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Frank Thielman: The close association between the law, sin, and death in Paul’s argument up to this point does not mean that the law, like sin and death, is evil. The law is God’s word and therefore is completely good. However, the law has no power to overcome sin in the weak, sin-prone human being, and in the face of sin’s power it becomes a tool by which sin deceives the human being into persistent disobedience to God.

S. Lewis Johnson: Now a thoughtful listener to the Apostle Paul, there are occasionally thoughtful listeners even on Sunday morning in the eleven o’clock service. They may have thought something like this. Now Paul you just said in chapter 6 that the believer has died in respect to sin, and now in chapter 7 the believer has died with respect to the law. If the believer has died with respect to sin, he had died with respect to the law are you not, Paul, putting the two in the same category? Are you not saying that the law stands in the same category that sin stands in? Is God’s law sinful?

John Toews: Paul has drawn a series of contrasts, especially in 5:20-7:6, in which the law is consistently linked with Sin or evil rather than with the grace and righteousness of God

Such an analysis is very problematic for a Jew. The law is the great revelation and gift of God, so how can it consistently be linked with Sin? How can Paul include the law among the powers arousing Sin and leading to sin and death? How is it possible to avoid the blasphemous conclusion that the law itself is Sin? Moreover, lurking behind that implication is a question about God. If the law is Sin(ful), then God is a fraud who tricked Israel by giving her evil in the name of good. Paul must respond to the implications of his analysis. Romans 7:7 – 8:11 is his response; it is his explanation of 5:20-21 and 7:5-6. . .

Paul asks and answers two questions: is the law to be identified with Sin (v. 7) and is the law responsible for death (v. 13)? Each question is answered with the powerful negative, absolutely not, followed by an explanation of the reason for the negative answer.

Grant Osborne: vv. 7-25 – The Struggle Within

But where does the law fit into all this? In this section, Paul shows that the law is powerless to save sinners (7:7-14) and lawkeepers (7:15-22). Even a person with a new nature (7:23-25) experiences ongoing evidence of the law’s inability to motivate him or her toward good. The sinner is condemned by the law; the lawkeeper can’t live up to it; and the person with the new nature finds that his or her obedience to the law is sabotaged by the effects of the old nature. Once again, Paul declares that salvation cannot be found by obeying the law. No matter who we are, only Jesus Christ can set us free. Yet the law, because it is God’s law, is not then cast aside as useless. In the next chapters, Paul grapples with the complexity of life under grace and the believer’s relationship to God’s law.


A.  (:7a) Rejection of False Inference that the Law is Sin

  1. Objection Raised

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin?

Frank Thielman: The expression “what shall we say?” (3:5) or “what, then, shall we say . . . ?” (4:1; 6:1; 7:7; 8:31; 9:14; 9:30) is a characteristic feature of Romans, where it is part of the dialogical, question-answer style that carries the argument of the letter forward. Paul uses it three other times in the same way he uses it here, to introduce a false inference from the preceding argument, an inference that he then rejects with his characteristic expression, “certainly not!” (3:5–6; 6:1–2; 9:14).

  1. Outright Rejection

May it never be!

B.  (:7b) Role of the Law is to Expose Sin

  1. Summary Statement of the Positive Role of the Law

On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law;

Illustration: The law is like a microscope that shows us a realm of reality (sin) that otherwise we could not see; Exposing our sinful nature

Douglas Moo: The Mosaic law helped him come to understand clearly the extent and seriousness of his sin. . .

The best explanation, then, finds Paul in these verses to be describing the experience that he and all Jews have gone through as part of the people of Israel.  Jews in Paul’s day had a lively sense of their involvement with the great acts in the history of Israel. It would be natural for Paul to merge his own experience relative to sin and the law with the experience of his people Israel. As he has made clear throughout Romans, the coming of the commandment (= the giving of the law of Moses) meant for Israel not “life” but “death.” Their sin was exposed and magnified, and greater wrath came on them (4:15; 5:20). . .

