Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
July 21, 2002
The Law & Sin
This morning we start into a section of Romans that can quickly become
confusing if you are not diligent to carefully follow Paul’s line of reasoning
within its context. Too many people end up confused or with theological error
because they try to understand a verse or a short passage as if it was
independent of its context. The same rules of interpretation apply to the Bible
that apply to any other book. You must understand the theme of the book and the
theme of the chapter in order to properly interpret the paragraph you are
The theme of the book of Romans is the righteousness of God revealed through
His justification of sinners who place their faith in the person and work of the
Lord Jesus Christ. Paul lays the foundation of this theme in the first three
chapters by showing that God is righteous in his wrath upon man because all men
are unrighteous. No man seeks God on his own. No man does good when examined by
God’s perfect standards. Paul then declares the good news that God has
provided a means by which man can be declared righteous through the
justification that comes by faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Sinners
who believe in the person and work of Jesus are declared "not guilty"
in God’s court because Jesus has already paid the penalty of their sin. In
addition, the righteousness of Jesus is imputed to them so that they may stand
before God in a righteous state. In chapter 4, Paul sets forth Abraham as the
example of this type of faith that results in justification.
In chapter 5, Paul begins to explain the ramifications of being justified by
faith including having peace with God and a confidence to face any circumstance
of life because God has proven His great love for man when Jesus died on behalf
of sinners. That love can never be legitimately questioned, and that gives me a
foundation of hope for the future that is not a wish, but a confident assurance
in God’s promises. Therefore I can persevere even through the difficult things
of life, and God matures me in the process. I become more like Jesus.
We had inherited at birth a sin nature from Adam that was incapable of doing
good before God, but through faith in Christ we are given a new nature that can
do what is right. Therefore, we are to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive
to God. As Paul asserts in chapter 6, the person that we were died with Christ
and we were raised to newness of life in His resurrection. Baptism is our
physical identification with this spiritual reality. Sin is no longer our
master, so we no longer have to obey it. God is our new master, and we should
In chapter 7 Paul expands on the law and the changed relationship that
believers have to it. It must be remembered that Paul is writing to a mixture of
Jews and Gentiles. Note in 7:1 that Paul states that he is "speaking to
those who know the law." These Jews will need to understand this change
in relationship to the Law if they are to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ
and how God wants them to now live. In doing this Paul will not only explain the
changed relationship the believer has with the law, but also the relationship
between the law and sin, and the continuing struggle the believer will have with
sin. We will be discussing that struggle next week.
In verses 1-6, which we studied last week, Paul demonstrates that the law no
longer has jurisdiction over the one who is justified by faith in Jesus Christ.
Why? Because the believer has died to the law in Christ, and the law only has
jurisdiction over those that are alive. We have been released from the Law,
having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the
Spirit and not in oldness of the letter" (7:6).
In the next section, which is our passage for study this morning, Paul begins
his explanation of the relationship of people to the law and sin. In verses 7-13
Paul deals with unbelievers as he recounts the effect of the law and sin in his
own life prior to conversion. In verses 14-25 Paul explains his continuing
struggle with sin as a believer.
The Question (vs. 7)
Paul begins this section in verse 7 by responding to a question he knew would
be in the minds of some of those reading his letter. "What shall we say
then? Is the Law sin? May it never be!"
The question is based on an idea that Paul had dealt with briefly in the
previous passage, but it is an idea that often occurs to those with carnal
minds. In verse 5, Paul had said that his sinful passions were aroused by the
law. If the law becomes an occasion for more sin, then perhaps the law is itself
sinful. Paul’s response is emphatic and direct. May it never be! By no
means is the law sinful.
Paul will spend the next 7 verses explaining his own experience with the law
prior to salvation and demonstrate by it that the law is holy, righteous and
good. The fact that his own sinful desires would pervert the purpose of the law
to work evil in his life does not mean that the law is evil. It only reveals the
depth of evil that existed in his heart. An occasion for sin and a cause of sin
are two different things.
The Law’s Revelation of Sin (vs. 7)
Paul first tells the effect of the Law in his own life prior to being saved. "On
the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I
would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, "You shall not
In contrast against the assertion that the law was sinful, Paul states it was
the Law that revealed his sin to him. This is a good thing. Paul does not say he
was not a sinner prior to the law, but rather that he would not have known he
was a sinner except that the law exposed his sin. Keep in mind throughout this
passage that Paul is speaking to Jews who know the law about his own experience
with the law. In doing so you must also remember that Paul had been a Pharisee
and his understanding of the law would have been from that perspective. In
Philippians 3:6 Paul says that he had been such a zealous Pharisee that "as
to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless."
