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Wednesday, May 17, 2000

7 - Problems with the Law

Romans 7:7-8 by Robert Dean
Series:Spiritual Life (2000)
Duration:58 mins 5 secs

Problems with the Law: Romans 7: 7 – 8 Tape7.




In Romans 3 & 4 Paul outlined justification, that man is justified because he possesses the righteousness of Christ. At the moment of salvation God the Father imputes to us the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. There is a logical development but chronologically it all happens simultaneously but we are imputed the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ and God looking at that perfect righteousness declares us to be righteous. That is the meaning of justification. We are declared to be judicially righteous and because God's righteousness has been satisfied by Christ's work on the cross. That is laid out at the end of Romans 3 and Romans 4 and is the illustration of Abraham from the Old Testament that justification is by faith.


Romans 5 deals with one consequence of that which is that now we have peace with God and reconciliation and developing that out leads to the discussion of sanctification in Romans 6. It is important to understand that there is a shift in subject matter here. Justification is covered and there is a thematic doctrinal development, which is very logical through Romans. It starts off with the condemnation of Gentiles and Jews in Romans 1 & 2, then justification, then reconciliation, then sanctification and then it deals with how God is righteous in His dealings with Israel and their salvation in Romans 9, 10 and 11. Now the thing is that if you understand that outline and you get certain passages in these sections and you start asking questions, 'Well what does this mean?' It may sound like a verse that has to do with phase one salvation but if it's in Romans 6 and the subject is sanctification, it can't be phase one salvation. 


In the first five verses of Romans 6 a foundation is laid which is the fact that we are identified with Jesus Christ in His death, burial and resurrection that is positional truth. Retroactive positional truth means that at the moment we are believers we are instantly identified with His death in the past, that's why it is retroactive. We are instantly identified with His death, burial and resurrection and that is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. With that identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection we are entered into union with Him and that union can never be severed. Because we have this new position in Christ, just as Christ died and went to the grave and rose from the grave to live to the Glory of God for ever and ever, so we too by analogy enter into a newness of life and that is the purpose.


We are saved for a purpose; the Glory of God, that is why we are saved. Salvation is a means to an end, its newness of life, we are saved to this newness of Life so that we can advance to spiritual maturity and it is only at spiritual maturity when we are bearing much fruit. According to John 15 and the vine analogy, "by this is the Father Glorified that you bear much fruit." John 15:8.


Romans 7 Overview


Last time in Romans 7: 1 – 6 we saw that Paul uses the analogy of the death of a spouse as breaking the legal bondage, legal requirement of a marriage contract to illustrate what happens at salvation. You are under law when you are alive but once a death occurs as in a marriage you are married but when your spouse dies you are no longer under obligation to the law and you are free to remarry. What happens with the believer is, when the believer is born they are married to the Law but it is not the Law that dies, it's the believer that dies in Christ. So that divorces the believer from the Law.


Now having said that and a few things that Paul said in Romans Chapter 6, it would be easy to infer that, 'Paul, are you saying that the Law is really bad?' Paul has to correct this wrong inference in verse 7; "...What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, 'You shall not covet.' ..."


Now a couple of things we have to notice in terms of what's going to happen starting in verse 7 through the end of the chapter; Paul shifts to a first person singular pronoun. That raises an important hermeneutical question; 'Is Paul talking about his own personal autobiography here?' 'Or is Paul just using 'I' as a sense of a reference to what is common to all people?' The second thing that we have to note is that the verb tenses in verses 7 through 12 either are imperfect aorist or perfect tenses which are all past tenses. When you get down to verse 13 all of a sudden the verb tenses begin to shift to present tenses.


So what this means is starting in verse 13 and following to the end of the chapter, he is talking about the experience present tense of a Christian but the struggle in Romans 7 is between the regenerate believer who has a new nature verses his sin nature. There is no mention of the Holy Spirit here. Now there is the foreshadowing of the Holy Spirit which was given in verse 6, but starting in verse 7 down through the end of the chapter there is no mention of the Holy Spirit.


