Have you ever seen something good used for something bad? I think here of a vandal using a baseball to break a window. In the wrong hands, something meant to be used in a game becomes an instrument of destruction. What a shame! Things can get worse than this, though. What about things meant to bring life being used to bring death? Here I think of the all-to-real story of a nurse who used medicines and IV’s, things meant to promote health, to harm his patients. It is a shame when something good is used for evil. There is something downright reprehensible about something meant for life being used for death.
As Paul talks about the law, he wants his audience to know that the law is good. Indeed, it was meant to bring life. Sin, however, saw an opportunity when the law came on the scene. Springing to life, sin took the good law and proceeded to wield it as an instrument of death. Rather than bringing life by showing what God required, the law brought death by showing people their guilt. More than this, in a perverse way, sin was able to take the law and use it to propagate itself. Like a virus in a cell, sin coopted the law and uses it for its own purposes. Like the nurse in the example above, sin took an instrument of life and used it for death.
We might think now that God was thwarted when sin coopted the law. After all, if he meant the law for good, doesn’t it mean that God has been defeated if the law is used for evil? Actually, no. God gave the good law and allowed sin to have its way. Why? Verse 13 tells us:
Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
Notice what is happening here. In the very act of coopting the law, sin showed itself for the reprehensible thing it is! Rather than being defeated by sin, God has used the law to both define sin and show it to be utterly disgusting.
Part of the Christian life is coming to agree with this assessment of sin. Sin is neither benign activity, as the world tells us, nor is it “not that bad,” as we tell ourselves. Sin brings death, and it is only through the shear grace of God that we are spared.