As most scholars today recognize, the style of Romans 7 requires that “I” include reference to Paul himself. But I do think the corporate way of thinking so typical of Paul’s world opens the way for us to take seriously the possibility that in this chapter he is not always referring to experiences from his own personal life but to experiences he has had in solidarity with his people Israel.

Bob Deffinbaugh: To think the Law to be sinful is like calling an x-ray evil, simply because it has some kind of relationship to cancer. An x-ray is good and beneficial simply because it exposes what is fatal to man if not dealt with. So, too, the Law exposes sin in man, which must be dealt with through the blood of Jesus Christ.

  1. Specific Example

for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said,

‘You shall not covet.’”

C.  (:8) Reaction to the Law is the Activation of Sin

  1. Specific Activation of Coveting

But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment,

produced in me coveting of every kind;

Illustration: Law functions like 2 magnets with opposite polarity — Provoking our sinful nature

Frank Thielman: Sin took advantage of the opportunity that God’s word afforded to suggest to people that rather than trust God’s word they should do what was in their own best interest according to their own judgment.

R. Kent Hughes: But the Law not only reveals sin, it activates sin, as verses 8, 9teach. . . An expanded paraphrase of this statement may be helpful:

But sin, setting up a base of operations through the commandment not to covet, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead or dormant. And I was alive, blissfully indifferent, to the searching demands of the Law; but when the commandment not to covet came, sin sprang to life, and I felt the sentence of death.”

Have you considered what would happen if on Main Street of your town one of the stores painted this sign on its window: YOU ARE FORBIDDEN TO THROW STONES THROUGH THIS WINDOW. The window would not last twenty-four hours. Even human law’s prohibitions are to us like shaking is to a can of cola.

Grant Osborne: Why Do God’s Laws Arouse Our Sinful Desires?

Because sin in us seizes the opportunity and becomes:

  • a sharpshooter, picking the best time and place for a kill
  • a magnet, creating an attraction as the object comes near
  • a temptress, working seduction at the point of need
  • a lawyer, trapping a victim in his own arguments
  • an engineer, building elaborate traps
  • an army, occupying undefended areas in our morality
  • a guerilla, instigating rebellion behind the scenes

Paul deliberately chose the last commandment as an example. That particular commandment was unique among the laws in the decalogue, and it obviously had a significant effect on Paul himself. The tenth commandment focuses entirely on our inward nature. At a superficial level, we may claim to have lived up to the first nine, but the last commandment exposes our intentions with shameful clarity. Paul claims that no sooner had he discovered that commandment than “every kind of covetous desire” (7:8) assaulted him. His “sinful passions” (7:5) suddenly became clear. In telling him not to covet, the law had introduced Paul to the darkest desires. But still Paul could maintain his firm belief that God’s law itself was sinless. The bright light that revealed a world of filth was not itself evil for having done so.

  1. Summary Statement of the Provoking Activity of the Law

for apart from the Law sin is dead.

Frank Thielman: When Paul says that apart from the law sin lies dead, he does not mean that people only sin in the presence of the law. Rather, he means that sin does not have the opportunity to generate knowing, willful rebellion against God and his word apart from the law (cf. 4:15; 5:20).


A.  (:9) The Law Replaces Spiritual Complacency with the Reality of Death

  1. Spiritual Complacency Apart from the Law

And I was once alive apart from the Law;

  1. Devastating Reality of Death

but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died;

Grant Osborne: The other issue in this extended passage (7:9-25) is its timing in Paul’s life. In this verse, written in past tense, the events clearly precede conversion. Within a few verses, however, Paul shifts to the present tense. In this case, the term tense is particularly appropriate, since Paul reveals himself to be a person intimate with soul agony. We should listen carefully to what Paul says, within the context that he says it, before we allow theological priorities to shift our understanding.

