By Robert Halsey Pine
“What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet”…So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.” (Romans 7:1-14 NRSV).
A law enforcement official from a city in England once spoke to a civic club in my town. When asked if there was a drug problem in his city the official said, “We didn’t have a drug problem until laws were passed against the unauthorized use or sale of them.” Isn’t this what Paul is saying to the Romans?
Even when something is not beneficial to us, if there is no law against it we do not necessarily see the thing as wrong or sinful. We have a need for law to help and guide us, but much depends on who is making the law. The only perfect law is that law made and revealed to us by God. Man’s law is not as reliable as God’s law. It is made to fit man’s needs and can be alternately changed. God’s law is constant and timeless.
Paul says, “But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.” And so it was in the beginning with Adam. Adam did not realize that he shouldn’t eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil until God commanded him not to do so. Paul’s comment in his own case was, “For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.” The new convert in the Lord will soon recognize the sin that he ignored as a lawless non-believer.
Paul asks the question, “Did what is good, then, bring death to me?” He goes on to answer his own question by saying, “By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin…” God’s law is spiritual and we are by our nature sinful. God’s holy law and commandments show us how He wants us to live. Because we are unable to control our sinful nature, God has given us His promise of salvation through the sacrifice of His Son Christ Jesus. He has done this so that in our sin, we will continue in the hope of being with Him in His kingdom. He really wants us to do well!
Robert Halsey Pine was born at Newark, Ohio in 1943. He is a graduate of Northeastern University and completed the program of Theological Education by Extension: Education for Ministry, School of Theology, the University of the South.