Effects of the Law | Romans 7: 7-13 and Mark 10: 17-27

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Effects of the Law | Romans 7: 7-13 and Mark 10: 17-27



Let’s begin our study in Romans 7 by turning in our Bibles to a supporting passage in Mark chapter 10.  Keep your finger in Romans 7 and turn over to Mark 10 verse 17. This is the story of the rich young ruler.

The Rich Young Man

17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus has an interesting response to this question.  His first response is to call him out on the “good teacher” comment…

 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” He says that no one is completely good except for God.  SO…It is not proper for this young man to refer to Jesus as a good teacher unless he is ready to accept the fact that Jesus is God… and when Jesus asks him to do something, GOD IS SPEAKING!

Jesus’ next response is also not what you would expect.  He turns to the law and uses it as a diagnostic tool to reveal true motives of this young man.  Look at verse 19…

19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”20 And he {the young man} said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”

Jesus doesn’t argue with the fact that he followed these commands.  On the surface, this young man is very moral.  But… someone can be obeying God’s commands on the outside, while desiring material things more than they desire spiritual things.

When you love material things more than you love the pursuit of God, then that is a violation of the Tenth Commandment.  The Tenth Commandment is one that cannot be reduced to mere external observations.  What is the Tenth Commandment?  It is the command not to covet.

A desire for material possessions or relationships or resources that God has asked you to give up is at the root of a sin called covetousness.  To covet is to want something that GOD doesn’t want you to have.  Jesus is God.  Listen to the request that Jesus, the second member of the Trinity, makes of this young man…verse 21…

 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

When the young man was asked by Jesus, the Son of God (God in the flesh), to give up some possessions, he refused.  He valued those possessions more than he valued God.  He was confronted with the law that said, “do not covet.”  His reaction to that law revealed who he really was.

This young man loved his possessions more than he loved God.  When the law revealed his sin, he did not repent, nor did he ask for Jesus’ strength to help him overcome the lure of his possessions.

He simply walked away, unconverted and unchanged.  To that response…23 …Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

Whenever I teach from this passage of scripture, I like to point out that this rich young man was probably not as wealthy as you and I are right now in America.

Consider this – he did not have:

·        a car,

·        paved roads,

·        central heating,

·        a flushing toilet,

·        electricity,

·        a phone,

·        a television,

·        WiFi,

·        a personal computer,

·        Mexican food or

·        a PlayStation.

Things that we feel entitled to here in the United States would have been luxurious beyond the imagination of this rich man!  This passage is speaking to us.  We live in one of the wealthiest nations in all of history…. SO, we need to pay special attention!

24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

That reminds me of my need of the Lord’s grace, because as an American, living in this age of unprecedented prosperity, these words apply to me!

26 And they were exceedingly astonished,

I think they were so astonished because this man was wealthy, powerful and pillar of their religious society.  If this man can’t be saved, with all of those good works on his record, then what hope is there for the rest of us?

 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?”27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

Turn back to Romans 7:7 in your Bibles.  Romans 7 offers a further explanation of what is happening in exchanges like the one between Jesus and the rich young ruler.  Paul has said some incredibly negative things about the law in Romans so far.  In fact, the way that Paul talks about the law in Romans is nothing less than shocking… especially coming from a former Pharisee…  Consider these examples:

·        Romans 3:20 – “20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

·        Romans 3:21 – “…the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…”

·        Romans 3:28 – “…one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

·        Romans 5:20 – “…the law came in to increase the trespass…”

·        Romans 6:14 – “…sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

·        Romans 7:5 – “For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.”

With all of this negative talk about God’s law from one of God’s apostles, it is hard to see how the law could possibly be a good thing.  It would be easy to assume that if Paul is talking negatively about the law, it must mean that the law is bad.  Anticipating this response from his readers, Paul asks the question on their minds…

What then shall we say? That the law is sin?

Let’s stop there…. And ask the question this way:  When Jesus used the Tenth Commandment to reveal the sinful desires within the young man’s heart, was it the law that was sinful? 

