If mother says, “Don’t play in the neighbor’s yard,” that is the first place the child will go. He may not have thought about it before, but once the rule was made, the child just had to do what was forbidden. His mother didn’t teach him that; resisting rules is part of who we are.
Today’s verses are about God’s declared laws. They were good laws and anyone who obeyed them would be blessed, but like the command the mother made, the laws of God so easily draw people into doing what we are told not to do.
Paul understood this. In a well-know section of Scripture, he writes about his struggle with not doing what he knew was the right thing and then doing what he didn’t want to do; the wrong thing. He said . . .
“What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the 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. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 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! 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.” (Romans 7:7–13)
In this passage, it helps to think of death as “separation from God” rather than physical death. Reading it again with that in mind, Paul says, “Apart from the law, sin was separated from God, but when God gave His commands, sin sprang to do its thing, and I became separated from God.”
“So instead of obeying God and finding union with Him, sin used the commandment to deceive me and separate me from God. The commands are good though. The problem is really about sin. It is distressing enough that sin wants to disobey God, but even worse that it uses the commands of God to lure me into committing sin and to separate me from Him also. That makes sin exceedingly sinful.”
Today’s devotional uses these thoughts to attack the idea that ‘sin’ is an obsolete term. I can understand blaming bad behavior on things like childhood trauma, life’s disadvantages, or a host of other reasons because pointing fingers is easy. However, it seems strange to call sin passé or out of date. Does that mean God’s laws are also out of date? Does it mean God’s moral code is only for people way back in Bible days and today we have out-grown it?
Sometimes I hear people say that Christians need to catch up to the times, that our ideas about sin are no longer valid because the world has changed. I only agree that the world has change, but sin remains sin. We may drive cars instead of riding donkeys. We may use microwaves and convection stoves instead of bonfires. We may have computers and technology instead of stone tablets, but the human heart remains dead in sin, oblivious to its power, and resistant to the laws of God. Immoral behavior still ruins lives, and moral people are still mocked.
To think with the mind of Christ means knowing that the counsels of God are for kings and ordinary folks, for all colors and in every era. Customs and fashions change but the human heart remains the same. Jesus knows that, and I need to always realize my sinfulness. As long as I live and as long as the earth stands, people will need to say, “Yes I am a sinner” and yes to the grace and forgiveness of God.