Summary: The Law illimunates, it ignites, and it incinerates.
The Slippery Slope of Sin
Rev. Brian Bill
[Sermon opens with a mime. Woman approaches a chair set up on stage with a sign on it that says, “Do not touch.” She reads the sign and starts to walk away but then comes back to the chair, looks around to see if anyone is watching and then touches it. Unfortunately, her hand sticks to the chair. When she tries with great effort to remove her hand, her other hand gets stuck. In the process of trying to free her hands she ends up sitting in the chair and now her entire body is stuck to the chair. She tries hard to break free but in exasperation gives up. Just then a man walks up on the stage, notices her predicament, and points her to the screen where a picture of Jesus on the cross appears. As she looks, she starts to pray and then is freed from the chair. She stands up and is filled with joy as she skips off the stage]
There’s something about a command that make us want to break it, isn’t there? As we learned last week, true release comes from a relationship with Jesus, not from rules. But that leads to a question. If we’re not under the Law anymore, does that mean the commandments are bad? What purpose do God’s precepts have? Our passage this morning will help us see that God’s Law provides three things…
1. The Law illuminates sin (7). Look at verse 7: “What shall we say, then? Is the Law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the Law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the Law had not said, ‘Do not covet.’” Once again Paul anticipates a question from his readers and then quickly answers it. We see the same phrase “What shall we say, then?” in 3:5, 4:1 and 6:15. Specifically he verbalizes what some may be thinking. If we have died to the Law as verse 4 says, and since the Law causes our passions to be inflamed (verse 6), then maybe the Law itself is sin. And once again he answers abruptly with the phrase, “Certainly not!” This literally means, “God forbid. Banish the thought from your mind!”
We’re then given the first purpose of the Law from this passage. The Law reveals, or illuminates, sin. Like a straightedge, when we compare ourselves to it, we see how crooked we are. Or, like a mirror, the Law shows us what we’re really like. James 1:23-24: “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” An old Chinese proverb says: “To an ugly man, every mirror is an enemy.” The mirror is not the problem; it’s my ugly mug. As Lynette found out, the Law shows us how sinful we really are. Turn back to Romans 3:20: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the Law; rather, through the Law we become conscious of sin.”
Paul then gives an example of how the Law illuminates our sin by using the 10th Commandment, which is a prohibition against coveting. By just quoting an abbreviated version of this command, his readers would have filled in the rest from 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.”
Nelson’s Bible Dictionary defines coveting as “an intense desire to possess something (or someone) that belongs to another person.” It means “to desire greatly, to lust after that which cannot be legitimately ours.” Let’s consider for a moment why Paul chose this particular prohibition.
* The 10th Commandment stands for all the rest. By quoting a portion of the final commandment, Paul is saying that this one summarizes all the others.
* Coveting is a root sin which is often the cause of other sins. If we could peel back our motives when we sin, a spirit of coveting is often behind what we do. One could argue that coveting is the root sin of Eve in Genesis 3:6 when she viewed the forbidden fruit as “…pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom…” In Colossians 3:5, Paul equates coveting (or greed) with idolatry. In Joshua 7:21, Achan explains why he sinned by taking forbidden plunder: “I coveted them and took them.”
* This commandment deals with inner attitudes. This is the only one of the 10 that just deals with heart attitudes. Sin begins in the heart and one can covet without anyone knowing it. Jesus taught the same thing in Matthew 5:21-28. While some of us can say that we haven’t broken some of the commands that deal with outward actions, every one of us has sinned inwardly.