What shall we say then? Is the law sin? (Romans 7:7)
In recent years I have heard Christians reject the Old Testament as if it no longer applies. One young man tattooed the inside of his left arm with: ουδεν αρα νυν κατακριμα τοις εν χριστω ιησου. In case you do not read Koine Greek, it says, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1, NASB). This reading is translated from the liberal Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament. That text omits the phrase: μη κατα σαρκα περιπατουσιν αλλα κατα πνευμα – “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1, KJV). This additional phrase is included in the Textus Receptus Greek New Testament from which the KJV is translated. (Bear with me; there is a point to this.) When I pointed out the biblical prohibition against tattoos (Leviticus 19:28) to this young man, a seminary student at the time, he lashed out at me pointing out that we are not under Law, but under Grace. Then when I pointed out the missing phrase in his tattoo, he lashed out against the King James Bible. Hmm! The missing phrase “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” suddenly takes on greater significance. Perhaps the compilers of the Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament did not like that phrase either.
So Paul asks an important question: “Is the Law Sin?” Judging from this seminary student’s reaction the answer must be, “Yes!” But what does Paul say? “God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Romans 7:7, emphasis added). So, where do we get the idea that we are to disregard the Law contained in the Old Testament? Jesus quoted from the Old Testament exclusively. Of course, that was all that existed at the time, but He never gave any indication that it no longer applied. In like manner, all the New Testament writers referred constantly to the Old Testament and never hinted that it was passé. In writing to Timothy, Paul affirms that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16, emphasis added). When he penned these words, there was no New Testament, only the Old. Instead of rejecting the Law, Paul says that “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12).
Salvation does not come through the keeping of the Law. That is impossible. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). We know that “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works [of the law], lest any man should boast” (Ephesian 2:8-9, emphasis added). So, does the Law serve any purpose? Paul seems to think so. “Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful” (Romans 7:13, emphasis added). The purpose of the law is to shine a spotlight on what is sin.
The Christian is saved by Grace, not by attempting to keep the Law (which is impossible to do), but the Law should be to the Christian a guide as to what God regards as sinful. God wants His children to be holy – set apart from the world, and the Law guides us to what pleases God. Can we keep the law flawlessly? Probably not, but we have the assurance that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). But how can we confess, if we do not know that we sinned? The Law helps us see that.
That young seminary student thought his tattoo would be a great witnessing tool. I venture to say (although I do not know for sure) that his tattoo has not helped him lead a single person to Christ. Perhaps, if he had taken to heart the omitted qualifying phrase in Romans 8:1 – “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” – he would not have violated the commandment against tattoos. I do not question the young man’s salvation, and I fully understand his motive however misguided; but when Paul said, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22), I doubt that he meant for us to go out and get tattoos in order to win over tattooed people.
Is the Law sin? No, but it serves to show us what sin is and what we should avoid. God does not change (Malachi 3:6), and He has always expected holiness from His people. “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). The Law is not sin; it reveals sin. The Law should be heeded, not disregarded.