Part 2 of a four-part series. That which is “dead” is inert, inoperative, and lifeless.
Romans 7:8 “Without the Law sin is dead.”
In the midst of Paul’s great doctrinal thesis in Romans, we find him making this statement. Many times, especially in the New Testament, we find the word “dead” used to signify something is inoperative, rather than dead in the full sense. Such is the case here. Paul was not saying that people who have never been under God’s Law never sin. Let us see more fully what Paul’s argument was.
“I had not known sin, but by the Law.” (7:7) Paul attributes the knowledge of sin to the laws of God.
“The Law is holy, and the commandment holy, just and good. . . . Sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.” (7:12-13) The Law is like a light, shining on that which is dirty, showing up in bold relief all that is unclean and unacceptable in the sight of God. Without the light, we might very well fail to see just how dirty we are.
Notice here particularly that sin is defined in terms of what God sees in us. In ordinary human life, apart from the cleansing action of the word of God, and as it refers to the man in the street, there is a tendency to see failure, deceit, hurt, and violence in human terms, quite apart from God. We appreciate that we have acted against the best interests of our neighbour, but failed to see it as an offence against God. It takes the ministry of the Holy Spirit to enable us torecognise that all sin is against God. Take for example the history of King David, his adultery and murder. When finally the prophet brought home God’s word to him, he cried out to the Lord, saying, “Against You, and You only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified in Your sentence, and blameless in Your judgment.” (Psalm 51:4)
And so we come to the conclusion that the unregenerate race of mankind is, by and large, dead to [the meaning of, and existence of] sin. Sin is not recognised, and certainly not recognised as being against God.
There are Human laws, on the other hand, that create a knowledge of wrong-doing. If we transgress the speed limit and are caught, we pay a fine. We are aware that we have committed a wrong-doing, but it probably has no effect on our relationship with God. To the average man, he operates according to what is often jokingly referred to as “the eleventh commandment,” in other words “Thou shalt not be found out.”
So far we have spoken about sin and law. But there is one other factor here, and it is of the greatest importance to our study. It is conscience. We all have a conscience, but that does not necessarily mean we enable it to work. We can smother it, but still it niggles at us. Paul spoke about “latter times” when certain people would “give heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a red-hot iron.” (1 Tim.4:1-2) What does this mean? The words “seared with a red hot iron” is just one Greek word KAUTERIAZO, from which we get our word cauterised. Now branded, or cauterised flesh has lost its nerves, and therefore it has no feeling. We might translate as follows – “having their conscience made as dead as cauterisedflesh.”
We have now reached the point where we are presented with the possibility of a dead conscience. This sad and deplorable condition comes as a result of listening to seducing spirits and the doctrine of demons.
A simple flow diagram will tell us about God’s proposed method of dealing with fallen man.
God’s Laws made known → Man’s conscience pricked into action → Awareness of Sin against God.
However, if the conscience is deadened, we have the following –
God’s Laws made known → Dead conscience unable to respond → No awareness of sin against God.
In the writings of John Wesley we find an important truth. He used to send a messenger along to a place before arriving himself. This messenger would make known to the local folk the ten commandments, that they might be aware of God’s standards. Later, when Wesley arrived, he would apply those commandments to his preaching, which resulted in repentance and true spiritual conversions. In this respect Wesley was a true man of God, fully aware of the three-fold flow shown above.
Today we often find Christians vigorously opposing this. They say that “We are not under the law, but under grace.” They are correct in their quotation, but in dreadful error by what they mean by it. It is true that we are “not under the law”, but when Paul used that phrase he meant that we are not under the condemnation of the law, but under therelease and freedom of God’s grace.
Churches are given the responsibility of teaching God’s laws. If they did so, there would be more spiritual conversions. We are not required to make people feel comfortable with “happy-clappy” services, but rather to spell out in high relief God’s laws that make us feel uncomfortable, because we are sinners. In the old Anglican prayer book, when the General Confession was spoken by all the congregation, one finds the words, “Have mercy upon us miserable sinners.” To repeat this every Sunday morning may seem to have been “vain repetition.” But there was truth in it. The constant reminder that no matter how far along the pilgrim road one may have travelled, according to the Laws of God we are still “miserable sinners”, and the only righteousness we possess is that of Christ Himself, bestowed upon us by His grace.
In families, it is also of the utmost importance to teach our children God’s Laws, “to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Is this to generate well-behaved children, ones whom we may feel proud of? The following word was given to me on 31st January 1982.
“Train a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not depart therefrom.” So declares the proverb, and thus is the direction of the Almighty.
But few indeed appreciate the true goal of headships, authorities, and disciplines. My goal is not man’s goal, even if he practices the precepts of my laws. Many there are throughout the world, from all environments, creeds, andcolours, who appreciate the need for discipline and training in family life, social life, and national life. Oftentimes they are proud of their results, whether it be the well-behaved son, or even the obedient dog or horse.
But in the flesh man knows nothing of my goals. So now I want to speak to those who have been exercised by my Holy Spirit, and as parents have themselves felt the rod of my divine discipline. Consider that which I am working towards, not the world’s goal, but my goal. Why is it right to teach a child the laws of God? Why should a child know what is right from what is wrong? Is it that he might grow up into a law-abiding citizen, admired by the community at large? Nothing could be further from the truth. That is the human goal, the human motive leading to human esteem, which engenders pride, and in my sight pride is ugly and Babylonian.
But I say unto you, teach your children my laws, tell them again and again what is right and what is wrong. Keep trust with me, and I will turn these lessons into that which brings praise to my name. For I will use your training to develop sensitive consciences in your children, and when they reach adulthood they will be fully aware of their own weaknesses and their propensity to sin. This in turn will maintain a healthy attitude, whereby they daily recognise their need of a Saviour.
When the conscience is smitten, and failure is recognised, then forgiveness is needed, and the soul learns to lean upon the Saviour. At such moments, I grant the precious gift of repentance, and the soul is cleansed of sin, and there is much joy in heaven.”