My normal practice here is to simplify the complex. If I am criticized for being too simplistic or basic in my explanation, I figure I’ve done my job. For this post, I’m going to do the opposite (just for fun) and complicate that which is simple. Don’t worry, I’ll cover the simple part first, and then delve into the work of complicating it. First, the simple part:
Paul uses a “straw man” argument in this passage. A “straw man” argument is an argument that poses an absurdity and then blows it away to make a larger point. Here is the straw man: “Is the law sinful?”
What a ridiculous question; of course it isn’t sinful, if it is, then God is a sinner!
Paul makes this clear in the verses that follow; I hope you’ve read them. In those verses Paul points out that the Law was a good thing, for it showed us what God expects of us, and gives us regulations so that we can avoid grieving Him. The only problem is that in doing this it strikes a chord in humans that leads us astray. The good news however, is that by revealing how much we need a savior, it also leads us to accept grace when it became available. We can see this at work when we talk to people about Christ, and they tell us they don’t really need saving because they are “a good person.” The Law shows that while we may be good, on our own we aren’t quite good enough… but there’s another way.
OK, that’s the simple part: End of lesson. Here’s me making it complicated:
I would imagine that many read these verses and begin thinking about The Fall and the results of “The Fall” and its consequence that we are “fallen” and can’t help ourselves from sinning against God. I do not like the expressions “The Fall” and “fallen”. I almost never use them, and when I do I normally say that I don’t like the term, but I need a label to shorten things up, for if I say “The Fall” people know what I’m talking about without having to re-tell the whole story. You might be wondering what I have against these frequently used terms, so I’ll tell you:
They don’t work!
Oh, in a way I wish that they did, it would be so much easier for me to take refuge in the notion that I have nothing to do with my own sin, but that simply is not true, for I have everything to do with my own sin. Yes, Adam was the first man to have sinned, but I don’t need his failings, I have plenty of my own. Here, let me ask you a question: If we sin because Adam sinned, then why did Adam sin because he was “fallen”? Did Adam sin after “The Fall”? Of course not; that’s crazy! If his sin was “The Fall”, then it happened before “The Fall”, even if only seconds before. “The Fall”, and “fallen” as the reason for (cause) of sin are circular arguments, and they do not reflect accurately Paul’s teaching in Romans. You might recall from last week that when we read these kinds of passages in context, they reveal quite a different story. Martin Luther was a great man of faith, but he was mistaken when he wrote that “even now millions of babies are burning in hell to the glory of God”.
Therefore, when I sin, I cannot blame the Law, I cannot blame Adam, I can’t blame the Devil and I cannot blame God.
Believe it or not, I think this is really great news!
It is really good news because grace gives victory over sin!
Oh, by the way, that is Paul’s proposition, the very point he has set out to prove in this section go figure.