Paul's Epistle to the Romans, Shackles of a Saved Soul

 (23) Shackles of a Saved Soul                              
Romans 7:1–14

1 Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives?
2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the Law of her husband.
3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that Law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.
4 Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the Law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.
5 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the Law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death.
6 But now we have been delivered from the Law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.
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 covetousness unless the Law had said, “You shall not covet.”
8 But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the Law sin was dead.
9 I was alive once without the Law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.
10 And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death.
11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.
12 Therefore the Law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
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.
14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.


To understand the seventh chapter it must be read as a development of the teaching of the fifth and sixth, and also as introductory to the eighth. The fifth chapter showed what grace has done in bringing us into justification and life. The sixth chapter defended this new position against the presumptuous argument as to the possibility of continuing in sin, and showed that, as we are under grace and not under Law, our newness of life both demands service to God and empowers us to render it. The seventh chapter proves the truth of this position, first making clear, by an illustration from nature, how it is that we have been set free from the Law. Then he continues his teaching on the sanctified life, but thoroughly changes his analogy. Although the slave market is an appropriate analogy for our former relationship to the Mosaic Law, an even better analogy to depict the justified man’s relationship to Christ is that of the bonds of marriage. This is because the marriage relationship involves a response of the heart and emotion. Paul draws upon it to show the proper correlation between our sanctified lives as believers and that of a wife to her husband. The believer’s life in Christ is likened to widowhood and a second marriage.

1 Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the [1]Law), that the Law has dominion over a man as long as he lives?

Or do you not know brethren. This phrase shows how closely this chapter is joined to the last, and its meaning is the same as before; there is something that we ought to know, and Paul is going to tell us.

(for I speak to those who know the Law). The passage refers to the Law of the state (Roman Law), and the Law of God (Mosaic Law), which had over a thousand years trial with God’s chosen people. Both divine and civil Law maintain a hold on a man for as along as he lives. There is nothing wrong with the Law, it was good; the problem was that Israel did not keep the Law. Remember, that Stephen in his defense said that they had “…received the Law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it’ (Acts 7:53). Peter calls it a yoke “which neither our fathers or we were able to bear” (Acts 15:10). On the occasion that this letter was written, the apostle is talking to those who, whether Jews or Gentiles by birth, were acquainted with the principles of Law, and so were familiar with what is conveyed in the following statement.

That the Law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? This verse is connected with 6:14: “You are not under Law but under grace.” The connection is this, “You should know that you are not under Law—or are you ignorant of the fact that the Law has dominion over a man only when he is alive?” Paul is speaking to those who are familiar with the fundamental principles of Law, and who therefore should know that the Law has nothing to say to a dead man. The phrase “as long as he lives” stresses the permanent claim of the Law, up to the time of death.

2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the Law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the Law of her husband.

For the woman who has a husband is bound by the Law to her husband as long as he lives. The Laws relating to marriage strikingly illustrates that the authority of the Law is binding as long as life lasts. Both the Jewish and Roman Laws, required that a woman remain with her husband until the death of her husband; if she married another man while he was still alive, she was considered to be an [2]adulteress—“And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mk 10:12).

But if the husband dies, she is released from the Law of her husband. To illustrate the only way one can be freed from the Law, Paul shows how death breaks the marriage contract. A woman is bound by the marriage Law to her husband as long as he lives. But if he dies, she is released from that Law. Only if her husband should die was a woman free to marry another without publicly being branded an adulteress—“A wife is bound by Law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39).

The phrase, “the Law to her husband,” means the Law concerning the husband. The basis for this Law was given in Eden—“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24); in a legal sense it became Law when God gave the seventh commandment—“You shall not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14). The death of a woman’s first husband makes null and void her status as a wife in the eyes of the Law.

3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that Law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.

If a woman marries another man while her husband is living, she is guilty of adultery. If, however, her husband dies, she is free to marry again without any cloud or guilt of doing the wrong thing. The phrase rendered “so that she is” can also be rendered “so that she may be.”

