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Romans 7 – Week 8
Imagine if I were to give you a blank piece of paper and a few crayons and ask you to draw something. You could draw anything you want but I tell you that I have a certain object in mind that I would like for you to draw; however, I don’t tell you what that object is. That would be quite a challenge, would it not? I imagine some of you would draw a flower, perhaps a heart, or even a star. Some of you may consider the colors that were given to you and draw an object based on the colors themselves. Some of you who have an artistic flair may branch out from ordinary objects and draw a scene – maybe a meadow of flowers or a star-filled sky. But knowing that I had something specific in mind would more than likely cause you to ponder your choice and ultimately hope for the best considering that you don’t know my expectations.
Now, after you’ve exercised your free will and drawn what you wished, what if I had you flip the paper over and I asked for you to draw and color in a circle? Now that you know what object for which I was looking, you draw your best circle and color it in. It’s not perfect, but you can tell it’s a circle. Maybe you decide to outline in one color and use a complementary color to fill in the center. You might think it looks pretty good if you do say so yourself. That is until you see your neighbor’s. Their circle isn’t as wonky as yours. Their lines perfectly meet. They’ve colored in the circle adding highlights and shadows. You didn’t think to do that and quite honestly, you weren’t told to do that. Again, you had free will to create the circle of your choice. You decided the size and the colors. It’s completely your creation and looking at the others in the room, everyone’s circle looks very different. Some big. Some small. Some lopsided. Some near perfect. Some took the easy way obviously and some took the assignment very seriously and did their very best.
Finally, I give you a piece of paper which has a drawing of a perfect circle, It is boldly outlined. Within the circle are different shapes. I tell you to color in the shapes within the circle using the colors that you’ve been given. That makes it a whole lot easier to carry out, doesn’t it? Knowing what’s expected and having the thick, bold, and definite boundaries help to guide your coloring. Of course, you’ll color it as you wish. Again, flex your free will and make it your own. Then as you look at your neighbors and their creations, you’ll see that each person used the design within the circle as their template. Each is different although technically they are the same.
Look back at your first drawing. How many of you drew the circle that I had in mind? Most likely, none of you. Not knowing what was expected, not having any details or description left you just kind of winging it on your own. This was how it was for mankind before the law was given. People knew that they should do what was right and avoid what was wrong, but there was a great expanse of interpretation of that.
From the days of Adam to the days of Moses, everybody sinned. They weren’t obedient to God; they did what they wanted to do, how they wanted to do it, and didn’t seek to please God. There was no written law although God had equipped them with a conscience. They should have had some idea of their boundaries and lived within those. But they didn’t.
“Then God said to Noah, “I have decided to put an end to every creature, for the earth is filled with wickedness because of them; therefore I am going to destroy them along with the earth.” Genesis 6:13 CSB
As the world is repopulated, the law is given. Look at your last creation, the one with the design clearly marked for you. Did any of you go outside the lines? Does anyone have any areas that aren’t completely filled in? Looking at it, do you wish you had used different colors or done anything differently? What if I had given you that page and told you that the center had to be colored in a certain red; not just any red, but a very specific red. And you had to use precise pressure to get the right shading. I also required that you do this at a certain time on a certain day while wearing specific clothing. I also would have similar instructions for each of the sections within the circle. Failing to comply with every detail of the instructions, whether willingly or not, would result in severe punishment. You’d be fearful of it, wouldn’t you? It would be intimidating. Some would say it wasn’t worth the headache and the trouble and not do it at all. Some may get incredibly frustrated because they knew they could never get it just right. And there would always be those that showed defiance and would color that center a bright fuchsia with lime and turquoise polka dots just because they wanted to do it their way.
These descriptions also match the Israelites after the law was given. The laws were strict and specific. It was nearly impossible to abide by each and every one of them. There were those who diligently tried. There were those who just didn’t bother to make much of an attempt; they did as they wanted. Likewise, there were those who, no matter how hard they tried, still messed up from time to time. And of course, there were those who were quite willing to do just the opposite of what they had been told to do or not to do.
God saw that all of mankind was living in a helter-skelter state; He wanted His people to be set apart. Instead, the Israelites had resorted to “drawing their own circles”. They knew what God wanted from them, but they wanted to do it their own way. Their selfish motives misdirected them from where God intended. After delivering the laws to the people, Moses explained the root reason for them. “Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” Exodus 20:20 ESV
The law was given to help them to see what defined sin. No more blank pages and draw what you want; instead, here is your template. Abide by this, stay in the lines, keep God’s commandments, and live. For roughly 1,500 years between the time of Moses receiving the law and the crucifixion of Jesus, this would have been the goal for the Israelites.
