(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 9/8/02 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Please turn in your Bibles to Romans chapter 7. I'll be reading verses 5 through 13:
Romans 7: (5) For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sin were working in our members through the Law for the bearing of fruit unto death. (6) But now we have been set free from the Law, having died [to that] in which we were held, so as [for] us to serve in newness of spirit, and not [in] oldness of letter. (7) What shall we say then? [Is] the Law sin? Let it not be! But I did not know sin except through Law; for also I did not know lust except the Law said, "You shall not lust." (8) But sin taking occasion through the commandment worked every lust in me; for apart from Law, sin [is] dead. (9) And I was alive apart from Law once, but the commandment came, and sin came alive, and I died. (10) And the commandment which [was] to life, this was found [to be] death to me; (11) for sin taking occasion through the commandment deceived me, and through it killed [me]. (12) So indeed the Law [is] holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. (13) Then that [which is] good, [has it] become death to me? Let it not be! But sin, that it might appear [to be] sin, having worked out death to me through the good, in order that sin might become excessively sinful through the commandment.
Two weeks ago, we saw in verses 4 and 5 that before God saved us, we were married to the Law, alive to the Law, bound to the Law, under slavery to the Law. We thought that our obedience formed at least some part of the ground of our gaining or maintaining salvation or favor with God. But since our obedience did not equal the obedience that God requires, we were also under the CURSE of the law. We were void of a righteousness that answered the demands of God's law, no matter how hard we tried to keep it. All we could do was bring forth fruit unto death. We also saw that WHEN God saved us, we DIED to the Law, and thus were free from bondage to the law, and were married to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ took upon Himself the curse that we deserved and paid in full the penalty for our sins. We went from legalistic obedience to the Law, from serving in oldness of letter, to serving in newness of spirit, obeying God's Law out of love and thankfulness. Now, when we obey God, we are bringing forth fruit unto GOD. We're not bringing forth fruit unto LIFE, because our Law-keeping does not merit us even the first part of eternal life, but we're bringing forth fruit unto GOD, to thank Him and to glorify Him.
Now, in verse 7, we come to another rhetorical question. It starts with "What shall we say then?" This is the same phrase that Paul used in Romans 6:1. It is a connective question. It is saying this: In light of the doctrine that was just put forth, what shall we say? The next question is the one that answers an objection or misunderstanding: "Is the law sin?" Now, as we've seen before, it is very important to understand WHY Paul would use such a question. In this case, why would Paul even bring up the question of whether the Law is sin? What did Paul just say in the previous paragraph that could lead to the objection that this doctrine is saying that the Law is sin? Let's look at what Paul had just said about the Law. In verse 1, he said that the Law lords it over a man for as long a time as he lives. In verse 4, he said that you were made dead to the Law through the body of Christ. In verse 5, he said that when we were in our natural unregenerate state, the passions of sin were working in our members through the Law for the bearing of fruit unto death. Verse 6 says that we have been set free from the Law. So what is it about these things that would lead to such an objection? Why would any objectors say that this is teaching that the Law is sin? Or how could this be misunderstood in such a way as for someone to think that this is teaching that the Law is sin? I believe the key lies in verse 5:
Romans 7: (5) For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sin were working in our members through the Law for the bearing of fruit unto death.
Remember when we went over this passage two weeks ago? I talked about differing interpretations of this passage. The most popular interpretation is that the passions of sin were inflamed by the Law to disobey the Law. But I showed what I considered to be the correct interpretation based on the context of what was said before and after this verse. That interpretation is that the passions of sin were working in our members through our attempts at OBEDIENCE to the Law, our serving in oldness of letter. Thus, our OBEDIENCE was fruit unto death, since it came from a legalistic motive. I think the fact that Paul then asks "Is the Law sin?" confirms this interpretation. I'll try to explain it so it can be easily understood. Suppose I say that when certain people outwardly obey the Law, they are sinning. What's a question that some might raise? Someone might raise these questions: "Well, if you say that keeping the Law is sinning, aren't you then saying that the Law commands someone to sin? Why would the Law command something if, when someone obeys that command, he is sinning when he obeys? Aren't you saying that there is something evil in the Law? Aren't you saying that the Law is sinful?" That's how someone could object to my statement that when certain people outwardly obey the Law, they are sinning. Do you see that? Now what did Paul say in verse 5? He said that when we were unregenerate, we were SINNING when we were obeying the Law! Our obedience was FRUIT UNTO DEATH! Thus the objection, "Is the Law sin?" Do you see that? I hope I was able to help you understand that better. It fits right in with the interpretation of verse 5 that I put forth.
So how does Paul answer the question, "Is the Law sin?" He answers with the strongest of negations - a phrase that we have seen before - "Let it not be!" There is NO WAY that there is anything evil or sinful in the Law. This law is GOD'S Law, and nothing that comes from God is evil or sinful. But then someone might ask, "But if obedience to God's Law is wicked in some circumstances, doesn't this show that God made the Law in order that certain people would sin in striving to keep it?" My answer is YES, this is one of the reasons God made the Law. "Are you saying that there are times when God does things in order that people sin?" My answer is YES, there ARE times when God DOES do things in order that people sin. God uses means to cause people to sin. The Law is one of those means.
But let's go on in verse 7. Paul goes on to explain the utility of the Law. Had it not been for the Law, he would not have known sin. One of the main functions of the Law is to expose sin. Let's go back to some verses in Romans that we've already seen to show this fact. First, Romans 3:19-20:
Romans 3: (19) But we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those within the Law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world be under judgment to God. (20) Because by works of Law not one of all flesh will be justified before Him, for through Law [is] full knowledge of sin.
The purpose of the Law is to give full knowledge of sin, so that every mouth may be stopped and all the world be under judgment to God. Second, Romans 4:15:
Romans 4: (15) For the Law works out wrath; for where no law is, neither [is] transgression.
The purpose of the Law is to show transgression and thus to work out wrath as the consequence of the transgression. Third, Romans 5:13:
Romans 5: (13) For sin was in [the] world until Law, but sin is not charged [where] there is no law;
The purpose of the Law is for sin to be charged. And fourth, Romans 5:20:
Romans 5: (20) But Law came in besides, that the deviation might abound. But where sin abounded, grace much more abounded,
The purpose of the Law is for sin to abound. From these verses, we can clearly see one of the main purposes of the Law - it is to make sin and condemnation manifest.
Back to Romans 7:7. After Paul talks about the purpose of the Law, he gives an example: "for also I did not know lust except the Law said, "You shall not lust." The first word "lust" is a noun, meaning "a longing" or "a desire." The second word "lust" is a verb, meaning "to long for" or "to desire." Now some would say that Paul is specifically making reference to the tenth commandment, which says, "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male slave, or his slave-girl, or his ox, or his ass, or anything which belongs to your neighbor." This is obviously the view of Jay Green, the translator of the LITV, because he includes Exodus 20:17 here in brackets or italics, depending on your edition. Before I go any further, I'd just like to say that this is one of the things I don't like about the LITV. Even though it sometimes makes it convenient to see what Old Testament passage the New Testament author is referencing, it is not the place of a translator to include what he thinks is the Old Testament passage the New Testament author is referencing. The translator LEAVES his work of TRANSLATING and goes into INTERPRETING, which is NOT the place of a translator. Okay, having said that, I believe that Paul is talking about a much broader command than just the Tenth Commandment. I believe he is talking about ALL lusting against the will of God, including ALL unlawful desires. The Law exposes those who are keeping the LETTER of the law by showing them that even the DESIRE to break the Law is, in and of itself, Law-breaking. Paul would not have known this were it not for the Law. The Law showed him that outward Law-keeping is NOT perfect Law-keeping.
That gets us into the next verse, verse 8:
Romans 7: (8) But sin taking occasion through the commandment worked every lust in me; for apart from Law, sin [is] dead.
