We say that when you hear something that hits you, goes against your belief system or perhaps even offends you deeply. The Jews obviously observed the Law of Moses given to them many years prior to Christ. Yet, if we died to the Law because start wondering what the Law was for. And the Law was still very precious to them.
Some came to the wrong conclusion that the Law was the problem if they would embrace Paul’s teaching of justification by faith and that was perhaps a bridge too far. After all, it didn’t do its job to save. Others even went as far to say that the law itself was sin. They said that not because they believed it, but because that could be the logical conclusion of everything that Paul was saying till now. We are free from the Law does not equal ‘Law is problem’.
For example, let’s look at cute little babies. They are cute and beautiful. When they grow up, they play and interact. Yet, give them a toy and then ask another child to try to ‘steal’ it from the toddler. What do you get?
“It’s mine!” MINE!! ME!
Nobody needs to teach kids how to behave that way. It comes with the package. Why? Because it’s the ‘natural inclination’ of people. When they lost their identity, they became self-focused instead of God-focused. It’s about me, myself and I.
But we are only aware of that when our conscience is awakened. Till a certain age we aren’t even aware of it. How is the conscience awakened? The Law shows us that!
Paul says that the Law reveals sin. Law itself is not sin! He uses one of the 10 commandments that is very appropriate. Anyone can understand that one. ‘Thou shall not covet’. What is covet? It’s looking at something and someone (that is not yours) with desire. It’s related to lust and it is sin. The Law reveals that.
Now, is the problem that the Law revealed it or is it something else?
Let’s look at Australian Law for a good reference. Let’s say there is a Law that says it is wrong to speed in a school area. We all know that at certain times during the week it’s 40 km/h. It’s 40. Not 42, 43, 47. It’s 40! Now, let’s suppose you are in a major hurry, because you are late for that very important job interview. What do you do? You are already a bit late…
You see what law can do to us? It triggers ‘something’ in us. When live is going ‘smooth’ it may not, but what about the times that live is squeezing us a bit? What happens then?
Law reveals sin. Through the Law we have knowledge of God’s standard. His standard is holy, just and perfect. Paul says that he Law is Holy (vs. 12) and the commandment is holy and just and good. If the Law is not the issue here, what is it then??
The Law still stirs something in us and even though the Law is good, it becomes something bad for us. You see, the issue with the Law is that there is no provision the Law itself for people to do the right thing. That’s why it doesn’t help to invent more laws just to uphold the old ones in society. When people cast off all restraints, what will keep them in place? Laws can punish them, correct them, but we all know it’s from the outside in. Any real change is from the inside-out.
The Israelites had 613 laws. They didn’t receive them all at once. No, it was rather progressive. They received some. Still, they disobeyed. God gave more laws, but they continued to disobey God. Although they knew His Holy Standard, they could not obey it perfectly. Israel was very much self-conscious and sin-conscious. And that was the whole point of the Law anyway. How can people know that they need a Saviour? Very simple…Use the Law of God.
Let me ask you: anyone of you has ever stolen something in life, even if it was something very small?
Anyone has ever said something that wasn’t exactly true. Perhaps a half-truth, but a lie nonetheless?
Anyone has looked at another person with desire in the heart? It’s what Paul was talking about; to covet…
Our conscience says “I crossed a line” and we become sin-conscious in the process. The Law reveals that. Yet the problem is not the Law. It’s sin! Sin high-jacks the commandment to get its way!
What is the easiest way for a young adult to sin, let’s say in the area of sex? That’s easy! If it is true that sinful desire lead to actual sin, the commandment makes the person aware that on the one hand it is not good to have sex outside of a covenant relationship with one man or woman. Yet, distorted desire, call it sex-drive, hormones, sensuality, whatever…drives us. And now we also know that we broke a law and feel bad about it. Or we rationalize it under the guise of ‘everybody is doing it so the bible must be old-fashioned’.
Paul continues his argument this way. He says in verse 14 this: “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.”
Now, wait a minute…Didn’t Paul say several times in Romans 6 that we are free from sin? He said it more than 4 times…and now he says that he is carnal and sold under sin? What is it Paul? Could you make up your mind please? I am confused here.
Who is the ‘I’ in this verse? Is it Paul the Christian that, although he’s forgiven, he’s still trapped in sin? Or is the ‘I’ someone else? Also, please note that the sentence is in the present tense. “I am carnal”. What is Paul saying here??
Let me say it as clearly as I can: this is NOT Paul the Christian. He is set free from sin. Remember at the beginning of chapter 7. To WHOM is Paul addressing the issue of the Law? To the Jews and the Jewish Christians. Keep that in mind. What Paul is saying here is that the LAW cannot save because it has no provision to deal with sin. The ‘I am carnal’ means any person, whether a Jew in the times of Paul writing this letter, or any person of that matter in time, that tries to be right with God through the Law. They cannot! WHY? Because of SIN! You can try as hard as you want, but the Law of Moses cannot and will not set people free. Why? Because it was never meant to do that! The Law revealed sin and it tutored people to the realization that they needed a Saviour!!
You see the war that is raging inside of people we can very much identify with. Just look at Romans 7:15-24 and we can easily come to the conclusion that sin is still in us…
Let’s read it together for a better understanding and a good grip of the context
“For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now longer, it is not I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now, if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.”
In other words. Deep down inside I know what is right. I know it is right to tell the truth and it is wrong to lie. I know it is right to be with one spouse only for life and not covet someone else, but there is something that drives me to do differently. Something is driving my actions and it condemns me. My mind says that I want to obey, but my flesh says a different story. I know that God’s Law is right, but still I succumb to sin.
It’s WAR! It’s full on! That’s why Paul continues like this:
“I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”
It is Paul crying out! HELP!!! But it is not Paul crying out as the Christian, but as Saul the persecutor identifying himself with all people who try to do it on their own strength. Trying to be a good person. They are trying to not do wrong, but still they are always aware of the fact that they don’t live up to God’s standard or their own expectations. The result is condemnation, sin-conscience and despair.
It saddens my heart to see that many Christians, some with the purest hearts, are still trapped in that place of despair trying so hard to be good. That’s why they can identify themselves so much with what Paul is saying in verse 24.
O WRETCHED MAN THAT I AM! WHO WILL DELIVER ME FROM THIS BODY OF DEATH?
We know the answer! It’s Jesus!
And that is also Paul’s conclusion. The conclusion is NOT in verse 25b when he says “So, then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”
That is the conclusion of the war the person without Christ is experiencing. It may even be the war that a religious person without the deeper revelation of righteousness is experiencing. But it is not the final answer. Remember. No chapters and verses! A letter. The answer was already given in Romans 6 several times. FREE from SIN. And Paul continues to unpack that as he moves on explaining how that victory is obtained by living in and through the Spirit of Christ.
In my next and final blog I will make matters more personal to show how you and I can transition from ‘trying harder’ to ‘trusting more’. I will particularly show this in two important areas of life.