Tag Archives: under sin

Romans 7:7-12 – Reclaiming the Law

Introduction:

Last week we learned some important background info concerning Paul’s law-talk in Romans.

  • Jew’s, and so Jewish Christians, had a variety of views on the “works of the law”.

 

Apparently, the two most prevalent views were:

  • Ethical/Works View – Law was the way to salvation.
  • Ethnic/Badge View – Law, like circumcision and Sabbath keeping, was one of the badges that designated membership of the people of God – a people God already saved.

 

Jewish Christians of either view had problems with the implications of the Gospel for the law.

  • In their eyes, Paul was throwing the law under the bus.
  • They charged Paul (Acts 21) with rebelling against Moses and Jewish customs like circumcision.
  • Romans 7:7 and following is Paul’s hashing out a response to these charges.

 

To get us started we need to review what Paul has said about the law thus far:

  • Romans 2:13 (ESV) — 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous [ethnic Jews] before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.
    • Attack on Ethnic/Badge View
  • Romans 3:20 (ESV) — 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
    • Attack on both views?
  • Romans 3:28 (ESV) — 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
    • Attack on both views?
  • Galatians 3:21 (ESV) — 21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.
    • Attack on both views?

 

If these attacks weren’t bad enough, Paul also taught the following about the law:

  • the law brings wrath” (4:15)
  • law came to increase the trespass” (5:20)
  • sinful passions, aroused by the law…bear fruit for death” (7:5)

 

Paul, acutely aware of how he was being heard, addresses his critics in our text.

  • That Paul addresses the charges shows us a couple of things…
  • Paul listened to and understood the charges of his critics.
  • Paul provided a reasoned response to their objections.
  • Paul knew the Gospel, if true, could/would withstand its critics.

 

 

Our Text:

Romans 7:7–12 (ESV) — 7 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.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 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.

 

The way Paul deals with his critics is to explain that he hasn’t thrown the law under the bus.

  • What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means!

 

Everything revolves around Paul’s Gospel view of the law — “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me” (vs. 10).

  • Paul fleshes out his defense of this proposition with a contrast between sin and its power with…
  • The law and the 10th commandment specifically – “You shall not covet”.

 

What is fascinating about Paul’s argument is how it can be understood visually.

  • If one parses out the law and its commandment (green) and sin (red) and what each does (bold verbs), it becomes really clear what Paul is doing.

 

Romans 7 7-12 Pic

 

Paul does not ascribe any evil to the law/commandment.

  • He is not questioning the wisdom of God’s giving the law.
  • The law is not the problem.

 

As evident by the visual picture of the text, Paul shows that the law was neutral.

  • The law “came” and the law “said”.
  • It made known the will of God.
  • It was an expression of the wisdom of God.

 

By contrast, sin is not neutral at all.

  • What does Paul mean by sin here?
  • This is the “under sin” dominion he has been referring to since Romans 3.

“A force, which is essentially opposed to God’s creation. It is bent on spoiling the world God made, the humans who reflect his image, and the chosen people called to be the agents of redemption” – N.T. Wright.

 

Paul says sin has an agenda and it takes advantage of the law/commandment to achieve its aims.

  • Seizing” the commandment.
  • Produced” the very thing the commandment condemned – coveting.
  • Sin “came alive” in the presence of the law.
  • Paul’s words do not mean that before the law, sin was non-existent.
  • Romans 5 obviously makes clear that it was – “in Adam”.
  • Paul means that “it was not as ‘active’ or ‘powerful’ before the law as after” – Douglas Moo.
  • Deceived” God’s people.
  • Killed” God’s people.

 

Sin’s action is why his main point is, The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me” (vs. 10).

  • This is the thing the Jew’s found so offensive.

 

After all, Moses said the complete opposite.

  • Leviticus 18:5 (ESV) — 5 You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.

 

But the reason, Paul says, the law doesn’t accomplish “life” is because the context in which the law was given.

  • The law was given to a people in Garden Exile because of Adam’s sin.
  • A people born into the dominion and power of sin.
  • And, “human beings are not freed from sin’s dominion while living under the domain of the law” – Tom Schreiner.

