Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.
It wasn’t like everyone was perfect and then the Law came around and people started sinning.
When Adam and Eve voluntarily entered into a system where they decided what was better for themselves instead of obeying God, sin entered the world. The inclination to do what a person wanted, regardless of God’s will or other people’s needs, was the origin of sin. When the Law came along, it just detailed some of the sins and their respective punishments.
The Law didn’t make people sin any more than the occasional policeman with the radar gun on the on-ramp by One Life West.
You might think that the Law (just like the policeman on the ramp) made people sin less. This is the thinking that if we have more rules, we’ll obey God more. That same thinking led the Jewish leaders to write books like the Babylonian Talmud. In there you’ll find 39 categories of things you can’t do on the Sabbath. Not just 39 things you can’t do, 39 categories and within those categories over 1,000 rules.
Can you see that rules really never help people obey?
Paul acknowledged that nothing good lived in his flesh. By flesh, he didn’t mean his meat-body…that was an idea from Plato that the physical was bad but the spiritual is good. By flesh, he means things accomplished without God. Unspiritual yes, but things done unspiritually, not just physical things.
We have the desire to carry out the things of God, but we have been so well-trained in the flesh (living lives without God) that our bad habits are the limit of our current abilities.
To say it another way, we acknowledge our inability to follow God 100%. We confess that, but we rest in the fact that God has filled our shortcoming gap Himself by the presence, death, and resurrection of Christ. We are equipped with a lifestyle of living apart from God thanks to Adam, which makes it impossible to always do what is right.
The Law isn’t evil for pointing that out, it just shoots up a flare to show that we need a rescue.