If we have to die to and be delivered from the law, does that imply there is a problem with the law? Certainly not (Romans 7:7)! There isn’t a problem with the law. The law is holy, just, and good (Romans 7:12).
It is human nature to minimize our shortcomings and mistakes. God’s law overcomes this natural tendency by showing sin to be just what it is, exceedingly sinful (Romans 7:13). If we fail to understand God’s law, we become blind to our sins. There was a time in Paul’s life when he was in just such a state. His way of saying this was, “I was alive without the law” (Romans 7:9). By this, Paul means there was a time when he didn’t understand the moral depth of the law. When the commandment came, and he understood the moral depth of the law, he died—that is, he realized he was condemned to death by the law (Romans 7:9, 10).
For Paul, the commandment against coveting reveals the moral depth of the law. This commandment is the only commandment that primarily governs the activities of the mind. When the full weight of this commandment came forcefully to Paul’s attention, sin revived, and he realized his sin and saw himself as a dead man, condemned by the law (Romans 7:9, 10).
As a Pharisee, Paul had always conformed perfectly to the outward requirements of the law (Philippians 3:5, 6). Perfect obedience was essential to Pharisees, because the law promised that those who do the law would live (Leviticus 18:5; Romans 7:10a). Paul knew that the law was a double-edged sword. If it promised life to those who obey, it also promised death to those who disobey (Leviticus 26:3–46). Through the commandment that prohibited coveting, Paul came to understand that despite his outward conformity to the law, he had violated the law inwardly through coveting. The law that had long promised life, he found to bring death (Romans 7:10).
According to Paul, we must die to and be delivered from the law. What does he mean by this? He means that we must die to and be delivered from the law as the way of salvation. If we, like the Pharisee Paul, expect to be saved because of our obedience, we don’t know the first thing about the depth of the moral requirements of the law. When we begin to understand the law, we will die to it as the way of salvation. Even though we must die to the law as the way of salvation, the law never dies. God’s law will never cease to serve the good and useful function of identifying sin (Romans 7:13–16).