Romans 7:13

Sin’s True Colors

Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Verse 13a: “Was then that which is good made death unto me? God


Can God’s good Law be charged with causing our spiritual death? Can sinners blame it for their lostness? Absolutely not! Law does not cause death, but rather reveals death.

Apart from the Law, people would not know how serious their illness is. The Law uncovers our spiritual death, and reveals it for what it really is.

This was Law’s original purpose, and is still its only intent. Our problems arise when we misapply the Law.

The Law is still valid for today. The New Testament did not nullify God’s Law. Jesus himself plainly said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (MT 5:17).

Law and Gospel supplement each other. Law prepares the way for the Gospel. Law uncovers the diseases for which the Gospel provides healing.

The Law is strong enough to disturb, but not strong enough to heal. Law awakens in the heart discords it cannot heal. On the other hand, the Gospel can heal a sinner, but sinners must first recognize their sinfulness.

Even after conversion, the Law is still needed. Believers are not under Law in the sense it can condemn or justify us, but we are nevertheless expected to obey the precepts of God.

We are not perfect listeners to the Holy Spirit within us. Therefore, we must have written precepts to tell us what is required of us, and to tell us when we are misreading God’s leadership. Only by looking to the Law can we know for sure whether or not we are walking in love.

Church history reveals another way in which Law serves a preparatory role in Gospel blessings. Times of refreshing are borne on the wings of prayer, and prayer warriors go to their knees due to a deep sense of sinfulness among the people of God. Broken laws drive believers to prayer.

We need what the Puritans and Whitefield called “Law-work”. We need pulpits to blaze again against evil. We must have an army of preachers that will speak against particular evils without compromise. There is a deep-seated need among us, and our current evil is compounded by our lack of sorrow.

God’s glory is obviously leaving our churches and nation, but where are the broken hearts? Where are our tears? Why are our eyes dry?

May God raise up a generation of people to faithfully and carefully proclaim the Law. It is needed to prepare the way for salvation and revival.

Verse 13b: “But sin,…”

Paul’s problem was not the Law. It only tries to help. Sin, however, kept convincing Paul to look to the Law for healing. Paul looked to the Law for salvation. In this way, sin preempted in Paul’s mind the proper use of Law.

Verse 13c: “…that it might appear sin, working death in me by that

which is good;…”

The fact sin can mangle something good shows how terrible it actually is. The Law reveals sin’s true colors.

Verse 13d: “…that sin by the commandment might become exceeding


Sin is clever and deceitful. It can camouflage itself well, and is often hard to detect for what it really is. The Law unmasks sin.

When people rightly relate to Law, they will adequately hate sin. This is our desperate need. We need a fresh understanding of the awfulness of sin.

People are often more worried about offending each other than they are about offending God. “When an action hurts our fellow-men, we call it a crime; when it only offends God, we style it a sin. If I were to call you criminals, you would be disgusted; but if I call you sinners, you will not be at all angry; because to offend men is a thing you would not like to do, but to offend God is to many persons a small matter” (Spurgeon).

We must see sin as an odious thing, an affront to God Himself. We break God’s heart when we discard His holy, just, and good Law.

Paul desperately sought a way to describe the utter horribleness of sin. He needed a word to define the monster. His knowledge of the Bible would provide many possibilities, including filthiness (EZ 36:25), nakedness (RV 3:18), blindness (MT 15:14), folly (PS 85:8), and abomination (PR 8:7). But Paul found none of these strong enough to describe sin adequately.

We can almost see the wheels turning in Paul’s mind as he writes, “that it might appear…” What word can he use to adequately describe sin? He could not think of any other word so terribly descriptive of sin as its own name. Hence, he wrote, “that it might appear sin.”

Then, again, he tries to describe sin and writes, “that sin by the commandment might become exceeding…” what adjective can he use to describe sin? What word encompasses all its horrors? Once again, he can think of no worse description then its own name. Hence he describes sin as “sinful.”

We usually try to define any given word by using completely different words. For instance, we do not try to define laziness by saying it means lazy; nor do we say that goodness means doing good, or badness means being bad.

We try to exhibit meanings through totally different words. Yet when Paul tried to describe sin, he could find no worse name than its own.

Paul did not say, “that sin might appear” Satanic. No, sin is worse than the devil, because sin is what made the devil evil. Paul did not say it is Hellish. No, sin is worse than Hell, because sin is what causes Hell to exist. Sin is the fuel that flames the fires of hell.

Paul did not describe sin as insane. No, sin is worse than insanity, because spiritual sickness is infinitely worse than mental illness. He did not say it is foolish. No, sin is worse than folly, because rebellion is infinitely worse than errors in judgment.

How terribly sinful is sin? It swelled up in the heart of an angel, and turned him into a devil. Hell had to be created because of it. God once drowned the world because of it. Heaven rained fire and brimstone on Sodom because of it. God borrowed portions of Hell to destroy the wicked.

The moment people commit sin, they are no longer able to earn Heaven. One sin negates a lifetime of holiness, as far as merit is concerned. God’s beloved Son had to be crucified to nullify its condemning affects. The price for reconciliation was above gold and silver. Only the very blood of God could suffice.