Author: Ron Graham
This is the third of three lessons that examine the relationship between sin and divine law. In this lesson we look at four more verses in Romans.
Romans 7:7,12 Paul asks, "Is the law sin?" and he answers his own question, "No, never!" (Romans 7:7). Paul later asserts, "The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good" (Romans 7:12).
God’s law does not encourage sin. It's not the cause of sin. It's, not responsible for sin. Responsibility for sin rests with the lawbreaker, not with the law maker. Consider how shopkeepers, trying to sell their wares, display them so that they can be picked up and looked at. Unfortunately thieves take advantage of this opportunity to steal. The shopkeepers do not cause or encourage this crime. The responsibility for the crime rests with the thieves.
Romans 5:20 Paul says, "The law entered that sin might increase" (Romans 5:20).
We remember that the serpent used God’s commandment about not eating the fruit of a certain tree, to get Adam and Eve to sin. If God had not made an exception about trees for food, and said of one tree, "You shall not eat", then it would not have been a sin to eat of that tree (Genesis 2:16-17, 3:2-3,11). Once this law was made, it could be disobeyed, and there was a potential for sin.
Later, the Law of Moses caused a heavy burden of sin to be imputed that otherwise might not have been, and turned many things into sin that otherwise would not have been transgressions. Paul replies to this by saying, "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Romans 5:20-21).
This does not mean that God invented silly arbitrary laws just so there would be more sins to forgive. "The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good" (Romans 7:12). The effect of the law, if obeyed, is to increase holiness and justice and goodness. That was the law's main purpose. Certainly the effect of the law if disobeyed is to increase sin. God knew that this would happen, but it wasn't his purpose. He did not resile from enacting law because of its potential to increase sin, because he understood that "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Romans 5:20-21).
So part of God’s plan to deal with sin involved the bringing in of law so that sin would be exposed in its light. God did this knowing that law would give sin an opportunity to increase. However God’s aim was not to increase sin, although that would be an effect at first, but ultimately to bring about the forgiveness of sins. God’s kind intention was to increase grace and to gain victory over sin.
Romans 7:8-11 Paul says, "Apart from the law sin is dead... Sin takes opportunity through the commandment... When the commandment came sin came alive and I died" (Romans 7:8-11).
If God made no laws, and condemned nothing, sin would be moribund. So why does God not abolish all law and thus kill sin? It does not take much thought to realize that this is not an option. Would you like to live in a world where you could be raped and robbed and told lies and God imputed no sin to the rapists, robbers, and decievers?
Our government could reduce the crime rate by abolishing criminal law, because if there were no law then there would be no conviction of criminals. However, we would hardly vote for a government that reduced the crime rate in that manner, and we would hardly respect a God who dealt with sin in that way.
Sometimes when we take treatment to cure an illness, the treatment seems worse than the disease, and our health gets worse before it gets better. Sometimes the disease flares up as a result of the treatment and only after that can we see the treatment succeed. In a similar manner, God’s way of dealing with sin made the problem seem worse for a time, however God had to let sin come to life in order to really conquer it.
Romans 7:13 Paul says, "Through the commandment sin became exceedingly sinful" (Romans 7:13).
Not only does law increase and invigorate sin, but it also intensifies it. Something sinful becomes exceedingly sinful.
The light of God’s law shows up sin for what it is. A room dimly lit may seem attractive, but when brightly lit all the dirt, cobwebs, cracks, peeling paint, inharmonius colours, and so forth, show up and the room no longer is pleasant to be in. God gets you out of your comfort zone, and clarifies everything to make you intensely aware of your need of his loving grace.
Its a necessary, if very unpleasant, experience to be made aware of how greatly you have offended God, and how far off the mark your life had got. It shows you your need of Christ and leads you through God’s law, and through faith in Christ, to seek forgiveness. This allows grace to reign not in your ignorance, but rather "that grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 5:21).
The very things that seem to be disadvantages of law, namely that through law sin is imputed, increased, invigorated, and intensified —these very things turn out to be advantages that put God in a position to effect a solution to sin.