|Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
In Romans 6 Paul reminds us that is, we baptized Christians that in Christ we have died to sin, which means that, in Christ, by this death, we have been delivered from the dominion of sin.
Then in chapter 7, the first six verses, which we covered last study, he points out that, in Christ, in this same death by which we were delivered from the dominion of sin, we have also been liberated from the jurisdiction of the law.
When you put those two facts together you create a problem. Because the law was given to us by God. In other words, God is the Author of the law. It sounds like Paul is saying that law and sin are synonymous, or at least they are partners, they belong to the same camp. And, if you say that, then you are saying that God is the Author of sin also.
So what Paul does in verse 7 and up to verse 13 is, first of all, clarify the problem. Then he goes on to show what purpose the law has in Gods plan of salvation. This is a very important passage because it has some very important lessons for us as a people. So let us go step-by-step and look at what Paul is trying to say. In verse 7 of Romans 7, he begins with a question:
What shall we say, then? Is the law sin?
Now keep in mind what he said in verse 6. It was the concluding verse of our last study. In verse 6 he says:
...We have been released from the law....
And he has already told us in Romans 6:22 that:
...You have been set free from sin....
So now comes the question, Does this mean that law is synonymous with sin? What is His answer?
Yes, there is a relationship, and the relationship is this: the law defines for us what sin is.
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.
Now I want to pause here and bring out two very important points.
First of all, this statement in verse 7 tells us what Law Paul had in mind primarily in discussing our deliverance from under law. You shall not covet belongs to what law? The Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:17].
I would not have known what sin was except through the law.
By the way, there is no other law that defines sin except the moral law. Every other sin is a ramification of the moral law. In fact, if you had a sin outside the moral law then the Ten Commandments is no longer a perfect definition of sin. Therefore, any argument that Paul is referring here to the ceremonial law will not comply or agree with the passage itself. Of course, to the Jew the Law meant the five books of Moses and sometimes meant the whole Old Testament. But you can see that Paul primarily has in mind that it is the moral law from which we have been liberated. I know that sounds like heresy. Thats why this is a difficult chapter.
But lets be honest. And Ill tell you, if you pervert the truth that Paul is bringing out here youll miss out on a blessing, and I will show you what it is as we go along.
Secondly, Paul had 10 commandments to chose from; which one did he choose? You shall not covet. What does it mean to covet? It does not mean to do something. To covet means to cherish a desire, to cherish or to crave for something that does not belong to you.
I feel that Paul had a special reason for choosing this commandment. Ill tell you why, because here hes telling us something that we need to know, that Gods definition of sin is a complete contradiction, or it is different from mans definition of sin. It is important that we realize this, because if we project mans definition of sin onto the law, or unto God, we miss the point of the purpose that God gave the law.
What do I mean that it is different? Let me give you an illustration. Let us say that Im walking on the main street of this town and there I see parked a current model Porche car with six forward gears and all the trimmings for leaving black marks on the tarmac. I look at that car and my male instincts for speed come into my heart. I look into the dashboard and I look into the speedometer to see how much it can do, and I look at that gear box it says six gears and I say to myself, Boy, I wish I had this car.
Can the policeman come and nab me for stealing that car? No. Can the law of God accuse me of sinning? Yes, because mans definition of sin is an act. Until you commit the act you are not guilty for the simple reason that men cant read the hearts of men. But God defines sin not as act, but a desire that has been accepted in your mind.
The moment you realize that this is how the Lord defines sin you realize that you are in bad shape. This is why we need to come to grips with Gods definition of sin. Because the Jews made a mistake. The Jews defined sin as an act. So the Pharisee could stand up and say, I have never killed anybody, or I have never committed adultery, and Jesus said, One moment, one moment.
Turn to Matthew 5. Listen to what Jesus said to this self-righteous Pharisee. I suppose He may have done the same thing when He wrote on the sand, when Mary was taken captive for the act. But look at Matthew 5, well start with verse 21:
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago [this is what the leaders of your church taught you], Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.
That, by the way, is a quotation, You shall not murder. Thats a quotation from the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:13].
But how did the Pharisees, how did the scribes, how did the leaders of Judaism interpret that commandment? To them murder was an act. They taught if you kill you will be in danger of the judgment, i.e., its condemnation and death. Jesus continues in Matthew 5:22:
But I tell you [this is the true definition of that commandment] that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, Raca [an Aramaic term of contempt], is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, You fool! will be in danger of the fire of hell.
