Romans Lesson 78 - The Five-fold Function of Law
The Law is mentioned all throughout the Old and New Testaments "sometimes in a positive light and sometimes in a negative light "and it's a pivotal part of the Gospel. So join Stephen in this study of Romans 7:7-13 as the Apostle Paul reminds us what the Law is . . . and what it isn't.
“The Five-Fold Function of Law”
In Romans chapter 7, the Apostle Paul has described the believer as dead to the law and alive to the Spirit.
In verses 1-4 he described the law as our first husband, domineering and demanding in his rules that we could never keep.
In verse 5 he revealed that the law aroused our sinful passion, bringing about fruit unto death.
How is it that the law can actually make you want to sin?
What is it about the sign at Yellowstone National Park that reads, “Don’t feed the bears,” which seems to incite tourists to do what? To feed the bears. And young bears die by the road every winter, waiting for the tourists they have come to depend upon for food.
What is it about the sign, “Stay off the grass,” that makes you want to walk on it.
What is it about speed limit signs that say 35 and you immediately go 40.
Why is it that in the library you get the greatest urge to talk?
The law had spoken! Don’t . . . you can’t . . . off limits.
All a human being needs to know is that something is off limits for him to want to have it – to keep it – to experience it.
So for the reader of Paul’s letter, having been informed that the law produces fruit unto death and it arouses the flesh to sin . . . they might have concluded that the law itself was sinful.
Furthermore, in chapters 3 through 5 Paul taught that the law couldn’t save anybody; in chapter 6 he explained why the law, even God’s law, couldn’t sanctify anybody. They might have concluded that the law of God was useless. Worse than that, it collaborated with sin and thus it was sinful as well.
What’s the purpose, then, of God’s law?
Let me give you Paul’s answer in this next paragraph as he explains the 5-fold function of God’s law.
Number 1) The law of God defines sin
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.
In other words, the law does not cause sin, it identifies sin.
And it reveals the human nature to want to sin more. And sin takes every opportunity wherever the law speaks, to tempt us to violate it.
The law, “Thou shalt not covet,” does not create coveteousness or remove it – it calls attention that we’re doing it. In fact, it reveals that we are covetous people, constantly involved in wanting something more that doesn’t belong to us.
The law speaks – we realize that we’re sinful.
Did you notice that Paul chooses this one command to illustrate his point. Of all the ten commandments, this one, perhaps more than any other reveals the inward battle of the flesh. You could translate the word, “lust.”
There is something about forbidden fruit that is so desirable. We begin to covet, to lust after, to desire things that are forbidden, even at an early age.
Tell your 3 year old child . . . don’t touch that vase and he begins to salivate and hyperventilate – his eyes can’t leave the vase – his fingers stretch toward the vase as the most valuable object on earth.
I watched one television show some time ago where young children, one at a time, were put in a room with toys and a jar of cookies and told, they were not to touch the cookies until the adult returned in just a minute or two. The camera recorded the scene - oh the agony in those kids. Some of them walked over and just stared . . . some actually talked to themselves, saying, “Don’t eat the cookies, don’t eat the cookies. . .” One kid stood in the corner and banged his head against the wall . . . one kid began to sing to take his mind off the temptation. What happened to the toys? They were ignored . . . because there was something else in the room that they were told they couldn’t have.
What was it about that one tree – in the midst of so many other fruit bearing trees – that Eve stood, so desperately wanting a taste of it she risked everything for it?
The law, “You can’t have that one thing,” wasn’t the problem. The sin nature that covets freedom and power and the pursuit of happiness over holiness must have it’s own way.
Why did Achan covet that Babylonian garment he could never wear in public and those silver coins he could never spend in public – what good would it ever do him in that hole he dug in the ground. (Joshua 7:21)
Why would Ahab want the vineyard of a simple man when he owned acres of vineyards already? (I Kings 21)
Why would Ananias and Saphira so desperately want prestige that they would lie to their congregation about their financial gift and soon lie dead in their graves? (Acts 5)
Why would Demas leave the faith after things of the world? (2 Timothy 4)
Because, the law had spoken – don’t covet something that doesn’t belong to you!
The law can’t be blamed . . . anymore than the sign – “no swimming . . . sharks” – can be blamed when you’re eaten by a shark.
Law merely defines the danger . . . and sin takes it from there.
Number 2) Not only does the law of God define sin; the law of God destroys self-righteousness.
Paul goes on in verse 9 to write, 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;
Paul is giving his personal testimony. There was a time when I felt secure.
I was a Pharisee among Pharisees; circumcised on the 8th day; a fastidious keeper of the law.
He even began to pursue these Christians who were following someone other than Moses and the prophets for this newly executed criminal named Jesus.
“But then the commandment came, and I died.”
There are a dozen opinions about Paul’s reference to chronology here in his testimony. But then the commandment came.
