Look into the Mirror of God's Law
Heavenly Father, I come confessing my many sins including those I do not know I have done. Teach me to use Your Law to uncover sin in my life and then repent of it. I grow so tired of the struggle between my Spirit-created desire to follow Your will and my self-serving desire to follow sin. Lift me up and strengthen me in that struggle so that with You I may prevail. Be with me and my fellow believers in worship today that we may give You Your rightful praise and glory; and that we may leave heartened and refreshed by the Gospel. Amen.
The spiritual state in Judah had become so bad that the written record of God’s Law had been ignored and then lost. When the priests found the written Law during Josiah’s reign it was read before the king. The Law showed what God wanted the people to do and it also showed how they had been failing. Having been made aware of the sin, the king took steps to correct the sin in his life and in the lives of his people (repentance).
A false understanding about sin leads to a self-righteous attitude and a behavior that looks down upon other “greater sinners.” Simon felt this way toward the sinful woman who came to Jesus. Jesus rebuked Simon’s attitude and commended the woman who acted out of love and thanksgiving toward her Savior. If someone has been forgiven great sins, that forgiveness will create great joy. The Lord has forgiven each of us much—let us rejoice greatly!
Text: Romans 7:7-20
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
In the name of the LORD our God, who has given us His Law to reveal our true selves; and who has given us Jesus Christ to fulfill the Law for us and redeem us from the death we deserve—dear fellow-redeemed:
Hell is smokin’ and God ain’t jokin’!!
A number of years ago when I saw that statement on a church sign, I was taken aback a little bit and then smiled a little bit. I imagined that the sermon preached that Sunday would be one that would typically be called “fire and brimstone.”
In terms of the two main doctrines of the Bible—Law and Gospel—that statement was PURE LAW! It is, however, a TRUE statement…in its own way. So if we were to dismiss what lies behind that statement as being UNimportant (except for maybe a little humor value) we would be dismissing something that is really VERY IMPORTANT. If, on the other hand, that statement is ALL we have on which to build our faith it is incomplete and we will be left to despair and ultimately lost.
We need BOTH Law and Gospel. We are a Gospel-based congregation—its right in our name: Immanuel EVANGELICAL Lutheran Church. “Evangelical” means “Gospel-based.”
We NEED the Gospel. We need to be a Gospel oriented congregation because the Gospel is what converts our souls. The Gospel is what preserves our faith and the Gospel is what brings the forgiveness of sins to us. However, we still have that sinful flesh that also needs to hear the Law.
“Gospel-based” means serving the needs of a soul, having the desire of salvation for all souls, and a love that brings the Word of God to that soul—whatever part of it and in whatever measure is needed. This means that when a soul needs the Law, a Gospel-based church brings the Law; but when there is a need for the Gospel it will bring the Gospel.
We learn from Scripture that the Law serves three specific purposes: First, as a CURB. The Law serves as a curb to the unbelieving world and to our sinful flesh to keep the wide-open outbreak of sin “in check.” The Law by no means stops sin, but it keeps sin somewhat under control.
The Law also serves as a GUIDE. This use is only for believers only. Only believers will look to the Law of God to find out how they can please God because they wish to please God.
The primary use of the Law is as a MIRROR. This morning we LOOK INTO THE MIRROR OF GOD’S LAW to I. Identify our SIN II. See our SELF III. Understand our STRUGGLE
It would be a wrong understanding to conclude: “The Law is bad. The Gospel is good.” Both the Law and the Gospel are equally God’s Word. Both are doctrinal truths that are found throughout the entire Bible. All of Scripture includes both Law and Gospel. They are both part of God’s holy Word. God Himself is speaking in both. So when Paul wrote to the Romans, he spoke against any assumption that the Law is evil and rather, establishes it as being part of God’s holy Word.
Earlier in this letter, Paul has written that through Christ we have been set free from the curse and judgment of the Law. Paul describes the wonderful FREEDOM of being set free from a righteous law that condemns us in our sin and damns us to eternal death. Paul wanted his readers to fully comprehend the power of the law and seriousness of its judgement so that believers in Christ could better understand and appreciate the salvation and freedom Christ gives. The Law judges! The law condemns! …BUT is the Law “bad”? NO! “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’” [v.7a]
The Law is not evil. The Law is NECESSARY to IDENTIFY SIN. Paul continues, “But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.” [vv.8-12]
It stands as a sharp contrast that something which is so harshly against us—condemning us to eternal death—would be called by Paul: “holy…and just…and good.” But Paul wants us to firmly understand that the corruption is not in the law. The corruption is in the sin that lives in us.
The Law is holy, good, and just. The Law would bring life if only we could keep it. God says in Leviticus. “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 18:5). Paul says, this Law was intended to bring life and good, but it brought death…only because it revealed the sin in him and that SIN brought death.
The Law is not at fault. It merely exposes the sin. It would be wrong to shoot the messenger for bad news. The messenger is only carrying the news to the one who needs to hear it. The Law is the messenger. The Sin is what brings death. The Law identifies it.
