And I was once alive apart from the Law: but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died.
This is a reference to the Mosaic Law in the role of the marriage counsellor of the first marriage to the sin nature. The marriage to the sin nature, which produced spiritual death, occurred through the imputation of Adam’s original sin to the sin nature. To discover the existence of the sin nature in Paul’s day was quite a problem because the New Testament canon was not yet written. While the Old Testament canon does teach the sin nature (David taught it in Psalm 51), it is impossible for the unbeliever to fully understand the implications of possessing the sin nature and many other things related to spiritual matters. So when the 10th commandment came into focus, Paul started to reason beginning with his personal sins and working backwards to the source. He went from personal sins, to the lust behind them, to the source of that lust, which he discovered was the sin nature.
Apart from the Law refers to the fact that awareness of the sin nature did not exist until Paul read and understood (Greek: epignosis) the implication of the 10th commandment not to lust. This also explains the true meaning of the Greek word “nekros” for dead, which means “unknown” not physical death. Apart from the Law, the sin nature is unknown. If you don’t understand something you are dead to it.
Sin became alive means to become invigorated — “the sin nature became invigorated.” In other words, the discovery of the existence of the sin nature doesn’t stop personal sin. The sin nature became invigorated or became much more active.
When Paul said “I died” he is actually saying “I realized I was dead.” He was dead all the time spiritually; now he is aware of it. Paul, the human writer, used himself to represent the human race. Paul became aware of the true state of things. The Mosaic Law had fulfilled its function as the marriage counsellor making Paul aware of the true state of spiritual death under the sin nature. Paul did not become dead when he understood the 10th commandment, he became aware of spiritual death which had existed from birth. Understanding of the 10th commandment caused Paul to become aware of the fact that spiritual death originated from within him rather than through some overt act of sin, human good or evil.
And this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me.
As a faithful “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Jewish scholar), Paul fully expected that keeping the commandments would result in pleasing God and ultimately in eternal life. To his surprise, when he learned and understood the doctrine of the sin nature, he discovered that his Law-keeping efforts for salvation as an unbeliever would have resulted in death both in time (temporal death) and in eternity (eternal death).
Before his salvation Paul (Saul) was a good, loyal Law-keeping unbelieving Jew, who erroneously thought that persecuting the body of Christ was what God wanted him to do. He considered Jesus the leader of a radical group determined to undermine the established religion of the Jews. Until he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul genuinely believed he was serving God by eradicating this group who called themselves Christians. Sincerity is no substitute for truth, which is what Paul eventually found out.
For sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me.
Taking opportunity through the commandment means to grasp or seize the opportunity. Inside of each one of us is the sin nature which never loses its aggressiveness until the day that we are separated from it by physical death or the Rapture. The sin nature is belligerent and aggressive when the Mosaic Law commands to cease and desist from lust.
When you do something in ignorance there is no corruption because you are doing something that is wrong, nevertheless you are ignorant and it is not a corrupting principle. But once you know that you shouldn’t do a certain thing, then you not only do that which is wrong but you have added corruption to it. Illustration: You see a sign: “Don’t step on the grass.” It immediately arouses the corruption in you and you deliberately step on the grass. This is a symptom of being corrupted, and you are corrupted by your own power and authority to do something that is forbidden. So once you understand the issue and you do it anyway you are now being corrupted in that issue and corrupted away from the true principles of authority. So to do it when you know it is wrong is worse because of the rejection of authority. So using the 10th commandment as an opportunity to flaunt human sovereignty over life, the sin nature produced in Paul every category of lust and it matured into many additional categories of sin, human good and evil, as evidenced by his actions before salvation.
Through it killed me uses the Greek word “apokteino” for killed, which means to kill a sacrifice and is used for depriving a person of either natural life or spiritual life. Here it means to destroy or to annihilate. Man always thinks there is a human solution to everything apart from God, which is a delusion set up by the sin nature. The sin nature is the corrupting power in life. The sin nature will deprive anyone from life, if allowed to do so. The unbeliever is deprived by rejection of God at either God-consciousness or Gospel-hearing.
So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
So we have the fact that the commandment is holy and perfect justice, i.e. the commandment is fair, the Law is fair. The Mosaic Law was a system of integrity. The Law came from God. God is integrity, and whatever comes from God reflects that integrity. The Law had a limited purpose. Understanding of the Mosaic Law made a person realize his/her lack of God’s righteousness and their need for salvation.
Therefore, did that which is good become death for me? May it never be. Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
The Mosaic Law was good because it showed that there was a problem. It was good in that it pointed out that everyone is spiritually death. The Mosaic Law revealed the problem of spiritual death in the marriage to the sin nature, plus the solution of the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross. The rhetorical question is designed to reflect the thinking of those who distorted the teaching of the apostle Paul. This rhetorical question was a debater’s technique for anticipating and refuting the erroneous conclusions made from listening to false teaching. Obviously then, the divine good in the Mosaic Law did not become death to mankind. Something that is divinely good cannot suddenly become something that is evil. Good can be turned into evil but not divine good. The function of the Mosaic Law was to reveal the problem and to reveal the solution. The good exposed the bad but the good was not bad because it exposed the bad as bad.
The Greek word for effecting my death is “katergazomai,” which means to achieve, to accomplish, to produce, to bring about or to prepare someone for something. The Law kept telling the human race it had a problem — the sin nature and spiritual death. The Law also presented the solution through the work of Christ.
We now have an idiom, “that sin might become utterly sinful,” which is a device for emphasis in the Greek. It is commonly used for something that has just been revealed, namely spiritual death as the result of the marriage to the first husband, the sin nature. The Greek word for utterly is “huperbole,” which means extreme or exceeding. Utter sinfulness of the sin nature is revealed by the Mosaic Law.
Personal sin does not condemn the human race. Only one sin condemns the human race: Adam’s original transgression in the Garden. This original sin of Adam is credited to each of us at birth. Here a contrast begins. Human life is credited to its home, the divinely-prepared soul, while Adam’s original sin is credited to its home, the genetically-prepared sin nature. Personal sin, such as lust, is the result of having the sin nature, but not the means of condemnation from the justice of God. Personal sin is a manifestation of the sin nature’s sovereignty over human life, but not the means of condemnation from the justice of God.
Therefore, the true ministry of the Mosaic Law was to reveal the existence of the sin nature through the perfect norms and standards of God stated in the Law. Therefore there is nothing wrong with the marriage counsellor, the Mosaic Law, which is perfect and reveals the perfect standards of God’s righteousness. These standards reveal both the sinfulness of the sin nature and the status produced by the sin nature — spiritual death. Remember, spiritual death existed before the Mosaic Law, but God used the Mosaic Law to reveal spiritual death and to reveal the salvation solution found in the Messiah, Jesus Christ.