Contrary to what many of the Jews believed about the Law, its intent was never to be a means of attaining to the righteousness of God but its intent was to define transgressions and show the total inability of man to attain to God's righteousness. The Law would therefore be that which condemned and brought about wrath but not that which gave sinful men a means of becoming righteous. So let's look at what God intended the Law to accomplish.
The Law announces sin (Romans 7:7) – it shows what sin is by saying what sin is. This means that the Law reflects what sin is by reciting what sin is. Paul declared that he would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for he would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet”. Paul was saying that the Law announced sin by showing him what it was through saying what it is.
Notice that it was not the first nine commandments that gave Paul problems – it was the tenth – You shall not covet. The word “covet” means to “desire” or used in the more negative sense – “to lust.” It is this commandment, that when you believe that you are a pretty good person because you haven’t killed anyone or committed adultery with anyone or stole anything, that comes along and shows you just how wicked you really are because it doesn’t deal with the outer man but the inner man. It is here that you see that breaking the spirit of the Law is equal to breaking the letter of the Law. How? Notice how Jesus used this in Matthew 5:21-27. So the Law announces sin.
The Law arouses sin (Romans 7:8-9) – it stimulates sin but is not the source of sin. This means that the Law revives sin but is not responsible for sin. Here is how it works: Sin takes that which is good – the commandment/Law – and uses it as a base of operations by which to launch an attack and produce all sorts of bad or evil. Sin will take that which is good (God’s Law) and use it to produce that which is bad (violation of the Law). Sin takes that which is good and uses it as an opportunity to stimulate hatefulness and hurtfulness toward that which is good. However where there is no Law sin is dead (7:8). This does not mean that sin doesn’t exist where there is no Law but that it is dormant not having the opportunity to violate that which is good. Paul has already stated this truth – “For the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation” (Romans 4:15). “For until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed where there is no law” (Romans 5:13). “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase…” (Romans 5:20). Sin needs a law to violate in order to be stimulated and revived.
Maybe this little example will help us to understand: A speed limit sign that says that the limit is 55 stimulates me to believe that I can get away with 65. A 65 mph limit sign stimulates me to believe that I can get away with 75. So the speed limit sign stimulates my lawbreaking but is not the source of it – it revives my lawbreaking but is not responsible for it.
Paul goes on to say in Romans 7:9 that there was a time in his life that he didn’t see himself as a sinner because he didn’t see himself as a lawbreaker. The reason for this is because Paul was looking at the outward letter of the Law and not the inner spirit of the Law. Paul had the Fonz complex at one time in his life – he would take a glance into the mirror of God’s Law and say, “Heyyyyyyy!” Paul would think, “I’ve never murdered, I’ve never committed adultery, I’ve never stole, etc.” But one day the Law came to him – he truly understood what the Law means when it says, “You shall not covet.” It came to him – it was illuminated to him and for the first time he saw what it really meant. When this happened Paul saw how wretched he was because the commandment, “You shall not covet” – you shall not desire – showed him and stimulated in him all sorts of desiring. It would be like traveling 55 mph in a 55mph speed zone with a sign that says do not desire to travel over 55mph and a trooper clocks you with his radar gun which is also an x-ray gun and pulls you over because your desire was to be traveling 75 mph. As soon as this happens you would realize that you had never obeyed the Law though at one time you thought you had. This is what Paul describes in Philippians 3:3-9. The Law announces sin and the Law arouses sin
The Law authorizes sin (Romans 7:10-11) – it strengthens sin (1 Corinthians 15:56) by sentencing the sinner or sanctioning sin’s penalty. This means that it reinforces sin by requiring sin’s penalty to be paid to the sinner. “You shall not covet/desire” along with the other nine commandments were the perfect expression of what is necessary for a man to do if he is to obtain life by keeping the Law. The Law of God, which is what He requires us to keep perfectly if we are to earn life, proves to result in death for us (7:10). Why does that which is supposed to result in life instead result in death? Because of sin! This is precisely why there is no law that can be given which can impart life – we are sinners and sin will use the law to effect our deaths. The Law can only give life to those who never sin but it must give death to all who do sin.
Sin promises us that disobeying the Law is our real source of life and liberty, it deceives us, and we violate the Law incurring the penalty of death rather than the blessing of life (7:11). So sin deceives us so that it can use that which is good to kill us. Sin takes opportunity through the Law to deceive us about the Law and to kill us through the Law. The Law then reinforces sin by requiring sin’s wages to be paid to sinners. So the Law announces sin, the Law arouses sin, and the Law authorizes sin.
The Law amplifies sin (Romans 7:12-13) – it shames sin by swelling its sinfulness. This means that it reveals sin by raising its sinfulness. The Law is holy and righteous and good (7:12). So here we must ask ourselves: are God’s commandments evil? No! If everyone in the world at every moment in time obeyed the Laws of God from the heart then it would be heaven on earth. Anyone who believes that the commandments of God are evil or the source of evil has already been deceived by sin about the Law.
Since the Law is holy and righteous and good – did that which is good become a cause of death for me, asked Paul? May it never be! The trouble is not in the Law but in sin, and the use that sin has made of that which is good. By sin using that which is good (the Law) for evil purposes causes the Law to amplify sin and show it for what it really is (7:13). This is the intent or duty of the Law (Romans 3:20) – it announces, arouses, authorizes, and amplifies sin so that we will see our need for the Savior.