Tag Archives: Calvin’s Threefold Function of the Law

Lesson: Romans 7 – Sanctification & the Law


Our neighbor, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, calls Romans the Mt. Everest of scripture. That being the case, today we will be walking around at the bottom of the mountain and maybe setting up a base camp. I know I don’t have to tell you this but we are just skimming the surface of this book of the bible. As I’ve gone through this chapter over and over the last few weeks it has been incredibly hard to decide how to approach teaching it. There is so much to cover and things to address that we cannot possible cover it all. Also, there is a lot that we could disagree on. I’ve listened to Voddie, Det, Sinclair, Sproul and Piper and there are things they disagree on. I do implore you to personally and as a family to go back through Romans and take a lot of time teaching it and talking about it. Our kids are not too young for this. This is theology and truth and they need to know it.

 I remember the first week we started the study and Marc asked what kind of book is Romans. Gracie responded “Gospel”. Of course it is an epistle but I think what Gracie was getting at was something she heard Det say in a sermon we listened to that was a preview to the book of Romans. Romans is the gospel. If someone asks you what is the gospel tell them to start in Romans 1:1 and read to 16:25. Don’t cheapen the gospel to John 3:16.

Just to make sure we understand all of the terminology:

 Q. 14. What is sin?

A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

 Q. 84. What does every sin deserve?

A. Every sin deserves God’s wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come.

 Q. 33. What is justification?

A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners effectually called to Jesus Christ, wherein He pardons all their sins, and accepts them as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

 Q. 35. What is sanctification?

A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

As Marc said last week the Chapters are not accurate separations sometimes. Chapter 7 is continuing a discussion that started in chapter 6. Paul is addressing sanctification and the question “Shall we sin more since we are not under law but under grace?” In other words, “Why doesn’t freedom from the law result in lawless people?” Remember, Paul has been teaching and proclaiming the gospel to for a while and as he is writing this letter he is addressing specific objections to what he is teaching. These are real and reasonable questions that the Jews hearing his teachings are asking. “Why don’t justified people sin more and not less?” In chapter 6 Paul deals with the work of God in freeing us from sin and never mentions the law. In Romans 7 he addresses the law.

Released from the Law

 Romans 7: 1-6

 Or do you not know, brothers[a]—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?

Paul starts with a pretty obvious statement. That the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives. (Seems obvious. Thank you Paul for clearing that up.) The Greek word here for binding means to ‘exercise lordship over’. If I were to go to jail for committing a crime then the prison system would exercise lordship over me. If I were to die after a certain number of years then the system no longer has lordship over me. Why? Because I’m dead. Seems pretty simple right? So why does Paul state the obvious? He does it to show the severity of what has to happen for us to get out from under the law. He then uses marriage as an example.

2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.[b] 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

It’s a lot easier to get out of a marriage now than it was then. These words meant something.  Especially since he’s speaking about a woman getting out of a marriage. There was no way out but death.

In verse 2 and 3 Paul makes a detailed comparison between the function of the law for married people and the function of the law for the Christian. Basically, when a death happens in marriage the law that makes marriage to another person wrong is not binding anymore. So he argues that similarly, when a Christian dies with Christ (they’re Justified) the law is not binding on a Christian anymore the way it was. That’s why we’re not ‘under law’. So here’s the question: How does this help? Again, why does that not produce lawless, unloving people? He gives us an answer in verse 4.

 4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.

 His answer is that when you died to the law you were joined to Christ. You weren’t freed from the law just to float around in no relationship at all. You’re either in bondage to sin or bondage to Christ. You were freed and united to Christ, your new husband. And the aim of this new marriage is what? To bear fruit for God! There you go. We don’t go on sinning. If you are in Christ, justified and married to your Savior, Jesus, you bear fruit for God. You were changed. What does this fruit look like? Someone knows it by heart.

 Galatians 5:22-23

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

 Paul adds to his answer in verse 6.

6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

Why being under grace and not under law produces love and not lawlessness? The answer is that God pours out his Spirit into the hearts of justified people. He writes the law on our hearts. HE changes us. (What is justification?) As Voddie says, “He changes our want to.” And we will see coming up that, unfortunately, it’s not immediate. Sanctification is progressive.

Kids: Do you have something you really hate to do that you or your parents wish that you didn’t? Reading for example. Some of you don’t like reading. What if tomorrow you woke up with the sudden urge to read? It would be almost like a supernatural change. That’s what happens when you are saved. A supernatural change of your heart. The law you once hated you now love and want to follow.

The Function of the Law

 Now we move on the next question. Is the law sin and what is the function of the law? Again, Jews who love the law, who strive their whole life to be righteous before God by knowing and keeping the law hear Paul say these things about the law and their reaction is, “Wait a minute Paul, are you saying that the law is sinful? That the ten commandments are sinful? Because that’s what it sounds like you’re saying.” Paul’s response, “Me Genoito”, may it never be. This is the strongest negation in the Greek language. Absolutely not!

KIDS: You have a new word to express to your parents the strongest possible NO. “Does anyone want Fish McBites for lunch?” “Me Genoito!”

 Romans 7: 7-12

 7 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. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

 So what is Paul’s purpose?

1. To exonerate the law. He does this in verse 7 and verse 12.

2. To explain the relationship between law and sin and death in order to exonerate the law.

– He says that the law reveals sin and that’s what makes transgression possible.  As we have learned over the past few weeks, there is something inside of us that is at enmity with God and it is not until we come face to face with his perfect law until we know this.