I believe it would be a reference to that moment when the Lawgiver appeared in the sky over that road to Damascus; it’s brilliance knocking Paul off his horse and that voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
At that moment his self-confidence was destroyed; his self-righteousness destroyed; all his religious accomplishments would be considered rubbish from this point forward (Phil. 3:7-8).
He had not been upholding the honor of God; he had actually been violating the honor and glory of God’s Son!
At that moment he died to his own religion of works and placed his faith in the crucified One, for he said, “Lord, what would you have me to do.” “Lord!” “Master!”
What had the law done for Paul?
Destroyed his self-righteousness.
Paul goes on to give a 3rd function of the law;
Number 3) The law of God declares the deception of sin
11. For sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.
Have you ever been deceived?
The verb here translated deceived, is intensive. It could be rendered, “to be deceived completely. . .to be deceived perfectly.”
Sin deceives like nothing or no one can. It perfectly deceives the unbeliever.
I cannot begin to recount over these 17 years, the number of times I’ve encountered an unbeliever totally deceived by their sin; believers even who’ve begun to follow the deceptive lure of sin.
How does sin deceive?
It deceives regarding satisfaction.
Sin says, “I’ll satisfy that desire.” And it seems to at first, but then the desire comes back even stronger. And sin says, “I’ll satisfy that too.” And it seems to, only for a shorter period of time than before . . .and then on for more.”
Sin doesn’t satisfy . . . it inflames!
Sin deceives you regarding safety.
“It won’t hurt anybody!”
“You won’t surely die!”
Ladies and Gentlemen, sin is never safe.
Gary Richmond once worked in the Los Angeles Zoo. As a committed believer, he often saw things that happened at the zoo with a biblical perspective. He told the story in one of his books about a young zookeeper named Julie. The zoo had purchased a baby raccoon and it was among her duties to care for him. Playful, cuddly, puppy like in it’s antics, it soon won Julie’s heart - and every one else in that division. Julie could often be seen doing her duties with her cute little raccoon perched on her shoulder. She even named him Bandit. But Gary’s experience caused him to worry for Julie - He told her that raccoons go through a glandular change at about 24 months of age. After that they will often, unexplainably, viciously attack their owners. And a 30-pound raccoon can do the same kind of damage as a large dog. Over and over again, Gary warned his young friend about her growing pet. She would always listen politely as he explained the coming danger. Richmond wrote, “I will never forget her answer; it was always the same. "It will be different for me...” And she smile as she added, 'Bandit wouldn't hurt me. He just wouldn't. Then Richmond wrote, "Three months after my last warning Julie underwent plastic surgery for severe facial lacerations sustained when her adult raccoon attacked her for no apparent reason. Bandit was released into the wild."
Warn someone of sin and they will say, “It will be different for me.”
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked . . . whatever a man sows, he will reap.” (Galatians 6:7)
The law has spoken for your own safety . . . ignore God’s word and you will, in the end, pay dearly.
Sin deceives you regarding satisfaction and safety; furthermore, it deceives you regarding secrecy.
No one will know but you! No one sees but you. What you did on that test; the way you filled out your expense report . . . no one saw you.
Hundreds of thousands of men in the last 5 years have entered the world of internet pornography, deceived by one single lie – no one will ever know.
One woman who hosts a pornography site was interviewed some time ago . . . I read that interview in the newspaper; she made the statement that around 600,000 men from all around the world have visited her site – and she believed most of them have never once purchased anything like that in public.
Sin deceives . . . it says, everything you do in private is private – it will never affect you in public. That’s a lie! And all the while sin makes you become a person you never wanted to be.
Jesus said, “For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it should come to light.” (Mark 4:22)
Be sure your sin will find you – out!
Sin deceives you regarding shame.
It says, what you did or said or thought or planned isn’t sin after all.
You have no reason to be ashamed – wanting something is really needed something and you should never deprive yourself of something you need.
So whatever you crave or want – not matter how ungodly – there is no shame in that!
Do you think people think like that?
Has sin been able to deceive people into believing that something which God’s word says is wrong is actually right?
Do you follow the news?
12 years ago the Episcopal church set a policy that sexual relations was appropriate only within heterosexual marriage. They have just made history as the first mainline protestant denomination to appoint an openly homosexual bishop. I watched some of the delegates speak at that conference – and will never forget one little woman saying, “But the Bible just says it’s wrong.” She was viewed as ridiculously out of touch.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted 24 months ago to launch a committee to re-examine its policy against same-sex activity.
The Raleigh World, September, 2003
Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m not picking on the Episcopalians or the Lutherans. In fact, we have a Baptist church in this county with a lesbian on the pastoral staff.
Frankly, it doesn’t really surprise me to see the world slip further and further down Romans chapter 1 – from the practice of sin to the applause and approval of sin.
