James Merritt - Lay Down the Law
Here's where we are in the movie. We now have come to this act in the movie and there are three scenes in the movie. All right? The first scene is good news. The second scene is bad news. And the third scene is the best news. All right? So we're in Romans 7 and if you didn't bring a copy of God's word or don't have an iPad or a smart phone or whatever...well, first of all, if you don't have an iPad or a smartphone, get with it. Okay. But, in case you don't, we're going to throw the verses up on the screen. Now, let me tell you, first of all, the good news. Okay, here's the good news. I am dead to the mastery of the law. I am dead to the mastery of the law.
Now we're in Romans 7, we're going to start off. Let me just tell you what Paul does. Paul, again, is going to shock the system. Whether you're a Jew or Gentile, Paul is going to shock the system because he's going to let us know, if you think the way to get right with God is just try to be the best person you know how to be, if you think the way to have a relationship with God, keep the law, obey the commandments, try to do right, try to do your best, if that's what you think, he says, "Let me give you an analogy". So we're in Verse 1, beginning at Romans 7. He says, "Do you not know, brothers and sisters, for I am speaking to those who know the law," that is the law of God, "that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives"? Then he gives an example.
"For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive. But if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man. So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God".
Now three times in that passage you probably missed it, but three times in that passage Paul keeps talking about being freed from the law, being released from the law. We're no longer under the law because of death. And he gives the example of marriage. So here's the example he gives, it's real easy. He says, "Look, a marriage officially, at least in God's eyes, a marriage ends at death". That's why we always say in our vows till death do you part. So Paul says, "Look, when a husband dies, at the moment that a husband dies, a woman is no longer a wife. A woman is now a widow".
And so she is free from the law against divorce. She can't get divorced. He's dead. She is free from the law against adultery if she marries another man, because she is no longer married. Paul says, "Likewise, when we give our life to Jesus, when we trust Him as our Lord and our Savior, we are dead to the law in the sense of having to obey it to be right with God and stay right with God". We are no longer under law. We learned that last week. We are under what? We're under grace. We're not under law. We are under grace. Now the great news is because we're going to see this in a moment, the law illuminates sin, but it cannot eliminate sin. The law will show us what's right, but it's powerless to help us do what's right. And this is where we misunderstand what the law really does.
You say, "Now let me ask a question. Isn't the law God's will for us"? Yes. "Doesn't God want us to obey the law"? Yes. "Well, doesn't the law show what godliness looks like"? Yes. But here's the problem. The law will show us what godliness looks like, but the law can't make you godly. That's the rub. As a matter of fact, Paul goes on to say, "That's not even why the law was given to begin with". So he says this in Verse 5, "For when we were in the realm of the flesh," that is what we were or what we could be without Christ, "the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death".
Now what was Paul saying? We said this before. Here's what the law does. The law does two things. Number one, it exposes our sins. It shows us what's right. It shows us what's wrong. And why does the law do that? Because the law wants you to know when you're doing right and when you're doing wrong. So you're driving down the highway, we've used this many times before. You're doing 55 miles an hour and you pass a speed limit sign. And you're doing 55 and you look down and you're doing 80. Okay? Well, there's one thing you know, there's no question about it. You don't have to be confused about it. You're breaking the law. That's what the... the speed limit does not make you obey the law. It just lets you know when you're obeying it and when you're not.
So the law exposes our sin, lets us know we are sinners. That's the first thing it does. Then it exposes our sinfulness. What the law does is point out the way to God is not your goodness. The way to God is His grace. You will never get there by keeping the law. You will never get there by trying to be the best person you can. So here is the good news. As a believer in Jesus Christ, we're dead to the law. We no longer have to rely on the law, rely on our obedience to the law, rely on our keeping the commandments in order to be right with God and get right with God. Okay. That is the good news. Scene two, that's the bad news. Because not only am I dead to the mastery of the law, but I still deal with the misery of sin.