 

And under the dominion of sin…

  • “The power of sin made it impossible for any human being to fulfill the law and so attain the promised life” – Douglas Moo.

 

So, the law doesn’t grant life!

  • The law is “the occasion or operating base that sin has used to accomplish its evil and deadly purpose” – Douglas Moo.

 

This means that, “Those who believe that the answer to human evil is to teach the Torah are deeply mistaken, according to Paul” – Schreiner.

  • The law is not “the antidote to human evil” – Schreiner.

 

Whether by the “law” we mean the ethical/works view or the ethnic/badge view…

  • It does nothing to bring about dominion transfer – from “under sin” to “under grace”.

 

So Paul is not throwing Moses and Sinai under the bus.

  • He is revealing just how severe the problem of being “under sin” actually is.

 

This is why Romans 3:21-22 continues to be the most important verses in Romans.

  • Romans 3:21–22 (ESV) — 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

 

 

Purpose of Law:

So if the law didn’t/doesn’t bring life, what was its purpose?

  • Paul says the law served to teach Jews about sin – the act and the power of sin.
  • He says the commandment brought sin to life and made it know – intellectually and experientially.
  • The law made sin evident.

 

Douglas Moo puts it this way:

  • The law helped the Jew “to understand the real ‘sinfulness’ of sin” – Douglas Moo.
  • This itself is an act of grace!

 

This is the reason that Paul can finish out our text today with:

  • Romans 7:12 (ESV) — 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

 

Paul’s Gospel View of the law highlights the question:

  • If the law doesn’t give life and domain transfer, what does?
  • His answer is, of course, Jesus – not any ethnic/ethical relationship to the law.

 

Given this view of the law – Paul’s Gospel View – how should David be read in Psalm 19?

  • Psalm 19:7–10 (ESV) — 7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.

 

David’s words about the law seem only to make sense in light of Jesus Christ and Paul’s Gospel View of the law.

  • If David sees the law here as his means to salvation, he is deluded isn’t he?

 

 

Application:

The power and appetite of sin is something even the believer must remember.

  • “When we, too, are faced with sin, whether in our own lives or in the wider world, we should not underestimate it. Evil is real and powerful. It is opposed to God, his world, his human creatures, and not least those who are called to follow his son. We dare not trifle with it. It is deceitful. It is deadly” – N.T. Wright.
  • “The experience of Israel with the law should also remind Christians never to return to the law—whether the Mosaic or any other list of “rules”—as a source of spiritual vigor and growth” – Douglas Moo.

 

 

Romans 3:9-20 – None Righteous

Romans 3:9–20 (ESV) — 9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

 

In our text today, Paul brings to a close the arguments he began in 1:16.

  • It might do us good to outline Paul’s points up until now.
  • Reference Outline.

 

Outline:

1:16-17 – Saving Righteousness of God

  • Divine Activity – Covenant Faithfulness

 

1:18-32 – Judging Righteousness of God on Gentiles

  • 18-23 – Reason
    • Failing to Glorify God
  • 24-32 – Results
    • Spiritual Corruption
    • Physical Corruption
    • Fellowship Corruption

 

2:1-5 – Judging Others Incurs God’s Judging Righteousness

  • Why?
    • Hypocrisy – “Practice” What is Judged
    • Tread on God’s Patience

 

2:6-11 – “Apodidimi” (Reward) of God is Impartial

  • Judging Righteousness Given to Unrighteous
  • Saving Righteousness Given to Glory Seekers

 

2:12-13 – Future Justification (?)

 

2:12-3:8 – Judging Righteousness of God on Jews & Undercutting of Jewish Privilege

  • 12-16 – Gentiles Have Law – “By Nature” Law
    • “doers of the law” vs. “hearers of the law”
  • 2:17-23 – “Boast in” Law but Lawbreakers
    • Dishonors God
  • 2:24-29 – “Circumcision” Law
    • Circumcision of Flesh (man-centered)
    • Circumcision of Heart (God-centered)
  • 3:1-8 – Jews as Unfaithful “Entrustees”
    • Given Much & Entrusted But Failed
    • But…God is Faithful

 

 

Armed with this summary…

  • We can now better understand Paul’s closing arguments.

