How many things that were meant for good have we seen used for evil purposes? I could list things like dynamite (whose inventor was appalled at how it was used for warfare), social media (whose ideals about connecting people didn’t work with fallen human beings), and psychology in marketing (when not used to connect people with what they need, but rather to separate consumers from money that they can’t spare). However, I suspect that you could think of many more.
It seems that we humans have a knack for taking something that God gave us (or allowed us to invent), and using it for evil purposes. Now, of course the things that God gave us aren’t inherently evil, but sometimes we forget why they were provided to us in the first place.
In the previous article, Paul had asked a rhetorical question in Romans 7:7, “Is the law sinful?” The next few verses help to explain why he answered that question in the negative.
But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.
Romans 7:8-11 NIV
Here’s my understanding of Paul’s explanation for the question of Romans 7:7, “Is the law sinful?” (or “sin”, per NASB): The law is not sinful, but sin uses the law so that it (i.e., sin) can spring to life. And, when sin is alive in us, what we “earn” from it is death.
If we were to consider someone who has no idea of right and wrong (and here, we might think of babies, as well as adults without the mental capacity to understand this kind of truth), there is neither the Law of Moses, nor the law of right and wrong indicated by an untainted conscience. Here, I don’t think that we can say that someone in this situation sins. After all, how can they sin unless there is something to sin against?
Think about the innocence of infants, as compared to some of the Ten Commandments:
- Can they make idols? They can’t even make their own dinner!
- Can they take the Lord’s name in vain? They can’t even talk.
- Can they lie? They seem to express the truth about what they need…or at least that they need something.
- Can they covet? They seem to only want what they need. (Toddlers, though, are a different matter entirely!)
However, once we grew up and became aware of the difference between right and wrong – whether through God-honoring instruction, our own consciences, or both – it wasn’t sinful to learn those things, but sin jumped at the chance to use the resulting choices that we were offered, in order to destroy us.
It wasn’t sinful for God to give Adam and Eve a commandment in the Garden of Eden (after all, God doesn’t sin), but when an understanding of what they were and weren’t supposed to do became available, sin – not just breaking God’s commandment, but also elements like lies and human pride – jumped in and used that one commandment to create death in the human race. We might blame some of these temptations on Satan (like his work through the serpent that spoke to Eve), but ultimately, regardless of its “vehicle”, this is all from sin dragging us down.
Paul – under attack by sin – found himself in the same situation with a commandment like, “Do not covet”. Where there was a law that defined wrong behavior, the law wasn’t bad. After all, wrong behavior is wrong behavior. However, sin used this opportunity – where Paul could choose between right and wrong – to produce coveting in him.
As a commentator (Cottrell) pointed out, if there wasn’t any law (although there is), then sin wouldn’t have this springboard from which to attack us. Sin itself would be dead, without any place to stand and attack from.
Once again, the law isn’t sinful. Theoretically, if we could follow it perfectly (which we don’t), once we really understood what is right and what is wrong, the law could potentially pronounce us righteous. However, sin took that opportunity (where the law gave us a chance to be righteous), and used it to condemn us to death when we broke the law.
Now, this doesn’t give us an excuse to sin, but understanding one’s opponent is a good first step! I hope that this knowledge will give you a head-start on the battle against sin today, but for more weapons against sin, I encourage you to read even more of the Bible today, whether from Romans or elsewhere, and ask God for help.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for March 13, 2022
- The Lookout, March 13, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 1, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.