“But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.” (Romans 7:8–9, ESV)
I do not know if you have had this experience. When our children were growing up, we would tell them not to do something because it was bad for them. Yet, it seemed like there must have been some inherent distrust or perhaps curiosity. For often they would do the very thing we warned them not to do. For instance, “Don’t touch the stove, it will burn you.” Then, inexplicably, they would touch the stove and find out for themselves. Somehow, our command itself provoked the negative response.
It was not that the command was bad. In fact, it was good. It was to protect them from harm. There was some mechanism at work in their hearts and minds that drew them to test the veracity of the good command. This is what Paul speaks of in this section of his letter to the Romans. In fallen man, there is a natural rebellion to authority and a propensity to test the waters, so to speak.
Paul begins by saying that the law is not sin and concludes that it is holy and the commandment is righteous and good. He indicates that the law clearly defined that which was good and bad. Yet, his understanding of the law in a strange paradox amplified his transgression. He stated that sin seized an opportunity through the commandment and produced all kinds of covetousness. Moreover, the result of this was his spiritual death.
Paul goes on to say, “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.” (Romans 7:10, ESV) Paul, as a Pharisee of Pharisees trusted in the Law to justify himself and give him life. However, he found that it enticed him and took him to a place of hopelessness, realizing that he was sinking deeper and deeper in sin.
You see, while the command is good, it cannot give life. For no person, apart from Jesus, has ever fully obeyed the law. In fact, due to man’s fallen nature, and his inherited rebellious streak, every person has increased in sin and is without hope. One cannot justify himself through the law.
What shall we say then? Is there no hope? On the contrary, man has just one hope. Our only hope is found in Jesus Christ who died for our sin and offers eternal life to us as a free gift. This gift is received by faith in Christ alone.