In showing how the Law identifies sin, Paul speaks of an earlier time in his life when sin wasn’t active. As a child in a typical Jewish family, Paul would have been free from any particular condemnation of the Law until he was 13 years old, which was when the Law went into full effect for a young man. Even as an adult, Paul did not fully understand the impact of the Law identifying his sin. As a Pharisee, Paul had seen his external life as being wonderfully holy. He had externally kept all the laws and in his mind was doing just fine; but when he came into the true meaning of the Law, that was when sin was truly identified in him. “I didn’t know what sin was UNTIL the Law probed deeply and I fully understood what it said. Then I knew that even a sinful DESIRE—like coveting—was a sin.”
In Jesus’ ministry there was an occasion when a man came to Him and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 18:20ff. Jesus said, “Keep the commandments.” The man responded, “Oh, I’ve kept these since I was a young man. What else do I need to do?” Jesus told him, “One more thing. Go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor and follow Me.” The man couldn’t do it. He thought he had kept all the commandments, but was really harboring idolatry toward all his riches. When Jesus told him to give up his false god for the sake of following Him, the man didn’t. That man had not known IDOLATRY until Jesus exposed it with the Law by exposing a greater love for his wealth than for his Savior.
Like that man, you and I do not know idolatry until something pushes the Lord out of first place in our lives and the Law comes to us and says: “What a minute! What are you putting in front of Christ? What are you regarding as more important than your Lord & Savior and His Word?!”
I had not known idolatry until the Law said: “You aren’t trusting. You’re worrying. You are trusting yourself. You are trusting what you can do in this life. Trust in the Lord, not in other things.” So the Law identifies sins in our hearts.
I had not known MURDER unless the Law had said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself are worrying.” “And that in itself wouldn’t really be so hard because I am generally pretty kind to most people…my friends, anyway.“ But again, another man came to Jesus and asked Jesus “What do I need to do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25ff). Jesus asked the man what was written in the law. The man replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said, “Do this and you will live.” Then the man asked Jesus, “But who is my neighbor?” To answer this question, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. Loving your neighbor as yourself is loving everyone with whom you come into contact—not just your friends, not just those who are kind to you. So I did not know murder UNTIL the law said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” and then showed me that I, at times, ridicule people and laugh at their shortcomings and am impatient with them.
I had not known murder until the Law came and said, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him”(1 John 3:15). The Law showed me that I don’t always love and sometimes DO hate.
I did not know MISUSING GOD’S NAME until the Law came and identified my sin by saying youdon’t pray, praise, and give thanks to God all the time as you should. And occasionally you domisuse the Lord’s name directly, if not out loud then at least in your thoughts. Again, the Law exposes and identifies our sin.
One by one the Law will show us that we sin against each commandment. The Law doesn’t identify those sins only that are “big” and noteworthy—killing someone, open adultery, stealing, and so on. It probes deeply and says, “Yes, even your thoughts and intentions are sinful.” The Law IDENTIFIES OUR SIN.
Paul says as well, “But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead…Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.” [vv.8,13]
Without the Law active in someone’s life sin lies dormant. Oh, it’s still there. It’s still working away, living happily on. It isn’t challenged. It isn’t exposed. It lives and thrives and reproduces in peaceful existence. BUT once the Law exposes that sin for what it is THEN it REALLY FLARES UP and becomes, as Paul describes, “exceedingly sinful.”
Sinful natures love to challenge the Law. You have perhaps experienced someone who will do something just for the sake of breaking the law. “You make a rule and I’m going to break it just to prove to you that I can!!”—that’s sinful nature! The Law EXCITES breaking the Law because our sinful nature says, “You’re going to put that restriction on me? I DON"T WANT IT!”
So as the Law began to sink-in and probe into Paul’s hearts and does the same to ours, the sinful flesh resents the command as unwarranted and an interference with its rights. When this happens, the Law produces this sin and we see ourselves as exceedingly sinful. The Law is not creating sin, it is merely exposing what has been there all along.
Look into the mirror of God’s Law to identify YOUR SIN and you will then be seeing your SELF. “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Romans 7:14).
In these words, Paul is not speaking about an unbeliever. He is speaking about himself and other believers. Earlier in Romans he had spoken of unbelievers as being “slaves of sin.” “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16).
Paul, we, and other believers have become slaves of righteousness. They are God’s children. They—we—are no longer totally bound by sin because Christ has created a new man within them, but we still HAVE that sin. We may not be slaves to sin—totally under its sway—but we are still “sold under sin” because we still have our sinful flesh. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh IS flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).
So when we use the Law’s mirror to identify sin, we are going to see ourselves as carnal. Or as Paul says a little later, “I know that in me (that is in my flesh) nothing good dwells” [v.18]
The world around us isn’t identifying sin. The world is saying you need to see your “self” and act on your own ideas. But that is not your true SELF. The world wants you to believe that if you turn yourself inward and look to see and follow yourself then you will be fine. Then you will find the answers to any problem you might have, but when you look into the true mirror of the law you see your SELF—a sinner, nothing greater than that.