This sounds very much like verse 6. Verse 6 says that sin worked through the Law. This verse says that sin took occasion through the commandment. It's saying the same thing. This sin, which worked through the Law or took occasion through the commandment, worked every lust in the unregenerate Saul of Tarsus. The Greek word for "lust" in this passage is the same word for "lust" in verse 7. And I want to mention here the inconsistency of the KJV. The KJV translates this word "concupiscence" in verse 8 and "lust" in verse 7. It's the exact same Greek word. Why would the KJV translators translate the exact same Greek word two different ways in two verses that are right next to each other? This is certainly not good translating. Perhaps it has something to do with what KJV-Only advocate Dean Burgon praised the KJV translators for, which was for, quote, "perpetually varying the phrase, as they felt or fancied that Evangelists and Apostles would have varied it, had they had to express themselves in English" as opposed to the, quote, "servile adherence to the Greek" to which he was opposed. Sounds to me like the KJV translators were more interested in creating a piece of literature based on their feeling and fancy than on word-for-word translation. And in the case we have here, by using the word "concupiscence" rather than "lust," they restrict the meaning of the word where it was not meant to be restricted. The Greek word for "lust" means ANY kind of desire against the will of God, not just concupiscence. So sin, working through or taking occasion through the commandments of God, worked every kind of evil desire against God's will.
But wait a minute. Is this the same Saul of Tarsus that is described in Philippians 3? It sure is. Let's look at Philippians 3, keeping in mind what Paul just said about his former life in Romans - that sin, taking occasion through the commandment, worked every lust in him. Let's read Philippians 3, verses 4 through 6:
Philippians 3: (4) Even though I [might] have trust in flesh; if any other thinks to trust in flesh, I more; (5) in circumcision, [the] eighth day, of [the] race of Israel, [the] tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; according to Law, a Pharisee; (6) according to zeal, persecuting the assembly; according to righteousness in Law, being blameless.
Now does this sound like someone who desired to break the Law, or does this sound like someone who was zealous to KEEP the law? Saul was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a Jew of the Jews. According to righteousness in Law, he was what? BLAMELESS! Yet in Romans 7, he said that sin, taking occasion through the Law, worked every lust in him. What does this mean in light of what we know about Saul the Pharisee? Well, first we know what it does NOT mean. It does NOT mean that the commandments made him go out and commit immorality. It does NOT mean, for example, that knowing the commandment, "You shall not commit adultery" made him go out and commit adultery. So what DOES it mean? It must mean that the Law does not CAUSE the sin but DISCOVERS the sin. Saul, in all his law-keeping, was found out by the very Law he was keeping. He, being blameless in the outward observance of the LETTER of the Law, was found wanting in the INWARD observance. Even though he was outwardly blameless, he was inwardly full of lust against God's revealed will. And this lust did not manifest itself in outward immorality. The Law discovered his inward sin and showed that he fell far short of what God requires for perfect righteousness. And what did Saul then do outwardly? He KEPT the Law outwardly. And what does it say in verse 7 of Philippians 3?
Philippians 3: (7) But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss because of Christ.
He counted his OUTWARDLY BLAMELESS LAW-KEEPING as loss because of Christ. When he was unregenerate, he was stirred up to KEEP the Law out of self-righteous notions of what God requires. Yet that same Law condemned him for not keeping it perfectly in his mind. And when he came to a knowledge of the person and work of CHRIST at regeneration, he KNEW that his law-keeping was trash, because it was NOT the righteousness that God required. Only CHRIST established a righteousness that God required, and EVERYTHING ELSE - every other righteousness - goes to the dung heap.
Okay, back to Romans 7, and the last part of verse 8: "For apart from Law, sin is dead." This is another way of saying what he said in verse 7, "But I did not know sin except through Law." And we went to some verses on one of the main functions of the Law, which is to expose sin.
On to verse 9.
Romans 7: (9) And I was alive apart from Law once, but the commandment came, and sin came alive, and I died.
