The flash of the paparazzi’s camera made sure that the story would race around the world. Entertainment Tonight highlighted the exploits of the famous actress making headlines for all of the wrong reasons. CNN and Fox News called it, “Breaking News!” There wasn’t a check-out line in town that didn’t have her picture splashed across the front of the magazine or tabloid. Winona Ryder had been arrested. Surely she didn’t do it. Why would she do it? She was accused of stealing $5,500 worth of merchandise from the Beverly Hills Saks Fifth Avenue store. $5,500? That’s a ton of money to me, but for Winona Ryder $5,500 is like 55 cents. With all of that money why in the world would she even think about stealing?
At first she said she didn’t do it. Her lawyer said she was set-up. In the end, Winona Ryder was found guilty. Six years later, in July of 2007, Winona was on the cover of Vogue Magazine and she was asked about her arrest and conviction. Winona said,
I didn’t have this tremendous sense of guilt, because I hadn’t hurt anyone. Had I physically harmed someone or caused harm to a human being, I think it would have been an entirely different experience. (Winona Ryder, Vogue Magazine, July 18, 2007)
It wasn’t Winona’s fault. She didn’t do anything that hurt anyone. It’s over and done now so everyone needs to move along. Oh, but before we move along you need to know that Winona believes she may have found the culprit to her crime. She says that her pain killers may be responsible for the blame. Winona said,
Two months prior to that, I broke my arm in two places, and the doctor, a sort of quack doctor, was giving me a lot of stuff and I was taking it at first to get through the pain. And then there was this weird point when you don’t know if you are in pain but you’re taking it. (Vogue, July 18, 2007)
It was the courts fault, it was the fault of the manager of Saks Fifth Avenue, it might have been the fault of pain killers, but one thing we know for sure…it was not the fault of Winona Ryder. You may be wondering what Winona Ryder and the Apostle Paul have in common? Stick around for awhile and you might be surprised. Let me tell you one thing that they don’t share. The effects of their sin brought about very different results for the two people. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Romans 7:7-13.
7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. 9 Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. 13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. (Romans 7:7-13 NIV)
Paul has been pounding into our heads that the law can’t save us, it can’t justify us. The law can’t make us holy, it can’t sanctify us. As a result of Paul’s adamant stance on the powerlessness of the law to make us right with God, there were people in Paul’s day that jumped to the conclusion that Paul was demeaning and discounting the law. They were thinking to themselves, “If the law can’t justify us before God or make us holy then is there any purpose at all for the law in your eyes Paul?” Before we are too quick to rush to judgment on those who were thinking those thoughts you and I need to stop for a minute and review what Paul has said about the law so far in his letter to the church in Rome.
In Romans 4:15 Paul had said that the “law brings wrath.” In Romans 5:20, Paul wrote, 20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase… (Romans 5:20 NIV) Last of all, just last week, we read these words,
5 For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. (Romans 7:5 NIV)
Now, can you see why those who loved the law might have concluded that Paul was totally dismissing the validity or value of the law?
Here, in Romans 7, Paul sets the record straight. To set the record straight Paul tells his own story. In Romans 7 we read Paul’s biography. He’s not writing theories here, he is telling his own story. I hope you will be able to recognize, as we go through this study that this is your story and my story as well.
The law is good, but sin is so twisted that it can even take the good gift of God, His law, and use it for its diabolical purposes. Instead of devaluing the law, Paul is clarifying for the brothers and sisters in Rome, and for all of us, the proper place of God’s law. Let’s jump into our Scripture and see what we can learn. Read verse 7 with me again.
7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” (Romans 7:7 NIV)
“Is the law sin?” Absolutely not! Emphatically “No!” It is absurd to suggest that God’s gift can be equated with sin. God’s gifts are for the blessing of His people, but His people must understand God’s gifts and their proper use. God has designed His law with purpose. Let’s see if we can understand some of God’s purposes for His law.
The first purpose of God’s law is to shine a spotlight on sin and reveal it for what it is. Paul says that he would not have known what sin was if it had not been for the law. Paul can’t be referring to the most basic sense of right and wrong. We are not blank moral slates when we are born. We have a basic sense of what is right and what is wrong. Last week we looked at Romans 2:14-15 where Paul was talking about the Gentiles, who did not have the law of God, and yet lived with a sense of right and wrong. Read along with me.
14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) (Romans 2:14-15 NIV)
Even the Gentiles, those who do not have the full extent of God’s law, still have some knowledge of what is right and wrong. What Paul is talking about when he says that he “wouldn’t have known what sin was except through the law” is that he would not have known the full extent of sin apart from the law. Paul had written in Romans 3:20.
20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:20 NIV)
The law reveals how deeply imbedded sin is in our very nature. The law reveals how utterly sinful we are at every turn. Left to ourselves we would never admit that we are sinful. We might admit that we have made a mistake or two, we have all probably said, “Well, I’m not perfect, but at least I’m not like that guy.” Maybe we have admitted that we need to “work” on some things, but when it comes to embracing the idea that we are sinners—we’ll let’s not go that far. There is an old Chinese proverb that goes like this: “To an ugly man, every mirror is an enemy.” The law is a mirror and it exposes the ugliness of our lives.
