Summary: In this sermon we see how the apostle Paul gives "A Defense of the Law" against the misrepresentation that the law causes sin and death.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is a wonderful treatment of God’s plan of salvation. One prominent aspect in Romans is Paul’s treatment of the law of God and its role in our coming to faith in Christ, and then living for Christ. Let us read Romans 7:7-13:
"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. For 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. For 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." (Romans 7:7-13)
The letter to the Romans is the apostle Paul’s masterpiece on salvation. He teaches us—in theological language—how God saves us. He tells us how God saves us from the penalty, power and presence of sin. Thus, the letter to the Romans is the good news of God.
In Romans 7:1-6, the last section we studied, the apostle Paul indicated that Christians have been released from the law, having died to that which formerly bound us. This does not mean that Christians are free from obligations to the law. In fact, Paul stresses that Christians now “serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (7:6).
But, at this point someone may raise an objection: “Paul, you have said that Christians have died to sin in the death of Christ (6:1-14), and you have followed that by saying that we have also died to the law (7:1-6). Are you not putting sin and the law in the same category? Are you not implying, if not actually saying, that the law is sinful?”
It is to this topic the apostle now turns his attention.
The objection raised is stated by the apostle in Romans 7:7a: “What then shall we say? That the law is sin?” In other words, “Was the law given by God through Moses actually evil? And can Christians now disregard the law and live as they please?”
Paul responds with an emphatic negative: “By no means!” (cf. 3:4, 6, 31; 6:2, 15; 7:13). The law not only is not sinful but in fact continues to have great value for Christians. The law of God is not sinful. It is good.
Let’s notice four good things that the law does.
I. The Law Reveals Sin (7:7)
The first good thing that the law does is that it reveals sin.
Paul says in Romans 7:7b: “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.”
God has revealed his righteous standards to us through the law. We would not have known what sin was if we did not have God’s law. But God has given us the law and therefore we know what sin is. Paul has already alluded to this in Romans 3:20 where he said that “through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
Now, Paul is not speaking of humanity’s general awareness of right and wrong. Even pagans who have never heard of God’s revealed law nevertheless “show that the work [or requirements, NIV] of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:15). In this verse Paul is speaking about the law showing us the full extent of our personal sin.
Throughout the rest of the chapter, Paul uses the first person singular pronouns I and me, indicating that he is giving his personal testimony, as well as teaching universal truth.
He is relating the conviction of sin that the Holy Spirit worked in his own heart through the law before and during his Damascus road encounter with Christ and the three days of blindness that followed (see Acts 9:1-18).
Paul, you recall, had been trained in Judaism since his early youth, had studied under the famous Gamaliel in Jerusalem, had tried to follow the law meticulously, and had considered himself to be zealous for God (Acts 22:3; Galatians 1:13-14; Philippians 3:5-6a). Before his conversion, he easily could have prayed the prayer of the self-satisfied Pharisee in the Temple who thanked God that he was not like other people (see Luke 18:11-12). He may have asserted with the rich young ruler that he had kept all the law since his youth (see Matthew 19:20; Philippians 3:6b).