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CRISIS CONVERSION AND THE LAW OF GOD

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Lord’s Day Evening, October 7, 2007
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

“For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died” (Romans 7:9).


Earlier today I preached on loneliness, as I have done for several Sundays. These sermons are given on Sunday mornings to “the natural man” (I Corinthians 2:14). We bring a great many lost people to the morning services. Most of them have never heard the Gospel. So we appeal to them in their natural state. We do not assume that they have any awareness of spiritual things, so we speak to their “felt need,” yet we do so Biblically throughout. We seek to make them think about their loneliness and want to come back to church. That’s a good start. That’s the way to begin. But simply coming to church will not save anyone. There must be a deeper work of God in the soul. I call this “crisis conversion.” The word “crisis” means “a turning point.” And it is this turning point, this crisis, that the Apostle Paul speaks of in our text. The Apostle takes us inside his mind and shows us how his crisis of conversion occurred. His own experience is a paradigm, an example, of how the crisis of true conversion happens.

I. First, life without the Law.

The Apostle says,

“For I was alive without the law once…” (Romans 7:9).

When he says he was once “alive without the law” he does not mean that he never heard the Law. The Law was read in the synagogue every Sabbath day in his hearing. He does not mean that he didn’t know it. He knew the Law very well. He was well educated in it. He knew it by heart. As a rabbi he had not only learned it, but had discussed it in great detail with other rabbis for many years.

Although he knew the Law mentally, he says that he was “alive without” it. The Law had never pierced his conscience. That is why he was living in a state of false security. He thought that he was keeping the Law. He was not afraid of dying. He had no fear of standing before God at the Last Judgment. He felt that he was prepared for that. He was peaceful. Nothing disturbed him. He did not lie sleepless in bed at night thinking of his sin. He thought that he was perfectly safe. He thought he was doing all that he should do. As a result, he was “alive without the law.”

This brought him false security. He paid his tithes. He attended all the services. He said his prayers. He abstained from gross outward sin. He had a form of religion. He was secure. He felt safe. But it was a false security. His conscience had never been stirred by his inward sins. The Law had never touched his conscience. Thus he could say, “I was alive without the law once.”

Life without the Law gave him, not only a false sense of security, it also brought pride to his heart. He felt that he was better than others. If he met a tax collector or a sinful woman he turned away. He called the Gentiles “dogs.” He was so proud of his own goodness that he looked down on others. They were not as smart as him. They were not as good as him. He thought he was keeping the Law, and so he felt peaceful and quiet in this false state of security. “I was alive without the law once.”

Is there someone like that here tonight? Are you like that? Are you in a false state of security? Is your conscience dull? Have you no fear of God? Have you no pangs of conscience over your inward sins? Are you asleep in sin? Do you feel safe? That was the state of Paul when he said, “I was alive without the law once.” Iain H. Murray said,

By the law men learn their helplessness. Where there is an absence of this knowledge there is a fundamental obstacle to salvation. It was confidence in their own ability which led the Jews to reject Christ…unless this mind-set is corrected Christ’s work cannot be understood. Those who do not know they are bound and prisoners, have no desire for the ‘redemption’ that sets free from the power and captivity of sin. Those who do not know they are law-breakers will not look to the One who has honoured the law in the place of sinners. Those who do not know the displeasure of God will not listen to a message of ‘propitiation’ – of wrath turned aside and forgiveness provided in Christ (Iain H. Murray, The Old Evangelicalism: Old Truths for a New Awakening, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005, page 13).

If these truths have never been felt by you, then you do not know yourself. You do not know your own heart. You do not sense your own helplessness. You continue to rest in your own strength and righteousness. You have never been slain by the Law. You are like Paul in his unconverted state, “I was alive without the law once.”