Some folk insist that divorce and remarriage is not permitted under any circumstances, according to this verse. But to understand this verse we need to thoroughly understand the background. What would happen under the Mosaic Law if a man or woman were unfaithful in marriage? Suppose a woman is married to a man who is having an affair with another woman. What happens? He is stoned to death. When the old boy is lying under a pile of stones, she is free to marry another, of course. In our day, we can not apply the Mosaic Law—we can’t stone to death someone who is unfaithful. And Paul is not giving us instruction on divorce and remarriage here; he will do that elsewhere. The point that Paul is making here is that when a woman’s husband dies, she is no longer a wife; she is a single woman again. I think this is a universal principal among all civilized people. There are heathen people who put the wife to death when the husband dies, but civilized people have never followed that practice.

4 Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the Law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.

Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the Law through the body of Christ. The body of Christ is that which was nailed to the Cross as a sacrifice for our sins. He came to “seek and to save that which was lost,” and to that end He had to die. He took upon Himself flesh and blood, and assumed a human body in order to identify Himself with man—“Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). In this verse, the word “body” is used instead of “death.” By the death of Christ, believers were made dead, literally, “were put to death,” to the Law, which formally, had held them as bondservants. It was essential to Paul’s argument, that we, not the Law, should be the dying party, since it was we who were crucified with Christ, and not the Law. The point made is, that just as death breaks the marriage relationship, so the death of the believer with Christ breaks the jurisdiction of the Law over him. We are no longer joined to the Law; we are now joined to the risen Christ; the Law can no longer exert power over us. One marriage has been broken by death, and a new one has been formed.

Notice that Paul does not say that the Law is dead. The Law still has the valid ministry of convicting a man of his sin. And there is something else that the Law does; the Law confirms and seals our bondage to sin. As long as we are governed by the Law, there is no possibility of being released from that bondage. The only alternative is death. But when Christ died at Calvary, we died to the Law. Sin has no more dominion over us, neither does the Law.

That you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. Paul is saying that there is a parallel between the marriage between the wife and the second husband, and the union between the believer and Christ. When he says “we” in this passage, he is thinking of those who were Jews, before they came to Christ.

The wife represents the believer in Christ. The second husband represents Christ. But who is the [3]first Husband I believe he is the old state before our conversion to Christianity. In our unregenerate state (first husband), we were separated from Christ and living for self. But now, we (the wife) are identified with Christ (second Husband) in His death; we are dead to the Law and the Law is dead to us.

The purpose of our being free from the Law and married to another, the risen Lord, is so that we may produce fruit for God. The kind of fruit we are talking about is the winning of others to the Lord, and living a righteous life which is characterized by those “good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10), and by certain graces—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, fidelity, meakness, and self-control..

Having been justified by faith, we are now set free from that which held us in bondage. Since we are now free, we are also expected to produce the fruit of freedom, which is a sanctified life. From now on, we serve God in the newness of the Holy Spirit that God has placed within us, and not in the oldness of the letter of the Law. The holy Law of God is not an external code of “do’s” and “don’ts.” Rather it is a Law of love written on our hearts. We do not obey that Law because we fear the Lord, but because we love Him. In our former marriage to sin and the Law, we attempted to do only that which would meet the minimum standard of God. Now in our marriage to Christ, we seek to be all that we can be and to do all that we can do for Him, to please Him and demonstrate our love for Him.

5 For when we were in the [4]flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the Law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death.

For when we were in the flesh. Scripture uses the term “flesh” in a non-moral sense to describe man’s physical being—“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and in a morally evil sense to describe man’s unredeemed humanness (see Romans 8). “The flesh,” as it is used here stands for the unregenerate state of a man; which is every man’s condition when he enters the world. When we were in the flesh, we were under the control and domination of sin. The flesh was the basis of our standing before God. We depended on what we were or what we could do to win acceptance with God. The “flesh” as applied to a believer usually refers to the old nature that will stay with a man until he receives his glorified body—“Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:23).

Face this squarely, my friend. Are you able in your own strength to keep the Law? The Law was a straightjacket put on the flesh, to control it. The flesh rebelled and chafed under the irksome restraint of the Law. The flesh had no desire and lacked the capacity to follow the Law. The flesh broke out of the restraint imposed by the Law and therefore brought down the irrevocable penalty for breaking the Law, which is death.

