Romans 7:7-12 Sermon The Law Revealed what Sin Concealed (Rev. Erik Veerman)
The Law Revealed what Sin Concealed
Rev. Erik Veerman
Our sermon text this morning is Romans 7:7-12. You can find that on page 1121 in the Pew Bible. One of the things that we’ve seen in Romans 6 and 7 is a series of questions with answers. This is one of the apostle Paul’s literary techniques. He asks a question about an important matter of faith and practice, and then he explains the answer. Verse 7 has a new question followed by an explanation.
And just like last week, he’s continuing to focus on God’s law. His goal is to explain the relationship between the Christian and God’s law. Needless to say, that’s important for all of us. If we misunderstand the purpose of God’s law, we can either think it saves us (so we work hard to obey) or we can think the law has no more value to us (so we disregard it). But neither is the right answer.
Last week, we learned that the Christian is no longer bound by the law… specifically, Jesus met the requirements of the law for us, perfectly obeying, and he bore the penalty of the law for us. Instead of being bound to the law, we belong to Christ. We’re no longer captive to the law, but are now filled with God’s Spirit.
That’s where we ended last week.
Reading of Romans 7:7-12.
The largest pendulum in the world is located in Paris. It’s called the Foucault pendulum and is about 220 feet tall. It’s named after the French physicist Leon Foucault, who installed it in 1851. All day long, it swings back and forth. As the earth rotates, it changes direction.
We are kind of like pendulums. Aren’t we? When it comes to different beliefs, no matter the category, we sometimes swing from one extreme to another. When we learn something new, sometimes we realize that there are problems with our old perspectives of something. But instead of coming to a balanced view, we swing all the way to the other side. This especially happens in groups. There’s a social theory called Group Polarization. Group discussions tend to result in extreme positions. It’s caused by social dynamics and pressures to conform. It can lead to large swings of collective opinion within social groups.
The apostle Paul is worried about pendulum swings. Or maybe we call them overcorrections. In chapter 5, he wrote “where sin increased, grace abounded.” Paul believed that but was worried that his readers would take it to the extreme. “Well, then, let’s sin more!” So, in chapter 6, he dealt directly with that concern. “Should we continue to sin that grace may about? By no means!” Don’t go there! Don’t swing too far!
In chapter 7, Paul is worried about another pendulum swing. This time, he’s worried that they will completely disregard God’s law.
You see, up to this point, Paul’s discussion about the law has been largely negative. The law leads to condemnation which leads to death. Back in chapter 2, he wrote, “All who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.” Or think of earlier in chapter 6… “we are not under law but under grace.” Or last week’s verses, we are no longer bound by the law.
Now, if the apostle Paul had ended his discussion of the law in chapter 7 verse 6, how do you think they would respond? I think some of them would swing like a pendulum to the opposite extreme. Some of them, especially the Jewish Christians in Rome, but also some Gentile Christians had been steeped in the law. We get the sense that some of his readers overemphasized the law. Paul’s been trying to correct that. But he doesn’t want them to overcorrect. “Paul, I get it now! This whole time, I’ve been elevating the law. But now, as you say, I am free of the law. It was the problem! I see clearly now, thank you, Paul. The law is no longer important. We can throw it all away.” Do you see how they could have come to that conclusion? Paul had to be really clear of what he was saying and what he was not saying.
Why? Because, when it comes to God’s law, our tendency is one of two extremes. Either legalism, which is strict adherence to the law thinking we still need to earn God’s favor. OR antinomianism. That’s a big word. It means anti-law… disregarding God’s law believing it has no purpose.
But neither is the answer. That’s part of the message of chapter 7. The first 6 verses were addressing the tendency toward legalism. And verses 7-12 are addressing the opposite extreme, antinomianism. The apostle Paul deals with the second extreme, disregarding God’s law. These verses explain the relationship of God’s law to our sin.
I say that because that is the main question. Is the law sin? By no means! Again, there’s that really clear response. Heaven forbid we think that.
I think you can understand the possible confusion. Part of the message has been that the law brings condemnation and death. Someone could think, therefore, that the law must be the problem. After all, the law seems to be the first thing in the progression to condemnation and death. But the law is not the problem. No. Rather sin is the problem. It’s our sin, our rebellion against God, that deserves the condemnation. The law’s nature is, in fact, the opposite of sin. As it says down in verse 12, the “law is holy.” And he adds, the commandment is “holy and righteous and good.” He’s referring to a specific commandment, and we’re going to get back there.
And because it is God’s law, any and all sin is condemned by it. The law does the condemning. Sin is what deserves to be condemned.