What does it mean to be "alive apart from Law"? Some would say that this means that he thought he was okay when he was ignorant of the commands of the Law. But was Paul, when he was Saul, ignorant of the commands of the Law? No way! If there was ever a person who was the OPPOSITE of ignorant of the commands of the Law, it was Saul of Tarsus. We just read that he was BROUGHT UP under the Law. As a baby, he was circumcised the eighth day, as the Law commanded. He was "of the race of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews." He was IMMERSED in the Law from the time he was a baby. So this CAN'T be talking about his ignorance of God's commandments. So what DOES "apart from Law" mean? It must mean "apart from the SPIRIT or SPIRITUALITY of the Law." Saul was very knowledgeable about the LETTER of the Law, but he was ignorant of the SPIRIT of the Law. Thus, he was "alive," meaning that he, in his own self-righteousness, considered himself to be in favor with God, not dead in trespasses and sins, because of his keeping of the letter of the Law. When he thought that all that was needed was the outward keeping of the Law, he was at peace with himself. He considered himself a shoo-in for heaven. He thought that as a law-abiding person, he was entitled to heaven. But he was as far APART from the true ESSENCE of the Law as he could be. But then what happened? "The commandment came." Now Paul was already familiar with all the commandments. This must mean that God's Law came in its ESSENCE or SPIRITUALITY to Paul, showing Paul that even the DESIRE to break a commandment is as sinful as breaking the commandment, thus showing him that he could NEVER measure up to God's demand for perfect righteousness. Thus, Paul says that he died. Whereas he once thought he was in favor with God because of his obedience, he came to the realization that there was no way of gaining or maintaining favor with God by law-keeping, because he was a totally depraved sinner, and thus he died. Now there can be two meanings to the phrase "and I died." One meaning could be that all his hopes of favor with God were destroyed and he found himself to be a sinner, condemned by the Law and under the wrath of God, dead in sins. If this is the meaning, then Paul was not yet regenerate at that point, because a regenerate person does not believe that he is dead in his sins. Another meaning could be that Paul died to the Law, as it says in verse 4, and thus realized that his previous law-keeping was nothing but dung and rested in Christ's righteousness as the only ground of his salvation. Perhaps it is a combination of the two, in which he found himself to be a totally depraved sinner, condemned by the Law, and dead in trespasses and sins, and was then regenerated and thus became dead to the Law and married to Christ. I tend to believe that it is the former explanation. Whatever our interpretation here, we MUST NOT fall into the trap of the devil that is sometimes called "Holy Spirit conviction." Most who claim to believe the doctrines of grace believe that when someone realizes that he is dead in sins, this realization is because the Holy Spirit has indwelled him and/or wrought this knowledge in him. Some would go so far as to say that this person is SAVED when he realizes he is dead in sins. But this cannot be. When the Holy Spirit indwells a person, that person is made a NEW CREATURE, and he is NO LONGER dead in sins. Someone who is NOT dead in sins will not be caused by the Holy Spirit to think that he IS dead in sins. And anyone who believes that he IS dead in sins CANNOT be a Christian, because he does not believe that Christ has become his salvation.
On to verse 10:
Romans 7: (10) And the commandment which [was] to life, this was found [to be] death to me;
Paul's keeping of God's commandments, which he previously thought were a means of life to him, were revealed as a means of death to him when he realized the essence and spirit of the commandments. He realized that this same Law that he strove so zealously to keep was a Law of condemnation to those who did not keep it perfectly, from the letter to the spirit of each commandment.
Now verse 11:
Romans 7: (11) for sin taking occasion through the commandment deceived me, and through it killed [me].
Here again we see sin taking occasion through the commandment, as we saw in verse 8. But this time, Paul says that it DECEIVED him. How is it that sin, taking occasion through, or working through, the Law, DECEIVED Paul? Where was the deception? It couldn't be immorality. Sin couldn't work through the Law to deceive someone that immorality is okay. It must be talking about the deception of LAW-KEEPING. Paul was deceived into thinking that he could fulfill the Law and thus be in favor with God through his keeping of the letter of the Law. But when he was then given knowledge of the true meaning of the Law, he realized that one's keeping the Law as the ground of salvation can only lead to death.
