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Why the Law of God Matters

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 7:7–13

As followers of Christ, we are freed from the law. However, the law still serves a purpose. The law does not save anyone; rather, it reveals people’s sinfulness so that Christ can save them.


What is it about the sign, “Stay off the grass,” that makes you want to walk on the grass? What is it about speed limit signs that say 45 miles per hour that compel you to go 50?

I have been told that the signs along the road in Yellowstone National Park that read, “Don’t feed the bears” seem to encourage tourists to do what? To feed the bears! I have even been told that young bears have died by the roadside, waiting for tourists to come by and feed them.

So far in our Wisdom Journey through Romans, the apostle Paul has informed the believer that the law literally arouses the flesh to sin. We seem to have a desire, just like Adam and Eve, for the forbidden fruit of sin.

Now, having taught that, Paul knows that people might conclude that the law itself is sinful. And that is not at all true.

So, what is the purpose of God’s law? Paul will now answer that by giving us what we will call the five functions of God’s law.

First, the law of God defines sin. Paul writes here in verses 7-8:

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. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.

What Paul means here is that one of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not covet,” defines covetousness as sinful. That one commandment does not create covetousness and it cannot remove it—it just calls attention to what we are doing.

This commandment exposes our desire for that forbidden fruit. We begin to covet what we do not have; we desire things that are forbidden, even at an early age. Tell your three-year-old child not to touch that flowerpot, and he immediately begins to think it is the most desirable object in the entire house.

The law forbidding something is not the problem. If you ignore the sign that says, “No swimming! Sharks!” and you go swimming anyway, you cannot blame the sign if you are attacked by a shark. The law of God is that sign; it defines what sin is—and how dangerous it will be.

The second function of the law is this: The law of God destroys self-righteousness. Here is what Paul writes in verses 9-10:

I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.

Paul is giving us his personal testimony. There was a time when he felt confident in his good works. He was a Pharisee among Pharisees, a careful guardian of the law. “But then,” he writes here, “the commandment came … and I died.”

When did that commandment come? I believe it was that moment when the Lawgiver appeared to him on the road to Damascus, and that brilliant light flashed from heaven, and Paul heard the voice saying, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).

At that moment Paul’s self-righteousness was destroyed. All his religious accomplishments in his little trophy case became like trash to him from that point forward (Philippians 3:7-8). The law destroys self-righteousness.

Paul then gives us a third function of the law: The law of God declares the deception of sin. He writes in verse 11, “For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.”

How does sin deceive us and destroy our lives? Well, it deceives us by promising fulfillment. Sin says, “I will satisfy that desire.” And at first, you feel satisfied. But then the desire comes back even stronger, and you realize you were not satisfied after all. Sin does not satisfy; it inflames.

Sin also deceives you regarding safety. It tells you, “Listen, go ahead. You are not going to hurt anybody. You will be okay!”

Zookeeper Gary Richmond tells of a young zoo worker named Julie who was caring for a little, cuddly baby raccoon. She named him Bandit. Gary warned her that raccoons go through a biological change at about twenty-four months of age and they often viciously attack their owners. But Julie’s answer was always the same: “It’ll be different for me. Bandit would never hurt me.” Richmond wrote, “Three months later Julie underwent extensive plastic surgery for facial lacerations when her raccoon attacked her for no apparent reason. With that, Bandit was released into the wild.”[1] Sin, like that raccoon, is never safe.

Sin also deceives you regarding secrecy; it says, “No one will ever know but you!” Furthermore, sin says, “Listen, whatever you do in private will never affect you in public.” That is a lie! Sin in private will shape you into the person you will become in public—a person you never wanted to become.

Beloved, sin does not satisfy. It is not safe. It will lead you astray from God’s moral standards. And sin, when there is no repentance, will lead people to eternal destruction and judgment from God.

Here is the fourth function of the law: The law of God describes a holy standard. Paul writes in verse 12, “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”

What Paul means is that the law of God is a revelation of God Himself. To know the righteous, good, and holy Word of God is to know God’s holy and righteous character. And that knowledge leads you to bow at His feet and claim Christ as Lord of your life.

I had a neighbor tell me some time ago how frustrated he was with his church—a large church in town that is part of a mainline Protestant denomination. His frustration had been growing ever since believers in his region went to a denominational convention in New York and tried to vote into their bylaws a firm statement that Jesus is Lord. That was all: Jesus is Lord. Well, they could not get enough votes, so the motion did not pass. Some delegates thought that it was too authoritarian. Others thought it was too exclusive and would become divisive.

Imagine, thousands of delegates could not agree or be willing to acknowledge that “Jesus is Lord.” Well, let me tell you, beloved, they will one day! One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess this truth—that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11).

Now here is the fifth function of the law: The law of God reveals our need for salvation. Paul presents it in verse 13:

Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.

In other words, ignore the Word of God, and sin no longer becomes sinful. And this is how people can say they believe in God but then do whatever they want to do. But if you accept the commandment of God—the word of God—you realize how sinful you are and that trying to keep the law is not the answer.

You see, the law was not given to show you how good you need to be in order to be saved; the law was given to show you that you will never be good enough, and you need a Savior.

You cannot be saved at Mount Sinai, where the law was given. You can be saved only at Mount Calvary, where the Lamb was given.

And the Bible says that to all who receive Him, He gives “the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Not “children of the law” but children of God, through Christ alone.

[1] Gary Richmond, A View from the Zoo (W Publishing Group, 1987), 116.

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