It is interesting how we get around our sinfulness. God gave Moses the Ten Commandments to give to His people and the rabbis broke those commandments down into 613 commandments—248 positive commands or mandates and 365 prohibitions or “Thou shalt not” type of commands. That’s a lot of rules and yet, when Paul looked back at his life, before he had his sin exposed, he wrote to the people in Philippi,
4 …If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. (Philippians 3:4-6 NIV)
Now you have to remember that Paul, or Saul as he was called before his conversion, was going around persecuting the Church, and putting contracts on the lives of Christians, yet he saw himself as “faultless” regarding legalistic righteousness. How in the world could he honestly believe that? Evidently Saul put more emphasis on some of the law than other parts of the law.
Maybe the better question is how do we convince ourselves that we are “OK,” that we are really good people at heart? We do the same thing that Saul did. We put more emphasis on some things God says and dismiss other things that He has said. Some of us even write our own commandments so that we come off looking better than others around us. Winona Ryder said that she didn’t feel too bad about what she did because there were no human beings that were hurt. When did hurting people take priority over hurting God?
The law accomplished its purpose in Paul’s life once he became aware of the true meaning of coveting. It is interesting that Paul, in Romans 7:7, points out the one commandment out of the ten that is more broad and internal than all of the others. Paul wrote,
7 For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” (Romans 7:7 NIV)
Paul is quoting from the last of the Ten Commandments. You can find the commandment in Exodus 20:17, but you will find that it is much more detailed than the shortened version Paul gives us. Read along with me.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17 NIV)
When you look at the Ten Commandments you will see that the first four commandments have to do with Israel’s relationship with God. God calls His people to exclusive commitment and devotion. God’s people are not to use His name loosely or misuse His name in any way. They are to set aside the Sabbath as a day of rest, to be still and remember that God alone is God.
The last six of the commandments deal with relationships between people—within families and with neighbors. We are to honor our parents, not kill people, hold marriage as sacred and not undermine it by going outside of our marriages for intimacy, respect other’s property, and tell the truth.
The last command is so interesting to me because it has to do with desire. The last of the commandments that God gave to His people stresses the importance of our desires. Desire is not like lying. You can set your mind on not telling any lies today and go about working towards your goal, but desire is a different animal. Desires come from deep within us. They are stirred and nurtured and grow and left unchecked, they can consume and destroy us. Paul says that he wouldn’t have even known what coveting was unless the law had said, “Do not covet.”
Let’s go back to Exodus 20:17 and see if we can learn something. The Hebrew word for “covet” is “chamad,” and it means, “to desire, covet, take pleasure in, or delight in.” A Hebrew dictionary also describes the negative use of the word as, “an inordinate, ungoverned, selfish desire.” The word is used in the Hebrew Bible in both a positive and negative way. Desire is a gift from God. The first four commandments are all about our desire for God. We are to desire God, we are to desire worshiping Him alone, we are to desire praising His name and not misusing His name, and we are to desire spending time with God. Those are good desires that God wants us to experience. Desire is a good gift from God and yet we see how desire has gone wrong.
In the tenth commandment we are told that we should not desire our neighbor’s house, or his wife, or his servants, his ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to him. How about our neighbor’s car, or her clothes, or his money, or her good looks, or his athletic ability, or their membership at the country club? Would those things fit into this command as well?
Desire is good. Desire is a gift from God, but remember God’s gifts must be used as they are intended or God’s gift will mutate into something that can destroy us. Let me illustrate what I am talking about by taking a look at the first two occurrences in the Hebrew Bible of the word we are looking at. In Genesis 2:9 we read about God’s creation and the wonderful vegetation that God created. Read along with me.
9 And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground– trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:9 NIV)
The Hebrew word for “desire” is translated “pleasing” in this verse. What God made looked good and it would provide good food as well.
Now, in the next chapter of Genesis, after God had told Adam and Eve that they could eat from any of the trees in the Garden except for one, the serpent came and enticed Eve. How many trees were there in the Garden? One hundred? One thousand? One million? Nobody knows, but we do know that they were all pleasing to the eyes, right? Adam and Eve were told they could feast from the apple trees, they could have a juicy peach any time of the year, they could eat plums until they were give out, but they had to stay away from one tree—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The serpent was smooth and Eve’s desires were stirred. While she was listening to the serpent her eyes were fixed on the tree, the forbidden tree. In Genesis 3:6 we read,
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:6 NIV)
The word for “desire” that we’ve been looking at is translated “desirable” in this verse. Eve knew better, but the longer she looked at the tree the more her desire grew within her, the more she wanted the tree, the more she justified why she should go ahead and eat from the forbidden tree. That’s the way wayward desire works my friends.