 

 

Verse 9:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,

 

“Already Charged”:

Paul has clearly been teaching that…

  • Gentiles fall under God’s judging righteousness.
  • Jews fall under God’s judging righteousness.
  • So to say that he has “already charged” is an understatement.
  • He has pounded home this point over and over.

 

“Better Off”:

What is less clear is what Paul means with the first part of this verse.

  • What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all.

 

The reason this should cause us pause and demand our attention is this…

  • In verses 1-2, Paul says this, “…what advantage has the Jew…Much in every way”.

 

This seems to be a contradiction.

  • Are Jews Better Off/Advantaged?
  • No, not at all” vs. “Much in every way”.

 

What is the solution to this apparent problem?

 

We need only look at our outline to make the necessary distinction.

  • Paul is talking about two different things.
  • Jews were privileged as God’s elect – in that they were given much.
  • However, this made them no “better off” – i.e. righteous and justified.
    • God’s judgment is impartial toward Jew and Gentile.

 

Douglas Moo sums it up well:

“Whatever historical privileges the Jews may have, these do not place Jews in a superior position in God’s judgment” – Doug Moo.

 

BTW – Robert Jewett provides another option here.

  • He says given Greek grammar options vs. 9 can rightly be translated with a negative connotation.
  • In other words, instead of Jews “better off” – its Jews “not better off”.
  • Supporting his case is the literal meaning of the Greek word translated “better off”.
  • It literally means “to be outdone”, “bettered” or “excelled” by something or someone (BDAG & Jewett).
  • In our context, the something else would be the Gentiles.

 

This option plays out as follows:

  • Paul is revealing that his diatribe “opponent” (the judge from 2:1) has begun to come around.
  • He has understood that the Jew is not better off than the Gentile.
  • And this, coupled with the fact that they have blasphemed the name of God and so failed as “entrustees”, leads the opponent to ask – are Jews “outdone” or “excelled” by Gentiles.
  • Paul’s answer, No!
  • Jews and Gentiles are in the same boat – all are “under sin” (vs. 9), “none is righteous” (vs. 10).

 

“Under Sin”:

In the NT, “under sin” is uniquely Pauline.

  • He uses it twice in Romans and once in Galatians.
  • Remember, Paul has to redefine Judaism in light of Jesus Christ.
  • This Greek phrase could be evidence of this endeavor.

 

So what does Paul mean that Jews and Greeks are “under sin”?

  • Most are in agreement that it means at least two things.
  • (1) Paul is speaking of the sin as an act – disobedience.
  • (2) Paul is speaking of sin ontologically as a thing with power!

 

It is the second meaning that is unique to Paul.

“Paul’s understanding that all people, Jews as well as Gentiles, were not just sinners but helpless pawns under sin’s power, distinguished him sharply from his Jewish contemporaries” – Douglas Moo.

 

The implication of this truth – that all are under the power of sin – is profound.

  • Anyone who has “not experienced the righteousness of God by faith is ‘under sin’” – Douglas Moo.
  • There is nothing a person can do to remove him or herself from its power.
  • There is no escape from sins power without “intervention” – Robert Jewett.

 

Remember, Paul is heaping this truth upon all that he has taught thus far.

  • The law doesn’t put right.
  • Circumcision doesn’t put right.
  • Obedience doesn’t put right.
  • Why – because all are under sin!
  • We are all in “Union with Sin” and its power and dominion – including death.

 

 

Verses 10-18:

10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

 

Paul then goes on to quote from six OT passages to show the evidence that all our “under sin”.

  • Importantly he begins this litany of despair with a concept he has mentioned before.
  • The righteousness of mankind.

 

Paul has had much to say about God’s righteousness – both the saving and judging varieties.

  • But what is the righteousness of man?

 

One might be tempted to say that the righteousness of man is the opposite of verses 11-18.

  • So perhaps the righteousness of man is:
    • Understanding and Seeking God.
    • Turning to God.
    • Good Works.
    • Speaking Holy Things.
    • Doing Holy Things.
    • Fearing God.

 

There are a couple of obvious problems with this, however.