The rich young ruler was not guilty of sin because the law was bad.  The 10th Commandment revealed that he was in love with his possessions and was unwilling to give them up in exchange for a deeper relationship with Jesus.  AND… he made that decision with Jesus physically standing there right in front of him.

Let me put it another way:  A man is caught red-handed committing a murder.  He is arrested, brought to trial, found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.  Is it the law that is responsible for the man’s imprisonment?

The law convicted him and sentenced him… But…. the man only has himself to blame for his crime and for his imprisonment.  It’s not the law’s fault he’s a murderer.  The law is good, but crime is bad.  One of the effects of the law is that the law reveals sin.

The Law reveals sin – v. 7

Let’s read the rest of the verse…

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.”

The fact the Paul singled out coveting, reveals the difference between being religious on the outside and genuinely pursuing Jesus on the inside.  Remember who Paul was. He had been trained as a Pharisee by a well-known teacher named Gamaliel.  From a very early age, he had been meticulously following the law and considered himself zealous for God.  Just like the rich young ruler, Paul also claimed that he had kept all the law since his youth.  In Philippians 3:6, Paul says that when it came to the righteousness under the law, he was blameless.

Zealous Jews in Paul’s day, were able to claim perfect obedience to the law because they had modified and externalized the law of God in order to make a lower level of obedience both acceptable and achievable.  In other words, they had dumbed down the law in order to make it attainable so that they could earn their salvation by their works. 

They did not take into account a personal, inward pursuit of God and the condition of a person’s heart.  To them, being right with God meant checking off a list of rules.  A person, who did what the rabbi told them to do, became fully acceptable to God (and the rabbi was making sure that being “fully acceptable to God” was not too difficult to pull off).  Somebody could follow all the outward, religious practices of this watered down law in their own power… BUT… what was happening on the inside was a different matter altogether.

We don’t often use the term “covet” outside of a church service.  In fact, if you were to say to someone on your street, “I’ve been dealing with covetousness this week,” your neighbors would probably look at you strangely and say, “I think you’ve been spending too much time at church…”  They might not even know what you were talking about.   SO… let’s put it into terms we are more familiar with. 

To “covet” in this context means to have a “desire for something forbidden.”  We might call it an impure desire.    “Coveting” was the only one of the Ten Commandments that did not really have an external component to it and it is the only command that you cannot easily observe through some kind of religious ritual.  That is probably the very reason why it tripped up Paul before he was saved.

The most important parts of the law were not external religious rituals, but the internal heart motivations.  It is significant in this passage that Paul chose the most internal of the Ten Commandments to illustrate his personal experience.  Verse 7b says…

For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

It may have been Pauls’ growing awareness of his own internal sinful desires that began to reveal to him that he would never be able to work out his own salvation by checking off a list of rules.  He was following all the rules perfectly, but he still had a huge problem:  the law revealed that sin had taken up residence inside his heart.

Something broke inside of Paul after his encounter with Jesus on the way to Damascus and he realized that even the strictest obedience to the law was never be enough.  The law was not a blueprint for how we could earn our own salvation.  The law tends to have the opposite effect.  The law is more like a microscope that magnifies sin that may have otherwise been undetected.  In Paul’s case, the law stirred up the sin of covetousness.  The law provoked evil desires in Paul’s heart.

The Law provokes sin

But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandments, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.

The Greek word for “opportunity” has a much different connotation than our English equivalent.  Their word for “opportunity” was often used to describe a military base.  It literally means, “a base of operations.”   Paul is saying that sin will use the law as a base of operation to launch attacks into our lives that will result in more and even greater sin.  The law provokes sin!

He is referring to a strange phenomenon in humans referred to as “contra-suggestibility.”  Contra- suggestibility is the human tendency to react negatively to a rule.  We saw it played out in Adam and Eve when they had only one rule to follow.

God told Adam and Eve that they could have absolute and total freedom to eat any fruit in the garden except for one.  So which fruit did they choose?  The one that was forbidden!  The biggest area of offense for Adam was not in just eating forbidden fruit. Adam had a desire for a piece of fruit that was forbidden.  It was the sin of covetousness.  Adam allowed that sin to take root in his heart and given the opportunity (or the base of operations), the law provoked that sin into action.