Paul had been Saul the Pharisee, and from that position of self-righteousness
had kept the law. The Pharisees had developed a system that interpreted the law
in such a way that a man who was diligent could think he was righteous. But when
the Holy Spirit started working on Saul’s heart to convict him of sin,
righteousness and judgement, just as Jesus said the Holy Spirit would do (John
16:8-11), Paul understood the law in a new light.
Notice the specific sin that Paul says he had come to know through the law.
Coveting. It is not that Paul had not known that coveting had been included as
the last in the list of the Ten Commandments. Like the rich young ruler in
Matthew 19, Saul the Pharisee had done a so well at keeping the outward precepts
of the law that he thought himself blameless before the law. However, the law is
not just about outward actions. It also includes matters of the heart. Coveting
is the only sin among the Ten Commandments that is strictly internal in nature.
It is the strong desire or craving to have what you do not have instead of being
content with what God has given you. It is primarily a sin of rebellion against
God’s will. When coveting becomes expressed outwardly, it will result in
stealing, or dishonoring parents, or adultery, or lying or anger even to the
point of murder. Saul had done well at holding his desires in check so that he
did not act upon them, but the Law eventually destroyed his self-righteousness
when he had to face the truth of the commandment to not covet.
The Law neither caused Saul to covet, nor did it make coveting sinful. The
Law is the revelation of God’s standards by which He will judge man. When Saul
was coveting before knowing the Law, he was already sinning and breaking God’s
standards. Ignorance of the law does not exempt you from the law or its
A few years ago I received a ticket for making a left turn at an intersection
where it was illegal to do so. The fact that I did not notice the "No
Left" turn sign did not exempt me from the consequences of not following
its instructions. The officer, who I had turned left in front of, still gave me
the ticket and I had to pay the fine. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse for
not obeying it. The Law simply revealed God’s standards to Saul. The Holy
Spirit then used the law to bring him to the conviction that he was guilty
before God for breaking those commands.
There are still many around who are like Saul was then in regards to
coveting. They do not regard the desire to do evil as sin unless the action is
taken to try to fulfill the desire. They still want to reduce the Law of God
down to some list of specific actions by which they can justify themselves by
avoiding what is prohibited and doing what is commanded. They, like Saul, often
claim to be well versed in the law of God, but in truth they remain ignorant of
it. The law encompasses the inward thoughts and desires as well as the outward
actions. That is why Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7
was so hard on the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus revealed that the sin was in the
thoughts and desires that existed before any action was taken. Jesus equated
hatred with murder (Mt. 5:22) and lust with adultery (5:28). In addition,
righteous actions have their foundation in a righteous desire. Promises are kept
as a matter of integrity before God (5:33-37). Righteous acts and prayer are
done to please God and talk with Him and not for the purpose of impressing
people (6:1-18). God and His kingdom are sought instead of one’s own wealth
and kingdom (6:19-34). Evil actions are always the result of evil that is
already in the heart. Jesus told this to His disciples in Matt. 15:18 when
explained to them that "the things that proceed out of the mouth come
from the heart, and those defile the man."
The Law had exposed Saul the Pharisee’s sinful heart. It was that
conviction that opened the way for him to repent and come to Christ in faith and
be regenerated into the Apostle Paul.
Sin’s Use of the Law (vs. 8-11)
In verses 8-11, Paul explains how his sin nature had perverted the law and
made it an opportunity for increased sin. "8 But sin, taking opportunity
through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from
the Law sin [is] dead. 9 And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the
commandment came, sin became alive, and I died; 10 and this commandment, which
was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11 for sin, taking
opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed
Taking Opportunity (8). The law commanded him not to covet, but the sin
nature that resided in him rebelled against that command to produce in him all
manner of coveting. I pointed out this principle last week. We are all familiar
with this idea. You give your children instructions and at times they seem to
respond like you just gave them new ideas of how to disobey you. You see the
sign that says, "Do Not Touch, Wet Paint," and suddenly there
arises within you a desire to touch it. You would not have considered touching
it until you saw the sign. Whatever the speed limit is set at, your desire is to
go a little faster. If it is 40, you want to do 45-50. If it is 55 you want to
go 60-65. If it is 65 you want to go 70-75. That is what Paul is talking about
here in saying that sin takes opportunity through the commandment. Sin prods the
unregenerate to rebel against the commandment given.
