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Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Romans 7:7-14

The Law and Sin

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.

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Last week’s post dealt with the presence of the law but with the added presence of the Spirit, giving us hope for redemption through Jesus Christ.

For the true depth of today’s verses and Paul’s spiritual journey, we need to turn to the King James Version (emphases mine):

7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.

9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.

10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.

11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.

12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.

14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.

We read these verses and think that Paul was describing his past self, just after conversion. He was too holy later on to wrestle with lustful desires, surely.

Yet, John MacArthur says that this was Paul in the present and gives us examples from his other letters to support that assertion:

You show me a person with this kind of brokenness, you show me a person agonizing in the depths of his own soul because he can’t do everything written in the law of God, and I’ll show you a spiritual person.

And so, I believe, what you have here is Paul. That’s right, Paul. And you see the word “I” 46 times in this portion of Scripture, in Romans 7, if I remember correctly. Don’t count them now. Anyway, he says it a lot. And I think what you have – some people say, “Well, this was Paul before he was saved. This was Paul when he just got saved, and he was infantile, and he was still sort of carnal.” I think this is Paul at the very heights of his Christian perception. This is Paul at the level of maturity. And what he sees is that he does not live up to the holy law of God, though he desires it with all his heart. And he finds himself debilitated by that ugly reality that sin in its residual reality is still hanging on. And that is a profoundly sensitive realization.

In 1 Corinthians 15:9, he says the same thing in other terms. “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.” You see that? He didn’t say, “I wasn’t fit to be an apostle. He said – what? – “I am not fit now to be an apostle. I am the least of all.”

In Ephesians 3:8, “Unto me,” he says, “who am less than the least.” Now he’s going down the drain further. He just used to be the least, now he’s less than the least. You see, the man, the more the man perceives himself as over against the holy law of God, though in our judgment relative to other men he is the supreme man, he in his own mind is less than the least of all saints.

I draw you to 1 Timothy 1:12. “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, in that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious.” You say, “Well, sure that’s what he was – “ “But I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” Then this, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I – ” what? – was chief “ – am chief. Nevertheless, for this cause I obtained mercy.”

Listen, I think that’s exactly what he’s saying in Romans 7. This is Paul far along in his apostleship, mature in the Lord, walking in the dynamic of spiritual life, having experienced the mighty power of God, and the wisdom of God, and the knowledge of God. And the more he knows, and the more he experiences, the more he hates the sin that he sees hanging on. And the terms that he uses in Romans 7 are so precise that I think we can’t miss this picture.

I am so grateful to John MacArthur for these insights.

Recall that Paul is writing to Jews living in Rome who became Christian. Those conversions probably started on or soon after the first Pentecost, when they would have gathered in Jerusalem for Shavuot. Some would have witnessed the Holy Spirit descending on the blessed 70 disciples of Christ and heard Peter’s first sermon immediately afterwards. Those men took the Good News back to Rome with them.

Paul spent a lot of time talking about the law, because it is very important to the Jews. He wanted to share his own journey with his brethren so that they would fully understand the power of the Gospel story. There is more than law; there is now redemption, too.

Paul says that, had it not been for God’s commandments, he never would have known the evils of lust (verse 7). This seems odd, because Paul had been a Pharisee and instructed in his youth by one of the best teachers of the law, Gamaliel.

Matthew Henry said Paul knew the tenets of the law but not their spiritual application. Henry compares it to having a nut but not being able to get beyond the shell to the fruit inside:

He had the letter of the law, but he had not the spiritual meaning of it–the shell, but not the kernel. He had the law in his hand and in his head, but he had it not in his heart; the notion of it, but not the power of it. There are a great many who are spiritually dead in sin, that yet are alive in their own opinion of themselves, and it is their strangeness to the law that is the cause of the mistake.

Paul goes on to describe the tension he felt once he awakened to moral law. He knew that lust was wrong but, even though he was conscious of it, resistance nearly — nearly — became futile at times (verse 8). He was wrestling with sin.

Henry has this:

The corrupt nature would not have swelled and raged so much if it had not been for the restraints of the law; as the peccant humours in the body are raised, and more inflamed, by a purge that is not strong enough to carry them off.

Paul says that without the law, he would not have realised the abhorrent nature of sin, which became very real to him. Consequently, his old self died (verses 9, 10). The Spirit made him aware of his sins according to the law.

Henry explains:

Sin revived, and I died; that is, the Spirit, but the commandment, convinced me that I was in a state of sin, and in a state of death because of sin.” Of this excellent use is the law; it is a lamp and a light; it converts the soul, opens the eyes, prepares the way of the Lord in the desert, rends the rocks, levels the mountains, makes ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Paul says that he finally understood the deceptive nature of sin (verse 11), which goes back to Original Sin, as Henry reminds us:

Ever since Adam ate forbidden fruit, we have all been fond of forbidden paths; the diseased appetite is carried out most strongly towards that which is hurtful and prohibited.

Sin is deceptive, just as it was with Adam and Eve:

sin, that is, his won corrupt nature, took occasion thence to promise him impunity, and to say, as the serpent to our first parents, You shall not surely die. Thus it deceived and slew him.

Therefore, God’s moral law is good. Through the Spirit, the law reveals our sinful ways (verse 12).

Furthermore, Paul says he realised that the power of the law illuminated his perception that sin was evil (verse 13). Without the law, he would not have had that realisation. Therefore, Paul submitted himself to God’s law.

Henry offers this practical application of the law:

The way to prevent this mischief is to bow our souls to the commanding authority of the word and law of God, not striving against, but submitting to it.

Paul concludes by saying that God’s law is good. It is we who are slaves to sin by our very nature (verse 14).

MacArthur explains that the purpose of the law is to convict us of our sins, to show us that we are not only doing wrong but also offending God:

… when you come to verse 14, he is fighting sin and he will not let it kill him. He will not give in to it. And so I believe this is Paul’s own testimony of how it is to live as a Spirit-controlled mature believer who loves with all of his heart the precious, beautiful, holy, majestic law of God, and finds himself wrapped in human flesh, and unable to fulfill the law of God the way his heart wants him to.

I also believe that in this section he continues his discussion of the law, and he is affirming, as we saw last time, to the Jew that there’s nothing wrong with the law. The law can’t save. We saw that. The law can’t sanctify. But it’s still good because it does what? It convicts of what? Sin. And that is true before you’re saved, and guess what? It’s true afterwards

You know, when you become a Christian and you read about sin in the Bible, are you less concerned about your sin because you’re now a Christian? No, you should be – what? – more concerned about it. And the law will always reveal it. When David said, “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin,” he was saying that the Word of God in the heart becomes the point of conviction. It isn’t just information. You understand that? We don’t go through life just needing information. We need conviction. And the law has that power.

So, while telling us that the law cannot save and the law cannot sanctify, he affirms that it is good, and holy, and just because it does convict of sin before you’re saved and brings you to Christ and after you’re saved so that you’ll understand God’s holy standard and long with all your heart to fulfill it. The problem is not the law. The problem is us.

I hope this helps to explain the role of the Ten Commandments in our lives and the Holy Spirit’s help in revealing to us the state of our souls.

Next time — Romans 9:6-33

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