What keeps me up at night are people who, in the name of God, violate the word of God. The priests and prophets who pollute the land with their blasphemy, and lead the sheep astray.
Something that God so clearly condemns has now become twisted into something that is an expression of the dignity of God in every person, no matter what they do.
How do we come to this? The law of God has been replaced by the deception of sinful minds.
The truth is, as Paul makes it very clear in this verse, “Sin perfectly deceives.” (Romans 7:11)
It deceives in regards to satisfaction and safety and secrecy and shame and finally, sin deceives in regards to security.
People say and think under the deluding influence of sin, “God will let me in . . . God will overlook my sin.”
In a way that’s true . . . but it’s dangerously twisted!
I had an admitted adulterer tell me a few weeks ago, “God will understand that I’ve got a sinful nature and we live in a fallen world . . . God understands my weakness . . . He will overlook my sin . . . He’s a God of grace, so it doesn’t matter.”
True . . . but dangerously twisted.
It does matter . . . and I reminded him that sin without shame does not mean you are secure in heaven, it may very well mean you were never headed there in the first place.
Listen to the word of God (1Corinthians 6:9); Do not be deceived; neither fornicators . . . nor adulterers, nor . . . homosexuals, 10. nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
Does that mean if you’ve committed those sins you can’t get into heaven? How many of us in here are sinners who sin every day in one way or another? Let me see your hands. Imagine that!
On our 17th anniversary we’ve taken note that Colonial is filled with sinners.
The Apostle John wrote, “Whoever practices sin is not born of God.” (I John 3:9) The key word is the verb, to practice – perfect tense – over and over and without any end.
My friend, if you practice your sin without repentance; without remorse; without guilt; without shame, without ever being able to stop you are exhibit A of someone deceived by sin.
Sin does not satisfy,
Sin is not safe;
Sin is indeed shameful,
Sin is never done in secret, God sees,
Sin does not lead to security within the kingdom of God but judgment and eternal hell.
And Paul, here in Romans 7, shares his own personal testimony of sins deception in his own life.
The law of God defines sin; it destroys self-righteousness; it declares the deception of sin and now . . .
Number 4) The law of God delineates a holy standard (v. 12)
12. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
Only someone holy could conceive of holy law; only someone righteous and perfectly good could create a standard that was righteous and perfectly good.
Thus the law is a revelation of God Himself.
That’s how Joshua could be challenged to meditate on the law, day and night and therein he will find true success. (Joshua 1:8)
This is why David could sing, “Oh how I love Thy law.” (Ps.
Or again in Psalm 19. “The law of the Lord is
perfect, restoring 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 judgments of the
Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. 10. They are
more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the
honeycomb. (Ps. 19:7ff)
To know the righteous and good and holy law is to know the character of the Law-giver.
And to follow the Law-giver is to walk in a holy and righteous and good path.
You abandon the law and you will be abandoned by the Law-giver.
I had a neighbor come visit this week – he had a question about something else, but we turned the conversation around. They say you should never talk about religion or politics . . . what fun is that?
He shared with me how frustrated he was with his church – I will tell you only this much – he attends a mainline protestant denomination. He said his frustration had been growing ever since believers in his region in New York had tried to get into their churches constitutional by-laws their belief that Jesus was Lord. That’s it. Just the simple statement, “Jesus is Lord.” They couldn’t get enough votes so it didn’t pass. Some thought it was too authoritarian. As if Jesus wasn’t the authority. Some thought it was too divisive.
Thousands of people who were part of this denomination couldn’t even say, “Jesus is Lord.”
They will one day! When every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
And this Lord has given His law and it is good.
One more function of the law.
Number 5) the law of God ultimately demands redemption by a Savior (v. 13)
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.
The law reveals the sinfulness of sin.
Notice again the last part of verse 13. so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.
Set aside the law of God and sin no longer becomes sinful.
But, accept the commandment of God and all of a sudden you realize how utterly sinful your sin really is.
At this point, can the law help? No.
The law was not given to show you how good you have to be; it was given to show you how good you will never be.
Can a list of resolutions save you? Can a promise to never break the law again bring hope?
The law is not the cure – it’s just the x-ray that reveals you are infested with sin.
That’s the function of the law.
You cannot be saved at Mt. Sinai, you can only be saved at Mt. Calvary.
Not by good works of the law, but by the finished work of the Lamb . . . the Lamb who died for law breakers like you and like me.
At the age of 13, the Apostle Paul had become a bar mitzvah - son of the law. It was, according to custom, at this age that he assumed the responsibility to keep the law.
On the road to Damascus he realized that his attempts at keeping the law weren’t good enough – he needed to become a follower of the Lawgiver.
John wrote, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become the children of God.” (John 1:12)
Not, ‘sons and daughters of the law’ but saved ones by the blood of the Lamb.
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