7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.”
From verses 7 through 17, Paul defended certain aspects of the sin issue:
Sin, not the law, is the true culprit, vv. 7-13
Sin and self in combination are also culprits, vv. 14-17
7 What shall we say then?
To say that the law stimulates sin is not to say that the law itself is sinful (7:5). To affirm that the law cannot justify a sinner or sanctify a saint is not to conclude that the law is worthless. After all, God Himself gave the law.
Is the law sin?
Paul explicitly said later in this chapter that the law does not produce sin but that it is intrinsically good (vv. 12, 14). The law and sin are not the same although they are related in a sense. The law serves the legitimate function of calling attention to how sin violates God. Without the law people would not know they have a problem with God.
“Sin” is more than a social moral code. It is a violation of God’s standards. The use of “sin” in this chapter is sin as a force, a capacity to sin.
In unequivocal terms Paul denied that the law is sinful.
On the contrary [strong contrast],
Paul defended what is good about the law. He did not want to leave the impression from verses one to six that there is nothing good in the law.
I [Paul] would not have known [personal experience] sin except through the law.
The purpose of the law was to make sin known (3:19-20). Although the law cannot transform or grant life to the individual, it has the important function of revealing the nature of sin.
Paul began to be very personal with this verse. He used “I,” “me,” and “my” 47 times in this section of Romans. He demonstrated his personal struggle with sin throughout this chapter.
For I would not have known [rational knowledge] covetousness [strong sinful desire] unless the law had said,
A specific area that the law revealed was covetousness. Covetousness is the only sin of the 10 commandments that deals with desires as over against outward action. Sin is more than outward action.
Paul did not say here that he did not know the meaning of covetousness at some point. He asserted that covetousness was not applied to him personally without a specific command from God. The law brought to light his personal coveting in conviction of that particular sin. In other words, the issue here is not violating societal norms but sin against God.
“You shall not covet.”
This is a quotation from the 10th commandment in Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21. Sin is more than overt acts; it involves motives as well. The first nine commandments are related to deeds, but the 10th deals with desires or motives. These motives come from the sin capacity. Our capacity or condition of our soul is the basis for coveting. First we have sinful capacity, then that capacity manifests itself in orientation to sin, which ultimately shows itself in sinful deeds.
People have a dim awareness of their sin without explicit revelation from Scripture.
The source of all sin is in the self. That is what Paul found by reading the 10th commandment. Covetousness is a root of all sin. Desire for objects that satisfies self, other than God, is sin because it puts the sinner in the ultimate place. That is why the Bible calls covetousness idolatry.
Co 3:5, Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
The law strips away the sinner’s self-delusion about his relation to God. It shows the utter depravity people have before God, but it offers no solution to the sin problem. The law is like an X-ray that reveals the tumor but does not provide the cure. A surgeon is needed to remove the cancer. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the fact that the X-ray reveals the problem. But neither is it the solution to the sin problem. It is clear that we are “not under the law but under grace” (6:14). That grace involves the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Romans 8).