The effect of the law

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The law is “holy, righteous and good” (Romans 7:12). But it is absolutely useless as a way of becoming righteous, because there is no power in it to change our hearts. The law actually does the opposite: it provokes sin in us. “Apart from the law, sin is dead” (Romans 7:8).

Paul gave an example from his own life – the command, “Do not covet.” He says in Romans 7:7-8, “I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet’. But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire.”

Law always works this way. Just as an experiment, someone who was half way through building a house put a sign on one of the windows, “Do not throw rocks through this window.” The next day, guess which window was the only one with a hole in it?

Because the law provokes sin and doesn’t do anything to help you overcome it, the effect of the law is that you are “mastered by sin” (see Romans 6:14). You are “held prisoner” by the law (Galatians 3:23); it arouses sinful passions “so that you bear fruit for death” (Romans 7:5). All the law brings is condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:9), death (2 Corinthians 3:6) and God’s wrath (Romans 4:15).

Romans 5:20 says, “The law was added so that the trespass might increase.” Why would God want to make sin increase? So that “sin might be recognised as sin,” and that “through the commandment, sin might become utterly sinful” (Romans 7:13). God wanted it to be really obvious to us that we didn’t just have a little problem, but that we were desperately in need of a saviour.

So it is all the more ridiculous to try to approach God through the law, because it will just make your problem worse – it was designed to do that! Depending on the law is putting your hope in the very thing which was designed to take away all hope, so that you would turn to him and trust in him to save you instead.

For reflection:

Jesus made an interesting comment one day: “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing” (John 6:63). Literally, this says, “The flesh is useless.” The law doesn’t empower you, it just leaves you with your weak human flesh to try and deal with sin. And your flesh is useless. There is no point depending on your flesh for anything, because it has no power to do anything helpful whatsoever:

“It is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3)

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