Text: Romans 7:7-13
Opening: Why does the temptation to sin seem to be such an irresistible urge? Often it’s as if we’re powerless against it. Of course, if we’re not tempted by a particular sin (say stealing), it’s not that hard to say no to it. But when we encounter a desire forbidden by God that really appeals to us, we have a hard time passing on the opportunity to do it. Listen to this story from CBS New In February of this year (2018). Police in Pennsylvania cited an obvious, telltale clue in the arrest of a man for the theft of spaghetti sauce and meatballs. How did they discover that he was the perpetrator of the crime? It wasn’t that difficult, really. They just picked the guy that had red sauce all over his face and clothing. Law enforcement officers in Luzerne County arrested Leahman Glenn Robert Potter with burglary, criminal trespass, and theft after he was alleged to have stolen a pot of meatballs simmering in spaghetti sauce from his neighbor’s garage. Authorities said the neighbor reported the meatballs missing after he noticed Potter standing in front of the man’s house with sauce all over his face. The neighbor immediately called the police who, once they arrived, recovered the missing pot near where the man was standing in middle of the street. Though officials would not discuss any further details, unofficial sources claim to have verified a motive in the theft–the meatballs and sauce simply looked and smelled too good to pass up. Potter was arrested and held in lieu of a $25,000 bond. You heard it right…a $25,000 bond! It turns out, you’d be better off toilet-papering the mayor’s house, than stealing someone’s meatballs and red sauce in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania where they take their spaghetti very seriously. That is the power of temptation.
Last week we started a new eight week preaching series called “The War Within.” We are studying Romans chapters seven and eight to understand more about the internal conflict we experience as Christians between life in the flesh under the Law and new life in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. If you missed the message last week, you can watch it on our website at www.riverridgewi.com. We noted the death of our first husband (Mr. Law) and our remarriage to Christ (Mr. Grace). Mr. Law was not a bad man. In fact, he was a very good man. We really couldn’t point out a single fault with him, with possibly only one exception … he was impossible to satisfy. No matter how hard we tried to do everything the way he wanted, we routinely failed and missed out on his love and acceptance as a result. Instead, every day he just pointed out our faults and urged us to do better. Then one day Mr. Law died, and it wasn’t long after that we met and married Mr. Grace (Jesus). He loved and accepted us despite our failures and not because of anything we did for Him. That’s what makes what He did for us so remarkable! Jesus died in our place for our sin on Calvary’s cross, removing its penalty (eternal death) and breaking the power that sin held over us. We received His love and forgiveness by faith, and because He didn’t demand that we earn it, He still doesn’t demand that we do anything to keep it. It is truly unconditional. Think about that for a moment. When we come to understand how much Jesus loves and accepts us, and that nothing can separate us from Him, something amazing happens inside of each believer. We begin to take pleasure in pleasing our Lord and doing the things He wants us to do, much like a bride who truly loves her husband enjoys honoring and pleasing him. That’s the difference between be married to law or grace.
Today we’re going to look at verses 7-13 of Romans chapter seven where Paul asks and answers two questions to help us understand the impact of the Law…if indeed, it has not been given to us so that we can earn eternal life. Let’s start with the first one in verse 7.
PAUL’S FIRST QUESTION: Romans 7:7a — What then shall we say? That the law is sin? Paul is anticipating the argument that if the law leads us to death, then maybe it’s not so good for us after all! Why do we need it? What good is it? In the next five verses, he gives us three answers to this question.
The Law Reveals Sin (Romans 7:7 — 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). God gave us His law to help us know the difference between what is right and what is wrong. It seems reasonable to define sin as doing something God doesn’t want you to do (a sin of commission) or not doing something He does want you to do (a sin of omission). For Paul, who was at one time a very zealous religious leader of the Jews, he probably considered himself a pretty righteous man. I suspect that he could have said with a great deal of confidence that he kept God’s law faithfully. It wasn’t until He was approached by the risen Christ on the road to Damascus that his high opinion of himself changed. That’s when He came under conviction of his sin … which in this verse he identifies as coveting what others had, a clear violation of the 10th commandment (Exodus 20:17 — You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor). The word means to a strong desire for something that rightfully belongs to someone else. Up to this point in his life, Paul was convinced that his conduct was proper when it came to each of the first nine commandments that dealt with sins that were visible to everyone else. But in a brief encounter with the Lord, the Holy Spirit revealed to him that he was a law-breaker because he was guilty of coveting, a sin that is often invisible to others. In the New Testament Jesus mentioned the same sin…coveting. “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully (covets her with unholy desire), has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Through the sin of coveting, Paul explains, he came to see the wickedness of his own heart. Finally he understood that it was possible for a person to look good on the outside, but harbor sinful desires on the inside. And this, he discovered, thanks to the law (i.e. the 10th commandment).