In Paul’s case, the particular commandment was to not covet. Sin in him
rebelled against the commandment and produced in him coveting of all kinds. The
problem is sin, not the law.
Sin’s Relationship to the Law (8). Paul says at the end of verse 8
"for apart from the Law sin [is] dead." Some have taken this to
mean that sin only exists where there is law. The context here is clear that
Paul does not mean that, otherwise Paul would have to conclude that the law is
sinful since it produces sin. But Paul is adamant that the law is holy,
righteous and good. He does not blame the law for sin, but rather blames sin for
using the law as an occasion for sin.
The idea here is that sin becomes excited by the law. Without the law, sin is
dead in the sense of being inactive. It is already in control, and there is
nothing for it to rise up and rebel against. As soon as the law comes sin
becomes excited to rebel against the rules and be in charge again.
For example, all of us must eat in order to live. At times you may eat too
much or the wrong thing and gain more weight than is healthy for you. The result
is that you decide that you need to go on a diet and loose the weight. What
suddenly happens to your desires as soon as you restrict yourself and go on a
diet? You suddenly find that you have strong cravings for foods that you had not
given much thought to before. The rules that restrict your diet arouse the sin
within and make it alive and active.
Some have taken this thought and advocate from it this idea that you cannot
legislate morality. While it is true that unregenerate man will rebel against
the laws given, that does not mean you can solve the problem by refusing to make
laws that will define the moral standards. You do not make a person moral by
refusing to define immoral behavior. That is an idea rooted in thinking the law
itself is evil, therefore where there are no laws there is no evil. That is a
fallacy. It was not the law that produced Paul’s coveting. It was sin that
took opportunity from the law given to produce sin against that very law.
Those that advocate the idea that you cannot legislate morality need to face
the fact that every society legislates their moral standards. The only real
question is whose morality will be adopted into law as a means of defining the
moral standards of that society.
There has been a great effort by homosexuals and other sexual deviants to
remove the laws against their behaviors from the codes that govern our society.
In doing so they hope to gain acceptance by society. However, removing those
laws will not make them moral. God has already defined the standards of morality
and man cannot change them. He can only redefine them in terms acceptable to
himself, but which will leave him condemned before God. The Pharisees had done
that, but in the end it left them with a false sense of security that they were
favorable to God when they were actually under His wrath for their actual
Self-Righteousness, The Law and Sin (9,10). In verse 9 Paul states that
he was once alive apart from the Law, but that when the commandment came, sin
became alive and he died. When Paul was self-righteous Saul the Pharisee, he
thought himself as being alive unto God and even zealous for what he thought was
God’s work. At that time Paul thought he was keeping God’s law and was
therefore pleasing to God.
There are many who live like this today. They think they are doing a great
job of obeying God and therefore have achieved righteousness before him. This is
common among religions and cults that have defined salvation in terms of a works
based righteousness. This would include Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Roman
Catholicism, Mormonism, Jehovah Witnesses, as well as the many smaller religions
and cults. It is also common among professing evangelicals who have traded God’s
standards for their own set of rules and regulations. Legalism quickly puffs up
with pride and ignores God’s actual standards of holy living.
However, when the sinner comes face to face with God’s actual law it strips
him of self-righteousness and false hope because it reveals the sin that is
actually there. In addition, as Paul has already said in verse 8, sin uses the
commandment as an opportunity to produce even more sin. The sinner is condemned
even more, and the wages of sin is death.
The commandments promised life to those who would obey. God says in Leviticus
18:4,5 "You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in
accord with them; I am the Lord your God. So you shall keep My statutes and My
judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the Lord." What
was missed by the Pharisees and is still missed by so many today is that
included among the statutes and judgements of the Lord are loving Him with all
their heart, soul and strength (Deut. 6:4) and to circumcise their hearts (Deut.
10:16) and walk with Him by faith (Prov. 3:5; Hab. 2:4) as Abraham had done.
Sin’s Deception (11). Paul states in verse 11 that "sin, taking
opportunity through the commandment, deceived [him], and through it killed [him]."
That is the nature of sin. It is deceptive. The commandments that self-righteous
Saul the Pharisee thought would bring him life proved instead to be the source
of his death. The commandments not only revealed his sinfulness to him, but they
also aroused the sin nature within him resulting in even more sin and they
killed him. Instead of living in a righteous relationship with God, his
unrighteousness separated him from God. That is spiritual death.
