The old way of the Law (part 2)

Paul talked of sin as if it was a real, live creature. Sin was actually living inside him. It had its own personality. It could act independently, do whatever it pleased, and it was very clever, as well. It could somehow twist God’s law – which is holy, righteous and good – into all kinds of rotten, awful desires in Paul’s head instead. And worse still, there was nothing Paul could do about it. 

He wanted to do something about it, desperately, because to him the law was very good. He wanted to obey it. But there was this other “something” in his head preventing him from obeying it. So what on earth was it? Well, to Paul it was like having an alien creature living inside him, Romans 7:17 – “it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.”

But at least he knew it wasn’t him, or the law, that was creating these wrong desires in him. It was this awful, squirming, cancerous mass of sin living inside him. It had infiltrated his mind with its own mind and ripped the good right out of him, and so much so that Paul realized in verse 18 that “nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.” There was nothing good about this alien creature inside him. It was all bad. 

Paul was in a terrible state, because in his own mind, verse 18, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” His own mind was still working, he could see that, and he was still capable of thinking his own thoughts. And he knew what his own thoughts were too, and they were good, but could he carry them out as he wanted to? No, because this other creature had its hand on the controls.

Paul had simply become a robot. He did whatever his sinful nature demanded. But what made this so awful for Paul was that he still had his own mind, and his own mind didn’t want to be controlled, verse 19, “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” It didn’t matter what he did or didn’t want to do, because there was this alien creature inside him pulling the strings, and if it wanted to do evil, then evil was what Paul did, even though it was the last thing he wanted to do. 

So if the law couldn’t stop this happening, what else was there that could help him? …. (continues in Part 3)

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The old way of the Law (part 1)

Paul tells us in Romans 7:6 that “we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” Does that make the “old way” of the law bad, then?

No, because the law was perfect for bringing sin out into the open, verse 9 – “when the commandment came, sin sprang to life, and I died.” The law identified the sins that consume and control us. It brings them to life “so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful,” verse 13. In other words, we can see sin for what it is. But that’s all the law does. It can only expose the sins within us, it can’t stop them. 

Paul brings this out in vivid detail in his own life. “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin,” verse 14. The law was still “holy, righteous and good,” verse 12, but it couldn’t stop Paul sinning. To Paul’s great dismay, sin still held him firmly by the nose, rendering him absolutely powerless against it, despite all his law-keeping.

It was hugely confusing for him. “I do not understand what I do,” he cries out in verse 15. This wasn’t what he expected from the law. He thought the law would enable him to “bear fruit to God,” but instead he found himself totally under sin’s command still. “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do,” verse 15

On the positive side, Paul realized that “If I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good,” verse 16. His desire to keep the law meant he agreed with it at least. He knew when he broke the law it was wrong, and it bothered him. So sin had never stopped Paul wanting to obey the law. But for all Paul’s desire to obey the law it couldn’t stop him sinning. And that’s what confused him, because he thought that obeying the law would stop him sinning.  

Instead, his attempts at obeying the law as best he could only exposed more sin in Paul, not made it less. What on earth, then, was causing this to happen? It wasn’t Paul’s fault, surely, because he wanted to obey God. His shocking conclusion was – verse 17 – “it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.” There was this other creature living inside him that had total control over him…(continues in Part 2)