As Paul is writing to the Romans, remember he is writing to not only Jews who have lived under the law for more than 1,500 years, but he’s also writing to Gentiles who haven’t lived under the law. The law to the Jews was the framework, the backbone of their relationship, the very foundation on which they stood. The law was also one of the major differences between the Jews and the Gentiles. But when Jesus came, it all changed.
Acts 13:39 TPT 38 “So listen, friends! Through this Jesus, the forgiveness of sins is offered to you. 39 Everyone who believes in him is set free from sin and guilt—something the law of Moses had no power to do.”
Do you remember the first time you were legally allowed to drive a car on your own? I can remember feeling a lot of different emotions. But two of those were fear and excitement. I was so afraid that I would get pulled over and questioned about driving on my own because, until that day, it was illegal for me to do so. On the other hand, it was very exciting to be doing something I had never done before, and knowing that I had a nifty little card issued by the State of Georgia that said I was allowed to do what I was doing was quite freeing. You have to imagine that the readers of Romans would have had similar conflicting emotions. The balance between the legalism of the law that they had always known and this newfound liberty from the rigidness of the law would have been confusing.
Paul begins chapter 7 of Romans with an illustration to which they can all relate. He uses the example of marriage and that a married couple is bound together by law until death. He explains what they already know. If a woman who is still married joins with another man, she is guilty of adultery. However, if her husband has died, then she is freed from that marital law. He parallels that example to us, the law, and the grace that we received through Jesus.
Romans 7: 4 NCV “ In the same way, my brothers and sisters, your old selves died, and you became free from the law through the body of Christ. This happened so that you might belong to someone else—the One who was raised from the dead—and so that we might be used in service to God.”
In other words, we were married and bound to the law; but then death occurred. Jesus died and as Christians, our old selves died as well. That death gave us the freedom to now be joined together with Jesus and be covered by His grace. He goes on to say that we used to be ruled by our sinful selves and, as a matter of fact, that the law made us want to do sinful things that brought us spiritual death.
That’s one of those statements that make me question whether I read it correctly or not. Did Paul really say that the law made us want to do sinful things? Matthew Henry illustrates it as “that power of the law which stirs up and provokes the sin that dwells in them.”[i]
There’s a streak of rebellion that lives within the flesh of who we are. Galatians 5 tells us that the flesh wants what the Spirit doesn’t want and likewise, the Spirit wants what the flesh doesn’t want. It’s that internal spiritual warfare that we talked about last week. So if we find ourselves leaning more towards the flesh, then any law that is given to us can give birth to that rebellion so that we do what the flesh wants because we can. A very recent example of this would be the face masks that we were required to wear out in public. How many stories did you hear of or videos did you see of people refusing to wear the face masks in public? The excuses were plentiful, but they all came down to one argument. “You can’t tell me what to do.” There’s a line of defiance in each one of us. Having laws imposed on us can bring that defiance to the surface.
Romans 7:7 “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.”
Do you know why they make those electrical plug covers and recommend that all homes with small children have them? It’s because there’s something intriguing about those little holes in the wall and being told by a parent or an adult not to touch them only makes the child want to touch them all the more. Even as adults, we like to push the boundaries in certain areas. Ever tried to use a coupon after the expiration date just to see if you can slip it in? What about the express lane at the grocery store? You know the one that has the huge sign that reads “10 items or less” and surely, you think to yourself, 14 items is pretty close to 10, isn’t it? Are you one of those people who look at speed limits as mere suggestions, not as an actual law? Whenever there is a boundary set, there will always be those who are tempted to push it. Oscar Wilde once said, “I can resist everything but temptation.” We may not be tempted in a multitude of areas, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that each of us has struggled with staying in the lines in at least a few areas of our lives. Hopefully, as we mature and learn along the way, we see the consequences and the downfall of not staying within the boundaries and, as a result, make a choice to let the Holy Spirit guide us rather than the flesh.
Romans 7:7b-11 ICB “I would never have known what it means to want something wrong if the law had not said, “You must not want to take your neighbor’s things.” 8 And sin found a way to use that command and cause me to want every kind of wrong thing. So sin came to me because of that command. But without the law, sin has no power. 9 I was alive without the law before I knew the law. But when the law’s command came to me, then sin began to live. 10 And I died because of sin. The command was meant to bring life, but for me that command brought death. 11 Sin found a way to fool me by using the command. Sin used the command to make me die.”
