What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law, but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.
Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
Paul anticipates the next question his reader is going to ask. The relationship of law and sin can be difficult to grasp. Is the law sin? Emphatically no! Sin is always in our hearts, from the very beginning. But it is not always recognizable as sin. The law came to define sin. By its very nature, the coming of the law prodded sin into action. The action of sin is recognizable, making the sin that was already there utterly sinful.
So, the law is not sin, and the law is good. What is good does not become death to me. The law only reveals sin; sin itself causes death. We just didn’t know we were dead before the law came.