The Slippery Slope of Sin
June 24, 2007 | Brian Bill
[Sermon opens with a mime. Woman approaches a chair set up on stage with a sign on it that says, “Do not touch.” She reads the sign and starts to walk away but then comes back to the chair, looks around to see if anyone is watching and then touches it. Unfortunately, her hand sticks to the chair. When she tries with great effort to remove her hand, her other hand gets stuck. In the process of trying to free her hands she ends up sitting in the chair and now her entire body is stuck to the chair. She tries hard to break free but in exasperation gives up. Just then a man walks up on the stage, notices her predicament, and points her to the screen where a picture of Jesus on the cross appears. As she looks, she starts to pray and then is freed from the chair. She stands up and is filled with joy as she skips off the stage]
There’s something about a command that make us want to break it, isn’t there? As we learned last week, true release comes from a relationship with Jesus, not from rules. But that leads to a question. If we’re not under the Law anymore, does that mean the commandments are bad? What purpose do God’s precepts have? Our passage this morning will help us see that God’s Law provides three things…
1. The Law illuminates sin (7).
Look at verse 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.’” Once again Paul anticipates a question from his readers and then quickly answers it. We see the same phrase “What shall we say, then?” in 3:5, 4:1 and 6:15. Specifically he verbalizes what some may be thinking. If we have died to the Law as verse 4 says, and since the Law causes our passions to be inflamed (verse 6), then maybe the Law itself is sin. And once again he answers abruptly with the phrase, “Certainly not!” This literally means, “God forbid. Banish the thought from your mind!”
We’re then given the first purpose of the Law from this passage. The Law reveals, or illuminates, sin. Like a straightedge, when we compare ourselves to it, we see how crooked we are. Or, like a mirror, the Law shows us what we’re really like. James 1:23-24: “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” An old Chinese proverb says: “To an ugly man, every mirror is an enemy.” The mirror is not the problem; it’s my ugly mug. As the mime found out, the Law shows us how sinful we really are. Turn back to Romans 3:20: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the Law; rather, through the Law we become conscious of sin.”
Paul then gives an example of how the Law illuminates our sin by using the 10th Commandment, which is a prohibition against coveting. By just quoting an abbreviated version of this command, his readers would have filled in the rest from Exodus 20:17: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Nelson’s Bible Dictionary defines coveting as “an intense desire to possess something (or someone) that belongs to another person.” It means “to desire greatly, to lust after that which cannot be legitimately ours.” Let’s consider for a moment why Paul chose this particular prohibition.
- The 10th Commandment stands for all the rest. By quoting a portion of the final commandment, Paul is saying that this one summarizes all the others.
- Coveting is a root sin which is often the cause of other sins. If we could peel back our motives when we sin, a spirit of coveting is often behind what we do. One could argue that coveting is the root sin of Eve in Genesis 3:6 when she viewed the forbidden fruit as “…pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom…” In Colossians 3:5, Paul equates coveting (or greed) with idolatry. In Joshua 7:21, Achan explains why he sinned by taking forbidden plunder: “I coveted them and took them.”
- This commandment deals with inner attitudes. This is the only one of the 10 that just deals with heart attitudes. Sin begins in the heart and one can covet without anyone knowing it. Jesus taught the same thing in Matthew 5:21-28. While some of us can say that we haven’t broken some of the commands that deal with outward actions, every one of us has sinned inwardly.
- He probably thought he kept the other nine. The first command about having no other gods. No problem. No idols. None. Don’t take God’s name in vain. Clean on that. Keep the Sabbath. Always. Honor your father and mother. Yep. Don’t murder. Wouldn’t think of it. Don’t commit adultery. Never have, never will. Don’t steal. No sticky fingers here. Don’t bear false witness. I’m a truth-teller. But then he comes to number ten. Oops. Ouch. Oh-oh. Busted. “I’m greedy all the time. I want stuff that others have.”
