“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” Romans 7:7
If we, who are in Christ, have become dead to the law, then what purpose did the law serve when we were still sinners? What role did it play? How was the law utilized in the eternal plan of Redemption? That is what the apostle addresses here.
Paul mentioned in Romans 7:5 that “the motions of sin… were by the law”; that is, the sufferings, afflictions, and passions of sin came by the law and were revealed through the law. Paul anticipates, that because he said this, someone might suggest the absurd notion that the law was sin. Once again, how can the law be sin when it comes forth from God?
Then, Paul gives a personal example of his own experience with the law by explaining that he didn’t even know he was lusting until covetousness was revealed by the law as sin; and here, the apostle quotes Exodus 20:17:
“But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead” (Romans 7:8).
Once he learned that particular command of the law, all kinds of evil lusts and desires arose within him (“wrought in me all manner of concupiscence”). “For without the law sin was dead“; in other words, that before he was awakened to the knowledge of certain laws within the scriptures, it didn’t mean that he didn’t sin, it just meant that the awareness of that sin was not alive in his mind and thinking. When you see the sign that says, “Wet Paint,” it stirs in the natural man the inclination to touch it.
“For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died” (Romans 7:9).
With the knowledge and awareness of sin that comes through the law, sin is awakened and alive, and here, Paul says he “died.” He’s not speaking of our death to the law here as saved souls; he speaks of the sinner’s condemnation in the sight of a holy God. He is still speaking in the past tense. Because sin is awakened and alive, a sinner cannot stand justified in the presence of this holy, and just, and good God.
In order to more properly illustrate the Role of the Law, and segue into our next point, the Restrictions of the Law (Law’s Inability), it would be especially good for our understanding to look at Galatians 3:21-25, which we will do in the next article.
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Read the previous article in this series, “The Lord’s Perfect Law” (Psalm 19:7).