The Fearsome Foursome

Romans 7:4-13

In our fallen, cursed world, disasters are commonplace. Fires, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tornadoes, famines, and other natural disasters happen somewhere every day. Added to those natural disasters are the man-made ones, such as war, acts of terrorism, plane crashes, car wrecks, etc.

But far greater than any of those disasters, and the one from which they all stem, was the entrance of sin into the human race. Sin renders the human race spiritually dead, cuts us off from fellowship with God, and destines the unsaved to eternal punishment in Hell.

In Romans 7:4-13, Paul uses four words to describe man’s unregenerate state: FLESH, SIN, LAW and DEATH. Those four words are interconnected—the FLESH produces SIN, which is stimulated by the LAW, resulting in DEATH. Individually, each word carries its own terror, combined they are THE FEARSOME FOURSOME.

As we work our way through this passage, observe the interplay of THE FEARSOME FOURSOME. I am going to focus our thoughts on two of the fearsome foursome—How the Law and sin operate together. My outline is on the bulletin.

  1. The Law energizes sin, 4-6.
  2. The Law exposes the fact of sin,
  3. The Law entices the opportunity to sin,
  4. The Law exposes the power of sin, 9-10.
  5. The Law excites the deceitfulness of sin,
  6. The Law exhibits the sinfulness of sin, 12-13.

The seventh chapter of Romans is not concerned with salvation, but the life of the born-again believer. When we arrived in this world, we came equipped with one nature that we inherited from Adam. But that nature is fallen, depraved. Because of it, we rebel against God and sin.

But every believer experiences a radical change at the moment they receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  By faith, we are declared righteous in God’s sight.  Instantly, God pours His love into our heart by the Holy Spirit, who washes away our sin and renews us. This Jesus calls being BORN AGAIN.

Positionally, everyone who is saved has died with Christ to sin, the Law along with the sinful nature and its passions. Practically, we have been risen with Christ to a new way of life in the Spirit according to Romans 7:4-6—

So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

Here Paul’s point is that THE LAW ENERGIZES SIN.

He says that the sinful passions of the sinful nature are aroused by the Law. THE SINFUL NATURE (literally, THE FLESH) is a phrase that does not mean the body as such, but rather the nature of man apart from God’s influence and power. Other terms used for THE SINFUL NATURE or THE FLESH that we inherited from Adam are: THE OLD MAN, THE BODY OF SIN, and THE SELF.


It is difficult for refined people (even Christians) to admit that in us is no good thing. Everything the Bible says about THE FLESH is negative, and until believers admit that they cannot control the flesh, change the flesh, cleanse the flesh, or conquer the flesh, they will never enter into the victorious life that Paul describes in Romans 6-8.


Paul the “preeminent Pharisee” had to admit that even his flesh was not subject to God’s laws! We know that he did commit gross outward acts of sin before His conversion by persecuting the church. Perhaps after his conversion, he did not commit gross outward sins, but he certainly cherished inward attitudes that were contrary to God’s will.


Near the end of his life, Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 1:15—


Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.


Paul avoided the past tense. He did not say, “of whom I WAS the worst.” No! He used the emphatic present tense of the Greek (egw eimi) to stress, “of whom I AM the worst.”


Some take Paul’s statement about himself to be a hyperbole—an exaggeration, embellishment, overstatement for effect. They are mistaken! The apostle knew exactly what his sinful nature is like. Before his conversion, he had succumbed to the sinful passions of the sinful nature that enslaved him. He had proven himself the worst of sinners by persecuting Christ.  At the end of his life, Paul knows himself to be that very same person in the flesh!


The old man, the sinful nature has not changed! It still resides in his body and it would like to control his life. Paul wrote in Galatians 5:17—


For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.


The old man, the sinful nature dwells within and strives to control us as long as we live in our present body. When we are born again, the Spirit of God enters our body and a conflict is ignited within us that did not exist prior to our salvation. This great strife is set forth in chapter 7 of Romans.


The sinful nature and the Spirit are active and opposites. They compete for the believer’s heart and will. We are FREE to submit to either. When we sin, it is from the heart. When we do good, it also is from the heart. Our surrender to either nature is always in degree.