In other words, murdering somebody doesnt begin with an act, it begins with a desire that you have cherished. Now remember that, as Jesus talked, some of the Jews were already planning his murder. As far as Christ was concerned, they had already committed the act in their minds. Then He goes on in verse 27, the same idea:
You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Boy! Were in trouble, men ... and women. We are in trouble. So we need to look at sin from Gods point of view. Im especially speaking of those who think that they can go to heaven by being good. Let me ask you a question. You have a business deal on Monday: somebodys coming to your house and you want to sell it. But today its Sabbath and youre sitting in church but you are thinking, I wonder if I will get $150,000? You are thinking business. Physically, you are in church. Outwardly it sounds like, it looks like, you are listening to the Pastor; but inwardly youre discussing business with yourself. Have you broken the Sabbath? From the Pastors point of view, no. From Gods point of view, yes. From the laws point of view, yes. So can you understand why by observing the law no one will be justified [Galatians 2:16]? We have a problem, folks.
I want to give you one more text, because this text may help us to deal with the problem that we are facing. When I say we, I mean the Christian church. And because we as a denomination are still wrestling with the issue, we have not come up with a clear statement. Its a problem in this country, primarily. But let me give you the text and Ill expose to you what the problem is. You are familiar with it once I mention it. Turn to James 1. There are three things that James brings out.
First of all, temptation. Is temptation sin? Temptation is a desire, but temptation is not sin. The question now is, When does temptation become sin? When? From mans point of view, temptation becomes sin when you commit the act. But I want you to listen to how James defines when temptation becomes sin. I want you to notice the analogy that he uses here. Lets read James 1:14:
...But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire [i.e., the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life human desires, the desires of the flesh], he is dragged away and enticed.
So when there is a craving created in your humanity, thats a temptation. Whether it comes from outside or from within, temptation is to do something that is outside the will of God. Now listen to verse 15:
Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin [thats the act]; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
So you have conception, you have birth, and you have death. The big issue today is about abortion in this country. You are familiar with the problem. The question is, Is abortion killing? Thats the big question, isnt it? And there is an argument. To answer that question rightly we have to ask ourselves another question, When does life begin?
The answer to that is different from God and from man. Some medical doctors or scientists will say that life begins three months after conception. Some will say later than that, some earlier. There are all kind of arguments, and Im not a medical man. But I do know what the Bible teaches. Life begins at conception, just like sin begins when the mind says, Yes. All you have to do is read your Bibles, Old and New Testament; life begins at conception.
Therefore, as far as Im concerned, abortion is murder. And we are accusing the Germans of holocaust? Boy! Lets look at ourselves, what we are doing in our country. But thats a different study; Im only giving you food for thought.
What Im saying is that we need to look at things from Gods perspective, not mans. Ill also address it from another angle: keeping the law. Is keeping the law an act or is it love? How does the Bible define keeping the law? Romans 13:10:
Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.
But I read in the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians 13, that if I give my goods to the poor, and even offer up my body to death for a good cause or even for martyrdom, and I do not have agape, I am not keeping the law; its worth nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-8:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
So please remember, we need as Christians not to be swept by the thinking mentality of our culture or of the world or of scientists. One of the arguments today is about the creation. We need to look at it from Gods point of view. Is it a literal day that he took to create this world or thousands of years? The question is not, Did God create this world? We all believe that, at least I hope all of us do. But we also need to ask the question, What does the Bible teach in terms of HOW did He create this world? How? Did He use His hands? No. He did what? Boy, He must be a very slow speaker if it took Him a thousand years to speak, Let there be light. We ridicule God when we say it took Him that long.
Lets go back and become Bible-centered Christians, whether were dealing with the law or whether were dealing with anything. Thats why we need to look at this passage from the Biblical point of view. So lets go back now to Romans 7; two things:
The storekeeper says, Im sorry were out in the sticks here. Were out of all our drinks, were waiting for the truck. All we have is beer.
I say to myself, Well, nobody around here knows me. One can wont hurt me and, after all, Paul did say a little wine is good for your stomach. We are experts at rationalizing with the Bible. So I say, Okay, Ill have a can of beer. Then I hear a car coming to fill with gas and I look around and, lo and behold, there is a member of my local church! I turn around to the storekeeper whos just gone to the fridge to bring me the drink and I say, By the way, I just remembered I have an appointment, never mind the drink.
Have I sinned? Not according to the church member; he hasnt seen me do a thing wrong. But before the law of God, I have already sinned. When you realize this, it will destroy any idea that you can save yourself by law keeping or by being good.
Goodness is from God. That is why, to the man who asked the question Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? [Luke 18:18-19 or Mark 10:17-18], Jesus said,
Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.
