Sin, Law & I

The Law Convicts

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans

Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005

Part 29a of 83

“…8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. 9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. 10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.” (Romans 7:7-13).

[One who tries to obtain God’s favour by Law-keeping is a legalist. On the other hand, a Christian who ignores the Law or refuses to walk according to the Law is an antinomian. How exactly, then, should we use the Law? This is what Paul is dealing with in our text. In the previous instalment of this article, we saw how the Law reveals sin. In this second part, we must consider how the Law convicts sinners. —JJL]

2.  The Law Convicts

This is the second thing that every Christian must understand about the Law. The Law is God’s instrument of convicting us of our sins.

Paul says:

8 But sin [or my sin nature], taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence [or evil-desires]. For without the law sin was dead. 9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.

This sounds rather cryptic. What does Paul mean? What is Paul saying? He is saying that sin and the law has a very close relationship. The Law reveals sin, and sin is magnified by the Law.

At one time, Paul thought himself to be a righteous Pharisee. He tells the Philippians that He was…

“Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law,  blameless” (Phil 3:5-6).

Remember the rich young ruler who asked the Lord, “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17).

How did the Lord answer him? “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Mt 19:17).

What did the young man say? “All these things have I kept from my youth up” (Mt 19:20).

Paul was like that. He thought he had kept the Law perfectly. He was a sinner like all of us. But he thought he was heading to heaven when he was not.

Then something happened to him. The commandment came,” he says (v. 9). What does he mean? Did he not have the Law? Did he not have the commandments? Why then does he say “the commandment came”?

The answer is that though Paul knew the Law, he knew it merely as a set of rules for external behaviour. But one day on the road to Damascus, the Law, in particular, the 10th commandment, came home into his heart. This happened, we have no doubt, by the work of the Holy Spirit changing his heart and enlightening his eyes.

Before that happened, he thought that he was perfect as could be. He thought that if anyone deserved heaven, he deserved it more.

But now his eyes are open. Suddenly he sees himself as a sinner. “I was alive without the law once” he says (v. 9).

We may enlarge his words thus: “I thought I was alive.  I thought I had eternal life. But I was dead.  I did not know the Law as I ought to. Then the Law came forcefully into my soul; and suddenly I saw myself to be a gross sinner. Sin was dead without the Law. Sin did not bother me. But now because of the Law, sin is alive. Suddenly, I saw my corruption, my filthiness, my wickedness. Suddenly, I realise that my heart is filled with lust and wicked desires.”

“For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died” (v. 9).

Paul is probably alluding to the Jewish tradition known as the Bar Mitzvah. In this tradition, a child is not regarded as responsible for his own actions, until about age 12. At that time, in the Bar Mitzvah ceremony, the child is declared, “a child of the commandment.” That is, he is now responsible for keeping the commandments.

Paul is alluding to the Bar Mitzvah to speak of his spiritual experience as an adult. He was, as it were, a child spiritually. He did not know that he was dead in sin and trespasses.

Then the commandment came, and suddenly he realised that he was a dead sinner. How did the commandment come? It came with the power of the Holy Spirit opening his eyes and melting his heart.

In other words, the Law in the hand of Christ is a tool of conviction. What Christ did by His Spirit to Paul, He did also to the rich young ruler. Remember how the Lord responded to the young man when he said he had kept all the law from his youth up?

“Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me” (Lk 18:22).

The Lord, you must realise was merely applying the 10th commandment. If the rich young man truly loved the Lord and did not covet, then he would give up all that he had when he was commanded to do so by the Lord.

How did the young man respond? He was very sorrowful, and he went his way. Do you see what happened to him? He thought he was alive. But it was because he did not fully understand the law. But when the Lord explained the least of the commandments, suddenly, it became clear to him that he did not and could not have eternal life by the Law.

That was what happened to Paul. He thought he was alive when he had the Law only externally. But when the Law came home into his soul by the work of the Holy Spirit, he saw that He was really dead in sin and trespasses.

The Law, therefore, not only defines sin, it is also the searchlight of the Holy Spirit to bring conviction in the heart of God’s children. When the Law shines into the heart of the sinner, it does not reveal a clean and orderly chamber. It inevitably reveals a disorderly and dirty room. In this room is a heinous serpent.

When the light of the Law shines into the heart, the serpent will rear its ugly head to reveal the wickedness of the sinner.

The apostle Paul thought that by keeping the Law, he had eternal life. When the Holy Spirit began to work in his heart, he discovered to his horror that he had not kept the law. And not only so, the Law which he thought could give him life serves only to reveal his deadness. “The commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death” (v. 10), he says.

Paul had discovered that the Law does not save. Indeed, rather than bringing life, the Law brought death. Instead of bringing joy, it brings sorrow. The preaching of the Law brings conviction of sin. Conviction of sin is never joyful. It depresses the sinner. It lays a heavy burden on his heart. It slays him rather than saves him.

But if that is so, why do we want the Law? If the Law depresses and slays, why preach the Law?

…to be Continued Next Issue….

—JJ Lim