A Study of the Epistle to the Romans
Sanctification: The Wrong Way by Works of the Law
The Law and Sin
The first six verses raise a serious question in that, "The sinful passions ... were through [or by] the law." Somebody will surely say that the law must be sinful. What is Paul's answer in two words? "God forbid!" (You will notice, if you go back to the sixth chapter, the same response to the three great questions he asked there.)
If the law is not sin, what is it? The first thing the law does is to reveal sin. And that is a good thing. Paul says, "I had not known lust" or "coveting" (v. 7). The two words are the same. "I had not known coveting, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet: but sin, finding occasion, wrought in me through the commandment all manner of coveting: for apart from the law sin is dead" (vv. 7-8). The law did not do it, but sin (as the Greek has it) took up a base of operation in the law itself and worked the sin of coveting.
Law not only reveals sin, but it provokes sin. Law does not cause sin, but law in the carnal mind provokes sin. The moment a man tries to be holy or righteous by keeping the law, the very commandments that came to him will provoke him into acts of sin.
Paul says, "Apart from the law, sin is dead." It does not mean that it does not have existence. It means that it is dormant. The law only exposed his true nature. Sin lies torpid like a serpent in the sun, until stirred up by the law.
Verse 9 declares that sin produces death. When was Paul ever "alive with the law"? It was when he was a child. Brought up at his mother's knee, he was taught to trust Jehovah; but there came a time in his life, at the age of twelve, when he was made a "son of the law." Then the whole body of the law was imposed upon him in a regular ceremony as a rule of life. When Paul was a child, he was taught just to trust and believe His promises, "but when the commandment came, sin revived." Sin was there all the time. He was born in sin, but it lay dormant until this moment. "Sin revived and I died." He passed under the doom and curse of the law, and he died spiritually. When we bring our children up, we have a right to teach them that the atonement saves them until they come to the age of accountability, when death comes by sin and they must have the new birth.
Verse 10 goes on with an affirmation concerning "the commandment which was ordained to life." As God had declared, "This do, and thou shalt live!" The law was intended to be unto life. But Paul says, "I found [it] to be unto death, for sin, finding occasion, through the commandment, beguiled me, and through it slew me" (7:10-11). "Finding occasion" means finding a base of operation. This is a military expression. So sin, taking up a base of operations through the commandment, deceived and slaughtered. In that verse is a picture of the fall. Substitute for the word "sin" the word "serpent." Every man falls some time in his early life, just like that.
But verse 12 insists again that "the law is holy." The law must be holy if it does its work. It is the work of the law to prescribe how man shall life, and if he does not so live, to slay him (or, bring a curse upon him). The law reveals sin, provokes sin, condemns sin and slays man. So the law is holy, righteous, and good.
Another question arises: "Did then that which is good become death unto me?" (v. 7:13). Paul's answer: "God forbid!" This difficult verse teaches one thing plainly: "But sin, that it might be shown to be sin, by working death to me through that which is good; - that through the commandment, sin might become exceeding sinful" (7:13). Sin is a terrible thing, whereas the law is good. The nature of sin becomes all the more plain, because it can take a good thing (the law) and work evil through that good thing. The law demonstrates this, so that in the final analysis it reveals how sinful sin is.
The Law and The Carnal Man
"We know that the law is spiritual." What is the matter then? Why cannot the law, if spiritual, holy, and good, bring holiness? Here is Paul's answer: "But I am carnal." There is the key to it.
A statement in the eighth chapter sheds further light: "What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh" (8:3). It fails to accomplish in your life and mine what it should, not because there is anything the matter with the law, but because we are carnal.
Unsaved men are "sold under sin." Therefore Paul is talking about the "I," not the new man. When he talks about the new man, he says, "I died." But he is now expressing a supposition. "Supposing I do not reckon myself to be dead and recognize I am carnal. I am sold under sin." This poses a hopeless case. You cannot improve the "old man." He is always what he is.
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 52)