All Christians realize the problem of chapter 6 of Romans—that their sinful nature drags them down and tries to enslave them. But not many Christians have entered into the experiences of chapter 7 of Romans, the humbling realization that we are incapable in ourselves of even doing ANYTHING GOOD!


Many Christians live under the Law—they have a set of rules and regulations that they obey religiously in the energy of the flesh, and they call this “dedicated Christian living.” How far from the real thing! Only when the Holy Spirit directs our lives from within and we obey out of a heart of love is there a God- honoring, victorious life.


Our flesh enjoys being “religious,” trying to obey laws, rules and codes.  The most deceitful thing about the flesh is that it can appear so sanctified, so spiritual, when in reality the flesh is at war with God.


Chapter 6 of Romans deals with the flesh as it generates EVIL. Chapter 7 deals with the flesh that through the law tries to generate GOOD.


The Law of God is holy and good, but even a holy law cannot control the sinful nature. This truth comes as a shock even to well-taught believers. The Christian life is not lived in the energy of the flesh— attempting to “do good works” for God. No believer on earth can ever do anything in the flesh that can please God. We must admit what Jesus taught in John 6:63—


The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.


Unless we surrender to the Spirit, we will never hear God say of our lives, “I am well pleased.” What a tragedy to live under the bondage of law, resolutions, rules, when we have been called into glorious liberty through the Spirit!


All need to come to the place of acknowledging with Paul—


I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).


The sinful nature is strong to do evil, and “the flesh is weak” when it comes to doing anything spiritual— it must be crucified with Christ. We must feed the new nature on the milk, meat, bread, and honey of the Word of God, and we must reckon ourselves to be dead to sin if Christ is to live in us.


Yet, many Christians feed the old nature on the husks of the world while the new nature starves for the Word of God and the fellowship experienced in prayer and corporate worship. God has already done His part; our responsibilities are clear.


We have already seen in Chapter 6 that the Christian life is not a passive thing, in which we merely “die” and let God do everything for us. There we saw that five action words are the key to the victorious life: KNOW, COUNT, REFUSE, OFFER, and OBEY.


We KNOW our spiritual position and privileges in Christ, and this means spending time with the Word of God. We COUNT on what God says about us in the Bible is true in our lives. We REFUSE to let sin dwell in our bodies; instead we OFFER our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. We wholeheartedly OBEY His teaching—which is our spiritual act of worship.


This is what Paul means by WE SERVE IN THE NEW WAY OF THE SPIRIT, NOT IN THE OLD WAY OF THE WRITTEN CODE.  In light of all this, a striking question is asked in Romans 7:7—


What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! 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.”

Here Paul’s point is that THE LAW EXPOSES THE FACT OF SIN.


This section is autobiographical; Paul describes himself with the first person pronoun “I.” He uses himself as a representative of mankind in general and of Christians specifically. What he says of himself applies to every believer.

Paul has flatly stated the believer has died to sin and to the Law.  Are these two, then, so similar as to be in some sense equated? In essence, the solution of the problem is this—the Law cannot be identified with sin, because it is the Law that provides awareness of sin.


Can one say of an MRI machine that revealed his disease that the machine is diseased because it revealed a diseased condition? That would be utterly illogical. The Law is like an MRI machine; its purpose is to reveal sin. David prayed in Psalm 139:23—


Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.


In the French, this verse is rendered, “CATHERIZE MY HEART.” One of many remarkable developments in medicine is the operation of piercing a vein and pushing a tiny nylon catheter up the vein, over the shoulder, and into the heart to examine it. Paul is telling us that the instrument which the LORD uses for this delicate work is the Law.


Paul wants to make it absolutely clear that he is not suggesting that Christians have no obligation to obey God. Actually, our obligations are now greater since we know Christ and belong to God’s family. The demands now are far more severe than under the Mosaic law.


For example, the Sermon on the Mount goes beyond the outward actions to deal with the inward attitudes. The Law of Moses found murderers guilty, but Jesus said that hatred is equivalent to murder.


Romans 7:6 teaches that our motivation for obeying is different. We don’t mechanically obey a set of rules, but we lovingly, from the heart, obey the Spirit of God who fulfills the righteousness of Law in us. Our obedience to God is not that of a slave fearing a master, but that of a bride lovingly pleasing her husband.


