Summary: The trouble wit hlaw keeping is that we’re unable to do it. The good thing about the law is that it drives us back to dependence on the grace of God in Jesu Christ
Here’s what happens to people from time to time. They realise they have a problem with a particular sin or sins, so they decide to do something about it. They read something like Romans 6, that we read last week and they decide that from now on they’ll be slaves of righteousness. Whenever they feel tempted to disobey God they’ll resist. They remember God’s promise to provide a way of escape and they resolve to ask him to provide it next time they’re tempted. Yet the next time they somehow forget to ask for that way out. They fall into the same thing they’ve been doing for years. And they can’t understand it. It’s like they have a split personality. It’s like there’s a war going on in their brain. One moment they’re winning the war and the next they’re failing. I wonder is that how you feel sometimes? It’s certainly how Paul felt, often. It’s a major reason why he puts such an emphasis on the importance of grace for the Christian. He’s very much aware of how often we fail to live up to our hopes and aspirations to Godliness.
The great problem he’s found with using the law as the means to righteousness is that inevitably it leads to death, not life. This is what he concludes in 7:5: "Our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death." You see, the law can never help us. On the contrary, turning to the law only gives an opportunity to our sinful natures to rebel and that rebellion then leads to death. Only living under grace can lead to life.
Is there something wrong with the law?
But then that conclusion leads him to ask whether there’s something wrong with the law. Did God make a mistake perhaps? Or was this just a bad joke by God on us humans? He says: "What then should we say? That the law is sin?" This is a real possibility given what we’ve concluded about the law so far. Is that why we need to escape from its power? Is that why we’re told not to rely on it? Because it just provides our sinful natures with a reason to rebel once again? His answer is "By no means!" It’s not the law that’s the problem. The problem isn’t the law but our own sinfulness.
Why is the law a problem for me?
So why is the law a problem for me? Why has he spent so much time telling us to forget the law and concentrate on grace? Well, he says, the law is a problem for me because it’s the law that brings out and shows up my sinfulness.
Now we saw in Romans 5:13 that sin has been in the world even before the law was given, but it wasn’t seen to be sin until people had God’s law before them to highlight their failings. He takes the example of covetousness. He probably chooses this for a couple of reasons. First because it’s one sin that everyone falls into from time to time. Whether it’s wanting to keep up with the Jones or envying someone else’s abilities or possessions or relationships, or simply wishing you could have the latest household appliance, everyone experiences covetousness at one level or another. But covetousness wasn’t really a problem for us until we were told that it was wrong. But as soon as the law was given, sin began to produce all sorts of desires in the human heart.
It might be that Paul is thinking here of the covetousness that was at the root of the first sin, by Adam and Eve. If you remember back to Genesis 3, the devil pointed out to Eve that the tree was good for food, was a delight to the eyes and was desired to make one wise. It would make them like God. But it was even more subtle than that. The mechanism that the devil used to tempt them was to distort the commandment of God. To make it sound like God’s commandment was meant to limit their freedom. We talked about this last week didn’t we? The devil’s method was to provoke in them a desire to rebel against God’s rightful authority; to convince them they needed to throw off the shackles of his authoritarian rule; to assert their right to choose what was good for them, what would please them. Never mind that God had provided everything they could ever need. Never mind that God had provided them with the tree of life that fruits all year round. This commandment of God was there to rebel against. And they fell for it.
Now can you see that if there had been no commandment not to eat of the fruit of that tree there would have been no point Satan tempting them. Nor would there have been any power in the temptation. The power of temptation comes from the idea that God’s law somehow limits us.