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How can Paul's having been alive apart from the Law, reconcile with the doctrine of original sin?

Romans 7:9 NASB--I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died;

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For I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.

Paul means that

  1. Before he heard the law he thought he was OK, fine, alive. But when he heard the law he realized he was not OK, not fine, but spiritually dead. Or

  2. He means that when he heard the law all it did was stir up sin in him, for "the strength of sin is the law" (1 Corinthians 15:56). And the law does this because with its demands it just irritates us and increases our rebelliousness.

1. The law is like a mirror. I thought my face was perfectly clean, but when I looked into the mirror I saw I was filthy. So when I see the law of God I realize I am spiritually sick, even dead.

2. Also the law stirs up sin. It happens like this: I hear God's standard and it is very high and I realize that no matter how hard I try I am going to fail: so I get angry against God, I resent Him and His laws, and I realize, or maybe I don't realize it, but I actually hate Him more than ever.

Also, I prefer sin to holiness, and I resent that God is against the things I like. So what do I say? I will sin against God to spite him to his face. "In for a penny,in for a pound", I might as well go to Hell for stealing a million as for stealing a pound, I will sin all the more; I will silence my conscience by sinning and sinning, I will ignore my conscience over and over until it no longer screams at me, or if it does, until I can no longer hear it.

The trouble with the law is that it can tell you what is the right thing to do, but it doesn't and cannot offer you any help to do it. It is only a signpost on the road, it isn't an engine with a tank full of fuel.

Furthermore, like all laws, it really shouts loudest when we do the wrong thing; it doesn't pour out congratulations when we do the right thing: when we do the right thing the law says "You know very well you should have done that anyway, that is the least anyone expected of you; you only did your duty"; and when we do the wrong thing it says "You're finished! Boy, are you in big trouble now, or what?!"

When Christian went to "The House of Interpretter" in the book, Pilgrim's Progress, Christian was shown someone who was sweeping in a room, but all that was being achieved was making a huge cloud of dust... the floor was not being cleaned because all the dust would settle again, in fact the one sweeping was just making things worse, working to no effect. Once the dust had settled again someone came and sprinkled a little water on the floor, and after that the floor was swept again: this time the dust was nicely swept up. The first picture is the law working in isolation from grace; the second picture is grace and law working together, the soul is cleansed.

Once I know I am freely and fully forgiven by the free grace of God believing all my sins are paid for by Jesus Christ dying and taking their full punishment then the law can no longer condemn: and now I want to please God by keeping, as much as I can, His law. Now within me is an inner power to keep his law, not perfectly, but in a measure never before possible, I am sincere in my desire to draw near to God, to grow in grace and holiness. But it isn't me, its the grace of God in me. Its no longer I who do it but Christ who lives in me.

  • 2. Also, the law stirs up sin. It happens like this: I hear God's standard and it is very high and I realize that no matter how hard I try I am going to fail: so I get angry against God, I resent Him and His laws, and I realize I actually hate Him. This seems to assume that the law causes men to "hate" God. Do you have scriptural evidence for that? – Miles Fett Oct 9 at 20:53
  • Also, in your last paragraph, you state: and now I want to please God by keeping, as much as I can, His law. Now within me is an inner power to keep his law, not perfectly, but in a measure, never before possible... I agree that the power to do so comes through Christ and the Spirit, but I'm having trouble with the part that says the desire to please Him comes only through Christ. Is that to say that I have no desire to please God prior to Christ? – Miles Fett Oct 9 at 21:02
  • 1 corinthians 15:56; Romans 7:5; Romans 7:8-13 in fact the whole passage, Paul is saying that the law stirs up sin. And the essense of sin is hatred against God, that is what all sin is at its root. "The carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God neither indeed can it be." (Romans 8:7) – Andrew Shanks Oct 9 at 21:09
  • Do we have no desire to please God prior to Christ? - If someone has a genuine desire to please God, not to save their own skin at the Judgement but purely out of love to God, then that can only come from the grace of God in Christ. All our graces come from God through the work of Christ by the Spirit. It is true that the work of salvation is often over an extended period of time: first the word is planted in the heart, then there is secret growth of spiritual life before a person is saved, & finally the seed brings forth the fruit of outward profession of faith. But all is from Christ. – Andrew Shanks Oct 9 at 21:20
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First we must recognize that Romans 7:9 is highly symbolic.

Paul says in Roman 7:9:

"I was once alive apart from the Law"

However, Paul also says in Philippians 3:5-6

"Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless."

Therefore, one can then conclude that Paul was speaking spiritually when he says that he was once "apart from the law". Since someone who is born a Benjaminite is introduced to the law from day one, and is never truly without the law, from a fleshly perspective. In fact, Paul says of himself previously: "touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless."

What Paul really means is that, before he truly understood the nature of the law, he felt alive once without the law. But having been revealed the true nature of the law, and convicted of his sins, he saw himself for who he truly is, and his inner-self died.

Paul says that as “touching the righteousness which is in the law”—as far as outward acts were concerned—he was “blameless” (Philippians 3:6); but when the spiritual character of the law was discerned, he saw himself a sinner. Judged by the letter of the law as men apply it to the outward life, he had abstained from sin; but when he looked into the depths of its holy precepts, and saw himself as God saw him, he bowed in humiliation and confessed his guilt. He says, “I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” Romans 7:9. When he saw the spiritual nature of the law, sin appeared in its true hideousness, and his self-esteem was gone.

Steps to Christ. Ellen White. Pg. 30

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