Think of a courtroom setting. Suppose a man is on trial for murderer. The law states that someone found guilty of murder will be punished in some severe way. And let’s say that this guy on trial is found guilty. The evidence was overwhelming. The jury therefore convicts him. And the judge in the trial sentences him to life in prison. Is the law is the reason the guy is serving a life sentence? No, the law is just the standard. The reason for his life sentence is his action.
You see, the law of God is not sin. It is not evil or unjust. Rather, the law displays the very nature of our holy God. The law is good and right. Through the law we can know of God’s righteousness. We are made aware of God’s very nature as pure and true. God’s law reveals his character as perfectly just and entirely good.
Instead of dismissing the law as the problem, we should uphold the law. We should see it as God’s perfect standard for righteousness - the standard which points us to God, himself.
For the Christian, the law doesn’t go away! It’s still there for our blessing and edification and guidance, we’re just no longer condemned by it.
So, we can rejoice with the Psalmist in Psalm 19, as we did this morning, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; …the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.”
The law is beautiful - it reveals the splendor of God’s holiness. We can delight in the law because it shows us God and his goodness.
As we talked about last week, in response to being freed from the law’s condemnation, we can seek to honor God through it, not as a means to salvation but in response to his salvation. So, we seek to know the law, and meditate on it, and uphold it, and delight in it.
The law is not sin. It’s not the problem.
But that brings us to an important question. Since God’s law is not sin, since the very nature of God’s law is in contrast to sin, well then, how do God’s law and our sin relate? interact?
Really, the heart of these verses answer that. You can think of the beginning of verse 7 and verse 12 as brackets. The law is not sin. In fact, the law is holy, and righteous and good. And the middle section helps us to know the interplay between the law and sin.
And there are three things. Three ways that the law relates to sin.
• First, the law reveals sin. That’s verse 7
• Second, the law stirs up more sin – that’s verses 8 and 11
• And third, God uses his law to bring conviction of our sin and lead us to Christ. That’s verse 9 and 10.
The law reveals sin, stirs up sin, and is used to bring conviction of sin.
If the nature of God’s law is holy, and righteous, and good (as verse 12 says), then one of the things it will do is reveal that which is unholy and unrighteous and not good. The law is the perfect standard and therefore it will illuminate everything that does not conform to its standard. It reveals our sin. Again, it is not sin, but rather reveals our sin. If you blame the law as the problem, it’s kind of like you are shooting the messenger. The law is the messenger that is revealing the problem.
You can see that role of revealing our sin right there in verse 7. Paul writes, “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” And he gives an example. “For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’”
Just to be sure, even though he uses one of the 10 commandments, he’s not saying that the law came into existence when the 10 commandments were given. No. He’s already said in earlier chapters that the law is written on the hearts of all.
But what the commandments do is reveal the extent of sin. They illuminate the atrociousness of our sin. The expose the breadth of our sin and the nature of our sin. The law is like a big light shining on your sinful heart.
The law reveals sin.
Stirs up more sin
But second, the law often stirs up more sin! And that’s where Paul goes next.
That’s captured in verses 9 and 11. In fact, the first few words are almost exactly the same. Verse 9 says, “But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.” Verse 11 extends that to include the deception of sin. In other words, when our sinful hearts are confronted with the law of God – we want to rebel even more. That is the deception of sin. Your sin wants you to sin more.
And that’s true!
Let me try to illustrate this.
Kids, suppose it’s raining outside and suppose your yard is full of mud puddles and you love playing in the mud. Let’s say you ask your mom to go out… but your mom says, “sure, you can go out and play, but don’t jump in the mud puddles.” When you hear that, doesn’t it make you want to jump in the puddles even more? There’s a stirring up of sin in you. Now, all you want to do is jump in the mud puddles. And also, you’re not happy with your mom telling you what you can’t do.
Do you see how sin can be heightened by the law? Paul said something similar up in verse 5. Our “sinful passions were aroused by the law.” Also, This is not something new in the Bible. Let’s go back to the Garden of Eden. Adam was told not to eat of the forbidden fruit. But God’s command to not eat made the forbidden fruit all the more attractive. Satan seized the opportunity to deceive them.
You see, commands can make you want to do the very thing that you are not supposed to do.
So, first, the law reveals sin. Second, the law stirs our hearts to more sin.
Conviction of Sin
And the third one is that God uses his law to bring conviction of sin. The unbeliever is made aware of his sin and condemnation, which leads him to Christ. There’s an application for believers as well. But I’m saying unbeliever because in these middle verses, Paul is talking about his life before coming to Christ.
Notice these verses are full of personal reference. I counted 8 uses of the word “I” or “me.”
Now, let me take a little tangent.