- Coveting can consume us. Jesus warns against greed and the thinking that we always need more than we already have in Luke 12:15: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” I think it’s fair to say that we live in a consumer culture built on coveting. We need to fight against this by putting into place the words of 1 Timothy 6:6 “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”
Elisa Morgan, the former president of MOPS International (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers), shares this insight into how a child views the world. It’s called the Toddler’s Creed:
If I want it, it’s mine.
If I give it to you and change my mind later, it’s mine.
If I can take it away from you, it’s mine.
If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine.
If it’s mine, it will never belong to anyone else, no matter what.
If we are building something together all pieces are mine.
If it looks like mine, it’s mine.
I wonder how many of us are following “The Toddler’s Creed?” First, the Law illuminates sin by showing us the depth of our depravity. Second, the Law ignites sin.
2. The Law ignites sin (8-9).
Because the Law is good, it shows that we are bad. The Law illuminates the evil lurking in our lives and at the same time, it also stimulates sin. We saw that with Lynette when she observed the “Do Not Touch” sign. If the sign were not there, she probably would not have touched the chair. Somehow just seeing the sign ignited within her the desire to do that which is forbidden. There’s something within us that makes us want “to do” when the sign says “don’t.” I’m told a hotel on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico in Galveston, Texas put this notice in each room: “No Fishing from the Balcony.” Yet, every day, hotel guests threw in their lines to the water below. The management decided to try a different approach and so they removed all the signs. The fishing stopped immediately. The sign had ignited sin.
I heard about one woman who objected to her church reciting the 10 Commandments because “they put too many ideas into people’s heads.” In a sense, she’s right. Let’s listen to verses 8-9 as I emphasize some key words to help us see how the Law ignites sin in our lives: “But sin, seizing the opportunity [a rushing in, an occasion or starting point for an expedition. Also used militarily as a “base of operations” where ambushes are launched] afforded by the commandment, produced [caused – emphatic] in me every kind [all, without exception] of covetous desire. For apart from Law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from Law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life [revived] and I died.”
Think with me about Israel’s history. It was only after they received the commandment to not make any idols (Exodus 20:4) that Aaron made a golden calf for them to worship (Exodus 32). The prohibition somehow led to the evil practice.
when sin “springs to life” in us, it should humble us, mortify us, shock us, and draw us to the Savior
The phrase “sprang to life” reminds us of Genesis 4:7 where Cain is warned to do the right thing before sin takes him down: “…Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Sin preys on people and looks for every opportunity to obliterate us. Ray Stedman writes that this evil force “is in every one of us, waiting only for the right circumstance in order to spring into being.” How else do you explain the mob of people who beat a passenger in a car to death in Texas and another mob that beat a driver in Milwaukee this week? One witness said, “The attackers just flew in from everywhere.” Sin sprang into action and ignited everyone involved, with terrible consequences. Forbidden fruit may taste sweet but it has some bitter consequences. Incidentally, when sin “springs to life” in us, it should humble us, mortify us, shock us, and draw us to the Savior.
3. The Law incinerates us (10-13).
The Law illuminates sin, it ignites sin and finally, it incinerates us. I chose a strong word on purpose because verses 10-13 are very jarring: “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.” The Law tells us how to live and then condemns us for not living up to it. This addresses those Jews who believed that the Mosaic Law had life-giving power – the Law doesn’t extinguish sin; it ignites it. Law-living then, and even now, leads to death.
Leviticus 18:5 tells us that we “may live if we do God’s commands.” The problem is that none of us can keep the commands and so they end up killing us. The Law would have given life had it been perfectly obeyed but it is impossible to do so as declared in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and James 2:10 reminds us: “For whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” Paul is saying that before the Law let him have it, he thought he had it all. But when the Law came, it ignited his passions and caused sin to spring to life. Before all this happened he thought he was alive, but sin had sucked the very life out of him.
The word “deceive” means to beguile thoroughly and to seduce wholly by leading someone astray or making them lose their way. Let’s think of some ways that sin deceives us. Have you ever heard “sin” say these words to you? We could call these “Sin’s Ten Deceptions.”
