I had a new insight into Romans 7:7-8 last night. This passage has been bugging me in the back of my mind for a while. I see in many other places in Scripture the obvious truth that each individual person is culpable for Adam’s transgression, and that as such it is thoroughly impossible to live a life worthy of heaven on one’s own merits. See Romans 5 for this. But then we get to Romans 7, and St. Paul says something that almost knocks me out of my seat.
What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.
At first blow this sounds Pelagian! We know from Romans 7 that one of the purposes of God’s law is to reveal sin. This is actually Paul’s point at this time. To do Pelagius a complete injustice, I’m going to sum up his herecy by basically saying that Pelagianism teaches that man starts out sinless and that until he hears the law of God and rebels against it, he is not a sinner. This was in direct opposition of St. Augustine, and Pelagius was eventually condemned as a heretic. In his fictional work Patrick, Stephen Lawhead frames the discussion as this – whether accurate or not. There was an argument over whether the gospel should be taken from Rome out to the heathen lands to evangelize the pagans. Pelagius argued that this was a bad idea, because to take the Gospel to them would be to cause them to become sinners and therefore condemn them. Again, I don’t know how accurate Lawhead’s portrayal was, but I thought it interesting, because Romans 7:7-8 almost seems to support that! Paul said he did not know sin until the law gave him a command that he disobeyed. WOW! So are we not sinners through Adam???
Then I had my epiphany! Verse 8 is phrased in an interesting way. It says “But sin, seizing the opportunity…” It’s as though sin is the actor here. Now I’m not at all suggesting that sin is a foreign invader into our members that we can’t control, and Paul isn’t either, but what I did realize from this is that sin was already there, whether Paul knew it or not.
Sin is not primarily or fundamentally the sum total of our violations of a known set of commands. It is first and foremost an omission of the correct heart attitude toward God. This sin lies dormant in all men, because Adam killed our ability to start out with it. In Adam all died (spiritually). Because of this the infant, even in the womb, is not able to rightly regard God in his heart.
However deserving of the fires of hell this sin is, it is a sin too easily ignored. As St. Paul said of himself – he was unaware of its existence. So the purpose of the Law in revealing sin is that it gives us an external and outward command through the violation of which our internal, passive and omitted sins would be joined with new outward, active and committed sins. As a result, no man who has heard the law, when being honest with himself, can deny his own sin. Of course we also know that men are without excuse when they see general revelation as well.
Anyway, I hope this was enlightening, challenging or encouraging to someone. Let me know if it was, or you want to try to pick apart my logic :).