The sinful passions. The meaning is the overwhelming impulse to think or do evil, which characterizes those who are “in the flesh.” Galatians 5:24 says, “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

Which were aroused by the Law. When we were in the flesh, the Law served, by its prohibitions and commandments, to kindle inward desires to do the very things that were forbidden. It is not that the Law originated them, but only that by naming and then forbidding them it stirred up the strong desire to do them!

Were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. The “members” are the members of our body. “To bring forth fruit,” expresses the result of the desire (sinful passions) to sin being excited by the Law, and that leads to eternal death. These sinful passions found expression in our physical members, and when we yielded to temptation, we produced poison fruit that results in death.

Elsewhere the apostle speaks of this fruit, that is, fruit produced from sinful passions, as the works of the flesh: “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries” (Gal. 5:19–21).

6 But now we have been delivered from the Law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

But now we have been delivered from the Law. Among the many wonderful things that happened when we were converted is that we were delivered from the Law (discharged, annulled, released). This is a result of our having died with Christ. Since He died as our Representative, we died with Him. In His death He fulfilled all the claims of the Law by paying its awful penalty. Therefore we are free from the Law and from its inevitable curse. But we are not free to do what God’s Law forbids, but free from the spiritual liabilities and penalties of God’s Law. Because we died in Christ when He died, the Law with its condemnation and penalties no longer has jurisdiction over us. There can be no double jeopardy.

Payment God will not twice demand—
First at my bleeding Surety’s hand
And then again at mine.
— Augustus M. Toplady

Having died to what we were held by. It is not the Law that has died; it’s the believer who has been made dead to the claims of the Law and the flesh, through the faith that saves—faith in Jesus Christ. Paul speaks of this death to the Law in Galatians 2:19: “For I through the Law died to the Law that I might live to God.”

So that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. We are now set free to serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter—not in our old way of mechanical obedience to the divine Law, as a set of rules of conduct, without giving any consideration to the state of our hearts; but in that new way of spiritual obedience, which through the Savior we have learned to give to God. Paul spoke of that in his letter to the Corinthians: “Who has indeed qualified us as ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6).  Our slavery is no longer to the Law, but to God in the new life of the Spirit, and is therefore not slavery at all. Our service is motivated by love, not fear; it is a service of freedom, not bondage. It is no longer a question of slavishly adhering to minute details of traditions and ceremonies, but of the joyful giving of ourselves for the glory of God and the blessing of others. The believer is set free, but now in love he gives himself to the Savior as he never could do under the Law. He has a new relationship and a new attitude. The relationship is one of constantly being a slave to God. This means that we serve God, fully aware that we belong to Him. He owns us, because He redeemed us. In place of legalism that enforces statutes, there is now a spirit of love and dedication. There is a little poem that expresses this thought very well:

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 [5]covetousness 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 couvetousness: 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.

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).

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 [8]spiritual, but I am [8]carnal, 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.

[1]LAW. The word as it is used in Scripture refers to the expressed will of God, and in nine cases out of ten to the Mosaic Law, or to the Pentateuch of which it forms the chief portion. The Hebrew word for Law is “torah.” It should also be noted that the title “the Law” is occasionally used loosely to refer to all of the Old Testament, as it is in John 10:34: “Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’?

[2]ADULTERY. Exodus 20:14 is the 7th Commandment—“You shall not commit adultery.” The parties to this crime, according to Jewish Law, were a married woman and a man who was not her husband. The Mosaic penalty was that both the guilty parties should be stoned, and it applied as well to the betrothed as to the married woman. Deuteronomy 22:22-24specifies the penalty for adultery—“If a man is found lying with a woman married to a husband, then both of them shall die—the man that lay with the woman, and the woman; so you shall put away the evil from Israel. “If a young woman who is a virgin is betrothed to a husband, and a man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he humbled his neighbor’s wife; so you shall put away the evil from among you.” In the case of a bondwoman found to be an adulteress, she was to be scourged, and the man was to make a trespass offering—“Whoever lies carnally with a woman who is betrothed to a man as a concubine, and who has not at all been redeemed nor given her freedom, for this there shall be scourging; but they shall not be put to death, because she was not free. And he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, a ram as a trespass offering. The priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering before the Lord for his sin which he has committed.” Later on when, following the Gentile example, the marriage tie became a looser bond of union, public feeling in regard to adultery changed, and the penalty of death was seldom or never inflicted.