- “You’re not as sinful as the Bible says you are. In fact, you are really a good person.”
- “What God says is unreasonable and oppressive.” (Genesis 3:5)
- “This isn’t really sin, anyway. You’re not angry; just frustrated. It’s not adultery; it’s just a relationship. You’re not lying; you’re just stretching the truth.”
- “Go ahead and do it. No one will ever know.”
- “Everyone’s doing it.”
- “You can’t stop this sin or break this addiction because you’ve been doing it so long.”
- “This will satisfy, fulfill and make you happy.”
- “You won’t get caught.”
- “God will forgive you anyway.”
- Then, after sinning, we hear these words: “You’ve really messed up. God won’t forgive you now.”
Don’t underestimate the deceitfulness of sin. As someone has said, “If you hang around the creek long enough, you’re eventually going to slide in.” That’s why I called this message “The Slippery Slope of Sin.” Hebrews 3:13 warns us about the hardening that can come as a result of sin’s deceitfulness: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” That means that if I’m not encouraging you, I could be contributing to the hardening of your own heart. Sin deceives and according to James 1:15 it also leads to death: “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
We come now to the answer that is raised by the question in Romans 7:7: “Is the Law sin?” Look at verse 12: “So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.” The problem is not with the Law; the problem is with Law-breakers like us. The Law is:
- Holy. God’s Law is set apart and full of purity, majesty and glory because God the Giver of the Law is holy. The Law is holy but cannot make us holy.
- Righteous. God’s Law is impartial, fair, and never wrong. The Law is righteous but cannot make us righteous.
- Good. It tells us the way to live and tells us when we fail to live that way. The Law is good but can never make us good.
This verse is summed up in Psalm 19:7-9: “The Law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous.”
In that sense, there’s nothing wrong with the Law because it shows our deep depravity and our need for the Savior. Look at verse 13: “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.”
There’s something within us that resists the phrase “utterly sinful” but it literally means, “Exceedingly evil and superabundantly sinful.” Paul uses the worst word he can think of (sin) and then puts a strong adjective in front of it. Sin deceives, it defiles and finally it destroys. The Law illuminates, it ignites, and it incinerates.
Let me illustrate from my own life. When I was about 8 or 9 my family came down here to the flatlands of Illinois from the Promiseland to visit my mom’s old college roommate. I don’t remember exactly what town it was but it was in northern Illinois somewhere. At that time of my life I was fascinated with kitchen matches and had been warned several times to not play with them. My mom’s friend had a couple sons my age and so we hung out while they exchanged college memories. To my delight I quickly found out they were fascinated with fire as well so we snuck some kitchen matches from the kitchen and headed out to a forest preserve.
As we walked we lit matches using every conceivable surface. We lit them off the ground, off our teeth, and even off the buttons on our shirts. When we’d light a match it would illuminate everything. When we got into the forest, we had gotten braver (or more stupid) and began throwing lit matches into the long dry grass and watched everything ignite. We thought this was fun as we’d laugh and try to stomp the flames out. Unfortunately, the wind whipped up and started a raging inferno, incinerating everything in its path. We did the brave thing and ran like mad; stopping to tell someone that the forest was on fire.
As we headed back to my buddies’ house, we heard the fire trucks racing toward the forest preserve. We were trying to figure out how we could avoid telling our parents and I knew I was incinerated at that point because my mom would be able to tell that I had done something wrong. Sure enough, as soon as we walked in, she asked what I had done. I broke down and told her. I still remember her making me call the fire department to tell them that we did it. That was not easy to do but I don’t play with matches anymore
We were on a slippery slope. I had been told to not mess around with matches but I did it anyway. At first the match illuminated my deliberate disobedience and then it ignited a fire I couldn’t put out and finally my sin incinerated a forest. Sin is like that.
1. Its important to call sin “sin.”
Here’s an action step. The next time you sin, don’t tell God or someone else that you’re sorry and hope they just forget about it. Instead say, “I sinned. Please forgive me.”
