For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.
Being in the flesh is a reference to being an unbeliever under the control of the sin nature. As unbelievers we were controlled by our sin natures, and we were bearing fruit that was consistent with the spiritual status of spiritually dead. The fruit we bear as unbelievers is sin, human good and evil. The sinful passions are the result of a life controlled by the sin nature. Notice that these are sinful passions and the Law shines a light on them as sin. Aroused was added by the translators and is confusing since it seems to indicate that the Law enhanced the sinfulness of the passions, which is not the case. The Law simply showed the unbeliever the nature and severity of his sin.
These sinful passions were at work in our body, i.e. our thoughts, our soul, our attitudes, our eyes, our tongues, etc. as unbelievers. Remember, the sin nature resides in the cell structure of the body and, as we will see, wants to control you. When it does you will produce sin, human good and evil in your life. This production is the natural result of a spiritually dead person. Spiritual death can bear only dead or unless fruit.
But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.
The first marriage to the sin nature existed from birth to salvation. However, faith in Christ means a believer has rejected, has been separated from and is dead to the sin nature, positionally. Remember that sin, human good and evil are the function of the first husband, the sin nature. The Mosaic Law, as the marriage counsellor, taught about the function of the sin nature’s trends. The Law counselled that mankind has a bad marriage in relationship with the sin nature.
The Law also pointed to the solution, revealing salvation in the offerings, the various articles of furniture in the tabernacle, the holy days and the functions of the Levitical priesthood. Once mankind has believed in Christ the Mosaic Law can do nothing further as a marriage counsellor since the believer is married to Christ through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the new marriage counsellor.
Serving in the Spirit is a reference to the filling ministry of God the Holy Spirit. At salvation two of the spiritual assets that we receive are the indwelling and the filling of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word for serving is “douleuo,” which means to be a slave and therefore to be under the authority of God. The Holy Spirit is the marriage counsellor for the new marriage to Christ. But the marriage counsellor does not go where He is not wanted and every time we commit a sin or become involved in human good and evil, then we are grieving and quenching the Spirit and we are not being controlled by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, God the Holy Spirit, by means of Bible doctrine, provides the motivation, the inspiration and the reality of our relationship to the Lord.
God the Holy Spirit will give us (help us recall) the information to make a positive decision when it should be positive, a negative decision when it should be negative, provided the information is in our souls (Bible doctrine). God the Holy Spirit uses only doctrine to guide us.
What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! For I would not have come to know sin except through the Law.
We know that the Law of Moses was from God and therefore it was perfect. The function of the Law was exposing the sin nature. All of the genius of the unbeliever’s human nature cannot discover the sin nature with its trends toward sin, human good, and evil. Only revelation from God provides the information regarding the sin nature. And revelation from God in God’s Word, specifically the Mosaic Law, reveals the sin nature as the sovereign ruler of human life. Satan is the sovereign of this world system, but the sin nature is the sovereign of human life. Mankind is blind to the fact that they have a sin nature apart from the function of and ministry of the Mosaic Law in the Age of Israel and the Word of God in the Church Age.
Paul uses a rhetorical debater’s idiom to refute a distortion that there is something wrong with the Law. The rhetorical question in the Greek debater’s technique is used to introduce a false assumption, a false inference, from the previous paragraph regarding the function of the Mosaic Law as a marriage counsellor of the first marriage. The idiom actually means, “Therefore to what conclusion are we forced?” Doctrinal teaching forces conclusions, leads to correct inference, and there is always the danger of distorting the correct inference. The false conclusion is the erroneous assumption that the Mosaic Law is not good. “Is the Law sin?” represents the believer’s failure to rightly divide the Word of Truth and it also indicates a certain prejudice to dispense with the Law as having no value of any kind. The Law was a gift from God, designed by God, an instrument created by God.
Since both the Mosaic Law and the sin nature are placed in the same category of being dead to the believer, a misconception on the part of some had arisen. Paul, in dealing with this misconception, was going to teach them some doctrine. Many of the believers in Rome to whom this was originally addressed erroneously assumed that the Mosaic Law was evil because it was associated with the sin nature, failing to pick up the point that it exposed the sin nature.
Therefore, Paul demonstrated that the Law was not evil and not in any way related to the sin nature, except to expose it and to give a solution. That which exposes or reveals sin is not sin. In demonstrating a hopeless marriage, the marriage counsellor (the Law) was not sinful or evil in doing so.
For I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “you shall not covet.”
Paul could not understand the sin nature until he had some doctrine. The tenth commandment, as literally translated from Exodus 20:17, “You shall not lust for your neighbour’s house; you shall not lust for your neighbour’s wife, or his male servant, or his female slave, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbour.” The tenth commandment not only deals with the subject of lust (coveting), but it emphasizes the importance of human freedom in terms of property and privacy. In other words, you have a right to your privacy, your property and to a way of life that suits you.
But sin, taking opportunity through the commandments, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.
Here the meaning is that first of all you see the commandment that you are not supposed to lust. Then the next thing you do is go out of your own free will and you lust. There is the grasping of the opportunity. This was Paul’s experience in the past but he is now a mature believer under the ministry of the Spirit writing these things, using himself as the representative. He is personalizing the doctrine. Before he knew the commandment he lusted. Now, after cognisance he still lusted, only now he knew what he was doing. He did it before because he wanted to and we do it because we want to. But now, after learning some doctrine, he knew what he was doing and he knew that there was something inside of him producing this.
The sin nature used the prohibition of the tenth commandment to assert its authority over mankind through sponsoring disobedience to the tenth commandment. The sin nature was deliberately disobeying the tenth commandment not to covet (lust). The Law, as a marriage counsellor, says do not lust. But the first husband, the sin nature, says to lust in every category. The Law, by prohibiting lust, was a good marriage counsellor.
The husband, the sin nature, by demanding lust, was an evil husband ruling through spiritual death. Every category of lust refers to the trends of the first husband, the sin nature. Using the tenth commandment as an opportunity to flaunt its sovereignty over life, the sin nature produces in the human being every category of lust. Therefore, the sin nature uses the tenth commandment to exercise its authority over human life through the function of lust.
Death in this verse is used for ignorance. What you do not know you are dead to. You cannot solve a problem until you are aware that there is a problem. The sin nature was dead in the sense of being unknown as a problem. The Mosaic Law caused mankind to become cognizant of the problem of the sin nature, and spiritual death. Paul discovered that his spiritual death came from within him, not from any sin he was committing. The sin nature resided in his body from birth. Overt sin and the trend toward sin is the result of having a sin nature, not the means. The sin nature, not the Mosaic Law, is the culprit.
Paul, like all of us, acquired the sin nature at birth. Paul, however, was ignorant of the presence of the sin nature until doctrine in his soul (understanding the Law) revealed it to him. When Paul’s ignorance was dispelled by the Law he became aware of the residence of the sin nature and the resultant problem of spiritual death. Ignorance must be replaced with cognizance. This can occur only in two categories: 1) the communication of the Mosaic Law to the unbeliever in the Age of Israel 2), the communication of pertinent Bible doctrine to the believer, understood through the teaching ministry of God the Holy Spirit. This is why the Mosaic Law is the marriage counsellor of the first marriage and the Holy Spirit is the marriage counsellor of the second marriage. Both marriage counsellors are perfect. One marriage counsellor is from God, the other is God.
The Law presented the solution to sin. The Law presented the Gospel as the solution to spiritual death of the first marriage. The completed canon of Scripture, which we now have (Paul did not) presents the salvation solution that we call the Gospel of Jesus Christ.