Read Eph 2: 1-3 

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.[b]

 Our sin nature rules over us with no opposition until the law of God shows up. Before the law everything is great and we’re happy and we think we’re good people. This is why it’s important to preach the law and the gospel. No one wants to preach the law because they know people won’t like it.  Or as our friend Joel Osteen says, “People know how bad they are. They don’t need to hear that.” That’s a lie. People think they are mostly good. They have not idea how bad they are. It’s not until someone stands up and proclaims the law of God that they realize they are sinners and they have to realize they are sinners before we can begin to deal with them. The law exposes our sin.

3. He is advancing his teaching on progressive sanctification. He wants us to understand this process of sanctification and what role the law plays in it.

This week I heard someone say, “There is a ditch on both sides of the road with the law. On one side is the ditch that says the law will make me righteous. On the other side is the ditch that says that the law is evil and we need to stay away from it. In the middle is Christianity.” We have to be in the middle of that road.

Calvin’s Threefold Function of the law.

1) To reveal the character of God.

We have to understand first who’s law it is. As the author and creator, God has every right to impose upon us whatever obligations he wants. The law expresses the character of God. It reveals his holiness. At the same moment the law reveals the holiness of God it reveals to us our un-holiness. The law is a mirror.

Have you ever walked past a mirror or seen a picture of you taken of you when you weren’t prepared or sucking in your gut? It’s not pretty. We don’t like what that mirror reveals about us. The law is that same mirror for our soul and it never lies. As Calvin said, “It reveals our corruption”.

2) It serves as a restraint upon our sin.

I could not be characterized as a man who is a fan of laws or big government, and we as a country are certainly over-governed, but no government can be worse that bad government because law, as much as we hate it, still exercises some restraint on us. As sinful as we are, we would be more sinful if the restraints were removed. The speed limit on I95 is 70 and we run 85-90. What if there was no speed limit?

3) Even though we are freed from the burden and destruction of the law, it continues to reveal to us what is pleasing to God.

It serves as a guide to all believers. We are not under its curse or weight but the beauty of the law is still available to us.

If we are saved we should want to do what is pleasing to God.

The Wretched Man

The next section is actually one of the most argued over texts in the Bible. The argument is over whether Paul is talking about himself as a believer or himself before he was converted or even if he’s not talking about himself at all. It seems pretty cut and dried to me. This is the struggle of indwelling sin in the life of a believer. Paul is talking autobiographically here. Christians struggle with indwelling sin. Sanctification is progressive. Which means by definition that we struggle with indwelling sin. If we didn’t, sanctification would have to be immediate and perfect and it is not. We will never be perfect until Glorification.

The issue of indwelling sin in the life of a believer caused a couple problems that are interesting. On one side it causes Christians to doubt their salvation because they think, “I shouldn’t be struggling with this.” It can also cause the non-believer to be convinced that they are Christians because ‘everybody sins, right? And if everybody sins then how can you say I’m not a believer.’

In this section we also face the next logical objection. “You say the law is responsible for exposing sin, so are you saying that the Law brings death”? As Paul did in the last section, he gives the short answer and then the theological explanation to his answer.

13 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. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.

He answers the question and points out again, “Me Genoito”, the law does not bring death. The law is good. The law is spiritual and exposes my sin.  Sin brings death.

As we read the next section realize that many people believe that Paul is not talking about himself here. I don’t get it personally. It is so personal and anyone who is a Christian that has struggled with sin can understand what he’s saying.

15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 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. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

The key here is that we do STUGGLE with sin. We should hate sin and do whatever we can to defeat it in our lives. We are powerless to do so on our own. So who should we turn to? Who will deliver us?

25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

You have to have 8:1 here. To close I’ll share this story I read with you. It’s about a young man who had the opportunity to listen to and then meet JI Packer. He said when he finally got a chance to speak to him one on one he had to ask this question.

I blurted out:  “Romans 7!  I don’t understand Romans 7!  What’s going on in that passage?”

How can the regenerate Paul—man of God that he is, and author of Romans 6 and 8—be experiencing such a struggle with sin as we see in Romans 7?

Packer gently leaned over the table, looked me in the eye, and said, “Young man, Paul wasn’t struggling with sin because he was such a sinner.  Paul was struggling because he was such a saint.  Sin makes you numb.  People who sin over and over again become desensitized to sin.  The reason Paul’s “struggle” was so intense was not because he was caught in a web of sin, or because he thought of himself as hopelessly doomed to giving into the temptations that he faced.  Rather, it was because Paul lived a life so sensitive to the Holy Spirit and passionate about the glory of God that he intensely felt his sins whenever he became aware that he had committed a sin (since he was not, of course, sinlessly perfect).”


Romans 7


Romans 7:1-6

________is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

Every sin deserves God’s ________ and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come.

________________ is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners effectually called to Jesus Christ, wherein He pardons all their sins, and accepts them as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

_______________ is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.


The Greek word for binding in Romans 1 means to ______________

__________________   ______________.

When someone dies to the law they then joined with ___________.

Justified people will ___________   _____________ for God.

Romans 7:7-12

“_____  _______________” is the strongest negation in the Greek language.

Paul’s purpose in verses 7-12

1) To __________________ the law.

2) To explain the relationship between ___________ and _____________ .

The law _________________ our sin.

3) He is advancing his teaching on progressive ______________________.

Calvin’s Threefold Function of the Law


1) The Law reveals the ____________________ of God.

At the same moment the Law reveals the _______________ of God it reveals our _______________________.

2) The Law serves as a __________________ upon our sin.

3) The Law reveals to us what is __________________ to God.

Romans 7:13-8:1


Christians struggle with ____________________ sin.

Sanctification is ____________________.

What does Paul say brings death?      The Law   or    Sin

There is therefore now no _________________________ for those who are in Christ Jesus!

What is something you didn’t know about Romans 7 that you learned today? _______________________________________________________________________


What is something you didn’t understand about the lesson that you need to ask your parents about at home?____________________________________


Chance Taylor, March 10, 2013