How did the Law kill Paul?


by Shawn Brasseaux

Romans 7:9 tells us: “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” How did the Law kill Paul? Furthermore, how will it kill us?

The seventh chapter of Romans can be quite challenging because of the conflict so vividly described therein. You are encouraged to read it in your own time. Our purpose here is not to give an in-depth, verse-by-verse commentary on the chapter. Rather, we want to provide the chapter’s overall context. After its background has been established, the chapter will be self-explanatory. Verse 9 will then be easy.

Romans chapters 1-5 present a clear Gospel of Grace. This is justification—how to have a right standing before God. It shows man’s dilemma in sin, as well as God’s solution. We see man’s guilt in chapters 1-3, and God’s provision at Calvary in chapters 3-5. The next three chapters (6-8) are sanctification. Soul salvation unto eternal life has already been covered; the issue now is Christian living in light of the believer’s identity defined in chapters 3-5. Chapters 9-11 are dispensational in nature—Israel’s past, present, and future statuses. We are not Israel, we are the Church the Body of Christ; we should therefore not behave like Israel, claiming her promises and blessings as our own. The Book of Romans concludes with chapters 12-16—daily application of grace principles in specific life situations.

Again, all too often people struggle with Romans chapter 7. The perspective of the chapter is firsthand—Paul wrote it—but is he speaking as a Christian or as a lost person? Dear readers, there are no lost people in the chapter. As noted earlier, this section of the Book is Christian living. If we want to find lost people in Romans, we have to go to the first five chapters. Chapter 7, however, highlights a common problem in the lives of believers in Christ even today. “I” or “me” or “my” appears nearly 40 times in the passage of Romans 7:7-25. The Law keeps us focused on ourselves. What are we doing to please God? What are we doing to measure up? Are we trying enough? Will we try harder next time?

Chapter 7 of Romans, obviously, comes immediately after chapter 6. In chapter 7, we see copious references to the Law. Halfway through chapter 6, we see the reference to the Law, a performance-based acceptance system. We also know this as religion or legalism. Christian living is entirely dependent upon the identity or position the believer has in Jesus Christ. In chapter 7, Paul is not walking in the light given in chapter 6. His flesh gravitates toward the Law. We are no different. This is how we know chapter 7 is not about lost people but about saved people thinking and behaving like lost people. There is a very close resemblance, which explains why confusion often abounds as to whether Paul is a saved or lost man in chapter 7.

We will quote Romans chapter 7, verses 1-6, just for context. For sake of brevity, commentary will be withheld except to say this carries the thought found in Romans 6:14-15: “[14] For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. [15] What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.”

Romans chapter 7: “[1] Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? [2] For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. [3] So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. [4] Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. [5] For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. [6] But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.”

The Law kills. It does not give anyone any power to meet its absolute, stringent standards. Romans 3:19-20 says: “[19] Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. [20] Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. God designed the Law to do nothing more than condemn every person as a sinner. The Law thunders out the verdict of “GUILTY!” Watch how Paul will experience this firsthand in his own Christian life.

Back to Romans chapter 7: “[7] What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. [8] But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.”

As verse 7 says, there is nothing wrong with the Law. Even verse 12 adds: “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” However, the Law does not belong in the life of the Christian. Romans chapter 6 again: “[14] For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. [15] What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” The Holy Spirit never motivates in a believer in the Dispensation of Grace to live under the Law. Galatians 5:18: “But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.”

While there is nothing wrong with the Law, there is a problem. That problem is found in the sinner. The Law simply shows us there is a sin nature in each of us. Sin will use the Law to have “dominion” (or control) over us; therefore God took us out of the Law system and put us under the Grace system! This is the heart of our Dispensation, the Dispensation of the Grace of God.

First Timothy chapter 1 says: “[7] Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. [8] But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; [9] Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, [10] For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; [11] According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.”

The Law is not made for a righteous man. We are righteous in Jesus Christ; He is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30-31; cf. Romans 5:1; et al.). Therefore, there is no purpose for the Law in the life of the believer. Once the Law shows the sinner his need for the Saviour, the Law has served its one and only purpose. Alas, even today, people struggle with works-religion, reveling in self-righteousness. See Romans chapter 10: “[1] Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. [2] For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. [3] For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. [4] For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”

Now, Galatians chapter 3: “[22] But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. [23] But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. [24] Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. [25] But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.”

