Romans Week 21 Sermon Notes


Casey (27 year old daughter) asked me how I would raise teens in the era of smart phones.

I said “great question”…(like any parent, I would have to adapt to the current and emerging situations that are unique to the child) but in principle I think I would do what I did with you and your sisters.

Three things simultaneously:

  1. Locks
  2. Information
  3. Transformation

Locks…plugs in outlets

-doing things to help them evade temptation and failure

  1. Information…teach them, expose them to truth about God and sin and freedom and real happiness…good and bad choices.
  2. Transformation…pray for, model, put them in situations where they can encounter God…he alone can transform us at the heart level.

Why not just locks?

If the heart doesn’t change, if we are not becoming people who want what should be wanted and hate what should be hated…then we will become Houdini…able to pick any lock.

And we will spend our lives adding locks…that we get better and better at breaking them.

Or if the parent is adding locks but the heart is not changed…what happens when the child is grown and lives by herself in a world of unlocked boxes full of potential misery?

We need God to change our hearts so that we learn to value what is valuable so that we can live in his freedom.

Then why have locks at all…why not just go for the heart?

Because the locks are allies of the heart that wants to be transformed…they help us stay back from the line rather than camping on it, they slow us down long enough to give the Spirit time to break through so that we remember in the moment what is real in eternity.

Because locks are Biblical…flee from temptation, accountability

But…locks are easy to install…and easy to break…a friend is an IT expert whose teenager regularly outsmarts him

So locks alone are not enough…what about locks plus “truth” information?

*Information is valuable, necessary…but heart transformation in the long run is what matters most.

God alone can do that…we participate, we respond to God…but it is the work of God that matters most.

We are in Romans 7:7…let’s walk through it in bite size pieces.

Rom. 7:7   what shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not!

This would be a reasonable question based on what Paul has just been writing…that the law arouses sinful passions and that we have been released from that law.

It would seem that Paul is calling the law sinful…or at very least a willing partner in crime.

But Paul’s answer is a loud…“Certainly not!”

For our purposes we will define the Law as…God’s will for the beliefs and behaviors of humans.

Not arbitrary rules, or hoops to jump through to prove ourseves…but real reflections of the reality of who God is and of the world he has made.

What follows is Paul’s defense for the goodness of the law, even though it is tied to the tyranny of sin.

So Paul’s main purpose in this section is to defend the goodness of God’s law while holding to the fact that the law cannot function as the path to transformation.

The failure is not in the law but in us…we cannot keep it…it is a standard, a description, truth, reality…but it is not a power…the Spirit is power.

E=MC squared is a truth; an accurate description of reality…but it is not a power.

The power is in the reality described by the formula..

In the 1960’s the World’s first nuclear-powered Navy task force was launched…here on the deck of a Nuclear Air Craft Carrier the crew is spelling out Einstein’s formula.

The truth applied equals power…power that is driving ships through the sea

Heb. 4:12   For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 

God’s word is living and active...but unless it is acted on…lived out by the power of the Spirit…it judges, yes…but it does not transform.

That’s why James said:

James 1:22   Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does.

So Paul’s point has never been to demean the law but to elevate the gospel…the promises made to Israel did not come to pass through the Law of Moses but through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The law is good, the gospel is powerful.

The proposed problem dictates the proposed solution

Whether it is in water problems in your basement, or physical problems in your body…it is really important to have a right starting point…what is the real problem here…what is the real cause of that problem…so I will get to a real solution.

For many Eastern Worldviews…in essence the problem is ignorance or illusion (Maya)…we do not see things as they are…all of reality is one thing(called Monism, or paneverythingism)…and our ignorance is that we see distinction in reality when their is none.

Since the problem is illusion (or we don’t see thing as they are…we lack understanding, real knowledge)…the solution is enlightenment to see things as they really are.

In the end what this means is that whatever is, is right…all that is, is as it is supposed to be…but clearly all that is…is not as it ought to be.

Enlightenment, knowledge is not enough…it does not to change or even lead a person to aspire to change…in fact this worldview is designed to lead people to accept everything as it already is.

The prevailing Western Worldview is that the problem is also, ignorance, lack of knowledge.

But it offers a secular versus a sacred approach to the problem…instead of enlightenment through rituals and reincarnation…it offers enlightenment through facts and education and laws of nature.

Scientists and teachers are the new priests to take us to full enlightenment.

But what if our root problem is not ignorance (either the eastern or the western version) but sin?

Then the solution is not going to come in the form of knowledge…or rituals or laws to follow but through transformation.

The laws cannot transform us…because we don’t just need good information…we need heart transformation.

Even when we have good information…we don’t tend to apply it if it goes against what we really desire at the heart level.

