The Law Reveals Sin

“What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Romans 7:7).

God’s holy standard exposes man’s rebellious heart.

So far in Romans, Paul has told us what the law can’t do: it can’t save us (3—5) or sanctify us (6). At this point the apostle anticipates and answers a question that naturally arises: What, then, was the purpose of the law? Was it evil? In the next few days we’re going to consider three important purposes the law served.

First, the law reveals sin. Sin is a violation of God’s righteous standard (1 John 3:4); if no such standard existed, there would be no sin. In Romans 3:20 Paul said that “through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” Romans 4:15 adds, “Where there is no law, neither is there violation,” and Romans 5:13 reveals that “sin is not imputed when there is no law.”

To the question “Is the Law sin?” Paul replies emphatically, “May it never be!” Such a question is as absurd as it is blasphemous; an evil law could never proceed from a holy God. Paul goes on to say, “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law.” The law brought the proud Pharisee Saul of Tarsus face to face with his utter sinfulness, revealing his need for a Savior and preparing his heart for his life-changing encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus.

The specific commandment Paul cites, the injunction against coveting, is revealing. Coveting is an internal attitude, not an external act. It was the realization that God’s law applied to his attitudes, not merely his external behavior, that devastated Paul. He was forced to realize that all his external self-righteousness was worthless because his heart wasn’t right.

I pray that you too will be “obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed” (Rom. 6:17).

Suggestions for Prayer

Pray with the psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Ps. 139:23-24).

For Further Study

Read Isaiah 1:14-20; Amos 5:21-27; Matthew 23:25-28. What does God think of mere outward conformity to His law?

From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.