One of the things that Scripture reveals to us is the law of God. The aspect of the law that we will concern ourselves with is the moral law as opposed to the ceremonial or civil law. We will focus on the moral law because it is eternal, consisting in the very nature of God, and summed up in the Ten Commandments.
Many of us, I’m sure, have locked our keys in our car, office, or house. So I’m sure you will be able to relate to what happened to me a while back when I locked my keys in the office. I had a problem: I needed my keys, but they were behind the locked door. So I had a friend help me and got a couple of butter knives and a screwdriver. With these we began the rather long process of unlocking the office door without the key. My friend was able to get the door open, but it took much longer than it would have if I had the key.
I can remember another time when I put together some shelving and used a screwdriver handle as a hammer because I couldn’t find the hammer. Not only did it take longer to hammer the shelving with the screwdriver, but it also did a lot of damage to the handle so that it was difficult to use the screwdriver after that.
You see, using the right tool for the right job is very important. Sometimes other tools can work, but they will take more of your time or not do as good of a job as the right tool would. Perhaps the improper tool will do more damage than good, or perhaps you will ruin the tool so that it can’t be used for its intended purpose after using it for its unintended purpose. This life-lesson of using the right tool for the right purpose has significance to what Paul teaches us in Romans 7 regarding the Law:
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. 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. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 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. (Rom 7:7-13, ESV)
So what do we learn that the Law is used for in Romans 7? Well, Paul tells us that it reveals our sinfulness. In light of God’s standard as revealed in His Law it shows how far we fall from it, and how wicked we act toward God and each other. Paul makes this clear in verse 7 when he says:
… 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.”
Why is it that Paul was inspired to write this about the Law of God? It was because God’s Law, His tool for bringing our sinfulness to light, was being used for a purpose that it wasn’t created for. The Law was being misused as a tool to obtain salvation. It was being used as a set of rules to get into Heaven instead of as a mirror to gaze into the depths of our sinful state apart from God.
The Law was not meant to give us the power of reconciling with God. Rather, it’s a tool that is used to point us to our need for Jesus Christ as our Savior. It’s used to show us our utterly wicked sin and misery, to show us how there is no way for us to enter Heaven by our own works, that we are not able to save ourselves simply by trying to do what’s right. The Law’s purpose is to show us that we must rely on Christ. This reliance is a complete reliance. Not just a reliance to get us back on track with God, but a reliance upon Christ in every area of our lives every day of our lives.
So this Law of God was never meant to be a tool to help us pull ourselves up to Heaven by our own boot straps. It was meant to turn us away from ourselves, to get us to stop looking inward and to start looking upward for the answer to our sinful state. We are such a self-centered people that God must first turn us away from ourselves and our own merit before we can ever turn to Christ and find salvation.
There are three things that we notice regarding God’s Law and how it exposes our sin and misery. It gives us a right understanding of:
- Our misery
- The nature of God’s Law
- The total inability that we have to live up to God’s standard apart from Christ
A Right Understanding of Our Misery
The Law gives us a right understanding of our misery. It doesn’t matter if we “think” we’re in a state of misery, or if we “feel” like we’re in a state of misery, or even if we’re “aware” that we’re in such a state. It would make no more sense to ask someone if they “felt” that 2+2=4 or if they were “aware” of it. Our state of misery is just as much a fact of life as 2+2=4. There are some things that are simply facts of life, whether one “feels” like they are or not, and human misery falls into this category.
What do you think of when you hear the term “human misery?” Do you think of suffering, pain, sorrow, grief, and affliction? These things are clearly seen in our world since it has been polluted with sin. A missionary told me of a group of people in Myanmar known as the Karen. They are treated brutally by the military government of Myanmar. We’ve all seen pictures of children starving all over the world, of wars ravaging countries, of disease claiming innumerable lives. I dare say that we’ve seen them so much that we no longer weep over them. What a hard and calloused heart we have!
But the misery that I am speaking of is a much greater misery. It’s a misery that’s caused by our separation from God. Not just separation, but being exiled from His gracious presence while having His wrath abiding upon us in our unregenerate state. Think of the magnitude of the statement that the creature has been banished from its Creator! Not only has mankind been exiled from our place with God, but we’ve also been exiled from our purpose with God. God created us to bring Him glory and to enjoy Him. When we are exiled from God we are not capable of fulfilling the very purpose that we were made for. We can’t glorify God while we’re dead in sin. We can’t enjoy God when we aren’t even permitted to be in His gracious presence. So there we stand – exiled from our home, void of our purpose, and without the ability to change anything about it.
This is a misery that is so much worse than all other miseries. This is a misery that affects our souls, and not merely our idea of justice. This is a misery that leaves us hopeless and helpless. This kind of misery has an eternal weight to it; it is not merely temporal. If we see people who are hungry we can feed them; if we see people who are abused we can come along side and fight for them; if we see the homeless we can provide shelter for them. But when we see ourselves and others in the miserable state of being dead in our sins we can do nothing. Only God can do a work that would deliver us from such misery. A misery of eternal weight requires an eternally powerful weight-lifter.