This is quite easy to prove…if you read (learn) that some habit you have is bad for you and that another habit would be better for you…and you believe this information.

Is simply learning about it (gaining the knowledge) enough to bring change? Of course not…it would be nice.

Knowledge has no power in itself to transform us.

A famous quote often attributed to Francis Bacon (17th century Scientist) is “Knowledge is power.”

In its context this is true…education, knowledge about how life, things works is powerful…leads us to invent, to produce, to be healthy, to be free…knowledge is powerful in a way.

But knowledge has no power in and of itself…information without application is nothing.

Information, knowledge does not supply power…that comes from elsewhere…from will, wanting.

If you teach a person how to treat another person well…will they?

Maybe, maybe not…but why not?   They have the knowledge…why is that not enough?

Because they may believe it is the right thing to do and not care, or not believe they are able to act in those ways.

So information alone…is not enough.

2 Cor. 10:4…talks about our powerful spiritual weapons that allow us to live in ongoing victory.

The basis for this spiritual power is the Holy Spirit…the one who indwells believers.

Chapter 8, Paul will focus on this life in the Spirit…but for now he is making his case for the fact that…

The law of God is good, true…but it does not come with its own power apart from the Spirit.

If it did…the unbeliever could live the Christian life without the Holy Spirit simply by learning and applying Bible rules.

Now, of course that would not be a bad thing…to treat people as the Bible says they should be treated would be a good thing.

But information (Biblical truth) becomes transformation (Christlikeness) when applied in a life lived in the realm of the Holy Spirit’s resources.

(truth) Information all by itself is essentially like telling a drowning man that he needs air to live and breathing water will kill him…it tells him that he must get to land and learn to thrive there…it tells him that he should not have jumped into that water in the first place since he is not a fish and does not know how to swim.

Now the drowning man is fully aware of his problem and his need and his folly…but the information cannot carry him to shore…it has power to reveal problems but by itself…it cannot solve them.

He is now a fully informed, drowning man…instead of merely being an ignorant drowning man…

He has good information…but it cannot save him because he cannot get himself to shore.

Let’s move on…

7 Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.”

Why does Paul choose “covet” here as his prime example of breaking the law?

Why not murder or idolatry or adultery…why covet?

Seems like a mild example compared to what he could have selected.

So why “Covet”? Because it was often thought to be behind of all the other sins…and for good reason.

Of the Ten Commandments:

  1. No other Gods
  2. No idols
  3. Don’t take God’s name in vain
  4. Keep the Sabbath
  5. Honor mother and father
  6. Don’t murder
  7. Don’t commit adultery
  8. Don’t steal
  9. Don’t bear false witness against your neighbor
  10. Don’t covet

Only number 10, “don’t covet” explicitly refers to the desires of the heart rather than merely outward actions .

Sure they all have heart issues tied to them…but coveting is all heart level.

It is wanting what is not mine to have…it delighting in something other than what God has given to me…and so failing to delight in God.

But how does the commandment to not covet give power to sin…why doesn’t it help me not covet rather than inspiring me to covet more?

8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead.

It was believed that the coming of the law brought humanity to life…that the shining light of the truth of God brought us from death to life.

Paul counters that here with the opposite take…the law increased and magnified our sin.

It made things much worse…not because the law is bad but because it has no power and neither do we.

But how did it make things worse?

Again, not because of a fault in the law but because of a fault in us.

We want what we want…we covet (desire…what we don’t have)

You may like you have, you may be deeply grateful for what you have…so you may be wondering how this applies to you?

As a follower of Christ…you should be experiencing over time…increased gratitude for what God provides and decreased desire for what he has not (coveting)…because you are increasing in your satisfaction and delight in Christ…that is to be the every increasing norm.

Again…as we grow we see in greater detail how much we need to grow…so you may feel like you are not making progress…but I suspect if you have been pursuing Christ…then you are.

And its not prideful to take stock of what God has done in your life…its a really god thing to do…because it is so encouraging and God honoring…to remember what he has done.

If you are training for Godliness by the Spirit’s power…you will see that you are in fact being more content and more thankful over time…it may ebb and flow depending on many things.

But the overall trajectory of your life is a good one…you should notice that…its important.

But for someone who is not living in the realm of the Spirit

Tell them they can’t have something…suddenly they want what they formerly did not want.

Again…this is not always the case all the time.

But for the person who is the center of their own existence…rather than God being that center.

They value self-determination above all else…to tell them “you should not want that, it is not good”…turns it into their new highest good.

This is the way their hearts have been shaped…by sin.

Proverbs says, “Stolen water is sweet, food eaten in secret is delicious” (9:17)

The fact is…its just water and the food is just food…but it is sweet, delicious because “I’m not supposed to have it!”