The Law Provokes Sin (Romans 7:8 — But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead). The phrase “seizing an opportunity” is worth unpacking a little more. John Stott points out that it was a military term for “a base of operation” … a starting point for some sort of military campaign. In this case, Paul says that it is sin that establishes a base or foothold in our lives through the commandment. Let me explain. Have you ever noticed that when someone tells you not to do something, you suddenly find yourself wanting to do it? If you see a sign that warns of “wet paint, do not touch” what’s the first thing you do? You touch the paint. Or consider when a parent tells a seven year old to stop hitting his five year old sibling. What happens? He rails on the little guy all the more! Or a speed limit sign restricts us to drive at 55 mph, but we push it to 60 or 65. Why? For the same reason that Paul coveted. It can be described as a form of negative psychology that appeals to our fallen human natures. Tell us not to do something, and we’ll immediately begin conspiring how to get away with it. The law is not the culprit, by the way. It is our sinful desires that stand in opposition to God’s holy law. They lead us to do these things. Illustration: Here’s an example from our country’s history that proves Paul’s point. Ratified on January 29, 1919 by the US Congress, the 18th Amendment banned the manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquors. It was known as the Volstead Act. Right away, however, both federal and local governments struggled to enforce Prohibition over the course of the 1920s. Despite very early signs of success, including a decline in arrests for drunkenness and a reported 30 percent drop in alcohol consumption, those who wanted to keep drinking found ever-more inventive ways to do it. The illegal manufacturing and sale of liquor (known as “bootlegging”) went on throughout the decade, along with the operation of “speakeasies” (stores or nightclubs selling alcohol), the smuggling of alcohol across state lines and the informal production of liquor (“moonshine” or “bathtub gin”) in private homes. In addition, the Prohibition era encouraged the rise of criminal activity associated with bootlegging. The most notorious example was the Chicago gangster Al Capone. At one time, he earned a staggering $60 million annually from bootleg operations and speakeasies. Such illegal operations fueled a corresponding rise in gang violence, including the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago in 1929, in which several men dressed as policemen (and believed to be have associated with Capone) shot and killed a group of men in an enemy gang. The high price of bootleg liquor meant that the nation’s working class and poor were far more restricted during Prohibition than middle or upper class Americans. Even as costs for law enforcement, jails and prisons spiraled upward, support for Prohibition was waning by the end of the 1920s. Eventually in 1933, President Roosevelt got Congress to enact the 21st amendment, repealing the 18th. It always turns out the same way. Make a law that says we can’t sin, and we’ll find a way around it!
The Law Condemns Sin (Romans 7:9-11 — I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me). This is Paul’s way of saying that the law, rather than bring life, actually condemned him to death. When he (and all human beings beginning with Adam and Eve) gave in to the “deceitfulness of sin,” death resulted. In the Bible, death means separation. When we die physically our soul is separated from our body. When we die spiritually, we are separated from God. Both are the result of the principle of sin seizing its opportunity through the law and bringing us under God’s righteous and just judgment. That’s what the Bible is referring to in Romans 5:16 when it says, “The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation.” This may not seem like a benefit of the law, but it is. How would anyone know to seek forgiveness from God unless we were aware of our His condemnation?
PAUL’S ANSWER TO HIS FIRST QUESTION (What then shall we say, that the law is sin?): Having concluded that the law reveals sin, provokes sin (when our fallen human natures resist its righteous commands) and condemns sin, Paul now gives his assessment of it. Romans 7:12 — So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. It is not evil. In fact, it is good in its intention.
