Romans 7:7-13 To the righteous, the Law is the path to eternal life. But to the wicked, the Law leads to death
Romans 7:7-13 To the righteous, the Law is the path to eternal life. But to the wicked, the Law leads to death
What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; 10 and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11 for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.
In the previous devotion, we understand the negative effects of having a wrong approach to the Law (Scripture). It induces in man a “holier than thou” attitude. It robs sinners the opportunity to progress towards righteousness. It causes us to see ourselves as unfit to attain the heights of eternal life; the glory that Jesus Himself received. It also causes those who were treated unlawfully to become bitter. Having a correct approach to the Law brings eternal life and unprecedented breakthroughs. We begin by purifying our hearts from selfishness and hypocrisy. Paul said,
To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed. – Titus 1:15-16
As we read the Law with a pure heart, the Spirit opens our eyes to the things of heaven. Today’s devotion teaches us: To the righteous, the Law is the path to eternal life. But to the wicked, the Law leads to death.
What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law.
Paul, having spoken out concerning the negative effects of the Law, follows up with a question: is the Law intrinsically evil? (Is the Law sin?) Paul answers his question: May it never be! The Law does not set out to condemn, but to define acts that are sinful and mete out appropriate punishment. But if there is no law, there is no means to capture transgressions to pronounce the transgressor guilty.
But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.
The commandment “You shall not covet” defines the act of coveting as sinful. But if there is no such commandment, coveting becomes permissible or may even be perceived as virtuous (for apart from the Law sin is dead). But all too often, the Law is being cast as the culprit for one’s guilty conviction. But, it is man’s sinful nature that has driven him to covet in the first place. Thus, one is convicted not because of the Law, but because of his transgression.
I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died.
Paul alludes to the time before Law was given to man; before God warned Adam never to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (see Genesis 2:16-17). That was the time when Adam was “alive” and free from the curse of death. But after the commandment was given, Adam’s sinful nature took occasion, causing him to transgress the commandment. Without the commandment, man’s sinful nature remains dormant and undetectable. But once the commandment comes, man’s sinful nature takes occasion to transgress it. The diagram below illustrates man’s sinful nature, the seat of desire as that which drives him to transgress the Law.
What then is the role of Law? The purpose of Law is to show humanity the way to God, to experience His goodness and to live abundantly. The Law becomes a cause of death only when sinful man uses the Law to actualise his ideals. To the righteous, the Law shows the way to God and eternal life. But to the wicked, the Law produces in him all kinds of evil: hypocrisy, rebellion, bitterness and deceit.
So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me?
Paul’s answer is swift: “May it never be!” Indeed, the Law is not evil, but on the contrary, the Law is holy: as being part of God. And every commandment is truth (righteous), and if obeyed leads to abundant life (good). The question is: how can the Law, which is supposed to bring abundant living bring a curse? The Law is not a device that brings life to all who observes it. It merely exposes man’s true nature from the way he lives and metes out the consequences.
To the righteous, the Law is the path to eternal life. But to the wicked, the Law leads to death.
The Bible categorises people in a polarised manner: the righteous and the wicked. Today, we don’t see in more developed nations the wicked murdering people on the streets. In fact, crime rates have even gone down for some cities. Have people really gotten better in developed countries? Paul describes the state of humanity in the last days:
But realise this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power… Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 12-13.
In many cities, the wicked are restrained by Law enforcement agencies. But once these agencies become corrupt, we will see pervasive lawlessness beginning at the top. The Law attracts both the righteous and the wicked, and they harbour very different agendas. Hence, we will see within the church the best and the worst of humanity. In the days of the gospel, we see in the temple Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God. And Caiaphas, the high priest who organised the plot to kill Jesus. The devil does not persecute everyone in the church, but he will use some of them to kill Jesus and those who follow him. The below details how the righteous and the wicked differ from each other concerning the Law:
The righteous uses the Law as a mirror to examine himself. Through the commandments, he appraises his own life and the state of his love for God and others. And he is humble and transparent with his weaknesses. To the wicked, the Law serves as a veneer to shield his darkness. He puts up a false front and denies what he sees in the mirror. But, he uses the Law as a microscope to judge others and to dominate them.
