Sunday School Lessons

Does It Count If I Don’t Know Any Better?

Have you ever found out that you’ve been doing something wrong for a long time?  Ads on the Internet (which I plead with others not to click on…ever!) say that there are multiple things that I’ve been doing wrong all these years.  I suspect that their product or service will allow me to do things “right”…for a small fee, of course!

However, there are times when sincerely believing that we are doing something correctly isn’t enough to actually make it right.  I remember a time that I needed a new tire for my car.  (I think that was the time I took a turn too sharply and tore out one of my tires’ sidewalls on a broken curb.)  So, I pulled the manual out of the glove compartment, and shared the required dimensions of the tire with my garage.  When I got there, the mechanic said that the rim had dropped right through the tire when he tried to install it!  I think that I actually had the owner’s manual from the previous year’s vehicle (having bought the car used, and receiving whatever manual the dealer had on hand), and I should have instead checked either 1) the tires themselves or 2) the sticker on the car’s pillar (or probably both).  It didn’t matter that I thought that I was doing the right thing, though: I had the wrong answer.

Throughout the book of Romans, as Paul contrasts being saved by keeping the law (whether the Law of Moses, or just general understandings of right and wrong that are written on our consciences) with the offer of God’s grace, I can see why some readers might be thinking that the law is bad.  Even if Paul didn’t actually say so, his presentation of the value of God’s grace – along with his push-back on those who were claiming the law as their path to righteousness – kind of leaves the law sitting at its own lunch table, ignored by the popular kids.

In fact, some might even ask this question, as described in Romans 7:7 below: Is the law sinful?  After all, the law can’t save us, and the most that it seems we might get from the law is to learn about our sin.  We might get this idea from passages like Romans 5:20-21, which may have triggered a couple of questions found in Romans 6 like, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (from Romans 6:1) and “Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?” (from Romans 6:15), to which Paul had similarly strong responses to what he says here.  No way!

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
Romans 7:7 NIV

(See also Romans 5:13, which – especially if not well-understood – might create some negative attitudes towards the law).

However, the law and sin do interact in a specific way.  To start with, verse 7 here tells us that we understand what sin is through the law, including this example of understanding – through the law – what the sin of coveting is.

When we sin without fully understanding or acknowledging it, it’s still sin.  (And, in fact, sinning without knowing that we’re sinning isn’t as easy as professing ignorance, since our conscience convicts us, per Romans 2:14-15.  Even if we mangle – or “sear”, per 1 Timothy 4:2 – our conscience, we can’t honestly claim that we never knew that anything we did was wrong.)  The law makes right and wrong more clear, though, and helps us start to comprehend the extent to which we have not lived up to God’s holy and perfect standards.  (And, when we’re told not to do something, not look at something, or not to visit somewhere, don’t we have this extra little tug to want to do exactly that?)

Unfortunately, it gets worse.  Let’s continue studying in Romans 7 (although you’re certainly welcome to read ahead) in the next article…

From Sunday School lesson prepared for March 13, 2022


  • The Lookout, March 13, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
  • Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
  • The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 1, by Jack Cottrell.  College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.

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