What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (ESV)
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A Howling Jet Stream
4 March 2014
Try this experiment. Fill a cookie jar with homemade cookies. Tell a four-year-old child, "Do not under any conditions touch or look in that cookie jar." Then see how long it takes for the child to climb the cabinet to get into that jar. If you hadn't actually told the child not to touch the cookie jar, he or she would never have desired to find out what was in it. The prohibition inflamed curiosity and ignited the desire to get what was in the jar. We humans often have the feeling that what is prohibited must be desirable merely because it is prohibited. Children are not the only persons to have this experience. No indeed, adults are caught with their hands in the cookie jar too. The prohibitions of the law inflame our depravity, rather than keeping us from doing what is prohibited.
Our head-long career into sin can be accelerated by the prohibitions placed in our path. The congregation I serve is immediately across the street from a medium rise office tower. The buildings on our campus have created a wind tunnel with the office tower across the street so that when a south wind blows, it becomes a howling jet stream between the buildings. The wind is accelerated by being funneled between the buildings. So it is for human depravity when it encounters the stop-loss of the divine law. As our depravity surges between these beacons of the divine will it accelerates so that it becomes a howling jet stream. We hear this howling depravity a great deal in these days at the end of the ages. The divine prohibitions are being toppled into the ever-flowing effluent of wickedness. The decisions of courts across our land that say evil is good, by permitting marriage of persons of the same sex, are some of that wildly-flowing effluent. God said, "You shall not..." We say, "Oh yeah, who is going to stop us?"
Augustine was fully aware of the power of the law to make sin sin. The boundaries and borders of wickedness were not given by God to create more sin. However, because of human depravity, that which was good and holy in itself becomes an occasion of sin. The weakness was ours; not the law's. The ultimate stop-loss will be judgment day, on which all sin will be seen for what it is. It all began with sinful desire. Sinful desire means that our freedom is only the freedom to be captured by concupiscence, apart from the Holy Spirit's work in our lives to shed the light of Christ in our hearts. Come, Holy Spirit.
|Augustine of Hippo|
"The apostle Paul purposely selected this general precept, in which he embraced everything, as if this were the voice of the law, prohibiting us from all sin, when he says, 'You shall not covet' (Rm 7:7); for there is no sin committed except by evil concupiscence; so that the law which prohibits this is a good and praiseworthy law. But, when the Holy Spirit withholds His help, which inspires us with a good desire instead of this evil desire (in other words, diffuses love in our hearts), that law, however good in itself, only augments the evil desire by forbidding it. Just as the rush of water which flows incessantly in a particular direction becomes more violent when it meets with any impediment, and when it has overcome the stoppage, falls in a greater volume and with increased impetuosity hurries forward in its downward course. In some strange way the very object which we covet becomes all the more pleasant when it is forbidden. And this is the sin which by the commandment deceives and by it slays, whenever transgression is actually added, which does not occur where there is no law (Rm 4:15)."
Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter, 1.6
O Christ, keep us from the wicked presumption that we could fulfill the law by our own natural powers. Set before us the truth of the fall of all humans in Adam, that we might confess our depravity and trust alone in Your true holiness. Amen.
For B. J. Hall, who is undergoing medical testing, that the proper diagnosis might be reached
For Cliff Scherer, Sr., that he might regain his strength and be encouraged in faith and hope
For John Kuhlmann, who is undergoing surgery for a broken hand, that the Lord Jesus would watch over him and grant healing
For all those who are preparing for the Lenten discipline, that they might return to baptism in contrition and repentance
For all the children and adults who are being catechized in the Christian faith at Memorial Lutheran Church, that when called to account for the hope that is in them, they might confess Christ faithfully, even to the point of death
Art: MEMLING, Hans Adoration of the Magi (c. 1470)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014