Now, this is where we're going to get a little bit deep. Just stay with me. This is what Paul is saying. He says, "Look". This is his, and he's having this struggle to. "Okay. Let me get this straight. If I'm dead to the law". Yeah, I'm dead to the law. "And the law actually reveals my desire to disobey it". Yes, it does. "As a matter of fact, the law stimulates my desire to disobey it". Yep. "Well, if I'm dead to the law, why do I still struggle with sin? Why is there still a civil war going on inside of me? Why is it, Pastor, why do I say yes to God one minute and no to God the next minute? Why does my Spirit tell me to do something, but my body won't cooperate? Why does my Spirit tell me not to think something, but my mind will not cooperate? Why does my body seem like to have a mind, seems like it has a mind of its own"? It's because it does. Your body does have a mind of its own.
Now before I get into this, let me give you some encouragement here. Up until now, Paul has been writing in the past tense. If you go back and read, you'll see he's been writing in the past tense. He was talking about his life before he met Jesus. He's been talking about what his life was like to be under the law and not grace. He was talking about, "This is what my life was like when I thought I could be good enough for God, when I thought my best would be good enough. When I thought all I've got to do is obey the law, keep commandments, go to church, pay my tithe, you know, do my deal and then God will, you know, we'll be good to go with God. And I was miserable because I knew deep down all I was, was a big law breaker". But now he changes tenses. He leaves the past tense and now he goes to the present tense.
So what we're about to read, this is what Paul was experiencing in the moment that he wrote these words. So now we go down to Verse 15. This'll be very familiar to the way many of us live our lives. He says, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate to do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do, this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, it is sin living in me that does it".
Now listen to what Paul is saying because this is where so many of live every day. And it's so very frustrating. Paul is dealing with a struggle that's going on in his own life as he's writing these words. Paul is in spiritual combat even as he's writing these words. Now you say, "Well, wait a minute. I thought you said this was an encouragement". Well, it is an encouragement. You say, "Well, how's that an encouragement". Now think about this. What was Paul doing when he wrote these words? He was writing a book in the Bible. Here's a guy, under the inspiration and the power and the authority of the Holy Spirit of God, while he's writing the book, he's saying, "I am struggling with sin. I am in spiritual combat".
So if you're one of these believers like I am right now and you say, "Boy, pastor, there are times in my life, I struggle with sin". Maybe it's consistently, maybe it's intermittently. Don't get too discouraged. The problem is not you. And the problem is not me. The problem is the sinful nature and the sin that still lives in you and me. Sin still attacks us. And the first strategy of sin is to deceive us. So go back to Verse 11 and listen to what Paul says. He says, "For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death".
Now this is so important. Don't miss this. The reason why we continue to sin is the same way that Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden to begin with. It's just a pattern repeated over and over. Sin deceives us. Okay, how does sin deceive us? Real easy. Sin always over promises and always under delivers. Always. Sin always over promises and sin always under deliver. Here's what sin will do. Sin will come into your ear and sin will tell you, "You can do this. You can get away with this. Nobody will ever know this. And you will feel good if you do this". But if you're a believer and you have a healthy conscience, the moment you do it, the law comes back, the law comes, the blue lights come on and the law says, "You shouldn't have done that. You can't do that. You didn't get away with it. And you don't even feel good about it". Paul says, "That's exactly the way sin operates".
Let me just stop right here. Let me kind of summarize where I am at this point. Let me show you how the law and how sin and how God operates. This will be a good thing to write down in your Bible or somewhere taking, if you take notes, this will be a good thing to write down. The law demands goodness. All right? I don't even need to explain that, right? When God gave the Ten Commandments, they weren't ten suggestions, they weren't ten, you know, options, they weren't ten choices. They're commandments. God says, "Do these things. Don't do these things". The law demands goodness. Sin brings guilt.
So the law demands goodness, but we already seen what the law demands, the law cannot make us do, right? The law can say it wants us to do it. The law can command us to do it, but the law really can't make us do it. Sin comes along, takes advantage of us, deceives us, we do what the law tells us not to do, then we feel guilt. God comes along and God gives grace. That's the way it operates. The law demands goodness. But we're not good. So sin brings guilt. And then God gives grace. Now, even though if you were here last week, in Chapter 6, we found out that a Christian is dead to sin. We learned that last week. In Chapter 7, we're now reminded you may be dead to sin, but Paul says, "I've got news for you and I see it every day in my life, sin is not dead to the Christian".