A person who never thinks about the Law is like a man who pretends to be rich by living on credit cards. He thinks everything is O.K. He runs up one debt after the other on those credit cards, and lives like a rich man. You can warn him, but he will not listen. He thinks your warnings are just a fool’s talk. Away he goes, living like a rich man, racking up one debt after another on those cards. But the day of reckoning comes. Judgment and justice fall. All is lost. Why didn’t he listen? Why did he go right on? “I was alive without the law once.” Spurgeon said,

Oh! if thou didst but know [God’s] law, didst but understand how inflexible it is, and how true his declaration that he will by no means spare the guilty, which means he will by no means spare thee, then wouldst thou soon lay aside this easy-going life of thine, and no longer wouldst thou live as thou dost now live: thou wouldst be slain by the word of the Lord (C. H. Spurgeon, “The Soul’s Great Crisis,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Pilgrim Publications, 1980 reprint, volume LXI, page 424).

Only then will you be able to say, “I was alive without the law once.”

II. Second, life under the Law.

Paul had been living without the Law. Sin was a dead issue to him. He wasn’t concerned about sin because he was living “without the law” – never thinking that he had broken God’s commandments, never worrying over his sin, he “was alive without the law once.” This means that the Law was not doing its work within him, not pricking his conscience, not making him feel guilty of his sin.

But then the Law came crashing down on him. Look at the second clause in verse nine, starting with the words “but when.” Read those few words in the middle of the verse aloud,

“But when the commandment came, sin revived…”
      (Romans 7:9).

Please look up.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones gave these comments on the verse.

When the commandment came, sin revived… (Romans 7:9). ‘When the commandment came’! But the commandment had always been there! The law had been given by Moses centuries before Paul was ever born…the basic fundamental law for all mankind was always there from the beginning. Yet he says, ‘When the commandment came’…He means that though the commandment [of the law] was there it had never ‘come’ to him, it had never ‘got’ [ahold of] him…[the law] was always there…but it did not ‘get’ him, it did not take hold of him, it did not speak to him. It did not come, in other words, with power and conviction [of sin] and understanding…it was a bare [dead thing]; (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Romans: An Exposition of Chapters 7:1-8:4, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2001 reprint, page 134).

“But when the commandment came, sin revived…”
      (Romans 7:9).

Dr. Lloyd-Jones said,

This, at first sight, is a most surprising statement. We would have thought naturally that the effect of the coming of the law would not have been to ‘revive’ sin but to slay it…But in experience it does the exact opposite. In other words, what happens is that the law brings out the real strength and reveals the real nature and character of sin. The law irritates sin, disturbs it…when the law ‘came’ to the apostle [he rebelled]. Without the ‘coming’ of the law [he would not have felt his resistance to it] he was not aware of the strength of sin…When the law came powerfully…suddenly felt an overwhelming desire for such things [that the law condemned]. (Lloyd-Jones, ibid., p. 139).

“But when the commandment came, sin revived” (Romans 7:9).

Now, to make it simple, isn’t that what’s been happening to some of you? You were living once without a care in the world. You were not troubled at all by your sin, or your sin nature, your evil heart of unbelief. Then

“when the commandment came [to you] sin revived”
      (Romans 7:9).

When you were really awakened to the reality of your sinful heart, you will see that you rebelled against the Law. You tried to push the thought of sin out of your mind. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, you tried to hide yourself behind your own goodness. And you, like them, tried to run away from the voice of God speaking to your conscience through the Law. Like Adam and Eve, you made aprons of your false religion to keep God from seeing you in the nakedness of your sin.

“When the commandment came, sin revived” (Romans 7:9).

The same thing happened to our first parents when the voice of God’s Law called them after they had sinned. “Sin revived” in them. A modern translation could be “sin sprung up” and they wanted to hide from God and keep on sinning.

Some of you have had a similar experience. You thought nothing of sin and God’s Law. But when the Holy Spirit drove the Law of God into your conscience, you did not yield, you did not come under deep conviction, as you should have. Oh, no!

“When the commandment came, sin revived” (Romans 7:9).

