Ask God to orient or reorient you to Himself. Confess any known sin. Thank Him for His forgiveness. Be still and reflect on Jesus and His sacrifice for you. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind to God’s Word. Pray for others in your life that they, too, would know and love God today.
“13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.”
Before getting started, I want to point out that theologians disagree who Paul is talking about in this passage. The main distinction can be broken down into two camps: the pre-Christian Paul or the regenerated Paul? Both have strong arguments and both are orthodox; there is no heresy in either one. In short, know that there are good people on both sides of the issue.
But that still doesn’t give us much help with understanding the passage, so what do we do with it? Well there is a third option that Thomas Schreiner gives, and as best I can tell, answers the debate most completely. He would suggest that it is not one or the other, but it’s “both” Paul’s that are in mind here. He would say that Paul is purposely vague because there is truth in both views. I like this idea because it captures the tension between the inaugurated and consummated state of the believer. It seems to fit with the reality of our “already not yet” state.
Before we get to deep into the weeds, remember what Paul has been driving home up to this point:
- We know that the law is good, but it is also weak. In itself, it is holy, but it is powerless to make us holy. (This important truth lies behind the whole final section of Romans 7.)
- He’s been and will continue to depict the hopeless struggle of people who are still ‘under the law’.
- People are right to look to the law for moral guidance, but wrong to look to it for saving power.
Here’s one last thing to remember before we dive into our passage: Both camps agree that it’s wrong to regard this passage as a pattern of normal Christian experience. Both would agree that the Christian’s walk should be one that has an increasing trajectory toward growth in Christ-likeness. This growth cannot happen without the active power of the Spirit of God in our lives (we’ll get to this in Romans 8). Finally, both camps would agree that our passage elaborates the weakness of the law, to bring about change, and this weakness is attributed to our sin.
Okay! That’s a mouthful. Let’s go ahead and jump into our passage.
In verse 13 Paul asked, “Did that which was good then become death to me?” Why would he ask this question? I think it was because he wanted to make sure his readers didn’t misunderstand what he was saying. Remember the law was everything to his Jewish readers; it was the center of their cultural heritage. Look at Psalm 19…it’s a psalm that declares, “The law of the LORD is perfect, the testimony of the LORD is sure, and the precepts of the LORD right.” What Paul was saying would have rocked them back on their heels, so he’s hitting his main point about the law and sin from all possible angles. Again, at this point some would have thought Paul was saying that the law was the problem. In fact, he was saying: It’s not the law that’s the culprit; it’s sin!
Paul’s statement “That which is good” is a way of summarizing what he just previously said about the Law, “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.” It’s sin that brings death, not the law; the law only reveals that which is sinful. This was why Paul answered the question with a resounding “By no means!” It is through the law that we have the knowledge of sin.
There is no contradiction in what Paul is saying. The solution is simply this: The law by itself can neither improve the old nature nor cause it to sin. The law reveals sin, just as a thermometer reveals the temperature; it cannot control sin like a thermostat controls the temperature.
For example… let’s say you’re driving down the Kansas turnpike at 100 mph. The state of Kansas says a safe operating speed is limited to 75 mph. You see the signs; it’s clearly posted, yet you deem it okay to go faster than the posted speed. Why? Because you want to! You have no excuses; you’ve seen the posted speed limit signs, yet you choose not to comply. So, when the highway patrolman pulls you over and issues you a citation for speeding, you have no one to blame but yourself and your own behavior. Sometimes it’s only when we pay the price for violating the law that we come to see how wrong we truly are.
So it is with the Law. The Law is good; it reveals God’s character to us. It’s only by clearly looking at the Law that we come to see the reality of just how exceedingly sinful our old nature is. In a sense, as we are awakened to the law, we come to see our old nature as we’ve never seen it before…as utterly sinful.
The real problem is not the law but sin.
Take some time today and think about the role of the law in your own life. How has it revealed God’s character to you? If the Law is holy, righteous and good, then what has its influence looked like for you personally? What are its limitations? Is there anything in your life that needs to change?
*From what you have just read and considered: What is a personal implication/application for your life today?
(Personalize this prayer today; make it specific to the circumstances that face you.)
Ask God to lead you through His Spirit as you go through your day. Ask Him to bring to mind the truth of the gospel and its implications for what you will encounter today. Tell Him “Yes” to His will and ask Him for His power and protection to live this “yes.” Ask God to create and reveal opportunities to proclaim the good news today. KEEP PRAYING THROUGHOUT YOUR DAY.
Inspiration and insight for the devotionals came from the following books: Reading Romans with John Stott; The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (The Bible Speaks Today Series), Stott, John; Romans (The NIV Application Commentary Book 6) Moo, Douglas J.; Encountering the Book of Romans: A Theological Survey (Encountering Biblical Studies) Moo, Douglas J.; Believers Bible Commentary; The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, with the New International Version, Romans through Galatians; NIV Application Study Bible. The Cambridge Bible Commentary, Romans, Best, Ernest.