Romans 7: (12) So indeed the Law [is] holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
Here Paul answers the question he asked back in verse 7: Is the Law sin? May it never be! The Law is holy and just and good! It is HOLY, meaning that there is no imperfection in it; it is pure. It requires only what is holy and pure, and it forbids only what is unholy and unpure. It is JUST, meaning that it equitable, it is no respecter of persons, it demands perfect righteousness, and curses all who do not keep it perfectly. It is GOOD, meaning that there is nothing evil in it and it is beneficial. Thus, it is not the LAW that is wicked, but the Law EXPOSES wickedness. There's a big difference. And the only way something can EXPOSE wickedness is if it is not wicked itself. The Law gives the STANDARD of perfect righteousness, and if anyone does not meet up to that perfect righteousness that the Law contains and requires, then the wickedness is EXPOSED.
Romans 7: (13) Then that [which is] good, [has it] become death to me? Let it not be! But sin, that it might appear [to be] sin, having worked out death to me through the good, in order that sin might become excessively sinful through the commandment.
First, Paul asks a question: Has the Law, being good, become the cause of death to me? Some would conclude or object that, because of the Law's role outlined in the previous verses, it is the cause of death. But Paul meets this objection with the strongest of negations: Let it not be! He then again goes into the utility of the Law. First, the Law shows sin to be sin. This is another way of saying, "But I did not know sin except through Law" or "for apart from Law, sin is dead." The Law REVEALS or EXPOSES sin. Second, the Law worked out death through the good. The good Law, the holy and righteous Law, showed Paul that his own Law-keeping fell way short of the standard of perfect righteousness, thus showing him that there is nothing but death in self-righteous obedience. Third, the Law showed that sin is excessively sinful. This goes further than the Law revealing or exposing sin; this gets into the utter SINFULNESS of sin. Now that may seem redundant, that sin is sinful, but we need to see the emphasis of the original. There are actually two Greek words behind the one English word, "excessively." The first word is ka-TAH, which, in this context, means "more, exceeding, beyond measure, mightily, throughout, or uttermost." The second word is hoo-PER-bo-lay, from which we get the word "hyperbole." It means "beyond, supereminence, abundance." Put these two Greek words together, and you have something like "mightily exceeding utter superabundance" or some such phrase. The Law shows us the utter, exceeding, thorough wickedness of sin. The Law is so holy and so right that it shows any deviation from that law to be almost indescribably wicked. Sin is an EXTREMELY serious thing. It is an offense against an eternally holy and righteous God. And those who die without a righteousness that answers the demands of God's law and justice will be justly under God's holy, unmitigated wrath for eternity. Anyone who claims that God does not punish the wicked in hell for eternity does not know the ka-TAH hu-PER-bo-lay, the utter extreme exceeding sinfulness of sin. And the reason they do not know the utter extreme exceeding sinfulness of sin is that they do not know the utter extreme exceeding holiness of God. And God manifests His holiness in His Law.
Let us sing Psalm 19:7-11 to close. These verses speak of the holiness, justice, righteousness, and goodness of God's Law. 19D in your Psalters.
Psalm 19: (7) The law of the LORD is perfect, con/verting the / soul:
The testimony of the LORD is sure, / making / wise the / simple.
(8) The statutes of the LORD are right, re/joicing the / heart:
The commandment of the LORD is pure, en/lighten/ing the / eyes.
(9) The fear of the LORD is clean, en/during for/ever:
The judgments of the LORD are true and / righteous / alto/gether.
(10) More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than / much find/ gold:
Sweeter also than honey / and the / honey / comb.
(11) Moreover by them is Thy / servant / warned:
And in keeping of / them there is / great re/ward.