It literally sprang to life in you. Your heart rebelled against God, like Adam and Eve did. You tried to put God out of your mind and forget that you were a Law breaker – as Adam and Eve were. You pushed out of your heart the convicting work of God’s Spirit. You “quenched” the Spirit. Thus, you lost the little conviction you once had. Instead of coming to church with a sad face, full of the conviction you had a couple of weeks ago, you now come in with a smiling face. You have lost all that God-given conviction because

“when the commandment came, sin revived”

and your heart has lost all its conviction and has gone back to sleep. Horrible! You have now lost all conviction because “sin revived” within you when the commandment came to you. You are now in a worse state than you were in before. You must plead with God to give you back the conviction of sin you had so short a time ago.

“When the commandment came, sin revived”

within you. I beg you to resist that renewed power of sin! I plead with you to seek again true conviction from the Spirit of God! If it does not come, you are doomed, for all time and all eternity, for there can be no real conversion until the power and attraction of sin is killed within you by God Himself, through His Law.

III. Third, death through the Law.

There are three more words at the end of verse nine. Please stand and read them aloud,

“And I died” (Romans 7:9).

You may be seated. Paul became convinced that he was dead spiritually – that he could never live up to God’s Law. He knew that he was a “dead” man. In Ephesians 2:5, he said, “When we were dead in sins” (Ephesians 2:5). “We were dead.” This was his own experience, as well as that of those to whom he wrote in Ephesus. This was the crisis of his conversion,

“Sin revived, and I died” (Romans 7:9).

Spurgeon said,

What died…was that great “I” in Paul – “sin revived and I died” – that “I” that used to say, “I thank thee that I am not like other men” – that “I” that folded its arms in satisfied security – that “I” that bent its knees in prayer, but never bowed down the heart in penitence – that “I” died. The law killed it. It could not live in such light as that [of the law]. It was a creature only fit for darkness, and when the law came this great “I” died (Spurgeon, ibid., p. 427).

Spurgeon gave five ways in which Paul died. And these five ways apply to any lost person who is awakened to his sin by the Law. (1) He saw that he was condemned to die. He died in the sense that he felt condemnation pronounced on him. Have you felt that you are condemned by the Law? (2) All his hopes from his past life died. He realized that he had never really loved God, nor His Law. Have you felt any of that? (3) All his hopes concerning the future died. He had broken the Law of God, and all his attempts to keep it in the future could not wipe out the sins of his past. (4) All his own power seemed to die. Before he thought “I can keep God’s Law.” But now he saw that he could not keep it perfectly – that the Law could not save him – but only condemn him. (5) So, all his hopes died. The last ray of hope was gone. There is no despair greater than the despair of a person who was once secure. Self-salvation was gone. He knew what it meant to be lost! All hope of becoming a “better person” was gone. When you feel like that then, and only then, will you know what Toplady meant when he said,

Not the labours of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
   (“Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” by Augustus M. Toplady, 1740-1778).

If you have come to that place of crisis, you have been brought to it so you can understand that salvation must come from outside yourself - from Jesus! You must be saved by Christ Jesus, or you will never be saved at all! As long as you depend on yourself, you will never depend on Jesus. But if you feel that there is no good within you, then throw yourself upon

“the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”
      (John 1:29).

Look to Him who was crucified to pay your penalty for breaking God’s Law! Throw yourself on Him who rose from the dead to give you life! When you cast yourself on Jesus,

“Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool”
      (Isaiah 1:18).

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Romans 7:7-10.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” (by Augustus M. Toplady, 1740-1778)/Psalm 139:23-24.


THE OUTLINE OF

CRISIS CONVERSION AND THE LAW OF GOD

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died” (Romans 7:9).

(I Corinthians 2:14)

I.   First, life without the Law, Romans 7:9a.

II.  Second, life under the Law, Romans 7:9b.

III. Third, death through the Law, Romans 7:9c; Ephesians 2:5;
John 1:29; Isaiah 1:18.