Shackles of a Saved Soul - Page 5 of 6 (series: Lessons on Romans)
by John Lowe
13 Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.
What is good refers to the Law, as it is specifically stated in the preceding verse. Paul raises the question “Did the Law become death to me?” which means “Is the Law the culprit, dooming Paul (and all the rest of us) to death?” The answer, of course, is “Certainly not!” Sin is the culprit. The purpose that God intended for the Law was for it to bring to the sinner an awareness of the true nature of sin and its deadly character, which brings the sinner to see his need for salvation. In another one of his epistles Paul asked a question, “What purpose then does the Law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one. 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, But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Gal.3:19-22). Because man is a sinner, he doesn’t believe sin is really as bad as it is. So, the Law didn’t originate sin, but it showed sin in all its sinfulness. “…By the Law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). But that is not all! How does man’s sinful nature respond, when God’s holy Law forbids it to do something? The answer is—that what has been dormant desire now becomes a burning passion to do the thing that is forbidden!
Suppose that sin could accomplish its purposes through sinful means only. That would be bad enough, but a particular treacherous feature of sin is that it can achieve its evil end through that which is good. It can take something as good as the Law of God and accomplish death through it.
There might seem to be a contradiction between what Paul says here and in verse 10. There he said that he found out that the Law brings (spiritual) death. Here he denies that the Law brought death to him. The clarification is this: The Law by itself cannot supply the power to improve the old nature on the one hand, nor cause it to sin on the other. It can reveal sin, just as a thermometer reveals the temperature. But it cannot control sin like a thermostat controls the temperature. But what happens is this. Man’s fallen human nature instinctively wants to do whatever is forbidden. It uses the Law to awaken otherwise dormant lusts in the sinner’s life. The more a man tries, the worse it gets, till at last he loses all hope. Sin uses the Law to cause any hope of improvement to die in him. And he sees the exceeding sinfulness of his old nature, as he never saw it before.
14 For we know that the Law is 8spiritual, but I am 8carnal, sold under sin.
Up to this point the apostle has been describing a past experience in his life—namely, the traumatic crisis when he underwent deep conviction of sin through the Law’s ministry. Now he changes to the present tense to describe an experience he had since he was born again—namely, the conflict between the two natures and the impossibility of finding deliverance from the power of indwelling sin through his own strength. Paul acknowledges that the Law is spiritual—that is, holy in itself, tailored to man’s spiritual benefit, given by the Holy Spirit, and part of the Word of God. But he realizes that he is carnal, and that he is incapable of yielding spiritual obedience, and as a result, he is not experiencing victory over the power of indwelling sin in his life. He is sold under sin. He feels as if he is sold as a slave with sin as his master.
The phrase sold under sin means that sin can dominate a person in the same way that a slave is under the domination of his master. What is expressed is not the condemnation of the unregenerate state, but the evil of bondage to a corrupt nature, and the futility of making use of the Law as a means of deliverance. But it is not only those who are lost who have a problem with sin, you must include believers whose indwelling sin continues to attempt to claim what it considers to be its property, even after one has become a Christian. Paul knew what it was to be under the domination of sin. His battle was not a few isolated conflicts, but a continual warfare. But sin can no longer control him as it does a man who is an unbeliever, but it does hold the believer’s members (fleshly body) captive. Sin contaminates him and frustrates his inner desire to obey the will of God.
Paul said, “I am carnal.” Paul has three words to describe man:
1. “natural.” The unsaved man who has not found deliverance from sin. According to 1 Corinthians 2:14, “… the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
2. “spiritual.” The believer who is living his life in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Paul told the Corinthian believers, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ” (1 Cor. 3:1).
3. “carnal.” The saved man who has not found deliverance from the power of sin in the fullness of the Spirit. “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?” (1 Cor. 3:1-4).
God wants his children to be spiritual men and women. The spiritual man has been saved by grace, is kept by grace, and will stand in the presence of Almighty God free from condemnation, because of the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ and not because of any work he has done in his body.