What purposes did God have in mind when He gave the Law if it does not produce holiness? Paul made two discoveries that answer this question. First, the Law itself is spiritual; second, man is sensual, sold under sin. What a humiliating discovery it was to that proud Pharisee that his very nature was unspiritual and unable to obey the Law of God!


When applied to the heart, the Law reveals sin, for when we read the Law, the very things it condemns appear in our lives. Paul finds the Tenth Commandment to be the hardest to keep for it goes directly to the state of one’s heart. All transgressions of the Law spring from covetousness, even idolatry, which the NT calls covetousness. COVET is that lustful desire to have what is forbidden. Eve was the first to coveted. Genesis 3:6—


When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.


At its core, COVETOUSNESS is a basic discontentment with God and what He has provided. It stems from selfishness and pride. It is a greedy desire to have more. Jesus warned in Luke 12:15—


Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed [covetousness}; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.


In this morning Sunday School lesson we saw covetousness at work in the life of two brothers. Esau coveted Jacob’s red stew and sold his birthright for it. Jacob coveted Esau’s blessing and tricked his father Isaac into giving it to him.

Achan coveted the spoils of Jericho and took and hid them in his tent. Samuel’s sons perverted justice for dishonest gain. David coveted Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, and committed adultery and murdered her husband. David’s son Ammon coveted his half-sister Tamar and raped her. King Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard and had him killed to obtain it. Hezekiah displayed the wealth of Israel to the Babylonians to obtain the praise of men. Ananais and Saphira coveted prestige and money so they lied to the Holy Spirit. Demas loved this world and deserted Paul.


COVETOUSNESS is discontentment with God and what He has given; a desire to have more even if means violating His commands! Some desire the forbidden and commit adultery. Others desire more and obtain it by stealing, even robbing God in tithes and offerings (Malachi 3:8). Children want their own way and disobey their parents, thereby dishonoring them.


Many break the Fourth Commandment. God has set aside one day of the week as the day of rest unto Him! But man desires more! Just like Eve, man takes what God has forbidden! For the love of money and what it can buy, more and more Christians are selling their souls.


The sinful passion for more and more has crowded the worship of God out of their life. One day when its too late, many will discover they are like the Rich Young Ruler who coveted his possessions more than eternal life and will go away from Jesus sad. Many who have professed Christ will find they have become the one described by Jesus in Matthew 13:22—


The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.


COVETING is not limited to the things listed in the Tenth Commandment; it covers every kind of covetous desire. This commandment strikes directly at the very root of sin, namely, man’s sinful heart, his evil desire. Verse 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.

Here Paul’s point is that the Law entices the opportunity to sin.


Remove the Tenth Commandment, with its almost endless multitude of suggestions as to how it can be transgressed, and sin lies dormant—it is dead. Without the Law, we are not aware of the ugliness of sin in our life! We live life according to what is right in our own eyes. That is Paul testimony in verses 9-10—


Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.

Here Paul’s point is that the Law exposes the power of sin.


There was a time when Paul really felt alive and it had nothing to do with keeping the Law. Then came the “commandment” and He learned what the Law really meant. Immediately sin sprang to life in Him and He died. He had expected to find life in the “commandment,” but he found death instead. Without realizing it, sin took advantage of his new understanding of the Law and used it to kill him.


Paul’s experience is everyone’s experience— DON’T! arouses the desire to DO!

Let’s take a little test. Does not the sign KEEP OFF THE GRASS arouse that dormant rebellion of your heart, prompting you to at least put a foot on the forbidden ground? Does not the sign SPEED LIMIT 55 mph provoke a desire to drive 60 mph? Which of you has never read WET PAINT DO NOT TOUCH and then stuck out a finger and touched the object to see if the object were wet? That’s the way the Law exposes the hidden nature of SIN, making it SPRING to life.


Here SIN does not refer to an act of sin, but to the sin principle, to that mighty force man cannot tame, but which lurks dormant or relatively inactive in a person’s life until it is brought to the fore by prohibition and proceeds to rise up and slay its victim, who it has utterly deceived.


