Paul says in verse 5, that while we were married to the sinful nature, the law aroused sinful passions within us.
The natural question then becomes, “Is then the law bad? Is it in fact equal to sin? After all, it’s causing me to have all these sinful desires right? It’s making me sin, right?”
But Paul answers,
Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” (7)
In other words, “The law is a good thing. It’s not sin. Rather it simply makes sure we understand what sin is so that we can avoid what would destroy us.”
What then is the problem?
But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. (8)
Put another way, sin saw the law, and said, “Oh yeah? God doesn’t like this, does he?” And it immediately extends an invitation to our sinful nature which is more than happy to oblige, because our sinful nature itself is in rebellion against God.
Paul then says,
For apart from law, sin is dead. (8b)
Here we see an important truth: you can’t break a law that doesn’t exist. You may be doing something God says is wrong, but because there is no law, he can’t hold us accountable for it. The only thing God really held people accountable for before the law came was choosing to turn their backs on him and going their own way, which of course, is the true root of all sin.
But then God laid out the laws through Moses. And they were meant to show people the way to true life. To show them what God was like, and how God had designed them to be.
When God gave the law, though, what happened? Did people happily say, “Oh, this is the way to life? Great! Let’s follow it!”
When the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. (9-10)
For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. (11)
As we said before, when the commandment came, sin in the sense of breaking a commandment became possible. “Sin” sprung to life and deceived me into thinking breaking the commandment was a good thing, thus bringing me under the law’s judgment.
All of this, of course, is figurative. There is no actual person named “Sin” out there. Nor do I think “Sin” is a reference to Satan, although he can tempt us to sin. The main point is that the opportunity to break the law came when God gave it, and because our sinful nature is in rebellion to God, we did. The result? Death.
So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. (12)
In short, “The law isn’t the problem. The law is good. The problem is you. You brought death upon yourself by breaking the law.”
He then asks,
Did that which is good, then, become death to me? (13)
Here he pictures the person who says, “Great! The law is good. But it means my death. How is that good?”
But Paul answers,
By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. (13)
What is Paul saying here? He’s saying, “Now you’re realizing what makes sin so bad. It takes something that is good and twists it so that evil results. The law shows the way to life, but sin used it to bring death to people.”
When you look at all sin, this is true. It takes something good and twists it. Even something like sadism is twisted good. Sadism is pleasure derived from another’s pain. But pleasure itself is a good thing. What’s bad is how you derive that pleasure.
And so one of the main purposes of the law is to help us realize just how bad sin really is.
One of the main problems with sin is people don’t realize just how bad it is. And until they do, they will never see their need for a Savior. That’s why we need the law.
How about you? Do you truly understand just how bad sin is?