How Does Sin Use the Law to Kill and Condemn Us?
Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.
- Romans 7:7-9, ESV
Don't think about pink elephants!
What are you thinking about right now?
Righteousness can never come through the law, for the law only brings us condemnation. Does that mean the law is wrong or bad? Should we hate the law because it leads to condemnation? No! The psalmist teaches us to sing with delight, "Oh, how I love your law!" (Ps. 119:97) Paul even says here in Romans 7 that "the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good." (Rom. 7:12) So, if we are to love the law because the law is holy and good, why doesn't it free us from sin?
The problem is not with the law but with sin. The law is an accurate reflection of the holy and good character of God. But sin is deceitful and our hearts are naturally prone to believe its lying and ensnaring voice.
Paul lays out for us a powerful picture of how sin takes advantage of the law: The law tells us not to covet, and sin takes the law's prohibition and convinces us that coveting must be a desirable and delightful thing. Thus, it is the enslaving nature of sin that is evil, not the law.
Our fallen human nature longs for self-justification, for some measure of self-righteousness, and so when sin speaks evil desires to our hearts through the opportunity of the law, we respond by creating more rules. If coveting is wrong and our hearts begin to covet, we think we can add rules about a minimalist lifestyle or a self-imposed vow or poverty. If the law tells us not to lust, and our hearts and prone to lust, we invent strict modesty codes.
It should be obvious that the multiplication of rules and codes will not tame the corrupting influence of sin. The more rules we are given, the more sin will whisper to our hearts to break them.
We need a deeper, stronger power of redemption to set us free from the enslaving voice of sin. Paul will continue wrestling with this issue in the rest of Romans 7 before reaching the answer in Romans 8. Ultimately, it is the Holy Spirit who must free us from the law of condemnation and the enslaving power of sin.