2. Preach Law to the proud and grace to the humble.
We must give the bad news before someone will be interested in the good news. Too often we picture Jesus as the poor Savior just waiting longingly outside the door of our lives. Or, we imagine Him as the one who is there just to bring us happiness and health and wealth. We do a huge dishonor to God and a big disservice to people when we present Jesus this way. The “gospel of the good life” promises to deliver all that we desire, which is ultimately an appeal to our covetousness anyway.
Did you hear what Lou Piniella, the manager of the Chicago Cubs, said in response to a question about why the Cubs have not had a hot streak this summer? Listen to this: “I think we all need to go to church and put more in the collection box.” You see, Jesus is not simply our “need-meeter” who comes to the rescue when we perform for Him. To borrow the title of one of Francine River’s books, He is our “sin-eater.” It was Oswald Chambers who said: “Conviction of sin brings a man to his hopeless, helpless condition; until he gets there the Cross of Christ has no meaning for him.”
We must see our lostness before we will be attracted to the Lord
One of the best ways to convince someone of their need for the Savior is by helping them see their utter sinfulness. You can do that by taking your friend to the 10 Commandments and asking this question: “How are you doing at keeping these?” Greg Steir suggests that we need to use the “hammer of the Law” before we can introduce someone to the “healer of their soul.” We need to admit our brokenness before we can be put back together. We must see our lostness before we will be attracted to the Lord. If we don’t see our need, we’ll walk away.
Jesus did this with the Rich Young Ruler in Luke 18. This wealthy man wanted to know how he could obtain eternal life. Jesus took him to the five horizontal commandments in verse 20: “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” The man stuck his chest out and said, “All these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus then went deeper and drew out an application from Commandment #1: “You shall have no other gods before me” when he said these stinging words to this man who had money as his master: “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The Bible says that instead of confessing his sin, he just became very sad and walked away from the Savior. He was not willing to admit that he was a sinner and so he had no need for the Savior.
3. Confess that you are a sinner and receive the Savior.
Greg Steir says that we have two big problems. First, one sin is enough to condemn us to hell. Second, our good deeds can’t make up for our bad ones. We’re in trouble, aren’t we?
[Sit in chair and show how sin makes us stuck. Look to Savior for salvation and then drop to knees in prayer]
A pastor from Michigan once related the following incident to a large audience in St. Louis: “A young, talented and tender-hearted actress was passing along the street of a large city. Seeing a pale, sick girl lying upon a couch just within the half-open door of a beautiful dwelling, she entered, with the thought that by her pleasant conversation she might cheer the young invalid. The sick girl was a devoted Christian, and her words, her patience, her submission and heaven-lit countenance, so demonstrated the spirit of her religion that the actress was led to give some earnest thought to the claims of Christianity, and was thoroughly converted, and became a true follower of Christ.
She told her father, the leader of the theater troupe, of her conversion, and of her desire to abandon the stage, stating that she could not live a consistent Christian life and follow her life on the stage because her performances were provocative. Her father was astonished beyond measure, and told his daughter that their living would be lost to them and their business ruined, if she persisted in her resolution.
Loving her father dearly, she was shaken somewhat in her purpose, and partially consented to fill the published engagement to be met in a few days. She was the star of the troupe, and a general favorite. Every preparation was made for the play in which she was to appear. The evening came and the father rejoiced that he had won back his daughter, and that their living was not to be lost. The hour arrived; a large audience had assembled. The curtain rose, and the young actress stepped forward firmly amid the applause of the multitude. A light beamed from her beautiful face and amid the breathless silence of the audience, she repeated these words:
‘My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign;
My gracious Redeemer, my Saviour art Thou;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.’
That was all she said. She had given all the follies of her sin to the Savior. In the place of Law-living and Law-breaking she was now committed to loving her Lord, no matter the consequence. Leaving her audience in tears, she retired from the stage, never to appear on it again. And through her influence, her father was converted, and many others as well.