Some scholars don’t think that Paul is talking about himself and his personal history. Rather, they believe he is speaking on behalf of humanity in general (like putting himself in Adam’s shoes) or speaking on behalf of Israel in particular (back when they received the 10 commandments). And let me say, it is possible to use first person pronouns but speak as a representative of a group. And these Bible scholars make some great points. I’d be happy to have a side conversation about it.
However, I want to argue that Paul is referring to himself. That he’s conveying how God revealed his sin, and his struggle, and how his eyes were opened to the condemnation that the law revealed which his sin deserved.
One of the reasons that I believe Paul is writing about himself is how personal he is. All through his letters, he expresses love to his recipients. In different places, he shares his testimony, the burdens that he’s carried, what he’s endured, grief and joys. Sometimes we think of the apostle Paul as this aloof, heady guy, but his letters are saturated with relationships and personal situations. This section is no different.
But the other reason I believe Paul is talking about his own story is who he was before his conversion.
Paul had been a pharisee. The pharisees were the ones who were totally self-righteous. The law was their salvation – so they thought. They even created more laws to help them obey God’s law. It was all external and hypocritical. They believed that they could keep God’s law. In fact, Paul was the epitome of a Pharisee. Elsewhere he described his old resume - all that he had done, who he had studied under, what he knew. At the time in his life, before turning to Christ, he thought all of it was his ticket to heaven.
With that in mind, look back at the second half of verse 7. “For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” Now, think about this. “You shall not covet” is the tenth commandment. And this commandment is very different than the others, especially if you are a pharisee. Think about the other commandments, Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Keep the sabbath. Do not take the Lord’s name in vain, etc. A pharisee would think “I can do those things.” Because all a pharisee is thinking about is the external. He has no sense that anger is murder, that lustful thoughts are adultery. But a pharisee can’t escape the tenth commandment. Why? Because that commandment’s very nature is internal. “Do not covet.” Covet is wanting something in your heart that is not yours. The apostle Paul’s heart was exposed. He realized that he was breaking the tenth commandment all over the place. And he wanted to break it more.
Now look at verse 10, “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.” As a pharisee, he had thought that the commandments led to life. But when he fell under that heavy conviction of his sin when his sin was revealed, then he realized he was a law breaker. He could do nothing about it. He was condemned. Instead of the promise of life, the law proved to be death. Not because the law was the problem. No. His sin was exposed. He had been blinded by his sin. Deceived by his sin. He had no sense of his sin until he felt the weight of conviction. Until God opened up his heart and revealed his sin through the law. Until that, he didn’t know his sin.
That understanding also helps to explain the end of verse 8. It says, “For apart from the law, sin lies dead.” Let me put that slightly differently. “For apart from the conviction of the law, we’re blind to our sin.” In that sense sin was dead in us. We didn’t realize our sin.
Verse 9, then, applies that understanding in Paul’s former life. He says, “I was once alive apart from the law.” In other words, even though he was a Pharisee and knew the law, he was not under the conviction of the law. IN that sense, he felt alive, even though he was dead. Next it says, “but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.” When Paul realized he was breaking the tenth commandment, then “sin came alive.” Sin had always there, but it was now exposed. He fell under the conviction of the law. And then he realized he was actually dead. Spiritually dead.
Again, I believe Paul is writing from the perspective of his old self. He thought he was alive because he didn’t see his sin. But when sin came alive, as the law revealed, he realized he was actually dead.
That’s how the Holy Spirit uses the law in an unbeliever. God reveals sin and the condemnation of sin, and therefore the need of a savior. That’s what conviction of sin is. God revealed to Paul the death he deserved, and then turned him to Christ.
And I should say, part of that is similar for the believer in Christ. God uses his law to bring conviction of our sin. The difference is, the believer is no longer condemned. The conviction of sin is instead, God working his sanctifying grace in the Christians life… as we are conformed more and more to the image of Christ.
Let me try to briefly summarize all of this and close. The law is not sin. Quite the opposite. It is holy. Because it is holy, the law reveals sin. In fact, the deceptive nature of our sin does not like the law and the law can stirs up more sin (the law doesn’t do that, our sin reacting to the law does that). But in all of it, God uses his law to bring conviction of our sin, either turning our hearts to Christ for the first time or returning our hearts to him.
In all of it, the law is good. That’s why Paul ends he way he does. Think of all the ways that God’s law is good.
• It is good because it is pure and holy and righteous in and of itself.
• God’s law is good because it points us to God who is pure and holy and righteous
• It is good because God uses it to reveal our sin and bring conviction of sin
• It is good because it revealed our need of salvation and therefore pointed us to Christ
• And finally, it is good because it directs us to godliness and righteousness in him
So instead of swinging like a pendulum to an antinomian, anti-law belief, see the law as good in all those ways. Love his law, because you love him.