – “The Law is spiritual.” Verse 22, no wonder he says, “I joyfully concur with the Law of God in the inner man.” It is not evil. It is holy; it is just; it is good. As God is holy and God is just and God is good, so that Law, which is a reflection of His nature, is holy, just, and good. Holy as it reflects the very holy, pure transcendence of God; just as it reflects the equity of God and his absolute righteousness; good as it reflects His goodness.
So, if the Law is holy, just, and good, did something happen to it? No, verse 13 says, “Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me?” Did it all of a sudden become bad? Did this Law which was a reflection of the life of God – did this Law which is given to us to show us how to really live and be blessed all of a sudden deteriorate into something bad? No. “May it never be” – again, for the fourth time. No, no, no, absolutely not, impossible. “Rather it was sin” – second time he’s said it. Verse 11, “It was sin, taking opportunity through the commandment.” Here he says it is sin. “It was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.”
You know, I don’t think anybody knows how wretched they are until they have a full understanding of the Law of God. I think the more people know about the Law, the more they understand the sinfulness of sin. And that’s what he’s saying. It reflects the utter sinfulness of sin. It allows sin to be shown to be sin – in the middle of the verse. It shows us that sin is utterly sinful.
Paul’s argument is very powerful. The Law is holy, just, an good; the Law reveals and aggravates sin and uses sin to slay us. It shows us how sinful sin is. How sinful is sin? It can take something as good as the Law, it can take something as pure as the Law, it can take something that is a pure, godly reflection of the divine nature and using that Holy Law produce wickedness. How utterly sinful sin is that it will take the purest thing ever given to man – the written Law of God – the purest revelation ever given apart from the very incarnation of Christ – and sin is so sinful it uses that to bring about destruction and damnation.
The Law then which was God’s revelation of what is right and good and holy and just and produces blessing is used by the sinner to become destructive and damning and a source of deception. This is how sinful sin is. In the end, the sinner, left to himself, rushed under the weight of the Law, has nowhere to turn except to Christ.
In Galatians – turn to Galatians 3 – and this is a good place to wrap up our thoughts – Galatians 3, and verse 21, Paul writes, “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God?” Here again – “May it never be! No, no. For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.” But as I said, the Law can’t impart life. It gives us no help.
Well, what’s the point? “But the Scripture” - in which the Law is revealed – “has shut up all men under sin, in order that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” See the point? What is the purpose of the Law? What is the function of the Law? It’s to shut us up under sin. Same statement made in Romans 3:20. It’s to shut our mouths as guilty before God and leave us with nowhere to turn under the condemnation of the Law than to the promise of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ which is given to those who believe.
Verse 24 says it another way, “The Law then becomes our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we no longer are under a tutor. For we have all become sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” In the end, for the one who repents and believes, the Law does its good work. The Law – revealing sin, rousing sin, ruining the sinner, and reflecting the utter sinfulness of sin also – also leads us to the point where we flee to “Christ who” – go back to Galatians 3:13 – “redeemed us from the curse of the Law.” How? “Having become a curse for us – ‘cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” He died on the cross to become a curse for us and redeem us from the curse of the Law. You can’t even understand the purpose of His dying unless you understand the curse of the Law. The Law is behind all gospel understanding.
And there’s a word here for believers, because this is a chapter written to believers. And the word for believers here is this: look; the Law did its work in your salvation; it revealed sin; it roused sin; it brought you to ruin. It reflected the utter sinfulness of sin, and it brought you to the place where you ran to the One who would forgive you because He had paid the price Himself. He had redeemed us from the curse of the Law by being made a curse for us. It drove you to Christ.
But it didn’t end there, because the Law still has the same kind of work in your sanctification that it had in your salvation. As a believer, the Law continues to do its work. We’ll see that in the next section – tremendous section, maybe the most important one in these two chapters, verses 14 down to the end of the chapter, verse 25.
The Law continues to do its work in the believer. How? Revealing sin, rousing sin, causing the depression and the guilt and the shame that ruins the sinner and reflecting on the sinfulness of sin in order not that we might be saved, not that we might run to Christ for salvation and deliverance from the punishment of the Law, but that we might run to Christ for sanctification and deliverance from the power of sin.
The Christian then stays in a place of brokenness over his sin. The Christian stays in a place of submission to the Law. I remember, when I first came to Grace church, there was this huge debate going on about what it means to be free from the Law. There were Christians going around all over the country advocating the fact that now we were completely free; we could live any way we wanted to live. They went so far as to say, “A true believer never confesses sin again. First John 1:9 applies only at your salvation. You forgive your sins – you confess your sins; you’re forgiven your sins. You never do that again. Confession is a sin; you don’t need to deal with your sin; it’s all grace; it’s all over; you’re in freedom now.” This was a huge movement. It even had a name; it had prominent leaders.
I was caught up in trying to cope with that in my ministry here and ministry in various places to students – to say that the Law is still a reflection of the pure, absolute, holy character of God against which the believer measures his own life. And when we see in His Law what absolute holiness is, we then see our sin; we see how multiplied our sin is; we feel the guilt of that sin, the sinfulness of sin, and we run to the redeemer for cleansing and purging and purifying that we might continually be sanctified.
We live in that tension all our Christian lives. And the battle is described from verse 14 to 25, and we’ll look at that battle next time. And by the way, that’s going to be a couple of weeks, but this is going to be where you live your life, and I can’t tell you how important it is. This will be on January 1st, and this is the first time that I’ll be preaching again on Sunday night. And this could be the most important message on the doctrine of sanctification for your own understanding of the battle going on in you - in us - as believers. Let’s pray together.
Father, we thank You for Your faithful people who come to hear Your Word. Thank You for the joy that we find even in the hard and difficult things. Because we love You, because we want to be holy and righteous, because we want to be a reflection of the glory of Christ, we want to know Your Word. We want to know Your will. We want to submit ourselves to You. We want to have our sin revealed. We want to see the sinfulness of sin. We want to know if we’re being deceived so that we can come before You, be washed and cleansed again and again so that we can triumph in the battle with our remaining flesh.
Lord, we love Your Law. We’re like the apostle Paul; we love Your Law. We’re like David who said, “O how I love Your Law.” It is our joy; it is our delight even though it exposes our sin, but when it’s exposed, then we can come and be cleansed, and be sanctified, and be set apart, and become more like Christ. That’s our desire because we want to know the life that comes, the blessing that comes, the joy and the peace that comes when we live according to Your Holy Law.
We thank You for a wonderful, wonderful day together, and we thank You for Your truth which lives and gives us life, in Christ’s name, amen.
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