Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Law and Sin: Partners in Crime? (Romans № 19)

Paul makes a fascinating (and controversial) comment in chapter 7 of his Romans letter:

"For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit." (Rom 7.5-6 ESV)

The apostle declares that Torah, the Law of Moses, actually contributed to the sin of Jews! This is startling in its implications! Is Torah an accomplice with sin to condemn us before God?

In this section of his letter he comes to the defense of Torah. He doesn't want the Romans to believe that the Law is evil; rather, he needed the Christians to appreciate the necessary job that Torah accomplished. Read his thoughts on the matter:

"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. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 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."
(Rom 7.7-13 ESV)

Paul makes an astounding statement, one that surely could offend many Jews of his day: Torah was given by God to show people how sinful they were, and how hopeless it was to seek salvation by good works. The Law of Moses simply revealed the rebellious heart of a person depraved before God. Heed Wesley's thoughts in his Explanatory Notes on sin in the last part of vs. 13:

"So that sin by the commandment became exceeding sinful - The consequence of which was, that inbred sin, thus driving furiously in spite of the commandment, became exceeding sinful; the guilt thereof being greatly aggravated."

The holy Law reveals unholy depravity. This is to cause us to despair of our own righteousness and to chase after grace through Christ. As Paul writes elsewhere:

"For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.' Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for 'The righteous shall live by faith.'" (Gal 3.10-11 ESV)

and...

"But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith." (Gal 3.22-26 ESV)

One last thing before we end part 1 of this sermon entry. If Paul was right when he said, "I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died" [Rom 7.9 ESV] then why did God give Torah at all? In other words, if ignorance of right and wrong would have kept people free from the condemnation of sin then why didn't God allow humanity to walk in total darkness, thus saving everyone?

Well, there are two problems with this view.

1. This is contrary to the holiness of God. God hates wrong and he wants his creation to do right.

2. There still is the law of the conscience that everyone, without the Law, would be judged by (Rom 2.14-16). No one is exempt from it. Nobody (except the mentally incapacitated) is without a conscience; even pagans had some sense of right and wrong, however imperfect (or warped) it may have been.

Torah is the fullest expression of written code that shows a person how sinful he is.