People’s hearts will beat fast with excitement when they consider doing what they should not… adrenalin pours into their bloodstream as they push the limits of oughtness in their minds.

This becomes intoxicating…and it becomes addictive.

Affairs start with a thought (that causes the heart to race), then a glance, then a word, then a touch…then…then…

So men leave kind and lovely and committed wives for women who are none of those things…and woman leave good men for bad men because…”stolen water is sweet.”

The application applies to all manner of sins…not just immoral relationships…

Most men don’t sell out for a million dollars…they most often sell out for a little bit more than what they have.

The heart of it is this…

I want what I want…and what I want (but don’t have) I must have in order to truly live…covet

This is an affront to God…”What I need to be fully alive…God is saying “no” to…I need more than or other than God.”

But the water and the food God provides do not have to be eaten in secret.

And they are delicious (when we learn contentment and gratitude)

When we enjoy God’s provision…those things remain good…the next day and the next and the next as they nourish our bodies and souls.

The illicit food makes the heart beat faster when considered as option, is often delicious to the taste…initially…but sours in the stomach, loses its taste and brings disease in the end.

9 Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.

It seems obvious that Paul is speaking autobiographically here…but it is a bit confusing.

When was he ever alive apart from the law or die when the commandment came?

-As a Jew he had always lived under the law and he was born under the sentence of death because of Adam’s sin.

It’s important here (as in any conversation with a person) to understand the context of what they are saying.

Jews celebrated the Passover year after year by thinking of themselves as being present during the great events of the exodus.

They identified themselves not just as individuals but saw life from a corporate perspective…as a people.

Paul is doing that here, as a typical Jew (A Christian Jew) he is thinking of himself as being present when the law was first given through Moses to Israel…and probably even sees himself in Adam who was given the first commandment…and went on to break it.

So Paul identifies himself with all of humanity.

The Law apart from the gospel does not bring life…it never has.

In fact when I see God’s moral law…I am more guilty, more liable, more responsible, more miserable…but remain powerless to do anything about my condition.

11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me

The word “deceived” here is a strong word…indicating utter deception.

It is used twice by Paul to describe the tempting of Eve in the garden by the serpent.

(2 Cor. 11:3, 2 Tim 2:14)

It seems Paul is connecting his own life with the life of Adam and Eve.

God said, “do not eat that” but you are “free to eat all of the rest”

The serpent came in and began to play with words and their hearts…”Did God really say? You won’t really die? You will in fact be like God…he is keeping real life from you!”

“Covet that forbidden fruit…you need it to really live.”

No, you need God to really live

Sin, like the serpent is an expert liar…it seizes on that which is good (like the law of God) to deceive us.

Now Paul is going to give his decisive answer to the initial question “Is the law sin?”

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

No…it fact it is holy, righteous and good.

It the opposite of sin (which is death) it is the path of life…but it is a path to walk, but the gospel is the power to walk that path.

The law of God describes life as God has designed it to be lived…but the gospel empowers that life…because the life God has for us is a life of relationship with him.


The past couple of weeks we have talking about what Paul communicates as the “Normal Christian Life” that very often seems quite abnormal or unusual to us.

A life of ongoing victory.

So what are we to do with the gap between “ought to be true” and the “Is true” in our lives?

Let’s summarize some important ideas from the past weeks and months:

  1. Remember the “already/not yet” reality of our salvation and our situation in regards to sin and victory over sin.

-We have ready access to power for victory, we do not always access it.

  1. We have to train for godliness not just try to be good.

-We have and we are habitualizing certain thoughts, feelings, actions.

-We are responsible for those habits…because we are told to choose what we think about, and what we practice doing.

  1. We have to pay attention to the indicative and choose to live in the imperative…both things are real and true about us.
  2. We do need to obey God…because we want to love God.

-We are not under law but under grace

-We are not saved by our own efforts

*But we want to live in the real of the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives.

*The realm of God’s will is the realm of the Spirit’s power.

*He loves us too much to empower us to walk away from him.

*Tensions again:

-You have access to the Holy Spirit if you are Christian

-You must choose to access that power…but to do so you must stay within the realm of his will for you.


*If you are walking in a parking lot and your child is holding your hand, you don’t love her because she holds your hand…because you love her you hold her hand.

*If she jerked her hand away and chose to venture outside your will for her at that moment…she is not less loved but she is less safe and less free in absolute terms.

It’s an imperfect analogy…but you get the point.

We are in relationship with God by grace through faith…fact

We thrive in this relationship by taking ongoing actions to avail ourselves of his provision…Word, Spirit, and People.

It is truly…believe the indicative (what is true), move into the imperative (what must be true)

Trust and Obey…they are not at odds, they are friends…two parts of a normal Christian life.

Leave a Reply