The Law and Sin
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
In a time in history when the “evangelical church” seems to be splitting into two camps, it is imperative for the Christian to understand the Word of God and our relationship in Christ to the law.
The two opposing camps beg one to pick a side with which to stand. One camp says that it is time to break free from the rules, regulations, and religion that bind the sinner in guilt and to begin a “relationship with Jesus”. The other sees this as an attack on scriptural authority, knowing full well that God has not changed His standards of holiness.
In a time in history when lawlessness seems to reign more and more, it is easy to want a return to law and order, and rightfully so.
Proverbs 29:2 — “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.”
This was true when God was dealing with Israel under the Old Covenant. It is also true now, in any nation, where the people are under any form of government. We hear so much today about the importance of democracy and of democracy prevailing, but what if the “demo” is wicked? What is a democracy? It is a government by the people. And if the people are wicked, the government is wicked. Democracy is no safe and sure arbiter of justice. It has been illustrated as two wolves and a sheep voting on what is for dinner.
The truth is that no human government can make a righteous people, and the hope of the world is not a future democracy but a coming King and Kingdom, where the King will rule the nations with a rod of iron and break them in pieces like a potter’s vessel (Revelation 19:15; Psalm 2:9). A scepter of righteousness will be the scepter of His kingdom (Psalm 45:6; Hebrews 1:8), and make no mistake, it will be an absolute monarchy; and that will be a wonderful thing.
But now, while the Lord is delaying His return and the establishment of that kingdom, as Francis Schaeffer famously asks, “how shall we then live?”
Some will say the law is our guide, and it seems like a good argument, for its Author is God Himself. Yet we know from chapter 5 of Romans that the law entered that the offence might abound. Will adherence to the law make us right with God?
Romans 3:20 — “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
How can a man be just with God?
We know the answer:
Romans 3:21–26 — “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”
The law has no place in this. The law also has no place to make us holy.
A return to the law is illustrated in Galatians chapter 4 as a return to the things of poverty. It is a return to the weak and beggarly elements (Galatians 4:9). Do we want poverty?
The law reminds us of our sin. Without the law sin was dead, the apostle tells us. In chapter 6, he tells us that we are dead to sin, and that we are to reckon ourselves to be dead indeed unto sin. We are given, the righteousness of God without the law, and this gift of righteousness without the law is not given so we can go back under the law, with its curse, and knowledge of sin.
The questions to ask:
- Are you saved?
- Since you are saved, are you righteous?
If you understand the gospel as the Apostle Paul has presented this far in Romans, and you have believed the gospel as he presents it, the answer to question 1 is yes. You also know that the answer to question 2 is yes, because you have been given the very righteousness of God. You have done nothing, nor can you do anything to make yourself righteous. You are justified freely, by God’s grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24). So what is the place of the law in this?
1 Timothy 1:9–10 — “Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine…”
With your answer to the questions posed above, into which category do you fall?
The law is a governor for the unrighteous. It is a standard that shows our guilt. The law shows the sinner to be sinful. The ministry of the law to the saved could be summarized as a reminder that our salvation by grace through faith is not of ourselves, but is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:9).
As we place ourselves under the law, a death happens. We are completely alive unto God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 6:11), and should be accounting that to be true. We are righteous without the law (Romans 3:21). The law reminds us of our sin and points out our sin. The law also does not kill the sin. The law executes the sinner. But you, as a sinner, but saved and under God’s grace, have already been crucified with Christ. You are baptized into His death and risen to walk in newness of life. The law is not meant for you. It is meant for the unrighteous. Its ministry historically was that of a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24).
If you have come to Christ, the law’s ministry is done, and going back to it only kills. Yet you, as in the flesh, in Adam, are already dead. So in this also, reckon yourself to be dead indeed unto sin rather than trying to live under a constant reminder of it.
As the law tries to kill and bury you under a load of sin and guilt, cry out with the Apostle Paul as he ends this chapter:
“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” —Romans 7:24
Rejoice also with him in his answer:
“I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” — Romans 7:25
Every victory of the child of God is deliverance through our Lord Jesus Christ. The law only puts us back to lean on the dead arm of our flesh which we already should have reckoned dead. The law will not deliver us, no matter how hard we try. Only Christ our Lord can do that, and as our apostle Paul brings us down to the depths of despair with himself as he sees the law killing him, look up to the Lord for his deliverance without the law. He has already done it!
Charles Miller View All
Husband, father, engineer...Enjoys fishing, archery, guitar, running, and lifting, but most of all reading and studying God's Word.
Another good article. Keep on keeping on!