God's law is good. 7:7-13
Paul has just explained how we are free from the oppressive dominion of the law. In our passage for study, he tackles a possible misconception; he is not implying that the law is sinful, rather that the law exposes sin and thus our need for redemption. Paul, in this passage, uses the past tense. He speaks in a general way of a person without the law, who is then confronted by the law. His observation is that the law exposes the true nature of sin. The law therefore serves as an especially important revelation from God, a sacred, fair and good thing.
v7. "Am I suggesting that the law is sinful?" It seems likely that Paul's law-bound critics are of this opinion. Paul responds by condemning the suggestion. In no way is Paul implying that the law is evil. Sin is evil, the law but serves to expose evil. Paul quotes the perfect example, the command not to covet, not to allow ego-centric desire, lust, to gurgle within. Of course, the more we are told not to covet, the more we covet. So, the law exposes our state of loss.
v8. Apart from the law, sin is powerless and relatively subdued. Sin has certainly set up a base of operations in the life of every human and remains fully destructive, but without the law it just doesn't show itself. When faced with the law, sin raises its head and bursts into life. So, in a sense, sin is like a snake lying motionless and hidden and only stirring to take advantage of its opportunity in the giving of a commandment. Well Mark Twain observed when he suggested that humans are like mules, we do the opposite we are asked to do.
v9. Unaware of the law, we live in innocent bliss, but once we become aware of the full impact of the law, sin raises its head and our real condition of loss is easy to see. Once we come up against the demands of the moral law, any sense of innocence is soon dispelled.
v10-11. The commandments promote rebellion and this because of the human condition of sin. When faced with the commandment, sin springs into action and our moral intention is well and truly defeated. We are therefore foolish if we think that our Christian life is advanced by attention to the law; the law promotes rebellion, not holiness.
v12. So, the law is a good and sacred thing; sin is the problem.
v13. The law, the "good thing", is not responsible for our death. Sin is the venomous snake, not the law; it attached itself to the good thing and in so doing, its murderous intent was exposed.
The function of the law
One of the greatest dangers we face in the Christian life is to assume that the law serves to shape righteousness in us, to make us holy. The trouble is that any standing we possess in the sight of God is a work of divine grace appropriated through faith, and is not something earned by an effort of the will applied to divine law. In fact, if we slip into law-obedience we find the law operating in our lives to condemn us, pronounce us guilty, and so undermine our assurance of salvation. As Paul asks the Galatians, "after beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain you goal by human effort?" 3:3. So, what then is the role of the law?
i] To drive us to Christ. The law serves to expose sin and thus our need for a saviour. This, for Paul, is the prime function of the law - a revelatory task of immense value. For a believer, the law has already served this function.
ii] To give direction to the Christian life. God's law is designed to shape the life of faith; it is a practical guide for the renewing work of the Spirit.
To use the law to earn divine brownie-points is to court disaster.
It is sometimes suggested that there is a third role for the law, namely, "to restrain evil." Does scripture teach this truth? cf. Gal.3:24, 1Tim.1:9. What of Romans 5:20?
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