Thoughts from Passage
The church calendar creates good rhythms for the year. There is the season of expectation known as Advent as we prepare for the birth of Jesus. There is the common time that comes throughout summer in North America and it is a reminder that God is at work in the mundane and normalcy of everyday life. There is the Easter season in which we celebrate over and over again the resurrected Christ (truthfully, we celebrate this all year long). There is also the season known as Lent. Lent is a time of the year that lasts from Ash Wednesday until Easter.
Lent is a fascinating time of the year as the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter (not counting Sundays) is a time in which disciples of Christ are reminded of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert. Today, we often fast throughout the Lenten season as a reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice for us and to participate in his desert temptation.
I started a practice in college of giving up, fasting, of some things during the Lenten season. I typically give up, at a minimum, all types of sweets and all soda. Other than this past year where I observed the feast days on Sunday, I abstain from these things the entire 40 days. In reality, I don’t drink that much soda or eat that many sweets, but there is something about this time of fasting in which I crave both! I make a commitment to say in moments I desire soda or sweets that I want to desire God infinitely more than I desire soda or sweets. It seems I pray a lot.
At the end of the fast I will, with great anticipation, open and drink a coke and after I finish it I am usually disappointed. It’s crazy, I know. I have been eagerly awaiting chocolate chip cookies or some other dessert and after I eat it, I think, “well, what now?” I should enjoy every morsel and every drop, but I don’t. What I find is that in the absence of soda and sweets, my taste buds have become accustomed to not having these items. My stomach sometimes even hurts a little. What I often realize is that I could give up, entirely, all soda and sweets.
I think this analogy would have worked for Paul here. When we can’t have or do something, we are even more drawn to it. Often, once we attain, do, or live out our desire we are left thinking that was not as good as I remember or it was not what I had hoped it would be. God would love for us to walk away from it and say no more, but often we say instead “how, about I try this again?” We try again and find we now have more of an appetite than the last time, but it is still not enough and the cycle keeps going.
This is what sin does. It draws us in and because we know we shouldn’t do something we are drawn even more to it! Once, it does not satisfy we try again and again until we get more satisfaction, but all the while we know we shouldn’t. It is when we seek Jesus we eventually are able to walk away from sin and we see it for what it is, worthless.
7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. 9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.
13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[d] a slave to the law of sin.
Paul always seems to use a question to shift topics or to further his point and this spot is no different. This is consistently the way in which he moves from one topic to another, or the way in which he answers the questions he assumes his readers will have. In a written language with no punctuation writers had to have a way to help understand shifts in thought and asking questions is the easiest way to do that.
In verse 7 when Paul says that he knows sin, he does not mean just an intellectual understanding of sin, but he is addressing that he knows what sin is through the action of sin. Sin is pervasive in all of life. But sin is not to win in a world in which God is creator.
What Paul has been consistently saying is that the Law is not bad, but the Law itself can save no one. John Wesley said in his sermon “The Original, Nature, Property, and Use of the Law” this, “Law tears away sin’s disguises and shows it for what it really is.” The Law creates sin in the sense that it defines it. And once something is forbidden it seems we are drawn to it.
We see this in children all the time. When someone says to a child, “Don’t touch.” The first thing that child does when they are given the opportunity is to touch the forbidden object. This was the problem in the garden in the beginning. When Adam and Eve were given the opportunity they chose selfishness over obedience. Adam and Eve bought into the deceptive nature of sin and it led to their fall.
Mark Quanstrom in his book “From Grace to Grace” talk about how sin has certain characteristics. He list three things that define sin.
Characteristics of Sin
- Its destructive nature.
- Its deceitful nature- “In short, sin presents itself as a good. Sin’s ability to destroy is therefore attributed to its deceptive character.” Goes on to say “In short total depravity has affected humanity’s ability to even recognize sin as sin.”
- Its power to enslave
These three characteristics of sin are not taken away by the law, but they become more apparent. This reality is that the Law shows us what we probably already know, sin reigns in us if God does not reign in us. Apart from the work of God through Jesus we can never get to the place of being truly freed from sin.“Paul was convinced that the path of Law-observance, even when it seems to succeed, leads in the wrong direction – to self-righteousness.”
In this text Paul often uses the word “I”. There are all kinds of views to how we are to understand this first person language. Some have argued that Paul is talking in an autobiographical way, but that seems unlikely with the Paul writes throughout all his writing. “I” is everyman, everywoman, and every Jew it is connected to all from Adam in a way that says we all are connected with sin through Adam.  “When God gave Israel the Torah, Israel copied Adam by breaking it.”
“But the passage has a relevance for us which we should not miss. When we, too, are faced with sin, whether in our own lives or in the wider world, we should not underestimate it. Evil is real and powerful. It is opposed to God, his world, his human creatures, and not least of all those who are called to follow his son. We dare not trifle with it. It is deceitful. It is deadly.”
There is so much more that could be said about sin and what Paul is writing here. If this was the end of what Paul said it would be a rather depressing perspective! However, Paul does not stop here. The end of chapter 7 is not the end of the letter ad it is not the end of the hope we find in Jesus, who is the Christ. In chapter 8 we see the hope that we find when our lives are redefined from slavery to sin and the law of sin and death, and we are redefined through life in the Spirit.
 Barclay, 97.
 Greathouse, 213.
 Greathouse, 207.
 Wright, 125.
 Wright, 126.