Now we studied Galatians 5: 16 where Paul says "...Walk by means of the Spirit and you will not bring to completion the deeds of the flesh..."


The conflict in Galatians 5 is a conflict between the sin nature and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not mentioned in Romans 7; the conflict in Romans 7 is between the believer's sin nature and his new nature. But what we see is that because there is no mention of the Holy Spirit there is nothing but failure and frustration and the attempt is to try and live a moral life, to try to please God and the result is always going to be the domination of the sin nature.


The only solution comes in when Paul introduces the Spirit beginning in Chapter 8. That's the flow, he is going to start in 7 through 12 with what I think is pre conversion examples, whether this is his personal autobiography or if he is talking generally of anyone pre conversion and including himself as an example.


In 7:7, he raises the question as through this whole section building his argument logically through the use of rhetorical questions.


"...What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, 'You shall not covet.' ..."


It is not that the Law is sinful; it is that the law reveals sin. Without the law it is not clear. Without the law you are still a sinner. It may not be as clear, it may not be as precise, but its still there. He has already said that the Gentiles (back in Romans Chapter 2) have an internal sense and they have a conscience and just because they have a conscience they know that there is right and wrong. Now their values might be screwed up but they know there are absolutes and because they know there are absolutes they know that they fail and that they are sinners.


There is some sense there that even Gentiles without the Mosaic Law know they are violating the standard of God even though it is in a more vague sense. The Jew has the Law and it is when it is brought into the open and into the spot light of the Law that it is revealed in all of its hideousness of the violation of the standard and righteousness of God. 


  1. Definition of Law: NOMOS in the Greek. Can refer to general law or absolutes in any legal system or it can refer specifically to the Mosaic Law and Paul uses it both ways and sometimes he uses it both ways in the same section. Now here I think it is clear that he is talking specifically about the Mosaic Law because the example he quotes in the second half of verse seven is from the tenth commandment and is a prohibition of covetness. From that we know he is specifically talking about the Mosaic Law in this particular chapter. Now this means we need to understand a few things about the Mosaic Law. 
  2. The Mosaic Law was a particular covenant which God made with Israel. Now what is a covenant? The best term that we can use in English to bring it over is a contract. From the day that Adam fell and they started having children and they started having to interact with one another on the basis of trade, on the basis of giving anything and making any kind of money or developing any sort of financial system, which within at least two generations would have developed. They had to come back to the concept of contracts. Contracts are fundamental to all relationships, economics, business, commerce and trade, as soon as fallen man got into a situation where they had to enter into some sort of agreement and establish a basis of trust there is this sense of, 'How are we going to establish this?' Now God had already dealt with man on a certain basis and that becomes the model and precedent for human contracts. Human contracts are a reflection of God's original contract with man; we have studied that in the Old Testament series. A contract expresses certain stipulations, it expresses who the parties to the contract are and it expresses the requirements and stipulations (or terms) of the contract.
  3. The Mosaic covenant was seen as a temporary covenant and must be replaced by a new covenant. The Mosaic law when you apply your interpretation to it you see that it is a contract between God (party of the first part) and the nation Israel, the physical progeny of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who were brought out of Egypt as a redeemed nation (they are the party of the second part). So you can't come along after the cross and say 'Well, because the Jews rejected Christ, we are going to change the terms of the contract and Israel doesn't mean Israel anymore, it means the church.' It doesn't work like that. That is exactly what has happened and how most people want to treat the Law.
  4.  Christians in the church age have always had problems with the Law. There are those who want to make the Law the basis for salvation. But this is really absurd because man is a sinner and there is no way man by simply obeying a legal system/an external ethical code can gain the righteous standard of God or meet the absolute perfection of God. It also doesn't make sense if you look at the Old Testament.

