Sanctification and Freedom from Law
(b) The Relationship between Law and Sin
“Preparing the heart for God’s amazing grace”
In this chapter Paul’s purpose is to help us understand the law of God so that we would be assisted in the work of sanctification. The first section of this chapter examines the freedom that we now enjoy from the bondage of the law. The law is a source of bondage to the unconverted man because he is ever attempting to appease his and/or his creator by attempting to uphold ethical and moral standards, all of which originate with God’s righteousness. This is a futile exercise. Only in Christ can the sinner be emancipated from the bondage of the law. Paul was constantly conscious of those who interpreted his doctrine as antinomian; against the law. Therefore in v7 he exclaims, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid.” He proceeds then to instruct us in the value of the law, where salvation is concerned. Man’s sin renders the law a source of bondage prior to salvation. Yet as the law is “holy, and just and good” (v12) it must have some value even in process of regeneration and repentance. Paul uses his own testimony to illustrate this process. John Murray entitles his chapter on this passage, “Transitional Experience”, because it describes the state of Paul’s soul after he became aware of God’s righteousness and before he was converted. We call this the period of conviction. Conviction occurs because we are sinners, therefore we talk about conviction of sin. Therefore the law of God has a distinct relationship to sin. In fact by examining the purpose of the law we discover what sin is. Sin has been redefined as a crime against man’s law and has even been reclassified as the the effects of one genes or his social influences. The Bible knows nothing of such definitions. Sin must always be viewed in the light of God’s standards of righteousness because, “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God” (Shorter Catechism answer 14). This study will examine the relationship between law and sin as the sinners heart is prepared for God’s amazing grace.
1: The Education v7
Paul testifies to the work of the law in revealing his own sinfulness. Indeed he claims that he never would have discovered that he was a sinner but for the righteousness of God, revealed to him. He selects one particular aspect of the law of God for special consideration, the 10th commandment, “Thou shalt not covet”. Was this because Paul became convicted of this sin more than any other as the Spirit strove in his heart. He certainly discovered through the application of the law to his heart that he was guilty of wicked desires which corrupted his soul. What is true of the unconverted person is also true of the Christian. We should meditate upon the law because there our wickedness becomes exposed. We will only turn from our wicked ways when our hearts are examined by the God’s standards.
2: The Rebellion v8-12
In this section Paul testifies that his wickedness became worse when the law began to educate him as to his sin. In v6 he remembered that sin used the commandment as the occasion for working all manner of concupiscence, or ungodly desires, within his nature. In v11 he explained that sin again used the commandment to deceive him. What then did Paul mean by this? When he discovered what sin was his heart began to crave for that which was forbidden to a greater extent. How often have we not seen this in practice. Tell children a mode of behaviour is not allowed and they will be magnetically drawn to this behaviour. Why did mobs across English cities loot stores wholesale in the summer of 2011? It was not because they were so impoverished that the items they stole were necessary for life to exist. Smashing windows and looting shops is against the law and these people were involved in unrestrained acts of violence against the law. People sometimes react negatively when brought face to face with the gospel for this very reason, the pricking of the conscience produces rebellion in the heart of the sinner against the truth.
Paul also testifies in this passage that before the law educated him he was alive. This was an expression of his feelings, his pride, his self confidence. When the commandment was applied with force to his heart, however, he died. He now knew that he was guilty before God’s holiness and that he was dead in sin. V10-11 would appear to teach that as Paul rebelled against the law this death became more acute. Opposing the law in defiance actually proved that he was a wretched man in need of grace and forgiveness.
3: The Corruption v13
Paul, in concluding this passage, is at pains to point out that because the law produces this rebellion in the heart of man, this does not mean that the law is sin itself. Rather the law of God is just, holy and good. It is the sinful and rebellious nature of man in reacting to the law which is to blame. If people react angrily to faithful preaching which highlight God’s true standards the fault is never with the word but the sinful heart of man. What Paul expounds clearly here at the close of these verses is that as sin resists the law it becomes more apparent to the sinner that he is a lost soul. He begins to apprehend his corruption as sin becomes sinful to him. Sin is no longer pleasurable nor is it innocent but bis sinful. A sinner under conviction is not ambivalent, apathetic or dismissive. His sin becomes loathsome. There is an increasing need for the church to catch a true vision of what sin is; to achieve this we must become educated in the teaching and the function of God’s law.