Sin, Law & I
The Law Reveals Sin

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 29b of 83


7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.  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. 11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. 12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. 13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful” (Romans 7:7-13).

Many years ago, I was invited to preach in a certain church. In the course of my sermon, I spoke of the importance of keeping the Ten Commandments. Then by way of application


 I gave some examples of how the 4th and 5th commandments are frequently broken by professing Christians today. I thought the message was well-received.

Several years later, however, I met a man who was sitting in the congregation. He told me that after the service, his pastor spoke to some of their members and openly disagreed with what I said. He apparently laughed at my application and said that I was too narrow.

Fast forward to 2004, PCC had her 5th annual conference. Pastor Malcolm Watts was the speaker. His first message was on “keeping the Sabbath holy.” As part of his application, he spoke of the sin of shopping on the Sabbath. One brother who was new to the Reformed Faith was very troubled by the message. He said after the message: I do not think it was right of Pastor Watts to condemn shopping on the Sabbath as sin!

What about you? How do you react when the Law of God is preached? I don’t know about you, but experience tells me that very often, the preaching of the Law stirs up much consternation. Many professing Christians today think that anyone who emphasise the necessity of keeping the Law strictly must be a legalist or a Pharisee.

But what is the right response to the preaching of the Law? How should you react when the Law of God is preached?

Our text, I believe gives us Paul inspired answer.

Paul says in verse 7— What shall we say then? Is the law sin?

Paul has just spoken of the relationship between the believer and sin and the Law. He tells us in chapter 6 that as believers we must no more be slaves to sin. Our sin nature, or our old man is dead.

Then he tells us in the first 6 verses of chapter 7 that we must no more submit to the Law as a covenant of works. We must no more keep the Law merely as an external rule of life. Neither should we keep it as a way of obtaining God’s favour.

The law as a covenant of works is our first husband. It is dead. Our old man is dead (Rom 6:6); our old husband is dead (Rom 7:4). Does this mean that our old man and our old husband is the same thing? Does it mean that the law is sin? Sin is bad; does it mean that the law is bad too; and we really ought to have nothing to do with the Law?

What is Paul’s answer?

1. The Law Reveals Sin

7b God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

God forbid!” Of course not! The Law is not sin. Sin is lawlessness. Sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the Law. The Law defines sin. The Law reveals sin.

Paul would not know what is sin were it not for the Law. For example, he would not know that to lust is sinful except that the Law says: “Thou shalt not covet.”

Let me put it this way: Man is created in the image of God. We have the works of God’s Law written in our hearts. But the image of God in us has been defaced. It is not completely destroyed, but it is defaced. In a sense, only an imprint of the law remains in the heart of the natural man. One evident of this is that man no longer understands God’s law as clearly as He ought to. So he continues to agree that murder, theft and adultery, for examples, are sin. But what about Sabbath keeping? Or what about covetousness?  

Before you were taught the Law, did you know that breaking the Sabbath is sin? Did you know that it is sinful to covet after something that does not belong to you? Yes, you know that murder, adultery and theft are bad. But did you know that watching a movie on Sunday is sin? Did you know that it is sin to wish that you have your friend’s wife, or his wealth or his looks?

7b Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

Paul had said the samething earlier (in chap 3) where he says: “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20).

The Law reveals sin as sin. Sin is not merely doing something that is wicked in the sight of man. Sin is rebellion against God.

King David understood this when cried out unto the Lord: “Against thee, [and] thee only have I sinned” (Ps 51:4). David had violated the chastity of Bathsheba; he had murdered her husband; he had lied to the nation. But when Nathan confronted him, he knew that it was against God that He had sinned. Sin is rebellion against God. The Law reveals sin. If God did not give us His laws, how do we know when we rebel against Him? The Law is the God’s Rule Book for human life.

Some of us like to play soccer. How do we know: that it is wrong to touch the ball with the hand? How do we know it is alright to touch it with our head? Some of us like to play basketball. How do we know it is wrong for us to kick the ball? Because there are rules in these games, isn’t it? The rules were written by the inventors of these games so that they can be played in an orderly way.

So it is the case with human life. There are rules too. Who wrote the rules? Not our fathers; not the government; not the church; not the pastors; not our teachers. God wrote the rules. He wrote it on tables of stone. He spoke it in the hearing of His people. By His rules, we know what is right and what is wrong; what is righteous and what is sinful.

The Law is certainly not sin. Sin is bad. The law is good. We must have nothing to do with sin. But it is wrong to say that we must have nothing to do with the Law!

The law as a covenant of works is dead unto us. We must no more obey the Law in the hope of gaining God’s approval. We must no longer keep the law in the hope of attaining eternal life. But this does not mean that we should have nothing to do with the Law.

Churches which do not teach the Law are starving the members. Their members are perishing in ignorance because they are sinning in ignorance. No, no; ignorance is never bliss.

If you claim to be a Christian and you do not know the Law, your claim is an empty claim. Why? Because you do not know what is sin. If you do not know the Law, how do you know what is sin,—when by the law is the knowledge of sin? If you do not know sin, who is Christ to you? He cannot be your Saviour because you do not understand that you are a sinner.

The knowledge of the Law is essential for every believer. The Law reveals sin. This is the first thing that every Christian must understand—lest they despise the Law.

But is it sufficient for us merely to know the Law? Can we say that everyone who knows the Law is a believer? You know that that cannot be the case: Otherwise we have to call the Pharisees and Scribes believers. But our Lord tells us that he did not come for them. He says: “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mt 9:13). He is, of course, not testifying that they are righteous, but rather that they claim to be righteous. Did they know the Law? Yes! Were they believers? No!

No, no; the knowledge of the Law is essential, but it is not sufficient. The knowledge of the Law must be applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit.

…to be Continued Next Issue….

—JJ Lim