The Law and Sin

by Mike Ratliff

21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:21-25 (NASB) 

I was reading the profile of a Bible expositor that I greatly admire not long ago and was struck by this description of himself, “I am a notable sinner!” As I read that I reflected on my own spiritual condition and would have to agree with that statement as a description of me as well. There are times that I wonder what God sees in me for I see nothing good. There are times that my flesh seems to rule and reign in my heart instead of the power and peace of my Lord Jesus Christ. It is heartbreaking! I long to be free from this body of sin and death.

7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; 10 and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11 for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Romans 7:7-12 (NASB) 

The Law of God is good, but by it we know what sin is and what it is not. The Law condemns us all because we all sin. It covers all sin that we could ever commit and, because of our fallen nature, we do sin in ways that should drive us to the ash pit where we grieve in sackcloth for how our sins have offended our Holy God.

13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.
14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. Romans 7:13-20 (NASB) 

Sin is the cause of spiritual death, not God’s Law. The realization of the sinfulness of sin, on how it offends our Holy God, is what He uses to bring sinners to see their need for salvation. This is the purpose of the Law. At salvation, God regenerates their hearts so that they are New Creations. They now Love God and seek to do His will, but this regeneration does not take away that old fallen nature, the flesh, which knows nothing but self-gratification. Until Christians come to understand that nothing good resides in our humanness they will be deceived into believing that they can please God by their own efforts of holiness and religiosity. We can know if we are really serving and worshipping our Holy God in spirit and truth or if we are trying to do it on our own by how distracted we become and then fall into struggle or boredom or apathy or discontent. If we struggle in prayer or get tired of worship or reading our Bibles or meditating on God’s good Word then that is God’s way of showing us that we are trying to serve Him from our humanness rather than in spirit and truth by being Spirit-led. When we are not Spirit-led our walk will resemble what Paul describes in the passage above. We will do what we do not want to do and will not do what want to do, which is to be well pleasing to our Lord.

21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:21-25 (NASB) 

The following is from The Nature, Power, Deceit, and Prevalency of Indwelling Sin by John Owen where he summarizes this passage.

‘There are four things observable in these words: (1) The appellation (name, designation) he gives unto indwelling sin, whereby he expresses its power and efficacy: it is “a law”; for that which he terms “a law” in this verse, he calls in the foregoing, “sin that dwells in” him. (2) That way whereby he came to discovery of this law; not absolutely and in it’s own nature, but in himself he found it: “I find a law.” (3) The frame of his soul and inward man with this law of sin, and under its discovery: he “would do good.” (4) The state and activity of this law when the soul is in that frame when it would do good: it “is present with” him.’

Indwelling Sin is a Law. It is found in believers. Even though God has given His people whom He regenerates a habitual inclination to will to do good, evil is still present within them. Again from Owen:

“Awake, therefore, all of you in whose hearts is anything of the ways of God! Your enemy is not only upon you, as on Samson of old, but is in you also. He is at work, by all ways of force and craft, as we shall see. Would you not dishonor God and his gospel; would you not scandalize the saints and ways of God; would you not wound your consciences and endanger your souls; would you not grieve the good and holy Spirit of God, the author of all your comforts; would you keep your garments undefiled, and escape he woeful temptations and pollutions of the days wherein we live; would you be preserved from the number of the apostates in these latter days? Awake to the consideration of this cursed enemy, which is the spring of all these and innumerable other evils, as also of the ruin of all the souls that perish in this world!”

I am convinced that we fall into sin when we forget that we cannot trust that we can contain our fallen nature by our will power or our good intentions. We cannot stifle its desires by being religious. The only way to ensure victory is to be Spirit-led so that the fruit of the Spirit become manifest in us rather than the fruit of the flesh. The fruits of the Spirit can be counterfeited by our wicked nature, but they can never be sustained. Sin eventually breaks through. However, as long as we stand in our godly armor we can withstand all of the wiles of our enemies and that includes the one within.

Soli Deo Gloria!