A second purpose of the law is to provoke sin. That may sound kind of odd to you. Why would God want to provoke sin? God is not enticing us to sin. Are parents enticing their children to sin when they establish the rules of the house? Parents establish rules to keep their children from sin and from destroying their lives, but any parent knows that rules sometimes provoke or prompt kids to step over the line. Children will test the limits. What a child wants is the same thing that we want—we want to do what we want to do and we want to have what we want to have and we want it when we want it. Paul says that the law prompts the rebellion, that is already in us, to act. Read along with me from Romans 7:8-11.
8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. 9 Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. (Romans 7:8-11 NIV)
The phrase, “sin, seizing the opportunity,” appears twice in these verses. The word for “seizing,” is the Greek word, “aphorme” and it means, “a place from which a movement or attack is made, a base of operations.”
Just as Eve stood and stared at the tree of the knowledge and good and evil for far too long allowing her desires to deceive her, so the rebellion in each of our hearts to this day deceives us.
A dad finds out that his daughter has been spending too much time with a young man at school who is bad news. The dad tells his daughter, “I don’t want you going out with that boy—I don’t want you even talking to that boy. Do you hear me? Are we straight?” She looks at her dad and mumbles, “Yes,” or argues her point until she sees that she’s not going to win. Those of you who have had teenagers help me out. What oftentimes happens in these situations when we demand that our kids not spend time with certain kids? You got it! They do against our desires, our commands. Why is that? Don’t they know that we have their best interest at heart? If you were to give them truth serum they would agree, but there is rebellion in their hearts just like there is rebellion in our hearts.
We were talking in Bible study last Sunday night about Romans 7 and I told the class that rebellion is there in my life when I am not even seeking to be rebellious. I went to take some flooring to my dad in Duncan a couple of weeks ago when I was struck by my rebellion. Do you know that whatever the speed limit sign says I always set my cruise control about 5 mph faster. Why is that? I don’t set it 10 mph faster because I know that I would get pulled over and given a ticket. I’ve heard that as long as you aren’t going more than 5 mph over the speed limit that you won’t be stopped.
Now some of you may think I’m being silly. I mean what does it hurt if I drive 5 mph over the speed limit? The truth is that it probably doesn’t hurt too much except that it is breaking the law. What should be more alarming than driving 4 or 5 mph over the speed limit is the mindset of rebellion. “I’m not going to do what you want me to do. I know what is best for me. I know what I can handle.” Isn’t sin deceiving?
Our rebellious nature takes the law of God and says, “I’ll test the waters. I’ll see how far I can go before I get caught.” When I was working in Plano, Texas as a youth pastor I use to talk to the kids in my youth group about how to treat their girlfriend or boyfriend, saving themselves sexually for marriage, and how to avoid getting caught in a sex trap that will cause them to live with regrets for the rest of their lives. I can remember many of the boys through the years saying, “Mike, I know that God wants me to be a virgin when I get married, but how far can I go with my girlfriend?” I would tell them that they were asking the wrong question. They should be asking, “How can I treat this girl so that she will be honored and so that my actions will honor God.” Do you hear what was coming from their hearts? What they were really saying was, “I want to walk right up to the edge of the cliff and not fall off into the abyss. I want to test God’s limits as much as I possibly can.”
If God would have never said anything about human sexuality, if He would have never spoken about respecting our bodies and the bodies of others before we are married, and about being faithful to our mate after we are married, then I would have never had any of those conversations with the boys in my youth group. But when God speaks we want to test the waters as much as we can. Sin seizes the opportunity afforded by the commandments.
The problem is not the law, the problem is within us. Paul wrote in Romans 7:12-13,
12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. 13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. (Romans 7:7-13 NIV)
The law is holy, it is righteous, and it is good. Make no mistake about it. We can’t blame the law for the rebellion in our hearts. The law serves its purpose: its shines a light on our sin and it provokes our nature to act out of our true character. The law is present so that sin might be recognized for what it truly is, not a character flaw, not a lapse of judgment, but sin, imbedded in our hearts.
The difference between Winona Ryder and Paul is that Winona dismissed her sin as something far less than what it truly is—sin. The Apostle Paul, once he was made aware of his sin, was a broken man. You will see next week how Paul called himself, a “wretched man.” Winona Ryder failed to recognize the purpose of the law at work in her life so she walked away…unchanged. As a matter of fact, just a few months ago it was reported that Winona was caught trying to leave a CVS pharmacy with make up that she didn’t pay for. I’m no prophet, nor am I a betting man, but I would imagine that Ms. Ryder hasn’t seen the last of the inside of a courtroom.
On the other hand, the Apostle Paul recognized the purpose of the law in his life, he came to the end of himself and recognized that he was powerless over his wretched state. Towards the end of Paul’s life he wrote,
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners– of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15-16 NIV)
The “worst of sinners?” Was he really? Compared to who? Paul wasn’t comparing himself to anyone. He was allowing himself to be measured by the righteous standard of God’s holiness. The good news is that when Paul recognized his sinful state he cried out for God’s mercy and it was there…by the truckload!
Jesus is our righteousness. Not our good works. Not our good intentions. Not our being better than the next person. Jesus alone is our righteousness and He has come to take your filthy rags of self-righteousness and clothe you in His righteousness. Won’t you invite Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
December 10, 2013