Conviction – consciousness of sin against God – is the first major step toward repentance and faith in Christ. The spirit of God’s law is the major source of this conviction. The law is good at exposing bad. And the law does not discriminate. It treats everyone exactly the same: wealthy, poor, educated, uneducated, every nation, kindred, and tongue. No one escapes its spiritual work – no one. In fact, it is so connected to sin that people might come to the conclusion that the law is sin.
“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except by the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. For I was alive apart from the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived [became alive] and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it [the commandment] killed me” (Rom. 7:7-11).
Man’s problem is not the law but sin within us. Paul said that he would not have known that he was a sinner except for the law. He was alive apart from the law at one time in his life. There was a time that he did not understand God’s righteous requirements upon him. But when God’s Spirit revealed to him God’s claim on his life, sin came alive and, as a result, he became aware of his spiritual death. The commandment that Paul had envisioned giving him life had actually deceived him and rendered him dead.
Paul’s thoughts might have flowed something like this as he pondered God’s Ten Commands: “You shall have no other gods before Me!” “I’m okay here.”
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image.” “I’m still doing okay.”
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” “I’m doing just fine.”
“Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” “I do that, Lord.”
“Honor your father and mother.” “I have always done that, Lord.”
“You shall not murder.” “Oh, perish the thought of me killing anyone!”
“You shall not commit adultery.” “Never, not me.”
“You shall not steal.” “I’ve never taken anything that did not belong to me.”
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” “I’ve not done that either.”
“You shall not covet.” Hold it!
Like lightning from heaven, Paul realized that deep within his heart were the hidden impulses of covetousness, secret longings for what belonged to others. His knowledge of the law struck the chord of sinful passions, and they began to vibrate. His sin within was stirred. His thoughts began to race with one thought leading to another. “Oh God, I am a covetous person, which means that I am a sinner and if a sinner, then I am dead.”
Does the reader not see how very gracious God has been in giving us this spiritual “spoon” to stir our sin nature, allowing us to feel the power of our sin, our rebellion against God, and to understand our need? The law was never given to provide life but in order that the Holy Spirit might remove the scales of spiritual blindness from our eyes so that we might understand our need. And our need is not partial, it is total.
Paul pled with the Christians at Galatia to understand that in order for the law to provide righteousness, it had to be all or nothing at all. The law, unless it is kept perfectly, can only curse. The law tells me clearly that I have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Far from giving life, the law is said to be a killer. The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor. 3:6-9). The law is called a minster of death.
“But if the ministry of death, written and engraved in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? The law is also called a minster of condemnation. For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory” (2 Cor. 3:6-9).
What a revelation! The law a killer, a minister of death and condemnation. How is this possible? It is possible because God’s law is spiritually tied to our sin (Rom. 3:19-20; 5:12-14; 5:20; 7:7-14; Gal. 3:19). The spirit of God’s law will find and expose our sin, no matter how well it is concealed or rationalized away. Once our sin is uncovered, the knowledge that we are spiritually separated from God immediately invades our thinking. God’s law will always demand from us the very righteousness of God and condemn us for not being right. It will stir up the Adamic nature within us and give us the knowledge that we are sinners and under God’s condemnation.