The great function of the Mosaic Law is to expose sin. Men try to cover sin, excuse it, and camouflage it. They call it by respectable names. A person is not a drunkard, he is an acholic; drunkenness is not a sin, it is a disease. A person is not a liar, he has a lively imagination! Men speak of people as having complexes, phobias and inhibitions. They speak of book as being daring; God would call it filthy. They say, “he had an affair;” God says, “he has committed adultery.” This is one of the games people play— and deadly and dangerous game it is.


It would be the height of folly to take a bottle from the shelf and remove the unpleasant label with the skull and crossbones and its bold letters POISON. And in its place put an attractive label bearing the words ESSENCE OF PEPPERMINT.  This would only conceal the true nature of the contents of the bottle and invite the unsuspecting to drink and die.  Such a practice would not only be folly but criminal as well.


Yet, this is the practice of modern man when faced with the ugly fact of sin. Hence, modern man has made truth relative—implied and absolute standards belong to a former time. God says, “NO,” to man’s folly. The function of His Law is to give sin its proper name and expose if for what it is.


In verse 11, the apostle says that this relationship of the Law to sin goes far beyond exposure—


For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.

Here Paul’s point is that the Law excites the deceitfulness of sin.


SIN is DECEPTIVE. Paul’s sin had deceived him into thinking he was acceptable to God, but the Law taught him he was not. This is the common crisis of most Christians. They are saved, and filled with joy, only to find they are still sinners. Then Satan moves in with his suggestions, “How can you be a Christian and do such things?” As long as our eyes are on our OWN holiness (as was Paul’s), we’ll never be free from doubt. It is hard to realize we sin after we are saved, but we do. Until we see ourselves as righteous in Christ, our own sin can deceive us into thinking we are lost.


The treachery of sin is seen in the way it can take something holy, righteous and good—the Law—and use it to kill people. For centuries Satan has been fooling people with sin, leading them to think it will NOT kill them. He deceives people into thinking they are better than they are, that they can somehow get away with sin, or that it will give them what they want.


Satan did this with Eve. He deceived her into thinking God’s commandment was depriving her of something good. That made her want it even more and she took the forbidden fruit. Then God’s commandment rose up and killed her—spiritually! It did not matter that she was deceived.  Laws have to do their work regardless of who uses them or why. The person, who grabs hold a 500-volt line, thinking the switch is off, will be electrocuted.

Our nation has removed the Ten Commandments from public life, but it cannot turn off the Law’s power to slay those who violate it. Hence, the Law camouflages nothing, but labels SIN as SIN and slays the sinner, making us realize that we do not meet God’s perfect standard. Verses 12-13—


So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.  Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means!  But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

Here Paul’s point is that the Law exhibits the sinfulness of sin.


The reason the believer cannot make himself holy by means of the Law is not that God’s Law is not holy, righteous and good, but that our Adamic nature is so sinful that it cannot be changed or controlled by the Law. The victorious life is not a matter of changing the old nature, but yielding to the Holy Spirit. It is a wonderful day in the life of the Christian when he or she discovers this truth. All who are filled with the Spirit, having let the Word of Christ dwell in them richly are truly blessed.


SIN is UTTERLY SINFUL.  It is the mark of a true saint to say, “God’s Law is holy, righteous and good; I am the one that is evil.”


There is nothing more inconsistent with true religion than self-complacency. Because the more holy we are, the clearer our views of God’s Law; and the clearer our views of the Law, the deeper our sense of sin, and, consequently, the greater must be our dependence on the Spirit of God to walk in the newness of life.


TO RECAP: Sinful passions are aroused by the Law and energized by the flesh which produces sin. This often happens when the flesh and sinful passions are exposed to the Law because our rebellious nature desires to do what is forbidden. The end result of this downward spiral is death—both physical and spiritual.


Next Sunday, we’ll look at one of the truly amazing passages of the Bible—Romans 7:14-23. There Paul performs open heart surgery on every Christian, exposing the conflict that takes place in our heart between THE FEARSOME FOURSOME and THE SPIRIT OF GOD.


Often this struggle creates tension, uncertainty and confusion along with a feeling of wretchedness. It did in Paul’s life!


Many Christians go through this life frustrated and defeated until they understand this conflict and how to handle it. This is one message you should not miss! Of course, I do not think you should miss any!

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