Don’t Blame the Law, It’s You!

Title: Don’t Blame the Law, It’s You!

Text: Romans 7:7-13

Time: September 30th, 2006

We’ve been studying the Book of Romans for months now, and a false impression might be forming in the minds of some people that the Apostle Paul is against God’s law, that he’s down on the law of God. Paul realizes that this false impression might be arising in some people’s minds, so he addresses this issue head-on: “What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not!” Romans 7:7. Paul wants to explain that it isn’t the law that’s bad — it’s people. A better way to explain it is in terms of guns and people in contemporary culture. Every so often the gun control issue comes up and is debated. In this debate a phrase is used a lot that goes, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” This phrase is supposed to mean that guns are not the issue, but it’s the people who use guns that are the issue. It means that the problem of crime is not an issue about guns per se, but rather it’s about the wrong use of guns by people, and therefore, it’s a people issue, not a gun issue. The problem comes back to people not guns. That is a little bit like the argument Paul is trying to make in respect to the law — it isn’t that law is bad, it’s people who are bad. People misunderstand Paul’s teaching about the law, thinking that he’s against law, or that he’s down on law, or that he’s anti-law, but he’s not. What Paul says about the law is different from what the ordinary Jew of his time said about the law, it might even be different than what most people today would say about the law, but he isn’t speaking against the law. The Apostle says that the law cannot bring about right standing before God because it only states what is right but doesn’t motivate us or empower us to do what is right. The law can’t bring about righteousness in us; it can only tell us what righteousness is, but it can’t enable us to be righteous. In fact, through our own human sinfulness, by telling us what is righteousness, the law stirs us rebellion in us and actually motivates us to disobey what it is telling us to do. Paul tries to explain that this isn’t a fault of the law, it is a fault in us, but it is what in fact happens when we interact with the law. So Paul explains that the law of God cannot bring about righteousness in us, but the exact opposite; the law stirs up rebellion in us. In this sense, the law only makes things worse instead of making things better for us. The more of God’s law we are exposed to, the more we find ourselves rebelling against it, the more we sin, the less pleasing we are before God, the more worthy of judgment and condemnation we are before God. This is what Paul says about the law that is interpreted by many people as speaking negatively against God’s law. So in the middle of chapter seven in the Book of Romans, Paul takes time to explain once more what he’s trying to say. Romans 7:7-13 (read). He says three important things that will help us today understand even our own relationship with God and his law.

First, the goodness of law points to the badness of sin. Romans 7:7, 12, 13, “What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet.’. . . So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? My no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.” The law of God is a reflection of the holiness of God. The moral commands of God’s law point out how we are to live our lives in the way God himself lives his life. The law is utterly holy, right, and good because it comes from God and reflects the character and nature of God himself. Now the first law from God ever given to mankind was in the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve: “But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die,” Genesis 2:17. This single law pointed Adam and Eve to God’s absolute authority over all creation. As long as they recognized and followed God’s authority in their lives, things would go well. Well, as we all know, they broke that single command and brought sin, death, and destruction upon the earth. Was the law bad? No, it was the sinfulness of man that was bad. Next, God gave Moses more laws, starting with the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. We read of these laws in the first five books of the Bible, or the Torah, as the Jews call them. But between Adam and Moses, and even today and in the past, for people who aren’t familiar with God’s written law commands, there is the law of conscience that guides and directs people in a less precise but very real way nonetheless. Conscience is a good thing when it is formed by a notion of God’s real law. But the written commands God gave Israel to live by, these are the purist and best form of law. Just as they pointed the Jews to God’s will and purpose for their lives, it continues to point us to God’s will and purpose for our lives today. Is this a bad thing? As Paul says, “Certainly not!” So then what is bad? The sinfulness of people is the bad thing, not the law. Just like the gun slogan example, in a murder, a gun shooting, it isn’t the gun that did that which was wrong; it was the person who aimed and fired the gun. Just the same, the law can’t be blamed because people sin. It is true that if it weren’t for the law, there would be no sin, just like it is true that without the gun there would be no shooting, but that doesn’t make the law or the gun guilty. So we can’t blame God’s holy law for sin and death, even though without it there wouldn’t be any of these things. We can’t pass the buck on the law; we must blame the sin within each of us. That is Paul’s point. But he says more.

