logo Living Water Christian Fellowship logo
Home Recent Sermon Multimedia Sermons News & Events Our Vision Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!

"Sin's Sneakiness, Law's Limitations"

June 29, 2014 Romans 7(4-14,22-25)


"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," Jesus taught us to pray. A trespass is crossing the line. We need to know where the lines are. But sin is sneaky and tempts us to shove our big hairy toe across the line just as soon as we're told where the line IS.

In the current issue of FaithToday, Sheila Wray Gregoire discusses her uneasiness with how much stress some Christians put on the matter of purity, to the point of becoming legalistic. For instance, Josh Harris' book on courtship, which has a list of strict guidelines he and his fiancee followed so as to not feed lust. Gregoire recalls, "I spoke recently with a 19-year-old woman who didn't date in high school, but is now in quite a serious relationship at university. When she and her boyfriend were first discussing boundaries, they decided not to define how far they should go, because as soon as you draw a line, you immediately rush to it and start flirting with it. Instead, they decided they would begin every time they're together by focusing on Jesus. Make Jesus the centre, and the rest will follow." Gregoire maintains the church will help youth create a culture of modesty and purity "much faster by having a relationship with Christ than by memorizing a bunch of rules."

I agree that rules without the relationship are not enough. Still, having been a father of teens, I'd recommend frank discussion about limits - while recognizing we need Jesus' help and the Spirit's self-control not to take advantage of the other person. But that 19-year-old's point about "flirting with the line" is very valid: we have an innate tendency to push the limits set for us.

For example, you're in the grocery store looking for a can of tuna. On the shelf is a sign indicating tuna's on sale with the note, "Maximum 4 per customer." We'd only intended to get one can, but immediately the sign suggests to us we should get 4. And a little voice inside suggests, "What if I want to get 5? Nobody's going to tell ME what I can or can't do!"

In Romans 7, Paul offers guidance about this dilemma, this internal resistance to complying with limits that are meant for good, but we somehow find ourselves tripping over. With deadly effect. V9 "Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died."


Before we get into this passage, some Christian authors have questioned whether this chapter even really applies to us. Isn't Paul talking about his experience BEFORE becoming a Christian? For example, several verses use phrases that don't fit well with the position the New Testament in general attributes to believers. V14 "I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin." V18 "I know that nothing good lives in me..." And v24, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?"

But several factors suggest that Paul IS speaking about his own experience as a Christian believer. He uses the present tense and the personal pronoun "I" throughout the passage, as if he were sharing his current ongoing experience. He shows humility (v18) and a high regard for God's law (vv14,16) which should characterize a believer. And the placement of the chapter comes right in the middle of chapters 6 and 8 where he's talking about a believer's growth in sanctification as part of their whole conversion/ maturation process. John MacArthur concludes, "So, in verses 14-25, Paul must be describing all Christians - even the most spiritual and mature - who, when they honestly evaluate themselves against the righteous standard of God's Law, realize how short they fall."


One cover-up we may be tempted to use when we sin is to BLAME something or somebody else. "The devil made me do it!" Some might even try to blame the situation on religious laws in the first place. If there were no laws, there'd be no sin, right?

Paul speaks up-front to those who might be tempted to "blame it on the law". V7 "Is the law sin?" V13 "Did that which is good, then, become death to me? [he retorts] By no means!"

It's not true that we'd be better off without the law altogether. The law is HELPFUL to a point: it identifies what's not good for us, what ethical behaviour conforms to the standard of God's character. V7 "I would not have known what sin was except through the law...I would not have know what coveting really was if the law had not said, 'Do not covet.'"

Would a loving parent warn their child, "Don't touch the woodstove - it's hot!" Of course. You want to spare the child the agony of a burnt hand. Now, that may immediately spark curiosity in the child, prompting to reach out their hand and feel just HOW hot it is, but that's not the command's fault.

V12 "So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good." Jesus in Mathew 5(17,19) maintained the legitimacy and validity of the law: ""Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them...Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." Jesus viewed the commandments as GOOD.

The catch, of course, is that only Jesus could fulfill the law perfectly; all other humans stand condemned at some point by virtue of their disobedience and fallenness in Adam. We have a selfish bent that booby-traps our obedience. Vv8-11 talk about sin seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment; when the commandment came, sin "sprang to life"; it "deceived" Paul and put him to death.