[3]The first husband? There is a difference of opinion between Bible commentators concerning the identity of the first husband. Some believe he represents the old state before conversion (which is what I believe). Others think it refers to Christ crucified. Still others believe the first husband represents Adam and our position in him. There are also those who say that he is the church (the community of born-again believers, regardless of denomination).

[4]Flesh  The physical bodies of humans or animals. When God removed a rib from Adam with which he created Eve, he closed up the place with flesh (Gen. 2:21). The apostle Paul spoke of the flesh of men, beasts, fish, and birds (1 Cor. 15:39).
The imagery of flesh expresses several different ideas in the Bible. Rather than only the "fleshy" parts of the body, the word could also refer to the entire body (Gal. 5:13). From this idea, the concept of a fleshly or human bond between people follows. A man and his wife "shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24), while a man can tell his family that "I am your own flesh and bone" (Judg. 9:2). "Flesh" is even used occasionally to describe all of mankind, and even animals (Gen. 6:3).
Biblical writers thought of the flesh as weak. The Psalmist sang, "In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me?" (Ps. 56:4). The weakness of the flesh was blamed for the disciples’ inability to keep watch with Jesus in Gethsemane on the eve of His crucifixion (Mark 14:38).
In an even stronger sense, flesh is the earthly part of a person, representing lusts and desires (Eph. 2:3). The flesh is contrary to the Spirit (Gal. 5:17). Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom. 8:8). Galatians 5:19-23 contrasts works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. The flesh is not completely condemned, however, for Christ Himself was described as being "in the flesh" (1 John 4:2). Christ alone is our salvation, since by the works of the Law "no flesh shall be justified" (Gal. 2:16).

[5]Covetousness. An intense desire to possess something (or someone) that belongs to another person. The Ten Commandments prohibit this attitude. Covetousness springs from a greedy self-centeredness and an arrogant disregard of God’s Law. The Bible repeatedly warns against this sin. Many examples of covetousness appear in the Bible: Gehazi’s greed, Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, the rich fool, the rich young ruler, and the deceit of Ananias and Sapphira. The apostle Paul labeled this sin as idolatry—“Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5). He warned believers not to associate with a covetous brother—“But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner— not even to eat with such a person” (1 Cor. 5:11). The best way to avoid a self-centered, covetous attitude is to trust the Lord and to face one’s responsibilities. To those tempted by “covetousness,” Jesus declares, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15).

[6]Taking opportunity. The word translated “opportunity” here and in verse 11 was used in a military context to designate a base of operations or a starting point from which an attack is launched; a starting place from which a person can rush into sinful acts, while making excuses for doing what they (those who sin) want to do. The same word is found in Galatians—“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). Here Paul taught that Christian liberty can very quickly turn into license. In such a case, a person uses his or her liberty as a springboard for sin.

[7]Taking Occasion. Taking occasion means “to make a start from a place, a base of operations. Paul is saying that sin, taking the commandment as a starting point, an occasion, “deceived me, and by it killed me.”

[8]Spiritual vs. Carnal.

Spiritual means of the spirit or nonmaterial. The word spiritual refers to nonmaterial things, including a spiritual body and spiritual things as distinct from earthly goods. But the most important use of the word is in reference to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gave the Law (Rom. 7:14) and supplied Israel with water and food (1 Cor. 10:3–4). Our every blessing is from the Spirit (Eph. 1:3), as is our understanding of truth (Col. 1:9). Our songs should be sung in the Spirit (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), and our ability to understand Scripture correctly is given by the Spirit (Rev. 11:8). We are to be so dominated by the Spirit, so that we can be called spiritual (1 Cor. 2:15; Gal. 6:1).
Carnal means sensual, worldly, nonspiritual; relating to the crude desires and appetites of the FLESH or body. The apostle Paul contrasts “spiritual people”—that is, those who are under the control of the Holy Spirit—with those who are “carnal”—those under the control of the flesh (1 Cor. 3:1–4; Rom. 8:5–7). The word “carnal” is usually used in the New Testament to describe worldly Christians.



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