Summary: This is the 13th of 30 studies on the Book of Romans
13 Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
Paul had just established the fact that the law is holy, just and good. Now he asks a question that can certainly be on the minds of his readers – and perhaps our minds as well. “Has then what is good become death to me?” In effect he’s asking, “If the law is good, how does it produce death in me?” How does a good thing produce a bad thing? He goes on to answer his question with an emphatic, “Certainly not,” and he follows up his answer with a reason behind it. Once again he personifies sin, and says that sin, proving itself to be sin, produced death, through what was good – the law, thereby proving that sin is utterly sinful. In other words, when the law came, it exposed how sinful we were, but it also did something more – it created more sinful desires in us by its prohibitions. This now makes sin not just sinful, but utterly sinful.
Paul then begins another train of thought to explain the sinfulness of sin. Let’s remember that he’s still talking about sin, and the law before we came to know Christ. So even though he’s using the present tense, he’s referring to the time before he could be justified by faith, and have Christ in his life to help him live a life free of sin.
He says that the law is spiritual but uses himself as an example (actually referring to all people), to say that we are carnal (with earthly, sinful desires), and that we were sold to sin, meaning, that we had given ourselves over to sinful living. He then explains the human dilemma where there’s a contradiction between the mind and body - the desire and the behaviour. He says that it’s difficult to understand that contradiction. He desired to do one thing, but couldn’t do it, he hated doing something, but he did just that. Is that not true of all of us? We didn’t really desire sin, but the problem was, that we didn’t have the ability to do the good we wanted to do, and we didn’t have the ability to say no to the evil we didn’t want to do.
He then explains that if we did what we didn’t want to do, we were agreeing that the law was good, because it was telling us not to do evil – therefore it must be good. He goes on to say that if this was the case, where we were living a life of contradiction – desiring to do good, and not being able to, and hating sin and yet committing sin, then it means that it wasn’t really us sinning, but sin in us, was causing us to sin. It’s because of indwelling sin in our lives that we sinned – if not for that, we would never have sinned.
18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to 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 will deliver me from this body of 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.
He proceeds further acknowledging that nothing good dwelt in our flesh (our sinful nature) – only sin. We had the desire to go good, but we lacked the ability to do it. Once again he says that he didn’t do the good he wanted to, but did the evil he didn’t want to. And so if he did what he didn’t want to, then it wasn’t really him doing it, but indwelling sin (the flesh or the sinful nature) doing it.