So the solution is not trying harder. The solution is not a New Year's Resolution. The solution is not bare-knuckled resolve. The solution is not I'll just give it another shot. I'll just really, I'm going to give it a 100% effort now. I'm really going to try to overcome this thing. Paul says, "That's not solution". Why not? Paul says, "The reason why it's not the solution is you can't carry out the law because the problem is not you. The problem is the sin that lies within you. That is the problem". And then Paul perfectly sums up how we all feel when we're in the middle of living like he's talking about in Verse 24. He says, "What a wretched man I am. I'm so sick and tired of being spiritually schizophrenic. I'm so sick and tired of this civil war going in my heart. I'm sick and tired of not doing what I know ought to do and doing what I know I should not do. What a wretched man I am". Then he says, "Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death".
Do you know what that word 'wretched' literally means? That word wretched indicates a person who has fought a long, long, hard battle and is just worn out. And what Paul is saying, and he is being as honest as any Bible writer has ever been, he's just being honest, and he told the Roman Christians, and he's telling us today, he said, "Look, I just want to make a confession. I am worn slapped out in trying to win against sin. I don't have any energy left. I don't have any fight left. Because I've done it the way most people try to do it. Try harder. Work longer. Start over. Tried to be good. Tried to do good". And Paul says, "I have finally found out, even as a Christian, my own personal best will never be good enough. My trying to keep the law won't get it. It won't get it before you become a believer. It won't get it after you become a believer. Because the law is not the way to be right with God and stay right with God".
You say, "Man, what a downer". Well, hang on. Help's on the way. We're just in scene two. Scene one, good news, I'm dead to the mastery of the law. Scene two, I still deal with the misery of sin. But scene three, best news. I'm delivered by the ministry of Jesus. I'm delivered by the ministry of Jesus. Now once again, Paul doesn't end on a down note, he ends on a high note. As a matter of fact, the highest note. By the way, Paul asked the right question. Great question. He said, "What a wretched man I am. Who will rescue me? Who will deliver me"? Not, what will deliver me? He didn't ask, how can I deliver me? He said, "Who will deliver me"? Then he gives this answer, Verse 25, watch this, "Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ, Our Lord".
So you walked in here today, you're a believer, you know Jesus. You've been "born again," you have a relationship with God, you have repented of your sin, you've turned away from your sinful life, you have trusted him as your Lord and Savior, but you're still battling. It may be one particular sin. It may be your temper. It may be bitterness. It may be pornography. It may be jealousy. It may be lust. It may be greed. But there's this one sin you just can't seem to get over it. Paul says, "Well, who will deliver you from that and how are you going to get delivered"? And here's the answer. We've been saying it for five or six weeks. The who is Jesus and the how is grace. The who is Jesus and the how is grace.
Now let me just say this. Watch this. Now, I'm going to be a good doctor. I'm going to give you the prognosis, diagnosis, whole nine yards. You ready? I've just done an examination of you. Now I'm going to sit you down and I'm going to say, "Okay. Richard or Mike or Shirley or Jordan or John or whoever, I've diagnosed the problem". Here's the problem. Let me tell you what's going inside of you right now. There are actually two laws at work in you. One we've already talked about at length. There's the law of sin. We know that's going on. But there is another law that Paul introduced us to in the next chapter. So we go over to Chapter 8 and Verse 2 and we read this, "Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit, that is the Holy Spirit, who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death".
Now I'm getting you ready for next week so just hang with me. There's a big shift that takes place between Romans 7 and Romans 8. Here's the clue. You go back and read Romans 7, there are 25 verses in Romans 7. Do you know how many times the Holy Spirit's mentioned in Romans 7? One time. Go to Romans 8, 38 verses, 39 verses. Do you know how many times the Holy Spirit's mentioned in the 39 verses of Romans 8? Twenty-one times. Two out of three times. Every two out of three verses you're reading about the Holy Spirit. Somehow Paul's trying to let us know you're not going to win this battle by yourself. You are not going to overcome this sin by yourself. You have proven to yourself. How long you've been trying? How long have you been working? How long have you made a New Year's Resolution? How long have you said, "I'm going to whip this thing"? How's that working out for you?