Verse 8b says, “For apart from the law, sin lies dead.”

The Greek word for “dead”

[nekros] can also be a metaphor that means “inactive.”  I believe this passage intends to communicate that sin, “apart from the law, sin [can lie] {inactive} or {inoperative} or {dormant}.”  People can have sin in their lives while they are not acting upon it.

Sin can be like the poison inside a rattlesnake.  The venom in the snake lies dormant and inactive until it is presented with an opportunity – like an exposed ankle of a hiker. The venom was always inside the snake.  Given the opportunity, it strikes out.  Once the opportunity is given, the venom is no longer lies dormant.  It is made fully active as it penetrates the skin of its unsuspecting prey.

The venom did little inside the snake before the opportunity was presented, but it was always there.  Given the opportunity to be exposed, it was provoked and caused a great deal of damage.  When sin comes into contact with the law, it’s like it is encouraged or even provoked into coming out of hiding and acting upon its impulses.

As soon as sin is drawn out of the dark corners of our lives, either by being revealed or by being provoked, the law then brings a sentence of condemnation because of that sin.

The Law condemns sin

I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.

Sin brings with it judgment, injury and eternal separation from God.  What could possibly make sin so attractive to us?  Why would any creature who has the power to overcome sin, fall prey to its schemes?  Satan is called the deceiver of the whole world (Rev 12:9) for a good reason.  He never says to us,

·        “click on that link, and you’ll suffer,” or

·        “try out those pills and they will kill you,” or

·        “just talk a little behind your bosses back and you’ll lose you job.” 

Satan draw us into sinful desires by promising us that sin will result in happiness. Passions within us are excited by Satan’s schemes.  He makes sin sound so good.  We can even become convinced that we won’t be really happy unless we act upon our desires – no matter how much those desires contradict the commands of scripture. 

Sin is attractive to us because it brings with it so much immediate pleasure:

·        The flirtatious conversation with the person who is not your spouse feels good for a moment

·        The extra bit of alcohol, when you’ve already had too much creates just a little extra buzz

·        Those negative comments about your coworker just feel so good to get off your chest

·        The curious click on the internet creates some momentary excitement

Satan tells us some monstrous lies.  He’ll say, “do it and you’ll be happy.”  Or he’ll try to convince you, “you’ll never be happy unless you have _(drink, drug, women, thing, pleasure).”  The truth is that it is impossible for sin to bring any lasting pleasure pleasure.

What sin brings instead is a momentary pleasure (not lasting pleasure) followed by condemnation.  Verse 11 says, “11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.”  Sin ruins people and our God loves us so much that He is constantly directing us away from the things that will ruin us and toward those things that bring everlasting joy.  He is so good that He explains what is good and what is bad clearly in His law.

12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

I heard a preacher once say that if anything offered more lasting, more joyful and more intense pleasure than the pursuit of our Savior, he would gladly give up the pursuit of Jesus for that thing.  But the truth is that nothing is more satisfying than Christ and given enough time, everything outside of His commands will leads us to ruin.  The things that ruin us could never fully satisfy us.  Proverbs 13:25 says, “The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite, but the belly of the wicked suffers want.”  Only the pursuit of Christ and His righteousness can be ultimately satisfying.

So when the law reveals sin in a person’s life, does that make the law bad?  If the alarm of the law is going off in your life and crying out, “Warning! Warning! Your sin is about to destroy you!”  …does that mean the law is evil?  Look at verse 13a

13a Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means!

Let’s use the analogy of the murder trial again to illustrate Paul’s point.  It’s not the law against murder that merits punishment but the committing of a murder that merits punishment.  There is no fault in the law nor is there any fault in those who are upholding the law.  The law is good and right and just.  It is the breaking of the law that is evil

13ab 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….

It is not the law that is the cause of spiritual death.  Sin causes spiritual death.  The law reveals sin.  Sometimes the law even awakens sin that would otherwise be lying dormant.  But the law itself is good.