So the law is helpful for identifying sin, helping humans know what conforms to the Maker's expectations as to what's good for our lives, but law is powerless to help us actually KEEP God's ways. Gal 2:16 Paul wrote, we "know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified." Based on our own performance, by heaven's standards, no one makes the grade.


Verses 14 on in chapter 7 describe conflict that goes on within a person when our capers fail our conscience. V16 "I agree that the law is good." 18b "I have the desire to do what is good." 19 "the good I want to do", 21 "I want to do good"; 22 "in my inner being I delight in God's law..." We have been awakened morally, the Bible gives us an awareness of what pleases our Maker.

BUT we seem powerless to carry out the good we know we should do. 15 "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." 16 "I do what I do not want to do." 18 I cannot carry out the good I desire to do; 19 I keep on doing the evil I do not want to do. What gives?!! We know exactly what we SHOULD do, yet we do the exact opposite!

Why? What's the culprit? Paul exposes the dynamic in play in v17, "It is no longer I myself who do it, but it is SIN LIVING IN ME." For emphasis, again in V20, "Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it."

V21 describes a "law" or "principle" at work: Paul wants to do good, but he says, "Evil is right there with me." Even closer than the cartoon depiction you sometimes see of a demon perched on one shoulder and an angel on the other; "right there with" you, an impulse inside you. You know you really shouldn't click on that video link - you'll likely end up just feeling scummy afterwards - but somehow your curiosity gets the better of you. You know you shouldn't give voice to that thought that just ran through your head, but somehow the unkind words just sort of slip out and then it's too late, you can't get them back.

V23 "I see another law [or, controlling principle] at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members." A veritable WAR within, a continual conflict between mind and members. Don't forget here that "flesh" or "sinful nature" doesn't just refer to our physical selves, but also the parts of our minds included in our unredeemed human fallenness - you can't just blame it on your chemistry, your hormones, it goes much deeper than that into your psyche, your self-orientation. MacArthur says, "The flesh serves as a base camp from which sin operates in the Christian's life."

A war, a combat operation in which part of us holds the other part "prisoner"! Isn't that a bind?! V25 in the flesh I am "a SLAVE to the law of sin." 14b "I am unspiritual [literally 'carnal / of flesh'] SOLD AS A SLAVE to sin." Doesn't sound very hopeful, does it? V24 "What a WRETCHED man I am!" Caught in a never-ending power struggle, held hostage.


Plaintively, the apostle cries out in v24b, "Who will rescue me from this body of death?" NIV Study Bible comments, "the body of sin that hung on him like a corpse and from which he could not gain freedom." MacArthur notes, "Tradition says that an ancient tribe near Tarsus [Paul's hometown] tied the corpse of a murder victim to its murderer, allowing its spreading decay to slowly infect and execute the murderer - perhaps that is the image Paul has in mind." How's that for a vivid word picture? How gruesome! How grave! Yet, how like what's at stake in this soul-struggle.

Who will rescue me? This is where the GOOD NEWS comes in! V25 "Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!" That's exactly what chapters 3-6 have been driving at, Jesus' rescue of sinners by offering Himself in our stead. V14 described us as "SOLD AS A SLAVE to sin." Jesus paid the price at the cross to buy us back, redeem us from that enslavement. V4 "So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead..." Having believed in Christ, you now "belong to another" - you were "bought at a price".

You've been redeemed, rescued, RELEASED. You're now under new jurisdiction or authority. This is what Paul's getting at in the beginning of this chapter. V1 the law has "authority" or "lordship" over a man only as long as he lives. V2 has the example of a married woman RELEASED from the law of marriage if her husband dies; again in v3, "But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man." Then v6 "But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve...not in the old way of the written code." RELEASED! Set free! That bind that had you in a headlock no longer applies!

Elsewhere, writing to the church at Galatia, Paul expressed it this way. "Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed...Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law...God sent his Son...to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons." (Gal 3:23,25, 4:4-5) You've been redeemed, bought back, released from law's locking-up.