John MacArthur: Thirdly, it not only reveals the sin and rouses and aggravates the sin that’s in him, but it devastates and destroys him.  Verse 9, he says, “I was alive apart from the law once.”  Here, he doesn’t mean spiritually alive.  He means I was doing fine.  I was really living.  I mean, I was going along in my complacent, unperturbed, self-righteous life.  Everything was fine.  I was just doing real well and all of a sudden this convicting upheaval when I was exposed to the law showed what sin really was.  Verse 9 says, “When the commandment became clear to me, sin came to life and I was devastated.  I died.”  What do you mean you died?  “I died in the sense of all my hopes and all my dreams and everything I counted on and everything I hoped in were shattered and destroyed and ruined and devastated.”

This is again the loss of all security, the loss of all self-esteem, the loss of all self-satisfaction, the loss of all sense of self-preservation, the loss of all ability to think you could save yourself.  I was devastated when I saw the real extent of God’s law and knew my own sinfulness.  So, sin ruins, it devastates.  And what Paul is saying when he says, “I died,” is this, I was broken in spirit.  I was contrite.  I was repentant.  I was poor in spirit.  I was mourning over my sin.  I was meek before God.  If you want it in the terms of Romans 5:6, “I was without strength.  I was ungodly.  I was – ” in the terms of Jesus, “ – in need of a physician.”  And Paul has come to the point in his own life here that he is really looking for a way out of this horrendous guilt since being exposed to the law.

B.  (:10-11) The Law Results in Death

  1. (:10)  The Law’s Intention Has Been Reversed in its Outcome (from Life to Death)

and this commandment, which was to result in life,

proved to result in death for me;

Frank Thielman: To paraphrase 3:19, the commandment stopped Paul’s mouth and held him accountable to God. Paul did not realize this at the time that he became aware of God’s commandment (Phil 3:4–6) but understood it later through the lens of the gospel. This is the force of the passive verb “was found” (εὑρέθη), which means that the truth about his spiritual death was revealed to him by God in the gospel.

  1. (:11)  The Law Results in Death Due to the Deceitfulness of Sin

for sin, taking opportunity through the commandment,

deceived me, and through it killed me.

Frank Thielman: Just as the serpent deceived Eve by cleverly using God’s command to distort God’s character and good intentions toward his creation, so sin uses God’s command to generate human rebellion against God with its inevitable consequence of death. . .  It is hard not to think of sin as lying dormant, waiting for its opportunity to strike and then finding the perfect moment to ambush its prey when the commandment came. This fits perfectly with the picture of the “crafty” (arum) serpent deceiving Eve in Genesis 3:1–6.

Grant Osborne: Sin deceives people by misusing the law. It is filled with false promises and deceptions:

  • Sin promises to satisfy our desires even more than the last time.
  • Sin promises that our actions can be kept hidden, so no one will know.
  • Sin promises that we won’t have to worry about consequences.
  • Sin promises special benefits: wisdom, knowledge, and sophistication.
  • Sin promises power and prestige in exchange for cooperation.

Don’t buy the lie.


So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

Frank Thielman: the law is not sin but only sin’s tool and that the law, because it defines sin clearly, is entirely on the side of a holy, just, and good God.

John Toews: So that (hōste) introduces a conclusion. Paul has differentiated Sin and the law. The problem is Sin, not the law. The law was not able to give Israel a realm where the power of Sin could not operate. In Eden and at Sinai the law provided Sin a leverage with which to push every Israelite into the force field of Sin. The conclusion, and the answer to the question in v. 7, is that the law is absolved of any responsibility for Sin. The law is not Sin. Rather, it is holy; it comes from God. Paul could hardly use a stronger theological word to affirm the law. It participates in the very nature of God, and is what Israel is to be before God. And the imperative quality of the law, the commandments, share the attributes of the law. They are holy in origin, righteous in nature, and good in their effects. The law in whole and in part reflects the character of God. It is the opposite of Sin. The problem is that Sin is able to use it against its nature.

Grant Osborne: If the law causes so much difficulty, what useful purpose does it serve?

(1)  It is a revelation of the nature, character, and will of God.

(2)  Its ethical components were incorporated in Christ’s teaching.

(3)  It teaches us about sin.

(4)  It demolishes self-righteousness.