SUNDAY NIGHT CROSSTRAINING NOTES
Why Religion Can't Save Mankind
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Sunday, February 17, 2008 - 6:00 p.m.  Sermon #: 1150
Pastor Don Horban

Romans 7:7-14 - “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." [8] But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead. [9] I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. [10] The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. [11] For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. [12] So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. [13] Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. [14] For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.”

Studying Paul is a good way to learn how to react with Biblical truth. Notice the way he starts out today’s portion of text - “What then shall we say? That the law is sin?....” This is a great way to learn Scriptural truth. Paul engages himself and his readers. He asks questions. Each statement of God’s truth is used to lead into more truth. He applies what he knows to issues about which he still has questions.

For example, Paul has just said some very important things about the law in his opening illustration in verses 1-6. The whole passage celebrates our release from the law. We have died to the law in Christ Jesus. In verse 5 Paul said our sinful passions were aroused by the law. So one could easily just say “Very well. What a terrible thing this law is. Look at all the pain and damage it has caused! Phooey on the law!” That’s the reason for Paul’s opening question in verse 7 - “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’”

1) FIRST, PAUL WANTS TO EXPLAIN - AGAIN - EXACTLY WHY THE LAW WAS GIVEN IN THE FIRST PLACE

First, the law reveals sin. Romans 7:7a - “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin....” There’s something important to note here. When Paul says without the law he “would not have known sin” he doesn’t mean he would have had no concept of right or wrong. We remember from studying Romans chapter 2 that everyone is born with a God-given sense of moral oughtness right at the core of his being. Rather, what Paul means is he wouldn’t have understood what sin really is without the law of God. Through the law Paul came to understand sin, not just as some kind of personal moral failure, as most in the world today view it, but as a personal rebellion against God, the official Law-giver. The law makes sin official. It makes sin matter for more than personal or societal reasons. Failure may or may not be all that crucial, except for reasons of personal esteem. But law-breaking matters because laws come from Law-givers.

Second, the law defines sin. This is similar to the last point, but not quite the same. Not only does the law reveal sin as law breaking, but it also defines sin as an inward problem, not merely an external one. Romans 7:7b - “....I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’" As a zealously trained Pharisee, Paul knew all sorts of laws - probably about 613 of them. And here’s the important point. None of these laws left Paul feeling guilty as a sinner. Here’s what he said about his capacity to keep these laws: Philippians 3:4-6 - “....If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: [5] circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; [6] as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless.”

These are very important verses. If all there is to holiness is external law keeping then religion is all that is needed for salvation. But after keeping all these external regulations Paul found the law of God revealing something about the nature and definition of sin. The law spoke to Paul about his covetous heart. It revealed not just Paul’s deeds, but his desires.

Third, the law provokes sin. Romans 7:8-11 - “But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead. [9] I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. [10] The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. [11] For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.”This is Paul’s extended explanation of a brief, shocking statement he made back in 5:20 - “Now the law came in to increase the trespass....” Because he knows that might lead people to think sin somehow comes from the law, Paul wants to make himself more clear. The problem isn’t that the law is somehow sinful. Rather, ....sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness....”(7:8a). Then Paul repeats the same thought again: “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died”(7:9).

But how can this be? How does a good and holy law bring about such disastrous results in our experience? Consider the first sin ever committed. Consider the story of Eve and her sin in the perfect environment of the Garden of Eden. Imagine for a moment that God gave absolutely no restrictions. Imagine, just for moment, that all God said after creating Adam and Eve was, “OK. Here’s everything I’ve created for you. Knock yourselves out. Do whatever you want. I’ll see you later.”

Now we face the important question. Suppose Satan, that old serpent, still wanted to tempt Adam and Eve into sin. How would he go about it? If God had given absolutely no restrictions (remember, He gave only one!), at what point could Satan tempt Adam and Eve? The answer is simple. With no specific command - with no law from God - temptation to sin is absolutely impossible. Only the revealed will of God - only the command - only the law - gives rise for anyone to assert their wills against God. If God gave Adam and Eve no restrictions - nothing about God’s will that could be resisted - then temptation to sin is an impossibility.

But once the commandment is given - once there is a law - even one law, as in the creation account - then there is the possibility for the deception of sin to work in my members: “For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me”(7:11). The deception comes in at the exact point the law of God is revealed. And the deception of sin has always been the same, since Adam and Eve to this day. The deception is that we can assert our wills independently of God and succeed. But you only try to assert your will against God’s at the specific point that His will cramps yours. There must be a law given. So Paul is right. The law provokes sin in our members.

2) THE CONCLUSION OF THE MATTER - Romans 7:12-14 - “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. [13] Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. [14] For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.” Paul puts his conclusion right up front. The law isn’t sinful at all. The problem isn’t with the law of God: “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good”(7:12). Again, this leads Paul to ask the important question: “Did that which is good, then, bring death to me?”(7:13a). Again, this is a great way to study truth. Paul asks a fair question. How can something that is holy, righteous, and good bring death in my own experience?

Paul’s answer is that sin and spiritual death aren’t to be blamed on the law, but the sin at work within me. For example, if a man breaks into a store, beats the sales clerk, and steals all the money in the till, can he honestly blame the law if he ends up in prison? Surely we all recognize the problem wasn’t the law but the wickedness of the thief. The law didn’t really put the person in prison. His crime put him in prison. This is exactly what Paul says about the law of God.

Finally, notice Paul’s closing words in this section: Romans 7:13-14 - “Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. [14] For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.”

The phrase I want to wrap up with is tucked right in the middle of those verses: “....It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure”(13b). Somehow, says Paul, the holy, just and good law of God makes my sin look “sinful beyond measure.” He means the goodness of the law makes my sin unexplainable and inexcusable.

Here’s how this works. If I rebel against something bad, then I’m a good person. It’s good to rebel against cancer. It’s good to rebel against crime. It’s good to rebel against cruelty. In fact, if someone doesn’t rebel - if there isn’t anything that rises up against these things - then that person is bad, or at the very least, lazy or apathetic. He or she shouldn’t be able to live comfortably without resistance to these things because these things are bad.

But if someone rebels against something good, then he is a bad person. And if someone rebels against something absolutely perfect and essential and wonderful, then he or she is a very bad person. Now we’re getting right at the heart of the Biblical revelation of human sin. If we rebel against the law of God, the law that, in the words of the Psalmist, is “perfect, reviving the soul,” and if we treat it as though it were cow dung, then we only reveal the depths of our fallenness. When people treat God with lightness, when they view His perfect will as an inconvenience or a burden, when they think their own ways and dreams are more worthy of attention and devotion, then they are wicked people indeed. And only the perfect, wonderful law of God can reveal this with clarity.