When reading Romans, we may try to hurry through chapter 7 because we want to get to "the good stuff", the "life in the Spirit" passages of chapter 8. But look closely and you'll see Paul gives a little foretaste, a teaser, here in chapter 7. V4 We have new OWNERSHIP: "you...belong to another." We have new PURPOSE: note the little "in order that" purpose-clause near the end of v4, "IN ORDER THAT you might [what? What's our new purpose?] BEAR FRUIT FOR GOD." As MacArthur puts it, "a transformed life that manifests new attitudes and actions." V6 We've been release from the law so that we serve HOW? "IN THE NEW WAY OF THE SPIRIT." Bearing fruit, in the Spirit - reminds one of the 'fruit of the Spirit' passage in Galatians 5, doesn't it? Love joy peace patience kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness self-control. God wants dearly to ripen those traits in us, so we "bear fruit" in a way that glorifies Him, makes Him look good as they see His qualities reflected in us. The Life Application Bible comments, "Because of Christ's sacrifice, the way to God is already open, and we can become his children simply by putting our faith in him.No longer trying to reach God by keeping rules, we can become more and more like Jesus as we live with him day by day.Let the Holy Spirit turn your eyes away from your own performance and toward Jesus.He will free you to serve him out of love and gratitude.This is living 'in the new way of the Spirit'."

There are a couple of hints in this passage on how to "ripen" for the Lord. V6 says "by dying to what once bound us," what held us fast or restrained us. V21 "In my inner being I DELIGHT IN God's law..." The Greek for "delight" is "take pleasure in", the root for "hedonism". Die to those former desires, sin's deceitful temptations that never deliver quite what they promise, and cultivate delighting in God's Spirit and truth. Relish, learn to find pleasure in Christ-fueled ambitions / goals / satisfactions.


Well, Canada Day is coming up Tuesday, so for today's closing illustration I'd like to highlight a Canadian faith-hero [source: Patricia Simpson in Michael D Clarke ed, Canada: Portraits of Faith]. Marguerite Bourgeoys was born in the province of Champagne, France, in 1620. Her father was a master candlemaker and an official in the city mint, giving the family a respected place in the community. In their city, Troyes, was a cloistered teaching community of sisters who met regularly, prayed together, taught the children of the poor, and dressed simply; Marguerite declined joining them because she thought of herself as rather flighty and liked to be "chic". But at the age of 20, while taking part in a religious procession, Marguerite was touched by an experience of grace so profound that she felt herself transformed. Late in life she wrote, "I gave myself to God in 1640." She began working among the poor with the sisters, and became prefect of the congregation.

Meanwhile, a group of devout French folk financed, recruited, and planned a settlement on the island of Montreal in Canada for the express purpose of carrying the gospel to the Amerindians of the New World. They hoped life in the new settlement would reflect that of the early Christian church described in the book of Acts. Leader Paul de Maisonneuve was back in France in 1652, 10 years after its founding, seeking recruits. He happened to visit his sister who belonged to the congregation of which Marguerite was prefect. He asked Marguerite to come teach the children. It meant no longer working among the poor of Troyes, but she went in 1653.

In 1658 Marguerite opened Montreal's first school. With other women, she taught the children of the French settlers, first in Montreal and then in the villages coming into being along the Saint Lawrence. In 1676 (at age 56), Marguerite and her followers began teaching Amerindian girls in what was called the Mountain Mission; although transmitting the Christian faith was the most important part of their mission, they also taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and the skills needed to earn a living. They also opened a vocational school for older women. All of this education was offered free of charge: Marguerite wanted her community to be self-supporting, and her members worked hard not to be a burden to the settlement. They lived a poor and simple life close to the ordinary colonists.

At her death in 1700, a local clergyman wrote, "Never were there so many...as there were this morning at the funeral of this holy woman.If the saints were canonized today as they were in olden times, tomorrow we would be saying the mass of St.Marguerite of Canada." Actually she was canonized in 1982.

But think of all she'd given up: from being the well-off daughter of an established local merchant in civilized France, to first of all work among the poor there, then bravely head off into the unsettled wilds of the bush in North America to work amongst the natives! How she must have "died to" the former things, and cultivated new desires, become a hedonist in Christ. Listen to this quote: she said, "All I have ever desired most deeply and what I still most ardently wish is that the great precept of the love of God above all things and of the neighbour as oneself be written in every heart." Rightly had she said, "I gave myself to God in 1640." Belonging to another, she discovered newness of life - something better even than 17th-century bourgeoisie life in France. Let's pray.