And we read in Romans 3:10-12 when we dealt with it:
There is no one righteous.... There is no one who does good, not even one.
But lets go to Romans 7:8:
But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead.
Because Paul was raised up a Jew, and the Jews looked at sin only in terms of acts, Paul did not realize that, as a Pharisee, he was sinning. How do I know? Because he says so in Philippians 3:6:
...As for legalistic righteousness, [I was] faultless.
But when he discovered that sin is more than an act, when he discovered from the law of God that sin is a desire that I have cherished, he said to himself, O wretched man that I am! He said to himself, What I thought was giving me life was giving me death. Look at Romans 7, verses 9 and 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.
What does he mean, Once I was alive apart from law? There are many interpretations. Some scholars say that what Paul meant is that, when he was a baby up to the age of accountability, which to the Jew was 12, 13 years old, at which time he knew the law, head knowledge, but he did not understand the law. He thought he was alive, but, when he became a son of the commandment, which is the term used for those who become Pharisees (because the word Pharisee means zealous for the law), he discovered that he was a sinner worthy of death.
But I would like to suggest that this interpretation is wrong. Ill tell you why: because nowhere in the New Testament and, remember, almost half of the New Testament is Paul nowhere does he ever mention this tension when he was a Pharisee. When you read Pauls description of himself before his conversion, hes always talking of himself as being good.
So what I believe hes saying here in verse 9 is that there was a time that he thought that the law would give him life because he was keeping it. His church, his religion had told him, If you keep the law, you will live. What his church had done was taken that law and made it into rules. And he kept all those rules, and he thought that by keeping those rules he was obeying the law, he was alive and, therefore, qualified for life. Then one day God opened his eyes and showed him the true meaning of the law, and so he says in verse 10:
I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.
He discovered that the law never gives life to a sinner. All that the law gives to a sinner is death. Romans 6:23:
The wages of sin is death.
Who says that? The law of God.
Now I want you to be clear, because we have fallen into the same trap. We make rules, and we think that as long as we keep those rules we are keeping the law of God and we become self-righteous, self-satisfied.
The Jews had all kinds of rules. Let me expose you to a couple of them. Many of the buildings in the Middle East are flat-roofed, and they use the flat roof for a terrace, for evening supper or for visitation when its nice and cool. But they did not have a staircase like we have in our homes; they had a wooden ladder that they would put up and they would climb.
But because at night people would come and steal, they would put the ladder in the house. Now on Sabbath, if they wanted to have a little lay activity, they were not allowed to carry that ladder to the roof and place it up, from inside the house to outside. Because if they carried it, that would be breaking the Sabbath, that would be working.
But if one part of the ladder touched the ground, in other words, if they dragged the ladder, it was not sin. Wonderful isnt it? They had loopholes. So they would drag the ladder and make sure that one part touched the ground; as long as it did, they would not be sinning.
I remember, as a young person, my priest told me that if I touched the wafer, the Lords Supper, with my teeth and broke it, I would be sinning and blood would gush out. So I remember, with great fear, when the priest put that wafer on my tongue, I would do my very best that it would not touch my teeth. One day it did and I panicked. I had visions of blood gushing out of my mouth.
I can imagine a Jew who, by mistake, lifted the ladder off the ground would go on his knees and say, God, please forgive me. I didnt intend to do that; it was a mistake.
Let me give you another one; this is a good one for the young boys. They had a law that you could not walk so many kilometers, so many miles, on the Sabbath. They called it a Sabbath days journey. Let us say it was half a mile, and a boy wanted to go and visit his girlfriend, who lived two miles away. How would he do it and not break the Sabbath?
Well, they had a wonderful loophole. If you traveled half a mile and stopped and drank, or had even a sip of water or anything, or ate, then you could walk another half mile. So they would walk a half mile and knock on a door and say, Please excuse me, may I have a glass of water? Everybody there knew what it was for. He would take a sip; he was not thirsty, he just wanted a little sip. Thank you. Then he could walk another half a mile. Then he would take another sip, and walk another half a mile, until he came to his girlfriends home. He could visit his girlfriend and still keep the Sabbath.
Now what happened if it was out in the sticks where there were no houses? Well, they had a good solution. If you swallowed your spittle, that would be acceptable, too.
Now youre laughing, but Ill tell you, we have made rules, too. We enforce these rules in our homes and in our churches and thats why some of you have come to me and said, Why dont you tell us how to keep the Sabbath? Why dont you ask the Lord of the Sabbath? The Sabbath doesnt belong to me. Up there, Hes the Boss.