  • This would imply that the righteousness of man comes from things man can do.
  • And Paul has already said that, “None is righteous, no, not one” (vs. 10).
  • We simply don’t do righteous things.

 

The other problem with this approach is that Paul has just declared that all are “under sin”.

  • In Romans 6 he will expand on this.
  • He will say that we are slaves to sin’s power and dominion.
  • So, the righteousness of man is not something that those “under sin” can have!

 

It’s almost as if Paul is talking about something that doesn’t actually exist.

  • And yet, it is something we need to avoid God’s judging righteousness.

 

At this point, we should be feeling very troubled and almost without hope.

  • How do we “get righteousness” or get “in the right” with God? (N.T. Wright)
  • Clearly, to get the righteousness that we don’t have, we need someone else’s.

 

And how does that happen?

  • We need the “intervention” that we mentioned earlier.
  • We need to be justified!
  • We need to be removed from the power of sin and imputed with God’s alien righteousness
  • Praise God for Romans 3:21 and following!

 

 

Verses 19-20:

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

 

Paul changes it up a bit in these last two verses.

  • He has something very important to say about the law.
  • And he couches his comments in law court language.

 

The courtroom scene plays at as follows:

  • Those “under the law” – the Gentiles and their “by nature” law and the Jews and their “boast in” law – are in the dock (N.T. Wright).
  • The dock is where the accused sits in a trial.

 

Shockingly, the law stands in as a witness against those who are under it.

  • The law actually “speaks” (vs. 19) or testifies against them – Gentile and Jew.
  • And “whatever the law says” (vs. 19) it demonstrates irrefutably the guilt of those in the dock.

 

So if anyone is going to rely on the law to be declared right before God, there is a serious problem.

  • “If ‘the Jew’ [for example] appeals to the covenant status which is marked out by possession of the law, the law itself replies, ‘You have broken me’” – N.T. Wright.

 

Paul goes on to say that because of the law’s testimony…

  • every mouth may be stopped” (vs. 19).

 

“Every Mouth May Be Stopped”:

It is important here to fully appreciate “every mouth may be stopped” (vs. 19).

“In Paul’s world, if you were on trial and had nothing more to say in your defence, you put a hand over your mouth as a sign. Sometimes court officials would strike the prisoner on the mouth to indicate that their mouths ‘should be stopped’, in other words, that they were obviously guilty and should not be attempting to defend themselves (this happened to Jesus in John 18:22, and to Paul in Acts 23:2). So when Paul says ‘that every mouth may be stopped’ he is imagining not only that the Jews have joined the Gentiles in the dock but that all of them together are left without any defence.” – N.T. Wright.

 

We actually see this elsewhere in the N.T.

  • John 18:22 (ESV) — 22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”
  • Acts 23:1–2 (ESV) — 1 And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” 2 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth.

 

The point here is that when the law speaks our guilt becomes plainly evident and there is no recourse!

  • As a result, we are all “held accountable to God” (vs. 19).
  • The righteousness of man is shown to be a manmade illusion!
  • Galatians 3:21b (ESV) — 21b For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.

 

Having lost our case in the law court – undone by the very thing we thought would save us…

  • Paul declares our final fate.
  • Because of the testimony of the law, none “will be justified in his sight” (vs. 20).
  • We have no righteousness; we sin and we are under sin’s dominion.
  • Obedience, “works of the law” (vs. 20), as a basis for justification is non-existent.
  • Our only fate is God’s judging righteousness, wrath and condemnation.

 

BTW – How do we reconcile the following statements?

  • …by works of the law no human being will be justified” (vs. 20) / “…but the doers of the law who will be justified” (2:13).

 

There seem to be only two viable answers.

  • (1) 2:13 is referring to future justification and 3:20 is referring to present justification (N.T. Wright).
  • (2) 2:13 is a theoretical; Paul doesn’t mean it.
    • We need to insert an unstated assumption of Paul between the two, “no one can do the law” – Douglas Moo.

 

 

Conclusion:

Where do we go from here?

  • What is the remedy for this hopeless situation?
  • We will end with Paul’s own words.
  • Romans 1:16–17 (ESV) — 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”