Back to Romans chapter 7: “[7] What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. [8] But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.” As a preacher of the truth, Paul was poor. He saw the religious leaders around him, stealing from the ignorant naïve masses. Those professional church operators were wealthy, so Paul naturally grew envious. His sin nature took advantage of the situation, and he was completely consumed with covetousness. Without the Law, his Christian life had operated just fine. The Holy Spirit was using Grace to teach him how to live.

Titus 2:11-15 says: “[11] For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, [12] Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; [13] Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; [14] Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. [15] These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.”

Something happened in Romans chapter 7. As soon as Paul introduced Law-keeping into his Christian life, sin became rampant. Again, the Law cannot do anything but condemn. It makes us the issue when Jesus Christ should be the issue. The cross of Christ is what matters—what He did to defeat sin rather than what we do to overcome sin.

Now, we have gotten to the verse in question. Romans 7:9 says: “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” This is not physical death, and neither is it spiritual death (going to Hell). It is functional death. It is like the deadness of Sarah’s womb and the deadness of Abraham’s reproduction organs. God supernaturally intervened to make them both function normally and produce a child, Isaac (Romans 4:19). At first, Paul enjoyed the Christian life because God’s grace taught him how to live and empowered him to live. However, when he placed himself under the Law system, sin controlled and defeated him as it did when he was unsaved. Paul ceased to function according to his Christian identity because he went contrary to how the Spirit of God works today. Go back to Galatians 5:18: “But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.”

We continue in Romans chapter 7: “[10] And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. [11] For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. [12] Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. [13] Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. [14] For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.”

Paul is now thinking like a lost man. In verse 14, he claims to be “carnal, sold under sin.” He is under the assumption that he is a slave to sin. This is not reality. Paul is deceived, confused. He has abandoned the information—the truths—he just laid out in chapter 6. Many professing Christians are in the same predicament. They do not live under Grace. They live under the Law. They do not live like Christians; they live like unsaved people. They need to read and believe chapter 6, and we need to read and believe chapter 8.

Let us notice Romans chapter 6, for example: “[1] What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? [2] God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? [3] Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? [4] Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

“[5] For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: [6] Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. [7] For he that is dead is freed from sin. [8] Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: [9] Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. [10] For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. [11] Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. [12] Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. [13] Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.

“[17] But God be thanked, that ye were [past tense!!!] the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. [18] Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness…. [20] For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. [21] What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. [22] But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. [23] For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Let us go back to chapter 7. Be sure to note how Paul’s struggle intensifies now. He wants to do right, but he always does wrong. What he hates, he ends up doing. His sinful flesh is using the Law system to get the advantage over him. Rather than the Spirit of God controlling him, the flesh of man is directing him. Behaving contrary to what God is doing today, he is doomed to fail. Grace, not Law, is how the Christian life operates today. Galatians 5:18 once more: “But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.”

With that said, Romans chapter 7: “[15] For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. [16] If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. [17] Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. [18] For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. [19] For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. [20] Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.”

Sin deceives us. It makes us believe that we can manage it. The Law is a sin-management system. This explains why the flesh (sin nature) gravitates toward the Law. Now we see exactly what is going on in chapter 7. God put us under grace in order to save us from condemnation of the Law. Not only are we free from the penalty of sin (Hell and the Lake of Fire), we are also from the power of sin (daily sinful living). We do not have to sin!

Continue reading in Romans chapter 7: “[21] I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. [22] For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: [23] But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. [24] O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? [25] I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”

As Paul closes Romans chapter 7, he is a miserable, despondent person. He is so looking for deliverance, and he sees the rescue is through Jesus Christ our Lord. Chapter 8 opens with the answer. We are to walk after the Spirit and not after the flesh! We are to mind the things of the Spirit and not the things of the flesh!

Romans 8:1-6 is the key to Paul’s dilemma at the conclusion of chapter 7: “[1] There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. [2] For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. [3] For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: [4] That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. [5] For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. [6] For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.We are to think the way the Holy Spirit thinks (grace), and that is how we guard against the predicament in chapter 7.

By the way, in one sitting, read Romans chapters 6-8. Watch the truths in chapter 6 be ignored in chapter 7. Then, notice how they are reaffirmed and expanded in chapter 8. We are dead to sin (chapter 6), we are dead to the Law (chapter 7), and we are alive unto God by the indwelling Holy Spirit (chapter 8).

Also see:
» What does it mean to “mind earthly things?”
» Does “walking in the Spirit” mean the same thing as “living in the Spirit?”
» Is grieving the Holy Spirit forgivable?