Shackles of a Saved Soul - Page 4 of 6 (series: Lessons on Romans)
by John Lowe
But when the commandment came. When the commandment came to him, is apparently a reference to “thou shalt not covet” in verse 7. For the first time, Paul became conscious of his lack of ability to keep the Law.
We know from Paul’s own testimony in Acts and other places in the epistles that his mother taught him the commandments in the home, and later he studied the commandments under the great teacher Gamaliel; but there came a day when his eyes were opened and he saw what the commandments really meant. He realized that instead of being the means of grace and redemption, they were the means of death and condemnation. Sin was there all the time, but until the commandment came upon him with all its crushing force, his conscience was asleep, and sin did not disturb it.
Sin revived. Sin lived; it came to life again; it sprang into activity, revealing all the evil inherent in it, and thoroughly inflaming his sinful nature. Then he became conscious of the sinfulness of sin and realized that he was in a state of separation from God.
And I died. Separation is the essential feature of death; physical death is the separation of the soul from the body; spiritual death is the separation of the spirit from God. This condition of alienation from God involves the absence of any ability to live righteously, and the realization of personal condemnation and doom. The question that comes to mind is this: What does “I died” mean? The answer is this: “I died” means that he became aware of his true position as a slave of sin, and destined for death.
As for Paul, the more he tried to obey the Law, the worse he failed, until finally he could say, “I died.” He died as far as any hope of achieving salvation by his own character or efforts was concerned. He died to any thought of his own inherent goodness. He died to any dream of being justified by Law-keeping. He realized his deadness spiritually; that all of his religious credentials and accomplishments were rubbish—“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:7-8).
10 And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death.
And the commandment, which was to bring life. This is a reference to the original purpose of the Law. God had declared, “This do, and thou shalt live!” The Law was intended to guard and promote life, but man could not keep the Law.
But what does he mean when he says that the commandment was to bring life? This probably looks back to Leviticus 18:5, where God said, “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.” Ideally, the Law promised life to those who kept it. It promised life as a reward for obedience. For the commandment was given by the author of life, who said “this do and thou shalt live.”
I found to bring death. Paul found that the commandment, which was designed to give life through the keeping of it, led to death through breaking it. Theoretically, perfect obedience to the Law could bring eternal life, and with it happiness and holiness. But no one but Christ has—or could—ever fully obey it—“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
The more Law which Paul became aware of, the more sin he found himself committing. The more sin Paul committed the more convinced he was that one day he would have to pay for that sin. Since “the wages of sin is death,” we learn that the Law not only reveals sin, but also produces death. Paul’s former imagined state of happiness was replaced by a realization of his actual condition in the sight of God.
The doing of the Law was the difficult thing. The fault was not in the Law, but in the one who thought the Law would bring life and power. It
did neither. It merely revealed the weakness, inability, and the sin of mankind. Let me illustrate this. A car is a very useful thing. But a car in the hands of an incapable driver can be a danger and a menace. In fact, it can be a death-dealing instrument. The fault is not with the car; the fault is with the driver. The problem is man; he is the culprit.
If there had been a Law which could have given life, God would have given it—“Is the Law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a Law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the Law” (Gal. 3:21). But Life and Christian living do not come by the Law.
The sign outside a lion’s cage says, “Stay back of the railing.” If obeyed, the commandment brings life. But for the child who disobeys and reaches in to pet the lion, it brings death.
11 For sin, 7
taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.
Again Paul emphasizes that the Law was not to blame. It was indwelling sin that incited him to do what the Law prohibited. Sin deceived (tricked, seduced, led astray) him into thinking that what was forbidden wasn’t so bad after all, that it would bring happiness, and that he could get away with it. It suggested that he was acceptable to God because of his own merit and Good works. He believed God was withholding pleasures from him that were for his good. However, the commandment came along and opened his eyes to the truth; it yielded the opposite of what Paul expected, and therefore, he felt deceived. But the perpetrator of this deception was not the commandment itself, but sin. The commandment was merely the instrument by which sin deceived him. Consequently, sin killed him (not physically, but spiritually) in the sense that it spelled death to his best hopes of deserving or earning salvation.
Sin is like a personal enemy within. In the Garden of Eden, Satan made man believe that God could not be trusted, and that man was able to become a god. The serpent (Satan) taking advantage of the commandment of God about “the tree which is in the midst of the Garden” deceived Eve and brought about her death. Sin, like a pied piper, leads men into thinking that they can keep the Law and God is not needed. This is false and believing it leads to death.
12 Therefore the Law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
The fact that the Law reveals, arouses, and condemns sin, bringing death to the sinner, does not mean that the Law is evil. Rather, the Law is a perfect reflection of God’s holy character, and the standard for believers to please Him—“The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them Your servant is warned, And in keeping them there is great reward. The Law itself is holy, and each commandment is holy and just and good" (Ps. 19:7-11).
In our thinking we must constantly remember that there is nothing wrong with the Law. It was given by God and therefore it is perfect as an expression of His will for His people. The weakness of the Law was in the “raw materials” it had to work with: it was given to people who were already sinners. They needed the Law to give them the knowledge of sin, but beyond that they needed a Savior to deliver them from the penalty and power of sin.
God has not changed His mind about the Law, nor about sin. Sin is the enemy of God. The Law received by Moses on Mount Sinai has been described by some as “the concept of the mind of God as to what man ought to be,” and it has its penalty: “The soul that sins, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:20).