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Psalm Sung Before the Sermon: Psalm 139:23-24.


by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Saturday Evening, October 27, 2007
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

“For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Romans 7:14).

When the law condemns a man’s soul, he begins to be prepared by God for salvation. Those who are untouched by God’s law lie in a state of mental slumber, completely unaware that they are in danger of eternal condemnation. But when the Spirit of God begins to open your eyes, then you will feel that

“the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Romans 7:14).

As the lost sinner begins to see that the law of God is right, but his own heart is wrong, then he will say in his heart, “I am carnal, sold under sin.”

It is one thing to say, as did the Apostle, that

“They are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:9-10).

One can see universal sin in the world around him. He can see instance after instance of the fact that, “There is none righteous, no, not one.”

But it is an entirely different thing to see those things in one’s self. When the Spirit of God reveals to a sinner the inward corruption and sin of his own life, then (and only then) will he understand his personal inability to please God by obeying the law. At that point, the awakening sinner sees the enormity of his own inner depravity. And it is only when he sees the vileness of his own heart that he can say with sincerity,

“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Romans 7:18).

Dr. Cagan and I have seen an example of this in our inquiry room. An intelligent young college student came to church some months ago. At first he came out of curiosity. He said, at first, “I have never sinned.” Then he became more serious, and the false smile on his face disappeared. At last, a few nights ago, he admitted that he is a sinner. He said to me, “But I can’t stop sinning.” I did not give him a few quick “decisionist” words of advice, but like the old-school evangelists I. S. Spencer or Asahel Nettleton would have done, I left him thinking, “I can’t stop sinning.” I simply said, “Then you will have to burn in Hell.” I said that and quickly left him. He went out of the inquiry room with a sense of insecurity.

I hope some of you will begin to feel what he felt, “I can’t stop sinning.” Note that the Holy Spirit led him from saying, “I have never sinned,” to the exact opposite view, “I can’t stop sinning.” There might be hope for him, for now he may begin to see the radical nature of sin.

“For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Romans 7:14).

Matthew Henry said,

Here is a description of the conflict between grace and corruption in the heart…Apply it to the struggles that are felt in a convinced [convicted] soul, that is yet in a state of sin… Though he has that within him that witnesses against the sin he commits…yet the man continues a slave to his reigning lusts. It is not thus with every unregenerate man, but with those only that are convinced [convicted] by the law, but not [yet] changed by the gospel (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, 1996 reprint, note on Romans 7:14).

I think that is a wise application of our text,

“For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Romans 7:14).

The law of God is holy, good, and spiritual, given by the Spirit of God. But when God convicts a lost man of his sin, then he realizes that he cannot perfectly keep the law, that he is “carnal, sold under sin” – which means that he is in bondage, a slave to sin. Dr. Ryrie said, “This is [Paul’s] diagnosis of what happens when one tries to be [saved] by keeping the law” (Charles C. Ryrie, Ph.D., The Ryrie Study Bible, Moody Press, 1978, p. 1712).

At first a man thinks he’s not a sinner. But then he is convicted by the law – and says, “I can’t stop sinning – I am a slave of sin!” Matthew Henry said, “The Christian religion is the religion of sinners” (ibid., note on I John 1:8). Therefore, the Spirit of God must convince a lost man of his sin by showing him that he has not kept God’s law – and that he is unable to keep it because he is a slave of sin – and that he is condemned by the law, which he continually breaks, and which he has no power to stop breaking.

Think what will happen to you if you die in this condition. The all-seeing eye of God has discovered and recorded every inward and outward sin you have ever committed. All your sins are recorded in God’s books, which will be read aloud to condemn you at the Last Judgment of the unsaved dead (cf. Revelation 20:12). Now is the time to see that you are a ruined sinner, condemned by God’s eternal law.

“For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Romans 7:14).

Luther asked,

What, then are we to do when the Law constantly demands and drives us on, and, after all, we cannot keep it? For my conscience is ever judging me…I must be damned; and God says “yes” and confirms the judgment. Who will help me in this predicament? Says the Law: “I know of no way to help you” (Martin Luther, Th.D., What Luther Says, Concordia Publishing House, 1994 reprint, pp. 762-763).

“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).

Only Christ can save a sinner. Only the Blood of Christ can cleanse his sin in the sight of Almighty God. Only Christ can justify a sinner, who stands condemned by the law of God, naked in the sight of Him who will not excuse sin, but must either punish the sinner or be propitiated “through faith in [Christ’s] blood” (Romans 3:25).

Again, Luther said,

He who has not tasted the bitter does not remember the sweet…Therefore as the dry ground thirsts for rain, so the law makes troubled hearts thirst for Christ. To them Christ tastes very sweet; to them He is joy, consolation, and life. Then men begin properly to appreciate Christ…therefore this is the best use of the Law…to humble [a man] and make him thirst for Christ (Luther, ibid., pp. 758-759).

“For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Romans 7:14).

If you see that you are a sinner, and feel that you cannot stop sinning, your only hope lies in the Blood of Christ covering your sin so God cannot see it in His books. As Matthew Henry said, “The Christian religion is the religion of sinners.” One who does not feel his sin will not see any real value in the Blood of Christ. One who does not feel his sin will never understand Toplady’s hymn,

Foul, I to the fountain fly,
   Wash me, Saviour, or I die!
(“Rock of Ages” by Augustus M. Toplady, 1740-1778).

That is the old gospel which saves sinners from the wrath of God. The “new” decisionist gospel leaves men right where they were, “sold under sin.”

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