When Paul is saying he was alive without the law before he knew the law, he’s basically stating this his moral compass had not been set. When the law was revealed, it also revealed the existing sin. He uses the example of covetousness. Before the law, he didn’t know it was wrong to desire something that belongs to someone else. That desire was already there; he just didn’t know that it was wrong; however, not knowing didn’t make it any less wrong. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse?”
Paul is writing to them from his heart. In this one chapter, in fact, it’s interesting to take note of the pronouns he uses. In the ICB translation, he uses the word “you” a total of 7 times. Seven times he refers to the readers of his letter. He uses the word “we” or “us” which includes not only the readers but himself as well, a total of 14 times. Interestingly though, Paul refers to himself a total of 60 times in this one chapter alone. His struggle with finding the balance between legalism under the law and liberty under grace was very real. Remember he had been a staunch Pharisee who was extremely self-righteous and condemning of those who weren’t perfect according to the standards set by the laws.
After his moral compass was set by Jesus, The One and only Way, Paul realized that the laws and his behavior and attitude regarding them were actually drowning him in sin and death. As he said, “sin found a way to fool him by using the law. Sin used the law to cause him to die.”
There are so many laws, rules, boundaries, limits for all of us. We have traffic laws, tax laws. We have federal, state, and local laws. We have neighborhood covenants; we have separate rules from homeowners’ associations. We have dress codes in our schools. We have a limit as to how many packages of toilet paper we can buy at one time. Yes, there are many restrictions and margins in which we are expected to function; but with few exceptions, those limits are set for the good of all of us. Do you remember about a year and a half ago before there was a limit on the amount of toilet paper people could buy? People were buying it all up and hoarding it or reselling it at a huge mark-up. Why? Because they could. As a result, many people had to do without and improvise simply because there was no limit.
Perhaps some of you have traveled along the Autobahn highway in Germany. It’s an 8,000 plus mile stretch known for its lack of a speeding limit in some areas. In fact, more than 50% of the highway doesn’t have a set speed limit. In the absence of law regarding limits on speed, there are other laws that are strictly enforced. You cannot pass on the right. It’s illegal. You must pass on the left side. Using your blinker is so critical that German cars are made in such a way that the blinker is activated when the steering wheel is used. It is against the law to run out of gas while driving on the Autobahn. Actually, you could lose your license for up to six months just for running out of gas. Speaking of the license, getting a German driver’s license isn’t as cheap as what we are accustomed to. A German driver’s license can cost up to $3,000! And even though there is no law regarding the speed limit in some areas, there are posted suggestions of 130 kilometers per hour which is close to 80 miles per hour. Because even though there’s no law, their version of the highway patrol recognizes that there is danger in having no limits or boundaries. 67% of the accidents that occur on the Autobahn happen in areas in which there is no speed limit. A website giving travel advice to Americans made this statement. “You also need to be alert and pay even more attention to the road than required in the US. The high-speed autobahn is no place to make mistakes!”[ii][iii]
To try and live our lives without recognizing the laws and boundaries puts us in a very precarious position as a Christian. As humans, it’s impossible for us to be sinless. But as Christians, with the help of the Holy Spirit, it’s possible for us to sin less if we choose so.
Paul ends Romans 7 describing the conflict and struggle of the battle within us all. Listen to the references to himself over and over again.
Romans 7: 15 I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I can’t. I do what I don’t want to—what I hate. 16 I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience proves that I agree with these laws I am breaking. 17 But I can’t help myself because I’m no longer doing it. It is sin inside me that is stronger than I am that makes me do these evil things.
18 I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn I can’t make myself do right. I want to but I can’t. 19 When I want to do good, I don’t; and when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. 20 Now if I am doing what I don’t want to, it is plain where the trouble is: sin still has me in its evil grasp.
21 It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love to do God’s will so far as my new nature is concerned; 23-25 but there is something else deep within me, in my lower nature, that is at war with my mind and wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. In my mind, I want to be God’s willing servant, but instead, I find myself still enslaved to sin.
So you see how it is: my new life tells me to do right, but the old nature that is still inside me loves to sin. Oh, what a terrible predicament I’m in! Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature? Thank God! It has been done[c] by Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free.”
You can look at the various pictures that were drawn without any instruction and see how different they all are. Not only that, but none met what I had in mind. Even after knowing that I wanted a circle, no one was able to draw a perfect circle. We can try all we want, but we need God’s definition of what He expects of us. Look at your last piece of art. When using the template, we are much more equipped to produce what is desired of us. God knows we need instructions, we need boundaries. He also knows that we are going to color outside the line over and over again. Thank God! Because He provided grace through Jesus Who is the eraser that cleans it up for us.