“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.” (Romans 7:7-8)
The flesh's insincerity is boldly exposed in verses seven through thirteen. Everyone loves their flesh to some degree or another, yet, few people, yea, few Christians realize how deceitful and insincere the human heart truly is. The phrase the motions of sins, which were by the law might gender confusion in the minds of some, because without proper understanding of what is being taught, one might take this as meaning that the law causes people to sin; therefore, Paul opens the discussion of this next section by saying “...Is the law sin? God forbid!” In its insincerity and weakness, the flesh is deceived by sin which uses the law as a foothold, but the law itself is holy.
At this point it is important to understand the different verb tenses that Paul uses and the message that God is conveying through each tense. The first I had not known is focusing on a past action at some specific point in time. There was a point in Paul's life when he truly didn't understand sin. This ignorance was disrupted by the law which provoked Paul's conscience concerning his sin nature. The second I had not known is a different tense which carries with it the thought of a reality that holds true up until a certain point in time. The thought is this, “Up until a certain point in my life I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. Then I realized that I was guilty of covetousness in my own life.” Prior to his conversion, covetousness may have been the one main thing that Paul was secretly ashamed of. He was a man of like passions. Though a warrior of God, he felt the same desires and emotions as others. There came a point in Paul's life when he realized, through exposure to God's law, that he himself, though a dedicated Pharisee, was covetous. The noun lust and the verb covet are from the exact same root. Both mean lust or strong desire. The command Thou shalt not covet could faithfully be translated Thou shalt not lust.
The word concupiscence is the same word translated lust. The presence of law brings to light the vileness of sin. People's wrong actions are amplified by the opposition of righteous principles. The verbs in verse eight are still focusing on a point in time action. Paul seems to be focusing on a past point in his life when he began to realize that he was lacking toward God. Such is the mercy of God, that He should go through the effort of providing man with such sources of conviction. Praise God for His mercy! The law that Paul thought he was keeping was only amplifying the destructive nature of his flesh. The phrase all manner has the idea of all kinds or to the full. Paul's law-keeping religion was sending him further and further into condemnation. In the Greek text, the definite article is omitted from the noun law, so that a literal rendering would be for without law, sin (is) dead. When the definite article is omitted from a noun, the character and essence of that object are being emphasized. The very nature of the law exposes sin; therefore, its presence breeds condemnation of the sinner.