One day my son came up to me and with him was a group of kids. They wanted to go and see a kind of a rodeo. It was on Sunday, but, of course, they would need to travel on Sabbath. In America it is not wrong to travel on the Sabbath. You try that in Africa and boy, you are sinning. But in America its okay; each country has its own rules. Thats the trouble. In Scandinavia, you can go swimming on the Sabbath. In Italy, you play football on the Sabbath; you can even have sports.
So they came to me for permission. I said, How can I give you permission to do something that doesnt belong to me? Its like asking me, Can I get some money from someone elses bank account? I cant give you money that doesnt belong to me. I said, Why dont you ask the Boss of the day? They did not see what I meant, so I gave them a text, Isaiah 58:13-14:
If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lords holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord....
So we dont want rules. Our kids are tired of rules, because that is not Christianity. Paul was given rules and he obeyed those rules. He thought he could make it to heaven. Then God said, No, those rules are not my commandments. They are the traditions of men. And by those rules you have turned away the law of God.
So the commandment, when you understand it as Paul meant it to be, youll find that it brings to you and to me nothing but death; for I read in Romans 7:11-12:
For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.
Then he creates another problem in verse 13:
Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By 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.
Now please notice the word sin here is in the singular. Hes not referring to acts, hes referring to what we are.
What is Paul telling us all about here? I would like to give you four reasons why God gave us the law. What is the purpose of the law? Paul discovered the purpose of the law as a Christian, and he is expounding it to us here, and I need to expound it to you.
First, the law defines sin. Not as we define it, but as God defines it. Paul says [Romans 7:7]:
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.
Man says sin is an act. Gods law says sin is a cherished desire. I would not have known that, says Paul, except through the law.
So I need the law to get a correct, Divine definition of sin.
Secondly, the law not only defines sin, but it exposes sin from its hiding place. Sin dwells inside you, and we will deal with that when we come to verses 14-25. It needs to be brought out in the open. If I want to bring an animal out of its hiding place, I will put out bait. The law brings out the sin that is in us, hidden, out into the open. If you want to use modern terms, it brings sin from the subconscious to the conscious. Sin is hidden right deep in us, it is part of us. The law brings it out.
This brings us to reason number three. How does the law bring it out? This may be hard for you to swallow, but, when you realize what its saying, it is true. It is because the law provokes sin. What do I mean by provoke sin?
Ill give you an illustration that will help. When I was principal of the Adventist college in Uganda, thanks to a 13th Sabbath Offering, we had enough money to buy a tractor for our farm. The old tractor was in ruins and shambles. One of the reasons why it was in ruins was because the kids who were working on the farm would use it as a taxi. Instead of walking the mile down the road to the farm, they would pile on it and let the driver drive them to the farm area. So the fenders broke and everything went to pieces.
I said, This tractor is going to last longer than the old one. So I made a rule, and the rule was that no kid was allowed to sit on the fender. If they did, they would have to pay a fine of 10 shillings, which in those days was about 75 cents, or maybe more than that. But, for the African, that was a lot of money. Lo and behold, the very next day, there was a kid sitting on it. What made it worse was that he was not even a farm worker. He was caught, he was brought to my office, and I said, Why did you do that? You knew the rule.
He said, I would never have done it if you did not make the rule.
Human nature, which is sinful, does not like to be told what to do. The best way to stop you ingathering is to command you, I want you to go out, otherwise.... I will get nobody out there, I know. You dont produce works by whipping people.
The human nature, which is sinful, is rebellious towards the law, and the moment you tell them, Dont do it, they will do it. When our kids were small, we were in furlough in this country, in Michigan. For the first time in their lives I think my daughter was three years old they tasted cherries. We dont grow cherries in Africa. They were excited; this was a wonderful fruit. We went back to Africa and, a year later, we were visiting my mother at the coast. She had a pepper tree that grew cherry peppers. It looked like a cherry. So my little girl said, Mommy, cherries!
Her mother said, No, they are not cherries. Then she made a statement. She said, Dont eat them because it will burn.
To her little mind, burn has to do with fire. How can a fruit produce fire? The only thing she knew was her mother said, Dont do it. She said, Ill do it! So she went and ate it. Of course, the fire alarm sounded. We had to give her doses of water and whatever we could to cool down the fire, to put out the fire. She did not describe it as burning. She said, The cherry bit me. So thats her definition of burning.
Her dear brother, two years older said, What did it feel like?
She said, It bit me, it burnt! trying to use her mothers words. He could not fathom it.
