Paul was accused constantly of preaching against the Jews and their Law. We see the reality of this truth as it came to a head in Acts 21:27-28 – “When the seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up all the crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, ‘Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people and the Law and this place….’”
Paul wrote his letter to the Romans years ahead of his arrest in Jerusalem. However, Paul was constantly running into the arguments and accusations that if the Gospel that he preached was true then he was indeed preaching against the Jews and the Law. This is evident all over the place in the book of Romans.
Don’t forget that Romans is the Holy Spirit inspired explanation of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and in it the Spirit of God using the apostle Paul as a weapon of righteousness demolishes and destroys the false accusations raised up against the truth of the Gospel. This is what we are seeing as we move through this letter. At every turn we are seeing the speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God’s Gospel and every wrong thought about the Gospel being destroyed and taken captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Follow that trail with me for just a few moments: In Romans 2:17, Paul began to demolish the false assurance of the Jews who relied upon their lineage and their Law. This would seem to the Jews that Paul was preaching against the people and against the Law. However, he was only establishing the truth that salvation always had been and always would be by faith apart from works of the Law for anyone who believes – whether Jew or Greek. So in Romans 3:21-30 the apostle preached the truth of justification by faith in Jesus Christ as the only means by which God could and would forgive a sinner and remain just in the process.
The truth of justification by faith in Christ alone apart from works of the Law would have brought out the false accusation that if the Gospel is true that it nullifies the Law. So we read, “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law” (Romans 3:31). The Gospel doesn’t nullify the Law it establishes the Law. We looked at that truth and saw that through faith the Law is established because the perfect obedience to the precepts of the Law were fulfilled in the sinless life of Christ; the penalty for violating the Law was fulfilled in the sacrificial death of Christ; the probity (integrity or rightness) of the Person of the Law was fulfilled in the supernatural resurrection of Christ; and the potential for our fulfilling the Law is made possible through our loving and living for Jesus (Romans 8:4). So the Gospel doesn’t nullify the Law it establishes it!
Then in Romans 5:20-21 Paul went on to show one of the purposes of the Law – “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” This truth would prompt the faulty reasoning and false accusation that the Gospel is that which gives a license to sin – “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” (Romans 6:1-3).
So in Romans 6 the apostle showed how the believer has died to sin and is alive to God through identification and union with the death of Christ and the resurrection of Christ. It was here that Paul was proving that sin’s mastery over us was broken and Christ’s mastery over us was born. Paul had already stated that the Law cannot break the mastery of sin but instead increases it (Romans 5:20). This being true then it is of necessity that a person be released from the dominion of the Law if he is to be released from the mastery of sin. This is precisely what Paul is teaching – “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
For the life of him, the legalist cannot see how not being under the law but under grace does not lead to a life of more sin and more lawlessness. And I want to add that for the life of him, the libertine cannot see how not being under the law but under grace does lead to a life that fulfills the Law. The truth that those who have been saved are not under law but under grace would prompt the faulty reasoning and false accusation that a person can sin all they want – “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!” (Romans 6:15). It is this accusation that Paul destroys in Romans 7.
The legalist believes that the Law is that which arrests sin when in truth it is that which arouses sin (Romans 7:5). The purpose of the Law was not to remove sin but to reveal sin (Romans 7:7). Since the Law arouses sin and does not arrest sin and the Law reveals sin but does not remove sin, then we must be released from the Law’s dominion and the only way that is possible is for us to die to the Law through the body of Christ so that we might be joined to the Lord and not the Law (Romans 7:4). This now means that we are not under law but under grace – we are not under law but under love – we are not under law but under the Lord – we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter (Romans 7:6).
But now to the heart of the problem: Paul has been speaking the truth about the intent of the Law which was in contradiction to what the Jews believed to be its intent. Paul said that the duty of the Law was to condemn not justify (Romans 3:20); that the Law was to witness to God’s righteousness through faith not work it in us through the flesh (Romans 3:21-31); that the Law had never been and never would be God’s means of justification (Romans 4:1-25); that the Law was given to increase transgression so that grace could prove to be greater (Romans 5:20-21); that we have to be released from the Law’s dominion if we are to be released from sin’s mastery over us (Romans 6:14 – 7:4); and that the Law arouses sin and does not arrest sin (Romans 7:5). All of these truths about the Law bring us to this faulty reasoning and false accusation that the Law is sin – What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? (Romans 7:7a).
Here’s how that faulty reasoning would work to bring about a false conclusion and result in a false accusation:
1. The Law arouses sinful passions (Romans 7:5)
2. Sin is bad
3. Therefore the Law is bad
So the charge is laid that Paul is preaching that the Law is bad and therefore the Law is sin.
Paul answers his would be critics – May it never be! Perish the thought! Don’t even think about it! On the contrary, he says, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law. He has already stated this truth in Romans 3:20 – For through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. Paul wasn’t teaching that the Law causes sin but that sin is already there and that the Law reveals it – it arouses it. You cannot arouse what isn’t there but you can arouse what is. You can’t reveal what isn’t there but you can reveal what is.
This is the duty or intent of the Law. It is to reveal or reflect what is there. The Law serves the purpose of a mirror or standard by which to accurately measure or evaluate ourselves. We look into the Law and we do not see our baldness but our badness; we don’t see our sweetness but our sourness; we don’t see our outer features but our inner filth.
What shall we say then? Is the mirror bad? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know my badness except through the mirror; for I would not have known that desiring was ugly if the mirror had not said, “You shall not desire” (7:7). For without the mirror my ugliness was dead. For I was handsome in my own estimation without the mirror once; but when the mirror came, my ugliness was revealed and revived and I saw how ugly I really am (7:8b-9).
Is the Law sin? Are God’s commandments evil? No! The Law is an expression of the holy character and nature of God. Sin is a violation of God’s holy character and nature. The Law reveals our wickedness but is not responsible for it!