  i.  Israel as a nation represents the individual in the church age. What happens to the nation as a whole is to illustrate for us in the church age what takes place in the individual life of the believer. So it starts off with Abraham where we have the call of Abraham and God's election or selection of Abraham, then you come down to the Exodus period and you have the Passover which represents the redemption of the nation, they are purchased by the shed blood which illustrates the spiritual substitutionary death of Christ on the cross. They applied the blood on the door posts in the shape of a cross and the angel of death passed over and they are redeemed as a nation, so they are brought out of slavery which is a type of our slavery to sin and brought into freedom. Then they go through the Red Sea. 1 Cor 10: 1 – 3, "...They are identified (baptised) with Moses in the sea…" That is analogous to what happens when the believer is identified with Christ with the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

So just as Abraham is called/elected, then you have redemption, you have adoption (Exodus 19), then you have the baptism into the Red Sea. Then what happens the nation is viewed as already saved here, this is the type of the redemption. So salvation for Israel occurs at the Exodus. Have they had the Law yet? No! They are not given the Law until they are redeemed. The Law is not how the nation got purchased out of the slavery of Egypt, it is given as a code of conduct after they are redeemed. Even in the structure of the Old Testament, the Law wasn't the way Israel got redeemed (not individually but corporately) it was subsequent to that to provide the ethical system or the code of conduct that God expected from Israel as a Kingdom of priests.

Now Peter picks up that same terminology of Exodus 19: 1 – 3, in 1 Peter 2:9 and quotes it and applies it to the church, that we are a unique kingdom of priests, we are a royal priesthood and that is for every single believer. That is why we have the word of God that is our code of conduct in the New Testament Church age to replace that.

  ii.  So if you follow this across the top you have the call, the election, redemption, adoption, baptism and then the giving of the ethical system or the code of conduct/ the protocol plan of God for Israel. Now we come below the line and how this mirrors what goes on in the individual life of the believer. We are called and elected in eternity past (this is related to the divine decrees) Then Christ goes to the cross where He purchases our redemption and at the point of salvation that is applied to us when we are adopted into the royal family of God and we become sons of God and heirs of God. At that same instant we are baptised by means of God the Holy Spirit and then and only then does the New Testament makes sense as God's sanctification plan for the believer.

  iii.  So the Law, the Mosaic Law is analogous to an overt ethical system for a redeemed nation but it is replaced by the New Testament because you have a new entity called into being, the church. The precedent for the church age sanctification isn't the Mosaic Law because they didn't have the Holy Spirit, that's what makes the difference they could only go so far. What you have in the New Testament and what comes in-between is the Hypostatic Union where Jesus Christ demonstrates the Spiritual life of the church age by living and walking by means of the Holy Spirit, filled by means of the Holy Spirit and that establishes the precedent for the church age spiritual life.

  iv.  The New Testament clarifies that the purpose of the Law was never for salvation. Romans 3:20 states "Through the law comes the knowledge of sin" The purpose of the law was not to get people saved but to show that they couldn't save themselves. They couldn't live up to the standard. Romans 5:20 states, "The law came in that the transgression might increase, but where sin increased grace abounded all the more." Law came into reveal to man in a more precise way his sinfulness and failure to meet up with the absolute standard of God. 1 Tim 1:8 "But we know that the law is good…" So it has a good feature to it if one uses it lawfully and that means that even if unbelievers use it they can have a benefit from it but it is not a spiritual benefit.


The second problem that people have with the Law is not just that they make the Law the basis for salvation but they make it the basis for sanctification or the spiritual life. This is the problem of legalism and Paul addresses this in Galatians chapter 3: 3. The problem with the Galatians were that they had Judaizers, these were Jews who were coming along claiming to be Christians and they said, 'if you want to experience everything that God has for you, you didn't get it all from the apostle Paul, now he told you about salvation and that's good, but if you really want the full Christian life and the full blessing from God then you need to be circumcised and come in under the Abrahamic covenant and live the Mosaic Law that is how you become sanctified.'


