But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. (Romans 7:8-9)
We have been looking at the teaching of Romans 7, which is the necessity of deliverance from the Law. The Christian must be delivered from the Law just as much as he needs to be delivered from the reign of sin.
The deliverance comes the same way, through our union with Christ in his death and resurrection, we die to the law, as Christ died to the law and was raised to walk in new Life. “Sin shall not have dominion over you for you are not under law but under grace.”(Romans 6:14)
Our opening scripture makes the point that indwelling sin has a life of it’s own.It “reigns”, has dominion, “takes occasion” over the law, ‘wars against the soul’ as peter warned us.Sin is a cunning dark power that can enslave,lies in wait for the right moment, As God warned Cain-
And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.(Genesis 4:6-7)
In short in many places in Holy Scripture, sin is treated as an intelligent power, a wily adversary,capable of waging war on our souls, using anything at hand, including the Law of God, to it’s own advantage.
The function of the Law is to expose sin, even to bring it out of hiding, to flush it out into the open. But never is the Law said to give us victory over sin, or to justify us, only the cross of Jesus can do that, and the giving of the Spirit to those who have fled to the cross.
But sin, taking occasion by the commandment,
Sin is so evil and cunning, it literally “takes occasion” by the Law to work in us all kinds of lust. The expression, “takes occasion” can be translated “Sets up a base of operations”against me, by the Law. It makes use of the Holy, Just and Perfect law of God to make war on my soul!
For without the law sin was dead… What does this mean? How could Paul ever say that he was without the Law, and that sin was dead ? Sin is alive and well, and Paul was very much “with the Law” as a Jew and a Pharisee, before his conversion.
Martyn Lloyd Jones is helpful here, by suggesting that Paul is speaking relatively here and not absolutely. In His commentary he posits that Paul is saying the same thing Jesus said in John 15 when he said,
If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin…If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. (John 15:22, 24)
In other words the effect of Jesus coming, his words and his works, in effect exposed the depth of their sins, making them without excuse. Of course they were sinners all along, in need of salvation, lost, estranged from God, but they were complacent in it, not realizing the depth of their sin.
The beauty and purity of Jesus, aroused their opposition to God, the lawlessness that lay dormant in them, Jesus aggravated the deep resistance to God that was there all along. They were ‘fine’ in the sense that sin lay dormant in them. This is what Paul means when he said “without the law sin is dead”.
But when the commandment came, sin revived and I died….
Saul of Tarsus had no idea how lost and deeply sinful he was, until “the Commandment came”. He thought he was “alive”, he felt like he was devoted to God, in good standing, upright, on target with Righteousness. Everyone else thought so too.
A deeper understanding of the Law of God, particularly the tenth commandment, which is unique in that it is a judgment of our deep motives, and desires came to him, and “slew Him”. He died in the sense that he couldn’t deny the lust, hatred, envy, selfishness and other assorted toxic passions that roiled to the surface upon the deeper revelation of God’s law.
The “death ” of Saul was the realization of his helplessness and weakness, the loss of his self-assurance and “can do” spirit. The dawning upon him of his utter bankruptcy before the bar of the Holy God devastated him.
Saul went from being proud Pharisee who “did it better than anyone else” to the shattered sinner, drowning in a works system that he perceived was an inadequate sham. These are the very “pricks” Jesus chided him for kicking against. The Law had done its work.