Wednesday, 12 June 2013
I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. Romans 7:9
Today’s verse has been interpreted in a variety of ways. Some insist that Paul is speaking of himself in the first person – at a time when he felt secure in himself concerning his spiritual nature. However, when he realized the true weight and purpose of the law, “sin revived and I died.” It was at this moment that he realized his fallen state, when before this he felt assured in his own righteousness. This is not likely because he wasn’t saved until he was saved. He wasn’t spiritually alive as a Pharisee persecuting God’s people and then suddenly spiritually dead when he encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. Both testaments show that it is faith in God and His promises by which one lives, not adherence to the law. As Paul lived under the law, he should have known that “the just shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4).
Others look at him speaking of an “age of innocence” or “accountability.” Paul was spiritually alive until he came to a point in life where he mentally grasped the law and thus went from “spiritual life” to “spiritual death.” This is incorrect and is based on an emotional interpretation of biblical doctrine. This concept requires inserting incorrect preconceived notions about the nature of man into the text, rather than drawing out what the Bible teaches. The Bible is abundantly clear that we are spiritually dead even from birth. We inherit Adam’s sin and thus there is nothing which causes us to spiritually die; it is a part of our nature from birth.
Some scholars believe that he is speaking of the people who received the law; Israel. They were alive apart from the law, but when the law came, sin revived and they died. In essence, Paul is speaking in the first person, but relating it to his heritage – Israel. This is also unlikely for the same reason as the previous two cases. The people were already born spiritually dead and each needed to be made alive individually, just as their father Abraham was. The introduction of the law merely magnified the truth of this.
A fourth option, which will be substantiated in the coming verses, is that he is writing about the introduction of any law, the knowledge of which revives sin and through that sin we die. In essence, it would take us all the way back to Adam and his original sin. Thus Paul is speaking in the first person of his humanity. This is certainly the case. He has been speaking about one commandment, coveting, as the basis for his analysis. However, coveting doesn’t cover the entire Law of Moses, it is merely one aspect of it. Further, he speaks of “law” not “the law.” There is no definite article in the original Greek. Therefore, it is whatever law is given. In other words, he is using coveting as an example of any law. All will have the same effect.
This fourth option is certainly what he is speaking about and this will be seen in what he states as he progresses. He will speak in plural terms, “we,” and then in the singular, “I.” By merely looking at his statements and comparing them to Adam’s transgression, we can see what occurred in humanity. The use of coveting is simply demonstrating that whatever law is given will have the same effect. Through law is the knowledge of sin and apart from law, sin is dead.
Life application: Faith… this is what God looks for in each of us. When we trust in our own righteousness, it is saying that we can do it all without God. The introduction of law is intended to show us this isn’t so. It is faith in Jesus and His work which delivers us from death to life. Thank God for Jesus!
Heavenly Father, how great You are. The gold in the riverbeds, the silver in the hills, the money in the bank… none of it compares to the treasures found in Your word. And of all the treasures I find there, the greatest is seen in Jesus. There is nothing which compares to what You have done for us through Your Son, our Lord Jesus. Thank You for Jesus! Amen.