To the righteous, the Law becomes a bridge bringing him closer to God. Thus, the Law sanctifies his heart and instructs his mind to relate to God meaningfully. To the wicked, the Law estranges him from God. The wicked use the Law to make himself more presentable to others. He prides himself on his biblical knowledge and uses it belittle others. He often talks about God but has never had a conversation with Him.
To the righteous, the Law shows his potential as co-heirs with Jesus Christ. The Law shows him the way to attain Christ’s attributes and fulfil his mission. Through the Law, he seeks to become more virtuous, wise and powerful. But to the misinformed, the Law reminds them of their sins and their unworthiness to receive Jesus’s glory. And they endeavour to warn others of their weaknesses to keep them in their place. Perhaps, the Law has exposed within them their desire for power and domination. Instead of submitting themselves to the cleansing power of the blood, they cover their darkness, leaving it to rot.
The righteous uses the Law to bring heaven down to the earth. Beginning with himself, he endeavours to establish righteousness and peace among men. He inspires others in the church to grow closer to God. As for the wicked, he uses the Law to assure himself a place in heaven. He uses the Law to further his lust for power, wealth and enjoyment. Such also purports the belief that once a person is saved, he is always saved. He becomes a peddler of a toxic culture where righteousness is a facade and blessing comes by way of knowledge.
The righteous searches all scriptures for truth and wisdom to regenerate himself. He uses the Law to stir his spirit towards the things of heaven. The wicked focuses on selected passages that promise salvation and earthly blessings while omitting the portions that teach righteousness.
Law becomes grace and truth when we come face to face with Jesus
Although the Law is holy, it cannot transform a sinful man because it is beyond his reach. Humanity, when left to our own devices, cannot reach God and attain righteousness. Moses realised that the Law is beyond reach for an average Jew. Nevertheless, he encouraged his people to embrace the Law in their heart,
“For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it? But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it. – Deuteronomy 30:11-14.
Indeed, man is unable to embrace the Law because he is so morally depraved. Paul describes man as being dead in sin (see Ephesians 2:1). However, the Law is no longer out of reach for those who turn to Jesus. For the Law has become grace and truth bringing eternal life. Paul said,
“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:8-9.
What does it mean by believing in Jesus? It means to commit ourselves fully to His Lordship, to listen to His voice daily and follow Him. The Law is not a standard that we force on our bodies. It is a new lifestyle of total abandonment to the divine love relationship with Jesus, the Spirit. Here, the Spirit transforms our hearts with truth.
And we no longer fight and struggle with emotions of anger and fear, for they will gradually fade. And the desires of lust and greed no longer need reigning in. They are all taken over by the love, peace, purity, and contentment of Jesus, the Spirit. When the Spirit dwells within our hearts, the desire for self-actualisation turns into Christ-actualisation. It is here that we begin to embrace the Law and fulfil it just as Jesus did.
- How much do you practice self-reflection and examine yourself daily?
- How much do you relate to Jesus on a moment by moment basis?
- How much do you look forward to attaining higher levels of divine love, wisdom and authority?
- How active are you in bringing heaven down to your church, family, workplace and community?
- How hungry are you for the truth?
Dear Lord, create in me a pure heart so that I may see you, touch you and feel you in my heart. Teach me your ways, show me the right path, point out the road for me to follow. As I put my trust in you, I will never be disgraced.
Who is the man who fears the Lord?
He will instruct him in the way he should choose.
His soul will abide in prosperity,
And his descendants will inherit the land.
The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him,
And He will make them know His covenant.
My eyes are continually toward the Lord,
For He will pluck my feet out of the net. – Psalm 25:12-15
In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.