Second, we can’t return to a state of carefree innocence or childhood before our age of accountability. Romans 7:9-10, “Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.” Just as we might be tempted to blame the law for our sin and death, we might also be tempted to escape back into our childhoods, before the age of our moral accountability, and live in that carefree time before we came to realize our responsibility before God and His law. Theologians have called the time a child realizes for the first time the moral requirements of God’s law, the age of accountability. The Jews have fixed such an age at around twelve years by making that the time a Jewish boy becomes a man through Bar Mitzvah, which means “son of the commandments.” Before this age of accountability, a child is usually unaware of God’s moral responsibility. A child usually fails to grasp the moral requirements of obedience to God’s law. Obedience to parents is usually the only concern a child has as he or she grows up in the family. In this state of blissful ignorance or unawareness of a greater moral obligation to God, a child is often carefree and worry-free. Moral guilt, shame, etc. are often absent in the child’s young mind before he becomes aware of God’s moral law. This is what Paul is talking about when he says, “Once I was alive apart from law.” But then Paul describes the experience of him becoming aware of sin through the commandments, and when that moral sense of responsibility came upon him, he lost his innocence and came under the burden of sin and death. He came to understand what it means to have a guilty conscience for failing to obey the law of God, and to suffer the effects of shame. Again, one might want to blame the law for disturbing a beautiful life of blissful childhood. There have actually been experiments by intelligent people to somehow capture once again the carefree life of childhood through an ignorance of moral law. For example, certain philosophers attempted to travel to remote villages to live among primitive people who are totally ignorant of any of God’s written law commands. These philosophers saw a freedom and happiness in these primitive people without law, and they thought they might be able to capture some of that spontaneous life once again. But all of these experiments of returning to simpler times ended in failure. There can be no going back. Just as in our own lives there can be no going back to childhood. Yes, we all were once blissfully ignorant of God’s moral demands. Yes, we didn’t bear the burden of moral obligation that the law brings. But once we reached the age of accountability (which can be different in each person, but usually is before or around the early teenage years), there can be no going back. We must face our responsibility before God as adults, and we can’t escape back into childhood. Paul reminds us of this. But he has something else to say.

Third, sin is provoked by law. Romans 7:8, 11, “But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from the law, sin is dead. . . . For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.” According to Paul, not only does our coming into the age of accountability raise our consciousness to the law of God, or in other words, makes us aware of God’s moral law, but the law itself provokes us to actually sin and rebel against God because of how our original sin reacts to our new awareness of God’s demands on our life. Sin is provoked by God’s law, and law provokes us to sin. In other words, there is a toxic reaction between our inherited sin nature and God’s holy law. Before we become aware of God’s law in our lives during early childhood, we are not provoked to go out of our way to sin. Yes, we have within us a natural rebellious streak that we inherit from Adam and which shows up even in early childhood, but it is not until we come into the age of accountability, where our moral sense of duty and obligation to God’s law is aroused that we really rebel against God. We don’t even know what is going on at the spiritual and psychological level in our life, but if we look back at our personal history we’ll see that Paul is exactly right in his analysis of our moral life. Paul gives us a perfect diagnoses or interpretation of human sinfulness that we can all relate to. It is not as if Paul is explaining some esoteric philosophy or theoretical formulation. No, Paul is describing our own personal background and history as we pass through the innocence of childhood into the responsibility of adulthood. He helps us understand ourselves better in the process. Do you understand yourself better now that the Apostle has explained this to you? Can you see how when you became aware of God’s law you reacted against it sinfully? If you might have been tempted to blame the law or blame God for giving the law or blame God for making the law too hard or too detailed or impossible to live up to, do you see now that it isn’t God’s fault or the law’s fault, but it’s your own fault? Do you see that you reacted to God’s law with rebellion because that is what comes natural to you and everyone? So we see how deep and wide this problem of sin is, not just the sin of the world, but the sin within our own selves as well. Sin is a major problem in our world, but it’s also a major problem in our own lives. That’s why God sent Jesus as the solution to this overwhelming problem of sin. Have you fully embraced Jesus as your savior from your sins? We see now how deep the stain of sin runs in our own lives, going back to childhood. It was fully awakened when we reached our age of moral accountability sometime before or during our early teenage years. From that point on we felt the tug-of-war between obedience and rebellion towards God’s law. But a description of that inner battle is the subject of next week’s message in Romans 7: 14-25, where Paul says, “The good that I would do, I don’t do; and that which I would not do, I do.” But more on this later. Let us pray.

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