Dear friends, can I just remind any if you who are familiar with the law that it’s subject to certain limitations?
Take, for example, a married woman. By law, she’s bound to her husband and if she has sexual relations with another man, she becomes an adulteress. However, if her husband dies, she’s released from that law. And if she marries another man, she’s perfectly innocent.
In just the same way, you also died to the law through the death of Christ, so that you might belong to another – that is, to him who was raised from the dead – in order that you might bear fruit for God. For when we were living in the realm of the flesh, the law aroused sinful passions within us, and the fruit which we then bore was that of death. But now, being dead that which once bound us, we’re released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
Do you think we’re saying that the law is sinful? Well, we’re not! What we’re rally saying is that I’d never have known what sin was if it hadn’t been for the law. For example, I’d never have known what coveting was if the law hadn’t said, ‘You shall not covet.’
But sin, seizing the opportunity offered by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetousness. Separate from the law, sin was dead. And once I was alive, but separate from the law. But then the commandment came; sin sprang to life; and I was dead – for I discovered that the very commandment which was intended to bring life, actually brought death. Because sin, seizing the opportunity offered by the commandment, took advantage of me, and through the commandment put me to death. And yet the law is holy; and the commandment is also holy, honourable and good.
So, did something that’s good produce death in me? Certainly not! However, in order that sin could be recognised as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might be seen for what is really is!
We know that the law is spiritual. The trouble is that I’m not spiritual – I’ve been sold as a slave to sin. I don’t even understand my own behaviour – the things I want to do, I can’t do. But the things I hate are the things I do. And if I do the thing that I don’t want to do, all I can say is that the law is good. The bad behaviour, however, doesn’t come from the real me, but from the sin which is dwelling in me. For I know that good itself doesn’t dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I’ve got the desire to do what’s good, but I can’t carry it out. I don’t do the good I want to do, but I keep on doing the evil I don’t want to do – and if I’m doing what I don’t want to do, it’s not the real me who’s doing it, but the sin that’s living in me.
So I find this law at work: whenever I want to do good, evil is already there ahead of me. In my inner self I delight in God’s law; but there’s another law at work inside me, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin. What a wretched man I am! Who can rescue me from this body that’s subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Just to recap, then: in my mind I’m a servant of God’s law, but in my sinful nature I’m just a slave to the law of sin.