We see how this misery works out in the early chapters of Genesis. We see man sinning against God and being kicked out of the Garden of Eden, which was a paradise. We see Cain killing his brother Abel and being driven out of God’s presence to live in the land of Nod…separated from communion with God.
The misery that we see as we sojourn through this sin-stained world is a consequence of man’s fall into sin. But there is still a greater misery than that of being separated from our creator God. It is a misery that comes from the apprehension that we are incapable of doing anything to correct this separation. We can’t fulfill the duty and obedience that God calls us to. We were created for the purpose of bringing glory to God and of enjoying Him, yet in our unregenerate state we are unable to do either. This tension that fallen man experiences between his purpose and his inability to fulfill his purpose is, indeed, the most miserable of miseries.
Sin drives mankind from the presence of a holy God. It’s for this reason that while we are walking in the flesh we are spiritually homeless. We search for a resting place for our souls, but find none because it’s only in Christ that our soul can find rest. This is a most terrible misery to suffer, it’s a constant tension of what we should be versus what we can be, and it’s an utter frustration of both purpose and direction in our lives. Thank God that this is not where it ends. God has not left us in this hopeless and frustrated state of existence, but He has brought His children out from under this misery.
We don’t come out of this miserable state until we are convinced that we are in it. Many walk around without Christ and without a real apprehension of the misery that they are in; without a true understanding of their deplorable, sinful state. The Scripture tells us that these folks suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18). So it’s not that they don’t have the truth, but rather that they actively suppress it. If it was merely a case of not having the truth, then when the Gospel was presented to them they would accept it because it is truth. But as it is, those who reject it do so by actively suppressing the truth that they’re confronted with. Why is it important to understand this condition of truth-suppression? Because it gives us insight into what God’s Law is used for. You see, there can be no true understanding of the Gospel unless there is first a true understanding of God’s Law and our complete and total sinfulness in breaking it. So God has given us His Law so that we would see our need for Savior, and that we would thirst for the good news of the Gospel of Christ.
Just as a man does not want to take medicine unless he’s convinced that he’s sick, so too a sinner does not consider the Gospel until he realizes his utter sinfulness. When we are confronted with the huge difference that exists between a holy God and a sinful creature, when we understand that the weight of God’s wrath rests upon us, we long for some way of escape…any way…whatever the cost! This is where the Gospel comes in. It comes in power to a life that understands its own sinfulness and longs for relief from God’s holy and justified wrath. And as we are conquered by God through His Gospel we begin to understand that though we would have paid any price to be freed from the slavery that we were in, He has seen fit to pay for it in our place in the person of Jesus Christ. You see, it’s not just that God provided a way out from under His wrath, but He did it in such a way that Christ Himself was the one who paid for the escape! Oh, the breadth and depth of God’s mercy and love, who can fathom it! It’s in this way that God works to bring those who are separated from Him back into communion with Him, back into fellowship, back into His family. It’s nothing less and nothing more than this Christ-centered Gospel that brings us into a loving fellowship with God, and rather than being under His wrath we are brought into His family as dearly beloved children.
Many of us here know the truths of these statements, but truth without application has led more than one soul to the everlasting fires of Hell. If we don’t personally apply the truths of the Gospel to our lives, then it matters very little how well we know those same truths. Brothers and Sisters, the next time you’re tempted to sin consider the misery that we have been redeemed from, consider that the only forgiven sins are the sins that wounded Christ. After being purchased from such a desperate estate we should not be so quick to wound our Savior by continuing in sin. Rather, we should strive to live a holy life out of a deep love for Christ! And how could we not have such a love for the One who has done everything for our reconciliation. He has paid all the cost and charged us nothing! The only thing He desires in response is our love, a true love that works itself out in obedience. When tempted to sin we should smell the foul odor, taste the bitter gall, and feel the excruciating pain that a life separated from God would bring us. Let’s take our Christian life seriously and stop playing around with the flesh, the world, and the Devil. Let’s separate ourselves from the lusts that reveal a hatred for God so that we might be obedient to God, revealing a sincere love for Him.
The Nature of God’s Law
Now that we have a proper understanding of our misery without God in this world, let’s move on to understanding the nature of God’s Law. Because of the country that we’re blessed to live in (U.S.A.) we have a certain perception of laws. Our laws are created by the legislature with representatives acting on behalf of the people whom they represent. These laws can be removed if they’re found to be no longer needed, they can be added to if they’re found to not cover enough of what needs to be legislated, and they can be modified if they’re found to be less than effective in obtaining their goal. The laws created by the legislature are interpreted by our courts. As cases come before a judge, the judge applies the law to the individual case set before him. Considering human laws in this light, we see that they’re very flexible…in a continuous state of flux both in terms of content and application.