We had to remind him, If you eat, it will do the same thing to you.
Lo and behold, the next day, he took a bite. We had to buy ice cream, because he was older, and you needed some more potent stuff to cool down the fire. He took a bigger bite than his sister did.
I believe when we make rules in our schools, we are encouraging our kids to say, Ill do it. We have to love our kids into doing. We have to make it a way so that they will hate to do what sin is. Because the human nature is naturally rebellious. The moment you say, Keep off the grass on the school compound, youll watch kids walking right through it. Why? Is it because theyre worse than we older folks? No, its because we are sinful and the law brings out into the open the rebellious nature.
But the law also does something else: it condemns sin to death. It tells us that sin will lead you to the grave. Let us be frank, sin is enjoyable. Am I correct? If you tell me sin is not enjoyable, you are lying. Because if sin is not enjoyable then temptation becomes meaningless. Temptation is a tremendous pull because the temptation is desirable. And thats because sin is enjoyable. But the end result of sin is death. How do you know it? The law tells me that. Which law? The moral law.
Therefore, let me summarize:
...The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to Gods law, nor can it do so.
But as Paul goes to verse 13, he makes it very clear to us that the law is not responsible for any of these four things. All that the law does is simply make us aware of it. The law is not responsible for my sins, it is not responsible for my death, it is not responsible for evoking in me enmity with God. The law simply opens my eyes and shows me what I am. It is sin that is to blame for all these four things.
But what part does the law have in the plan of salvation? It shows me that sin is a deceiver. You know why? Because the origin of sin is Satan. Do you know what the Bible calls Him? The father of lies. Do you know what the first lie he told our parents was? If you eat of this fruit, you will not die [Genesis 3:4].
Sin deceived Paul, that you could go to heaven by being good. Sin deceives us today, that it doesnt bring any harm. So young people will enter into drug experiences. We are too young, we are too strong, sin can never do anything wrong to me. Until it is too late. Sin is a deceiver, and the end result of that deception is death, it kills. We need to realize that sin deceives, sin kills.
But that is not the only reason why God gave the moral law. He also gave the moral law so that when we discover this thing, we may run to Christ as the solution. That is why, the moment we, as a people, insisted that the law of Galatians was not the moral law, we destroyed the purpose of the law.
Galatians 3:19 is the passage that produced that great controversy 100 years ago. Jones and Waggoner said, This is the moral law. The brethren said, No, it is the ceremonial law. And we lost the whole point of Galatians 3.
I want to conclude with that because it tells me what Romans 7 is telling me. The purpose of the law is twofold: to shut you up into the prison of sin and to point you to Christ as the only solution to the sin problem. So Ill conclude with Galatians 3:19:
What, then, was the purpose of the law?
What law? It is not the ceremonial law that Paul has in mind. Yes, its true that, if you read the whole of Galatians it includes both moral and ceremonial law. But when I come to Galatians 3:19 onwards, Paul has specifically in mind the moral law. Paul continues:
It was added [i.e., added to the promise that was given to Abraham] because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.
In other words, it was added to show us human beings that we are transgressors. Who is the seed? Christ. In other words, the law was given to us before Christ to show us that we were sinners in need of a Savior. And when the promise comes, the law has done its job. How do I know? Because I read Galatians 3:21 onwards:
Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.
But God never gave the law to give you life. Then why did God give the law? Galatians 3:22:
But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin [and thats what the law convinces me of], so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
Believe what? That I am a sinner and I need a Savior. Galatians 3:23:
Before this faith came [before Christ came], we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.
We were kept in prison with no hope of escape, same as Romans 7. Galatians 3:24:
So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.
The law is our tutor, schoolmaster, policeman (the Greek word is pedagogi) to bring us to Christ. But dont forget verse 25:
Now that faith has come [once we have found Christ], we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
And the one in charge, the supervisor, the tutor is the law. We are no longer under the jurisdiction of the law. No longer can the law say, If you disobey, you will die, because we are no longer under it. We are under grace. But the law played a very important part to bring me under grace. Why? Because the gospel is Not I, but Christ. Ill be frank with you, the not I is the hardest part in that formula. So, to make it meaningful to us, God gave the law that we might say not I or, to use Pauls words in Philippians 3:3, God gave us the law that we might put no confidence in the flesh and glory [rejoice] in Jesus Christ. Thats the purpose of Romans 7.
Romans 7 has a very important part to play. May God give us understanding. May we put aside all our preconceived ideas and be honest with the passage. And may the truth set us free is my prayer in Jesus name.