So Paul really has to straighten them out, he straightens them out about justification in Galatians two and starting in Galatians three he shifts to the spiritual life and he says "…are you so foolish having begun by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to be matured by the flesh [sin nature]…" and then he is going to use that when he comes into Galatians chapter 5 showing that living by the flesh and living by the law become parallel concepts because we have been freed from the Law and freed from the sin nature. So that emphasises that the Law is not the basis for living the spiritual life and sanctification, it is merely to reveal man's sinfulness and the law has been fulfilled, Romans says,  "...Christ is the end of the law..."


Now the problem is that we don't understand the sin nature. The sin nature is driven by lust patterns. Now this is the meaning of the word covetousness when we get down to the second part of verse 7, Paul says "…I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, 'You shall not covet.' 


Now he doesn't mean he wouldn't have known he was a sinner, there is a general sense of that but to understand it precisely he uses the word here GINOSKO which is to learn something from studying. The word for 'coveting' is the same word for lust over in Galatians 5: 17 "…that the lusts of the flesh wars against the Spirit…" it's the word EPITHUMEO it's not just covetousness it's the lust pattern.


This is what drives the mental attitude sin of lust, whether its power lust, approbation lust, material lust, sex lust what ever it is that drives and motivates the sin nature. "… I would not have known about coveting [lust] if the Law had not said, 'You shall not covet [lust]...' So it is the clarity of the law that brings sin out in all of its fullness.


Now we have a lust pattern in the sin nature and that is the motivation, remember the sin nature produces in two areas, it has an area of strength that produces human good, this is morality. When you look at Galatians 5:16, (and we must always compare when we get into this section of Romans as there is so many parallels between this and Galatians 5), you have the imperative "…walk by means of the Spirit and you will not fulfil the lusts of the flesh…",  what Paul is saying in Galatians 5:16 is "…walk by means of the Spirit and it will be impossible for you to bring to completion [TELEO] the lusts [EPITHUMEO] of the flesh…", now what does that tell you? That means you can not even commit a sin of ignorance unless first you stop walking by the Spirit. Those are those absolutes. You are either walking or you are not walking. And when you sin whether it's a sin of ignorance or cognisance, when you sin you have already stopped walking by means of the Spirit and you are out of fellowship.



This is one of the points I brought out in John 15 and the fruit bearing and abiding. If abiding in Christ is the sole and necessary condition for producing fruit, Jesus says in John 15: "…apart from Me you can do nothing…" and if walking by the Spirit is the sole and necessary condition to produce fruit in Galatians 5, then fellowship with Christ, abiding in Christ is tantamount to walking by means of the Spirit and its walking by the Spirit that we maintain fellowship with Christ. Now the problem is the instant we decide to sin we stop walking by the Spirit and that fellowship is broken and we have to have some kind of recovery. But what happens is we usually go on some kind of guilt trip and start operating on morality, 'I'm going to impress God with how good I really am' and that is human good and that is exactly what the Galatians were doing, they are following the Law and it is nothing but doing the right thing and reducing spirituality to morality.


The opposite end of the spectrum is personal sins which are produced by the area of weakness and the lust pattern produces trends. We have trends towards antinomianism leading to licentiousness on one end and legalism on the other.


We have a trend towards asceticism which is the idea that 'I'm going to give up something to gain approbation from God' and legalism (an external code adhered to that will gain approbation from God), on the intellectual level and this will be manifested in rationalism and empiricism and is expressed in moral degeneracy like the Pharisees.


The other trend is towards antinomianism leading to licentiousness, on the intellectual level this will be manifested in irrationalism, subjectivism, emotionalism and mysticism and is expressed in immoral degeneracy. That expresses the sin nature problems, so the Law can not be the basis for sanctification because that is just the expression of the legalistic trend of the sin nature.