Though this is an accurate description of the nature of our country’s laws, it is not at all an accurate picture of the nature of God’s Law. Far from being flexible, God’s Law is quite inflexible. It does not bend to the trends of culture, it does not fall short of its intended purpose. In short, it does not have the flaws that human laws have because the nature of the law mirrors the nature of the law-giver. As humans, we are prone to err; therefore our laws are prone to err. God is perfect, unable to err; therefore His laws are perfect as well.
It’s important to point out that there are different kinds of laws in Scripture. If we look at the OT we find ceremonial laws dealing with the sacrificial system; we find civil laws dealing with how the state applies the law; and we find moral laws dealing with the essence of God’s moral standard for mankind. It is in the Ten Commandments that we find a good summation of the moral laws of God. It is in these moral laws that we find the heart of the matter. The ceremonial laws were instituted because people break the moral law and must be made right with God. As such these laws pointed to Christ as they foreshadowed the great sacrifice that He would make for His people. The civil laws were instituted because people break the moral law and must be made right with society. As such these laws had the goal of making restitution between men. So both the ceremonial and the civil laws of God are an application of His moral laws. In the Church Age we are no longer under the ceremonial or civil laws of the OT. The ceremonial laws pointed to Christ, and since Christ has come they serve no more purpose. The civil laws were an application of the moral law specifically given to the theocratic state of Israel. Since that state no longer exists, the civil law is no longer binding…except to gain wisdom from it in applying the moral laws to our own political system.
Some don’t make a distinction within the law as I have done. Rather, they teach that with the advent of Christ the law in its whole, including the moral law, does not apply to us any longer. This kind of teaching is clearly against Scripture as we read the Lord Himself saying:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Mat 5:17, ESV)
The moral law is not only for Christians, but for all people. It is something that God requires of everyone, regardless of whether they’re a believer or not. The Scripture makes this clear in saying that though the Gentiles do not have the law, they
…show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them (Rom 2:15, ESV)
This moral law is summarized by Christ in Mat 22…
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Mat 22:37-40, ESV)
To summarize the law in this way rather than repeating the 10 commandments serves the same purpose that the laws themselves serve – it convicts us of our sinful nature, as we neither love God nor our neighbor as we should. It drives home the teaching of Scripture that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). And upon this realization it leads us to understand that we need Christ for our Savior if we are ever to have peace with God and man.
When we understand that our love for God is to be unrivaled we are convicted. If we are honest with ourselves we will admit that many times we love other things above God. Ask yourself why you sin. Isn’t the fact of the matter that we sin because we love it? What then is the answer to overcoming sin? The answer is to have a greater love for God. It’s love that compels us to act and live, either to sin or to God.
In a lesser manner we are also to love our neighbors as ourselves. Any that would in self-righteousness claim to love God as they should have evidence against themselves here. If we don’t love our neighbors, who we can see, then how can we love God whom we can’t see?
The apostle John tells us that…
… if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1Jn 3:17, ESV)
The love of God is manifested in how we treat those around us, not in lip service. Here’s a question that I’d like for you all to answer as a little test, “Would you come into church with an axe and hack away at the pulpit, the pews, and everything else that you see?” If we realize that our brothers and sisters are in Christ, and as such are the temple of the living God, why do we find it so easy to hack away at them? Why do we find it so easy to tear down and so hard to build up each other? In the end it’s because of our lack of love for God. We put up a good façade; after all we wouldn’t destroy our church building. And though I praise God for that, the church building has no life. Why are we so careful in how we treat lifeless buildings, yet so careless in how we treat each other, tearing down that which has the life of Christ in it?
We have not loved God or our neighbors in the way that we are required to – fully and completely. Yet thank God in Jesus Christ we have the required love! Thank God that our acceptance with Him is not in our ability to love as we should, but rather in the love of Christ which is perfect and full. His love for God and for His neighbor was so great that it lead Him to the cross so that He would die for those whom the Father had given Him. Not only that, but He would rise again in victory over death. It’s this love of Christ – a love that sacrifices all for God and for others – a love that we are given when we trust in Christ for our salvation. It’s also a love that we must continue to strive towards as we run the race set before us since none of us love perfectly this side of glory. There are many boastful folks who will boldly claim that they would die for Christ. And this is an easy boast to make when we’re not confronted with death, but how shallow it rings when compared to real things that confront us. We’re confronted with busy schedules – do we sacrifice time for God? We’re confronted with being accepted by our peers – do we sacrifice acceptance with men for acceptance with God? We’re confronted with a 24-7 entertainment culture – would we rather spend 2 hours watching a movie than 2 hours in prayer? These are the real questions to ask, these are what will give us insight into the true extent of our love for God.