Archives for category: Theological

And now he reaches his conclusion, which is the response to the question first posed in verse 7, of whether the law is sin: “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.”  What Paul is showing is that the fault and weakness he has been extensively describing was not in the law, but within him.  All the law of God did was righteously condemn him for being a covetous wretch.  It did not put that covetousness into him, though his sinful nature was stirred up by the very fact that God’s law forbade his lusts.  But the law of God is, by its very nature (as it must be, considering from Whom it came), holy, just, and good.


We need not elaborate upon whatever minor distinctions there may be between “the law” and “the commandment,” both of which I take to refer to the moral law, nor the descriptive adjectives “holy,” “just,” and “good.”  Suffice it to say, the apostle does not share the antinomian’s disdain towards God’s law, but esteems it very highly.  The law of God is a reflection of the holiness of God, the justice of God, and the goodness of God.  The reason man has a problem with it is because man himself is defiled, perverted, and corrupted by sin.  If he himself were internally holy, just, and good, he would be in perfect agreement and conformity with the law at all times.  The fact that he is not shows just how debased a creature he really is, and how greatly he needs the grace of God in Jesus Christ.



Sin took occasion by the commandment to deceive Paul, and through the commandment it slew him.  The precise meaning here is somewhat difficult to ascertain, although it may perhaps be that Paul is still speaking of his perception of things when he came under conviction of sin, rather than of the true spiritual reality.


There can be no question that at what time he was deceived into thinking he was right before God by his law-keeping.  It seems more likely that Paul is saying this: sin even took advantage of the law of God to stir up his lusts, and lead him into more and greater sin.  By this he was slain, when he came to recognize just what a wretch he really was, and that all of the hopes he had built for himself were a house of cards, which came down when the first breath from God’s law blew upon it.

When sin slew all of his spiritual self-confidence, Paul found that the commandment which was ordained unto life was for him death. He refers, of course, to those places where God says of His law, “The man that doeth them shall live in them.” We know that salvation cannot be by the works of the law; the apostle has already taken great pains to prove that point. Nevertheless, this divine declaration, as recorded by Moses is absolutely true. If a man could abide by all the precepts of the law of God, he would live by them. But the sinful nature we have inherited from Adam makes it impossible for us to abide perfectly in the commandments of God. Those who have tried the hardest have had to confess their utter and dismal failure. This is why a salvation such as Christ provides is so sorely needed, and it is why Paul went to such lengths to explain the doctrine of justification.


We may glean from this something which Paul will confirm very shortly, that there is no fault in the commandment. Remember that Paul is dismissing the notion that the law is sin, which conclusion he knew some would erroneously draw. The commandment was not ordained just to harass and destroy poor helpless men, but rather to show them the system of righteousness which God requires of us. It is the way of life, for those who can keep it. Of course, none but Christ ever did keep it. Even such an earnest practitioner of the law as Saul of Tarsus found, when its true spiritual implications came home to his heart, that it did not approve him, but rather condemned, and pronounced a sentence of eternal death upon him.

He elaborates upon this thought in the 9th verse, speaking of how he was alive without the law once.  Here we may safely assume that Paul is speaking of his own personal idea of things before conversion, rather than of the genuine spiritual reality.  In truth, while he remained an enemy of Christ, he was dead in trespasses and sins, a child of wrath even as others.  But that was certainly not how he viewed himself.  Proud Pharisee that he was, he considered himself one of the righteous in the earth, a paragon of virtue, a certain inheritor of the kingdom of God.  But that was because he did not understand how the law of God spoke to him, and applied to him.  As soon as the commandment came, sin revived, and he died.


Once again, the apostle is speaking of experience, and not in terms of spiritual realities.  He thought he was alive when he was ignorant of the true intent of God’s law; but when the commandment pressed upon his conscience with force and power, sin revived, he recognized its power, and all of his hopes of acceptance with God by personal obedience were slain on the spot.  The law of God killed all his self-righteous hopes and ambitions, and brought home to his conscience the reality of his hopeless condition as a sinner against a righteous God.


Answering an Accusation

Frustrated in their argument with Jesus, and having been exposed as children of the Devil and enemies of God, the Jews begin to hurl reckless accusations, accusing Christ of being a Samaritan and having a devil.  These were, no doubt, common slanders uttered against our Lord, especially among the leadership, but He utters an express denial, along with His reason: “I do honor My Father, and ye do dishonor Me.”  To dishonor the King’s ambassador is to dishonor the King Himself, and this the Jews were doing when they scorned the One sent from heaven.  In this message, I focus upon the reason for the accusation of the Jews’, our Lord’s denial of it and the importance of the first reason He states, and then make applications concerning the hatred of the enemies of the godly, and our Lord’s example in defending Himself.

Paul himself experienced the reality of the law of God stirring up sin in his members, for sin took occasion by the commandment to stir up within him all manner of concupiscence.  This is something he doubtless never would have admitted to his fellow Pharisees, when he was an enemy of Christ, but he is telling the Romans that the very prohibitions of God’s law against certain thoughts and acts made him desire them all the more.  In other words, Saul of Tarsus was made of the same sinful stuff as the rest of mankind, and possessed a corrupt heart that was in bondage to sin.


But during that period in his life, he goes on to say, “Without the law sin was dead.”  This is a peculiar saying, but I think in the context readily understandable.  He is telling us that without the law being pressed and applied to his conscience, sin was dead to him.  He had no conception that he was a guilty sinner before God, and never would have come to that recognition apart from the law of God.  Understood in this light, we must certainly understand that the law of God has an extremely vital role to play, for it is the agent by which we are brought under conviction and recognition of our guilt before God.  Apart from the law, how shall we understand that we are great sinners who stand in need of a great Saviour?  Sin will be dead to us, and we will delude ourselves that we are fine people, so long as we judge ourselves only by human standards.  Once correctly apply the standard of God’s law, though, and all our righteousness vanishes like a puff of smoke, and we stand before God and in our own sight in our true condition, guilty, helpless, and condemned.


Now, the apostle realizes with some of the powerful and controversial statements that he has been making, that more questions and objections are going to arise, particularly among the Jews who held God’s law in such great reverence.  “If,” some person may demand, “the law was an unmerciful tyrant who kept us in bondage, and it is only salvation by Christ which slays the law and makes us free, then must not the law itself be evil?”  Once again, the apostle exclaims, “God forbid!”  Perish the very thought!  To ask such a question is to manifest that one has not clearly understood the intent of Paul’s preceding analogy.


Here he explains his reaction by relating his personal experience with the law: “I had not known sin but by the law.”  Why this statement?  He is showing us the good purpose for which the law is given; namely, to show us what sin is, and convict us of it when we commit it.  This is a reality of which I think every Christian knows something.  In Paul’s personal experience, the sin which the law convicted him of was covetousness.  Outwardly, he lived a life of irreproachable conduct, being a Pharisee who devoutly practiced every precept and principle of the law, and was zealous towards God in all things.  But the law of God, wielding the two-edged sword of conviction, cut deep into the layers of the heart of Saul of Tarsus, and showed him that, even if he were guiltless with respect to other commandments, he was certainly in violation of the tenth, which forbids covetousness.  It was by the application of this commandment to Paul’s heart that he recognized he was not the righteous person he conceived himself to be, but rather a sinner worthy of divine wrath and vengeance.  What precisely it was Paul coveted, he does not say; though I think we may guess, based upon other things he says about himself in other letters, that it was the covetousness of higher position, more prestige, greater stature in the national religion.