How deceitful can sin be? The false teachers Jesus condemns in Matthew 7
actually thought they were busy in the Lord’s service making prophecy, casting
out demons and doing many miracles in the Lord’s name. Their sin deceived them
into not only thinking they were acceptable to God, but actually doing many
wonderful things in His name. The truth is that they were those who practiced
lawlessness. They were not true followers of God. They were in fact
practitioners of sin and followers of their own doctrines.
The Nature of the Law (vs. 12)
Paul does not find any of this as a negative reflection on the law. In fact,
in verse 12 he declares that this working of the law is good. "So then,
the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good."
There is nothing sinful in the law. Paul uses both the term "law"
and "commandments" to emphasize his declaration. The law as a whole
and in each of its individual precepts are holy. They are in opposition to
whatever is sinful. Even though sin sought to use it as an occasion for its own
purposes, the fact remains that the law still accomplished its purpose in
declaring God’s righteous standards. Paul says that the commandments are just.
There is nothing deceptive in them. They are in perfect conformity to the
character of God and reveal the righteous standards of God. The commandments are
also good for they arise from the character of God and direct people to reflect
that character. Every commandment of God, if followed, will promote the glory of
God and benefit those who keep them. The fact that people do not obey God and
will rebel against His law is not a reflection of God’s commandments, but
rather a reflection of the sinfulness of man. The commandments are also good
because they revealed to Paul his own sinfulness and therefore his need for a
righteousness that was apart from the law.
The Sinfulness of Sin (vs. 13)
Paul says in verse 13, "Therefore did that which is good become [a
cause of] death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it
might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, that
through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful."
Paul finds no fault with the law. The fault lies with sin. Sin was the cause
of his death, his spiritual separation from God. God’s commandments reveal the
utter sinfulness of sin in that sin will seek to even use that which is good for
evil purposes. Sin is so evil that it can twist and distort the very law that
was to bring life into a condemnation of death.
Those who do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are still in the
relationship to the law and sin that Paul describes here. They have no hope in
themselves or in the law, for man cannot be justified by the law (Rom. 3:20).
The only means of salvation from sin is through being justified by faith in the
person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Talk with myself or one of our church
leaders today if you do not yet know if you will suffer His wrath for eternity
or be with Him in heaven. We greatly desire for you to know the forgiveness of
sin that we have received through Jesus.
Those who are justified by faith in Jesus Christ have a different
relationship to sin and the law. As we will see next week, Christians still
struggle with sin, but we are no longer under its mastery or its condemnation.
Thus the challenge for all Christians is to live according to what we are now in
Christ and not in the slavery to sin of what we used to be.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s
lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something
you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older
Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the word
"sin " is mentioned. 2) Discuss with your parents the nature of sin
and its relationship to the law of God.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
Why is it so important to understand the context of a passage that is being
studied? What are the dangers if you do not? What is the context of Romans
7:7-13? Why would some people think that God’s law could be sinful? How did
the law reveal sin to Paul? What is Paul’s background? What is coveting? Why
is this a significant sin for Paul to use as his illustration? Can ignorance of
the law be used as an excuse for not obeying it? Why or why not? Can a desire be
sin? Why or why not? How does sin make use of the law? How have you seen this
principle in your own life? What is the effect of the law on sin? Can you
legislate morality? Why or why not? Can removing laws improve societal morality?
What groups tend to be self-righteous? What characterizes them? Can evangelicals
fall into this trap? What was God’s purpose in giving the law? How did sin
deceive Paul? How does sin deceive you? How are the law & commandments holy?
How are the commandments just? How are they good? What is the "sinfulness
of sin?" What is your current relationship to sin and the law? What is your
hope for the future?
Sermon Study Sheets
Sermon Notes – 7/21/2002 am
The Law & Sin – Romans
The Question (vs. 7)
The Law’s Revelation of Sin (vs. 7)
Saul the Pharisee
Sin’s use of the Law (vs. 8-11)
Taking Opportunity (8)
Sin’s Relationship to the Law (8)
A society always legislates its morality. The only real question is whose
moral standards will enjoy the weight of law.
Self-Righteousness, The Law and Sin (9,10)
Sin’s Deception (11)
The Nature of the Law (12)
The Sinfulness of Sin (13)