You say, "It's not". Paul says, "You know what, as the Beetles famously sang, 'You need help. You need help.'" And Paul said, "That help comes in the person of the Holy Spirit". Now why do we need the spirit of God? Here's why. You cannot win the battle of sin, you. I don't care how much you love Jesus. I don't care how much you go to church. I don't care how much you read your Bible. I don't care how much you pray. I don't care how hard you try. I don't care how hard you spiritually work out. You cannot win the battle of sin. But the Spirit of God in you can win every time. Christians sin, non-Christians sin. Christians do wrong, non-Christians do wrong. Christians blow it, non-Christians blow it.
So you say, "Well, okay, if that's true, what is the difference between a believer and an unbeliever"? Here's the difference. The difference is, in which side you take in the battle. I'm not just, listen, I'm not just saying only believers want to do what's right. Unbelievers want to do what's right. I get that. You're here today and you're not a follower of Jesus Christ, you say, "Don't shortchange me. I want to live a good life. I want to be a good husband. I want to be a good dad. I want to try to watch what I say. I want to do this. I mean, I kind of..." But you got the same problem right? "Yeah, I really do have the same problem"?
Well whether you realize it or not, we're not on the same side. And let me tell you why? A believer wants to take God's side against sin and an unbeliever wants to take sin's side against God. So in Chapter 8, as we're going to get into next week, we're going to learn how to take God's side. We're going to learn how to live in the Spirit. We're going to learn how to walk with God. We're going to learn how to live in continuous victory over sin. So I want to be very practical now. I've given you kind of this deep theological lesson.
Now let's get real practical. So here we are. What have we learned in this series, you know, so far. We've learned that whatever your particular sin or sins or your addiction may be, whatever trap you may seem to be, you know, you just can't get out of it, we're learning all through these chapters, yes you can get it out of it. You can tell sin to back off. You can tell sin to back down. Your sinful nature doesn't have to have the last say. So let me just give you three practical steps that I want you to take, in fact, this is what I'd like to ask you to do. I want every one of you to be honest with yourself. You don't even have to tell your wife or your husband what you're about to do. Okay. You don't have to tell anybody. You just keep it between you and God. That's fine.
I want you, maybe in your mind right now, I want you to think аbout: what's the one sin that just keeps whipping your tail? What's the one thing in your life that's just absolutely got you and it will not let you go? And it's different for everybody. It may be pornography. It may be lust. It may be greed. It may be bitterness over somebody that hurt you a long time ago. It may be your temper. It may be anger. It may be drugs. It may be alcohol. I don't know what it is. But I want you to think about that one thing. And you know you struggle with it. Maybe you're the only one that knows it, but you know you struggle with it. I want you to take three steps. This, beginning, just try it for this week.
Number one, I want you to talk. Let me tell you what I mean by that. I want you to talk to that sin as if that sin were standing right in front of you, as if that sin was a real person. As I'll tell you, because it is real. And I want you to tell sin, "You got no place in my life. None. I am dead to the law and I am dead to you. You may not be dead to me, but I am dead to you. You know what, you got no power over a dead person". So I want you to talk to that sin. I mean, that sin's talking to you all the time, right. Sin's telling you, "Do it. Go ahead. You can't whip me. You know you're fighting a losing..." He's talking to you.
Well, talk back. Number two, trust. Trust. You ask, at the greatest moment of your temptation, when you're tempted to follow that same trap, at the greatest moment, you ask the Lord Jesus to give you strength for the battle that you're facing. You ask the Lord Jesus to give you victory over the sin that's tempting you. Let me tell you why this is such a big deal. You cannot, this is impossible, you cannot be in communication and in communion with Jesus and sin at the same time. Can't do it.
So you talk, you trust, and then you take. You take God at His word that He can give you victory and you take by faith your fill of the Holy Spirit that you can win that battle. And then this is important. You take whatever action you need to take. If it means getting outside help. If it means going to a clinic. If it means calling up a buddy of yours and saying, "Would you be my accountability partner. I need help. I need to get a guard on my computer. I need you to know I'm addicted to pornography or whatever it may be. I'm doing this. I'm doing that. I need you to be my accountability partner. I need you to walk alongside me and carry this burden with me. Because I am determined by the grace of God I am overcome this sin".
So you talk and you trust and you take. Don't shortchange Jesus. Don't shortchange the Holy Spirit that lives in you. That's what real grace is all about. You can lay down the law and you can tell sin to take a hike. And you can be everything that God wants you to be and do everything that God wants you to do. But it's only by his what? Grace.