Tag Archives: the law



“What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the 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.” Romans 7:7-10.

How can we ever say that God’s law is sinful?

The law expresses both God’s character and His requirements for a holy life. God’s law is not the problem, but the rebel nature in us that rises up as soon as God says, “Don’t!” We were not created with a natural bent towards disobedience. We inherited it from Adam when he changed allegiance and decided to step out from under the covering of righteousness and go it alone. When he chose to make his own rules, it was necessary for God to establish His boundaries so that man would know wherein his safety lay.

Unfortunately, God’s law has the opposite effect on man’s fallen human nature. Instead of providing protection for him, the law provokes his rebellious nature to go the opposite way. Wherever God says “Don’t!” man says “I will!” and deliberately steps outside his safety zone and into the death zone. The law has exactly the opposite effect to what God intended. Instead of protecting us, it provokes us.

Why did Paul choose the last of the Ten Commandments as an example? Why not murder or adultery or theft? I think he chose coveting because coveting is where it all starts. Sin begins in the mind and coveting is the motive for outward acts like murder and adultery that come from coveting. Covetousness is inward sin. Only God knows what goes on in our hearts. Even though we may not steal or murder, the driving force behind these sins is already in our hearts.

Our natural bent is towards selfishness and greed. To change that, God had to intervene and take active steps to change our hearts in order to change our nature and our attitudes. We are not naturally contented. We are dissatisfied with what we have – we want more or we want what others have. Have you ever watched two toddlers playing together? Even though they might have a room full of toys, they will fight over the one toy that they both want! It’s in the heart. It’s in the disposition and the bent from the day that we were conceived.

It frustrates us to see the selfishness displayed in children and the disharmony that it produces in the little ones, but we don’t recognise coveting in ourselves. We call it ambition, or progress or getting ahead or some other cover-up word but, bottom line, it’s just plain coveting. And where did it come from? From our response to God’s law, written on our hearts, “You shall not covet.”

“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 holy, righteous and good.” Romans 7:11, 12.

What was Paul’s conclusion? God’s law is holy. It was given to His people to show them the path to Himself. If they walked His way, they would surely arrive at the destination He intended for them. Unfortunately, the law has the opposite effect, because of built-in rebellion. Everyone, since Adam, thinks that he knows better than God. Sin is so deceptive that it will persist in making its own rules in spite of the fact that the outcome is always chaos and destruction.

An alcoholic knows that his drinking is destroying him and his family but he is driven by it and can’t stop. He refuses to acknowledge that he has a problem. He knows he cannot help himself but he keeps telling himself that he is okay and that he can stop drinking at any time if he so chooses. Why is he so foolish and stubborn? Sin has deceived him.

So it is with every form of sinful practice. We are foolish enough to believe that we can keep doing the same things and expect a different outcome! The problem lies with us, not with the standard by which God measures us. Paul is going somewhere with this explanation. He is building up a case for our utter helplessness without the intervention of God’s mercy and grace.

Stick with me. We’re getting to the exciting part.


THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.



“Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker. A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.” Romans 2:25-29.

Paul took great pains to ensure that his Jewish readers understood the place of the law in their lives. Being a Jew was much more than having the outward and physical sign of the covenant in their bodies. It was an issue of the heart. Paul needed them to understand that they were all lawbreakers, no matter how much they viewed themselves as the privileged covenant people of God.

Like the Pharisees who were Jesus’ persistent opponents, defending their natural birth into the nation of Israel was of no use if they did not back it up with obedience to the terms of God’s covenant. It would be the same as thinking that natural birth in a country would be enough to keep me out of prison even if I committed a crime.

The thinking of the Jews whom Paul addressed then is, unfortunately, the same false teaching that deceives millions of people today. False religions teach people that the way to please their god, or the way to get rid of sin is to subscribe to a certain religion and to do certain things, rituals or rules that relate to the body but cannot change the heart. Eat or do not eat certain foods; wash here or wash this way; offer sacrifices of food or blood; bow so many times, or bow this way etc. What can any of these things do to alter the state of the heart, or remove the guilt of the soul?

The prophet Micah, in the Old Testament, struggled with the same issue.

“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He had shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:6-8.

What value is there in washing the body, putting the right kinds of food in the mouth or offering sacrifices to an inanimate block of wood or stone? What evidence it there to prove that these rituals have any effect on the guilty conscience? Of what value is circumcision, as a mark of membership if it does not issue in obedience to God, or offering sacrifices if they are an excuse to keep on sinning? All the adherence to religious practices in the world cannot and will not change the heart.

Paul was slowly building his case for the hopelessness of all human beings. Not even the Jews, who had thousands of years of history – God actively involved in their lives, revealing Himself to them, cutting covenant with them, intervening in their lives with many miracles, protecting and providing for them, governing and guiding them – were any better than the Gentiles because they were just as guilty of ungodly behaviour as their uncircumcised neighbours.

Worst of all, although the Jews probably did not even give it a thought, was their arrogant attitude towards the Gentiles whom they despised. It was their very pride in their privileged birth that cut them off from God. “God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5b. So, instead of living in God’s favour, they had cut themselves off from Him because of their arrogant attitude.


THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.