We may need some help sometimes to identify sin in our lives. The Law identifies sin for us, but it can be awfully hard to turn that mirror of identification to our own hearts. This becomes the role of one another in a Christian community. Everyone helping one another to see the sin, to point the law in one’s direction and lovingly lead them to see the error.
When we’re looking into the mirror of God’s Law to see our true selves, each of us will be led to confess: I find in myself is a lot more than just a few things I’ve said or done that weren’t maybe quite right. I’m SOLD UNDER SIN and there are SO many ways in which the Law identifies me as a sinner.
This identification of our true selves is why we so DESPERATELY NEED the GOSPEL. When we look at the mirror and the bright reflection points back at us and says: “YOU ARE A CONDEMNED SINNER!” The Gospel comes and says, “JESUS TOOK THAT AWAY FOR YOU WHEN HE DIED ON THE CROSS.” The Gospel comes and gives us the confidence of praying, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow”(Psalm 51:7).
As corrupt as we are, as completely engulfed by sin as we are, we can be AND ARE washed completely clean by the blood of Christ. All those laws that we break—Jesus kept them one by one perfectly all the time on our behalf. All of the guilt we amass each time we do sin—Jesus paid it all when He gave up His life on the cross. That death which our sins deserve and which the law pronounces upon us because of our sin was defeated when Jesus rose victorious on Easter morning.
We look in the mirror and see ourselves for what we are, but we look to Christ to see what God has made us: HIS BELOVED CHILDREN!
So then, here we are…FLESH with our sins, but redeemed by Christ and given a NEW MAN, and that produces the STRUGGLE.
“For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.” [vv.15-20]
Paul speaking of the sanctification, not justification. When he speaks of not doing what he wants to do and not doing what he wants to do, Paul isn’t sorrowing because he’s not doing what he needs to do to get to heaven. Paul isn’t talking about a work-righteousness to gain eternal life for himself. Rather he is describing a situation over which he sorrows because he already has eternal life through his Savior and nor wants to live for Him, but fails in doing so.
The situation which Paul describes is one in which every child of God will finds himself. When YOU face this struggle and you can say, “Paul I know what you’re talking about! I have been there and I am in that position constantly,” you’re not alone. This struggle is true for EVERY child of God because EVERY child of God remains consisted of two parts: The New Man created by Christ and the Gospel and the Old Man of whom we will not be rid until eternal life in heaven.
As a whole we are redeemed. As a whole we are viewed by God holy and pure because we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, but there is still that flesh that is trying to gain the upper hand. The desire and purpose to follow the will of God. Our New Man is saying, “YES! I will go out and follow God’s Word completely!!” But we have to take our old flesh with us, and that part of us doesn’t want to do it and so we often times find ourselves not doing what we want and doing what we don’t want.
If you have felt trapped by your weakness; If you have been led to think that you have a hard heart and you KNOW that there is pride in your self, and you know that sin drips off everything you do or say; and you long to be free…KNOW that you already ARE but you are going to continue to struggle in this life.
We can look to the Law of God and understand the struggle by knowing that the Law is identifying the sinfulness of our flesh. “I know that in me (that is in my FLESH) dwells no good thing” [v.18] and that is why we need forgiveness. In my New Man created by Christ, there dwells righteousness and I have eternal life through Him.
This struggle is ongoing. I am sure that every one of you, like myself, has done something more than once…or said something more than once…and have determined: I WILL NEVER EVER EVER DO THAT AGAIN!! …and a day later, maybe a week later, you do…all over again.
This struggle is good and necessary. It is not good that our sinful flesh many times wins the struggle, but it is good because if the struggle is present it means that your New Man is warring against the Old Man. If you do not feel or face any struggle, the new man has either died or is so sick and weak and quiet that he no longer fights. So when you face this spiritual tug o’ war, you know that your new man is working and that is a GOOD thing. So don’t despair because your Savior is there to help, encourage, and strengthen you.
How do we beat down the Old Man so that we consistently win the tug o’ war and in the end obtain the victory? Luther describes it in his Small Catechism in the explanation of Baptism: “The Old Adam in us should be drowned by daily contrition and repentance and die with all sins and evil desires.” Repentance includes turning to the Word of Life to be reassured that all our sins are forgiven.
We beat down that Old Adam by following our Lord and hearing His Word. From the Gospel we hear what Jesus has done and still does for us and so are led to follow Him. We have hope in Christ.
We need to understand that struggle so that we don’t use it for an excuse. The existence of our sinful flesh is NEVER an excuse for a sin. “I’m a sinner…oh, well. I’m a sinner…I can’t help that.”—That’s not struggling, its "giving in." Yes, we can use our sinful nature to EXPLAIN why we sin, but never ever to excuse it.
…and the struggle goes on.
We look into the mirror of God’s and we learn what sin is. We look to the mirror and find that sin in us. We look to the mirror and we see that struggle—our sinful flesh warring against the Law of God; but we look to Christ for the forgiveness of those sins, for strength along the way, and life everlasting. Amen.
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt