Shackles of a Saved Soul - Page 3 of 6 (series: Lessons on Romans)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

I do not work my soul to save;

That work my Lord hath done.
But I will work like any slave
For love of God’s dear Son.

Now we serve Him whom we have never seen, yet believing, we serve with “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). We are now under the dispensation of the Spirit—or the Dispensation of Grace, where we must serve Him in the Spirit—not by keeping the Law.

While “newness of spirit” may stand for the new state or the new life of the believer, yet it is impossible to dissociate this from the Holy Spirit, by whose power the believer renders his service. This new state of mind which the Spirit produces is characterized by a new desire and ability to keep the Law of God.

The Christian life is Christ living His life through us today. We can’t do it ourselves, nor can we do it by keeping the Law. There is nothing wrong with the Law—let’s understand that—the problem is with us.

“The letter,” stands for the Law (Mosaic Law). It is the written Word of God as found in the Old Testament. It is only a set of “do’s” and “don’ts,” while the Gospel is the message of freedom and liberty, ruled by the Spirit and produced by the Spirit. The Spirit of the Lord brings liberty—“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17).


7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the Law. For I would not have known 5covetousness unless the Law had said, “You shall not covet.”

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? The question could be phrased like this: “Is it possible that since the Law stirred up sinful desires within the person, that the Law is itself promoting sin? In other words, is the Law evil?” Paul, both as a Christian and a Pharisee, could not bring himself to question the divine authority and source of the Law. “The Law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (v. 12). But what had the Law actually done for him? As he sees it now, the Law had only succeeded in making him utterly miserable, by making him aware of his real situation as a slave to sin.

Certainly not! On the contrary. It might seem from all this that Paul is critical of the Law. He had said that believers are dead to sin and dead to the Law, and this might have created the impression that the Law is evil. But this is far from the case.
I would not have known sin except through the Law. Notice that Paul uses the first person pronouns: I, we, and myself; they are used 47 times in this section. The experience with covetousness is Paul’s, and it is the struggle he had within himself. He tried to live for God in the power of his new nature. He found it was impossible. The Law reveals God’s standard, and as believers compare themselves against that standard, they can accurately identify sin, which is the failure to meet the standard. The Law revealed to Paul the great sinfulness of his sin. The Law was an X-ray of his heart. That is what the Law will do for you if you put it down on your life. The Word of God is called a mirror, and it reveals what we are. If you have a spot on your face, the mirror will show it to you, but it can’t remove the spot. However, God has a place to remove it:
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.

Paul places the birth of his consciousness of sin at the point he discovered that he wanted something that he should not have. The first time that we recognize our sin is when our desire (covetousness) meets up with what God has forbidden. That, of course, is why the Law awakens our sense of sin.

For I would not have known covetousness. Paul is thinking of his own experience with covetousness, before he was saved. He emphasizes that the Law itself is not sinful, but that it reveals sin in man. It was the Law that convicted him of the terrible depravity of his heart. As long as he compared himself with other people, he felt fairly respectable. But as soon as the demands of God’s Law came home to him in convicting power, he stood speechless and condemned.

Unless the Law had said, “You shall not covet. The tenth commandment is quoted here, not as a sample of what the Law says, but to illustrate a principal—the command stirred up the desire to do the wrong thing. The commandment not only made known the evil as such, but also revealed its evil source within every man. If the Law had not said, “You shall not covet,” one would not

know that one was guilty of covetousness: but also, one would not in fact have been guilty of it.

Coveting takes place in the mind. Although Paul may not have committed any of the grosser, more revolting sins, he now realized that his thought life was corrupt. He understood that evil thoughts are sinful as well as evil deeds. He had a polluted thought life. His outward life may have been relatively blameless, but his inward life was a chamber of horrors.


8 But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the Law sin was dead.

But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment. Not only does the Law reveal sin, but it motivates it as well. The moment Paul attempted to keep the Law, (abstaining from covetousness in this case) the very commandments which he attempted to keep (and could not) provoked him to do sinful things. Confronted by God’s Law, the sinner’s rebellious nature finds the forbidden thing more attractive, and given the opportunity, he will exert his self-will and do what God forbids.

Produced in me all manner of evil desire. Evil desire, as used here, means coveting. When the Law forbids all kinds of evil coveting, man’s corrupt nature is inflamed all the more to do it. For example, the Law says, in effect, “You must not conjure up all sorts of pleasurable sexual encounters in your mind. You must not live in a world of lustful fantasies.” The Law forbids a dirty, vile, suggestive thought-life. But unfortunately it doesn’t give the power to overcome it. So the result is that people under Law become more involved in a dream-world of sexual uncleanness than ever before. They come to realize three very important characteristics of the Law:
1. Whenever sinful behavior is forbidden, the fallen nature wants to do it more than before. “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant” (Prov. 9:17).
2. Sin takes advantage of every opportunity to arouse within a person a desire to do what God has said is evil.
3. The Law doesn’t cause the act of sin; it is the principal or nature of sin within an individual that causes it. The Law’s specific commandments stimulate the sinful nature to do acts that violate the commandments and to give those acts the character of transgression.

It was the Law that brought home to Paul the reality of sin. God’s Law defines what sin is, and then it makes us aware of it. But the Law does more than show sin for what it is; it provokes sin.

For apart from the Law sin was dead. Apart from the Law sin exists, but it can’t be designated as sin. Paul is not saying that sin is not committed without the Law. He is saying that without the Law, sin is not apparent to us and it’s not as active, for the Law arouses “sinful passions.” It takes a carpenters level to make it clear how far from straight a board is. Without a commandment the sinfulness of sin is not understood or even realized. The sinful nature is like a sleeping dog. When the Law comes and says “Don’t,” the dog wakes up and goes on a rampage, doing whatever is forbidden. Sin has no existence apart from God’s Law, since by definition sin is the violation of God’s Law. A terrorist may release dangerous microbes into the air, but unless some instrument detects them, they will go unnoticed; and if we didn’t have the Law we would not know what sin is.


9 I was alive once without the Law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.

I was alive once without the Law. It is evident that Paul is speaking from his own experience, and he will continue doing so until we come to the end of the chapter. This verse records the dawn of conscience in the Apostle Paul. He had lived a self-complacent, self-righteous life in which he was free from the conviction of sin. It is difficult to say exactly when this period existed in Paul’s life. Some have suggested that it was the first thirteen years of Paul’s life, before his bar mitzvah ceremony (the ceremony in which a Jewish boy becomes a “son of the commandment” and assumes personal responsibility to keep the commandments of the Law). However, Paul’s complacency may have lasted beyond the years of childhood.

Before being convicted by the Law Paul was alive; that is, his sinful nature was comparatively dormant and he was blissfully ignorant of the iniquity in his heart. He was not ignorant of the Law, nor did he have a lack of concern for the Law—“concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the Law, blameless” (Phil 3:6); however, he had the wrong understanding of it.

Paul considered himself to be blameless, since he observed the fine points of the Law. He was blameless, faultless, and beyond reproach. He knew and practiced the rules of the rabbi. He scored one hundred percent in Judaism.


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