But Paul doesn’t stop there.  If we have nothing to compare our sin to, then it might not seem that big of a deal to us.  Many unsaved people know that there is such thing as sin, but they do not understand why it’s such a big deal.  They will say things like “to err is human and to forgive is divine,” so that they can write off coveting and gossip and lust as no big deal.  Without the law, we would remain comfortable in our sin while sin is producing death in us.

·        Until we realize our sin is so wicked that it is killing us, we would never want to oppose it.

·        Until we realize our sin is so wicked that it disqualifying us for eternal life, we could never live in the victory God offers us through Jesus Christ. 

13abc 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.

The preaching of the law is necessary for the preaching of the gospel because when we find ourselves sinful beyond measure, then we can finally see our need for the cross.  The ultimate purpose for the law is to drive men and women to faith in Jesus Christ.  It is to show them that they could never be good enough in their own righteousness and they desperately need to be clothed in Christ’s righteousness. Jesus fulfilled the demands of the law on behalf of all sinners who would trust in His righteousness instead of their own.

Life Application

Before Paul encountered Jesus, he thought that being righteous meant keeping a list of rules.  That’s just legalism not righteousness.  He had not considered that sin manifests itself in idolatrous drives and desires.  When he read the Tenth Commandment, the law against coveting cut him to the core.  He realized that God was not enough for him and he had longings and desires that were greater for other things than they were for God.

He realized that these sinful desires were bringing death in his life.  Why?  Because sin, using the law as a base of operations deceived him and stirred up even greater and more evil desires within his heart.  The problem was not the law.  The problem was Paul, the sinner.  On the outside he was behaving well, but and the inside, he was not anything but a sinner in need of God’s grace.

As we have talked about sin and the law today, you might find yourself in a position like Paul’s.  Maybe you are really well-behaved on the outside, but internally, you know that you are a sinner in need of God’s grace.

Today is the day that once and for all, you can surrender your life to Jesus, turn away from that sin and begin a new life with Jesus in control.

Perhaps you are a follower of Christ, but as I’ve been speaking this morning, you realize that there are some areas in your life that are pulling you away from the single-minded pursuit of Jesus Christ. 

·        Maybe like the rich young ruler, you are valuing material possessions more than Jesus

·        Maybe you have fallen prey to one of Satan’s lies and believe that in your case, sin is the only way to achieve happiness or satisfaction

If there is anything that is more precious to you than the pursuit of our King then this morning is the time to confess your sins and refocus your attention on the glory, majesty and worth of our Savior and King.



Teaching Outline 

The Law reveals sin – v. 7, Romans 3:20, Mark 10:17-27

The Law provokes sin – v. 8, Romans 7:5

The Law condemns sin – v. 9-13, Proverbs 13:25


·         Surrender your life to Jesus, turn away from that sin and begin a new life with Jesus in control

·         Confess your sins and refocus your attention on the glory, majesty and worth of our Savior and King





By |2016-11-07T20:10:44+00:00February 1st, 2015|New Testament, Romans, Romans - New Life In Christ, Sermons|0 Comments

About the Author:

Pastor Mark Stafford served on staff at Canyon Bible Church of Prescott Valley for almost 6 years. He and his wife, Lara, felt called to church planting and Canyon of Prescott Valley sent them to plant a new Canyon Bible Church in the Verde Valley. Mark is a graduate of the Biblical Studies department at Arizona Christian University with highest honors and has served for more than a dozen years in full-time pastoral ministry. Mark loves music and is an active musician playing electric and string bass, acoustic and electric guitar, & keyboard. He has served with several professional Christian touring groups and has been nominated for a Dove award. Pastor Mark is currently bi-vocational while he plants Canyon Verde. He owns a small printing and design company called Ablaze Media. When he is not preaching, leading small groups, playing music or designing graphics, you might find him in his F250 cruising around the back roads of the local national forests, cycling with his sons on the streets around the Verde Valley, or running in a 10K. Pastor Mark and Lara have 4 children and have been married for over 15 years.

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