PAUL’S SECOND QUESTION: Romans 7:13a — Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? Now why did Paul ask that? He didn’t want believers to blame God’s holy law for their own sinfulness or to suggest that if they didn’t have it, perhaps they’d be a lot better off. So listen to his answer in the rest of verse 13.
PAUL’S ANSWER TO HIS SECOND QUESTION (Did that which is good, then, bring death to me?): (Romans 7:13 — 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). The law wasn’t given to kill us, but to convict us. It doesn’t cause us to sin. It exposes and condemns it. Because we have God’s law, we can see just how sinful we actually are, which leads me to one more question.
Do people here in America still know God’s law? When we talk about God’s law, we’re talking about the 10 commandments as far as most of us are concerned. The Bible says they were given to Moses, written by the hand of God on two tablets of stone, when he ascended Mount Sinai a little over 3,300 years ago. For centuries they have stood as the foundation for Jewish and Christian morality. Many of us (78%) still believe they are important enough to be publicly displayed across our country. Yet ironically, more people can name the three stooges (Moe, Larry and Curly — or Shemp), all six kids from the Brady Bunch (Greg, Marcia, Peter, Jan, Bobby and Cindy), and even the seven ingredients in a Big Mac (two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun), than can accurately name all ten commandments according to the Family Research Council. Here they are in case you don’t remember all of them: You shall have no other gods before me; you shall not make for yourselves any graven image; You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; You shall remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy; you shall honor father and mother; you shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor; you shall not covet your neighbors house (or anything in it). Sadly, while the majority of Americans acknowledge that these commandments really matter, they are disappearing from the hearts and minds of most us. So why don’t we teach the law anymore? Here are three answers to that question:
- First, we don’t teach the law because it makes us feel guilty. Remember … it condemns us. If we don’t think about the law, then we don’t feel so sinful when we break it.
- Second, we don’t teach the law because it exposes our pride. Sin is an arrogant attempt to make life work apart from God. It is a way for us to thumb our noses at him and live any way we want to.
- Third, we don’t teach the law because it reveals our weakness. Human beings share at least one thing in common. We are morally weak. We can’t keep the law. We can’t earn our way to heaven. That’s why we need a Savior. Have you put your trust in Jesus to be your Savior?
Conclusion: Author and pastor John MacArthur recalls this story: I was flying down to El Paso to do a men’s conference. I was working on some thoughts and had my Bible open. I was sitting next to an Arab. He kept glancing over and looking at what I was doing. Finally he said, “May I ask you a question? I am from Iran, and I am new in America. I see you have a Bible. I don’t understand American religion. What is the difference between a Catholic, a Protestant, and a Baptist?” I gave him a little explanation. Then I said, “Could I ask you a question? Do Muslims have sins?” (Of course I know they do; I just wanted to hear him say it). He said, “Oh we have so many sins; I don’t even know all the sins.” “Really?” I asked, “Can I ask you another question? Do you do those sins?” “All the time I do those sins,” he said. “In fact, I will be honest with you. I am going to El Paso to do some sins.” “Do you mind if I ask what sins you’re going to do in El Paso?” He said, “Well, I was immigrating“El Paso is a big immigration location”and I met this girl; I am going to El Paso to do some sins with her.” I said, “How does God, as you understand God, feel about your sins?” “It’s very bad,” he said. “It’s very bad.” “How bad is it?” I inquired. He said, “I could go to hell.” I said, “You don’t want to go there, do you?” “No!” he exclaimed. “Then why do you keep doing these sins?” I prodded. “I can’t help it,” he confessed. I asked, “Well, is there any hope for you?” He said, “I hope God will forgive me.” I said, “Why are you so special that he should do that? Why should he forgive you?” “I don’t know, I just hope,” he responded. I said, “Well, I know him personally, and he won’t.” That blew his mind. He said, “You know God personally! What do you mean you know that God personally?” I said, “I do know him personally, and I can tell you he will not forgive your sin. He can’t look on iniquity; he’s angry with the wicked every day, and he’s going to cast them into eternal hell. But would you like to hear some good news about your sin?” “Yes, I would,” he answered. And that’s when John MacArthur told him about Jesus — the Son of God who died for morally weak people who constantly break God’s laws. He did so that we could be forgiven and the power of sin over us could be broken.