Thursday, September 23, 2010

Christ Is the End of the Law. Period. (Part 3)

Christ Is the End of the Law. Period.
  • Part 3 - The Law Did Not Cause an Increase in Sinful Behavior
Over a decade ago I remember hearing my pastor (at the time) talking about Romans 5:20, “the law entered that the offense might abound...” I vividly remember him purposely over-enunciating the “-ed” when he read the next part of the sentence, “...but where sin abound-ED, grace abound-ED much more…” I didn't get his point at the time, but as I think about this I realize that just a few sentences earlier Paul says, “For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” So when the law came (when it was introduced 1,500 years before Christ), sin abound-ED --- not meaning that it caused people to behave more sinfully, but that suddenly sin was imputed to man when it hadn’t previously been imputed.

This theme continues into Romans 7. I've learned to read Paul in entire thought processes, and not to just take individual sentences here and there, or even lone paragraphs or chapters sometimes. This is a classic case in which I think a whole thought process is laid out over a large block of writing, so let's keep in mind what Paul says as a whole. In the NKJV, Rom 7:5 reads: "For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death." Rom 7:8 reads: "But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead." We've taken these two sentence to mean that when you stick the law in front of people, it causes sinful behavior to be stirred up in them. But again, the law didn't cause people to suddenly start sinning. People were already sinning plentifully long before the law. But apart from the law it wasn't seen as sin and it couldn't be imputed to man.

All of this becomes clearer as we follow Paul's thought process all the way through. Once again, I think he is continuing to make the case for what the law did en masse (to the world as a whole), not to individuals. I think in his style of writing he symbolically uses "I" and "me" to represent what happened universally - especially when looking at his thought process as a whole - and not to explain what happened to him in a personal sense. (For example, Paul says, "I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died." Does this mean that in Paul's personal life he was at one point alive without the law, and then at a certain point in his life the law suddenly appeared? Again, I think in actuality he's speaking of the time before the law was in the world, and then of what happened when the law entered into the world).

Paul says, "I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, 'You shall not covet' (Rom 7:7).  Now think about it.  Covetousness (Paul's chosen example here) was in the world before the law.  People coveted their neighbor's houses, wives, servants, oxes, donkeys and other things that were their neighbor's... long before the law entered.  It's not that people suddenly began to covet when the law entered.  Sin didn't take opportunity by the command to suddenly cause people to begin coveting!  Rather, apart from the law (before the law came) sin was dead.  Covetousness was in the world before the law, but it was "dead." That it was "dead" doesn't mean that no one coveted.  It means that apart from the law, coveting wasn't seen for what it was - sin - and therefore it wasn't imputed to man.  The command didn't make people suddenly start coveting, but rather through the command coveting "came to life" and was seen for what it really was.

A couple of things to point out in this passage.  In the phrase, "the sinful passions which were aroused by the law," the word "passions" (translated as "motions" in the KJV) is a word that really means "hardship," "affliction," "pain" or "suffering."  Also, the word "aroused" was added by translators.  One could then translate the phrase as "the affliction of sin which is by the law."  Then, in the phrase, "produced in me all manner of evil desire," the word that is translated as "produced" is a bit of a tricky word.  It doesn't mean "to manufacture" or "to bring into existence."  It more closely means "to fashion."  Sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, didn't create in me all manner of evil desire.  Rather, it gave shape and form to that which was already there - all manner of evil desire.

The law doesn't cause people to want to sin.  They already want to sin!  The law doesn't cause people to perform the acts of sin.  People do this just fine on their own!  It's not that you put the law in front of someone, and then voila: suddenly they're infected with "all manner of evil desire."  They already have all manner of evil desire. Sin was already in the world, but it wasn't known as sin. The law simply gave sin the opportunity to be seen for what it really was - and the power to kill.  Sin was already "sinful," but when the law came, sin was realized to be "exceedingly sinful."  It suddenly "abounded."  Again, the law didn't cause an increase in sinful behavior.  Rather, through the law the sinful behavior that was already in the world was suddenly seen and understood as sin.   "Has then what is good (the law) become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin (the word means "to shed light upon" or "to become evident"), was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful." (Rom 7:13). Paul says, "the commandment... I found to bring death," not because the law itself was death for people, but because it showed sin for what it really was, thereby imputing sin to all, thereby killing them.  "For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good."

To make myself clear, what I'm saying here is that Paul is not saying that if you put the law in front of someone, it will stimulate them to go out and sin.  Think about it.  God did not give the law in order to make sinful behavior increase.  Sin was in the world before the law.  The opportunity that sin took when the law entered was not to increase sinful behavior, but rather that it might become evident as to what it really was.  When I exhale, there is a certain amount of moisture in my breath.  The thing is, I can't see it.  It's been there all along, with every breath I've ever exhaled, but it's invisible to me.  But then "cold" entered my world.  I exhaled, and suddenly I saw that there was moisture in my breath.  I wouldn't have known there was moisture in my breath had the cold not shown me.  The unseen moisture "took opportunity by the cold" to condense into tiny water droplets which could then be seen.  (The same thing, of course, happens when I breathe on a mirror or on my glasses, etc).  Again, the moisture was always there.  When the cold entered, it didn't "manufacture" moisture or "cause moisture to come into existence," and it didn't cause the amount of moisture to increase, but yet suddenly it "abounded," in that it was previously not visible to my eyes, but suddenly it was made "exceedingly" visible.    When Paul wrote elsewhere, "For if the truth of God has increased through my lie," it wasn't that there was actually an "increase" in God's truth, but rather Paul's "lie" showed God's truth to be exceedingly true!

Part 1 - The Law's Job Is Done
Part 2 - Till the Seed Should Come
Part 3 - The Law Did Not Cause an Increase in Sinful Behavior
Part 4 - The Strength of Sin Is the Law

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