“So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 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.” (Romans 7:12-13)
Paul depicts here in graphic terms his own personal struggle to be righteous. He recounted this conflict for it reflected the conflicts that the legalistic believers at Rome endured as they tried to follow the Law to attain salvation and right standing before God. Their relationship with God was based on fear, obedience, and rule-keeping, not the love, mercy and grace which are the fundamental characteristics of the Kingdom of God.
Those who try to maintain a relationship with God, to achieve salvation or earn grace by doing works of the Mosaic Law, moral or social laws or any rules they make up will never achieve any peace by such means. Instead they will wallow in misery, hatred and self-loathing for they cannot keep their own self-imposed rules let alone the rules others try to enforce upon them. This is because they interpret religious and civil law and even the Word of God with great rigidity. As Paul says, the law condemns. Legalists use the word to condemn others while at the same time it condemns them as well.
Following the works of the law cannot save anyone for it cannot be kept to perfection. Rather the law of God is good for it shows us what is right and wrong, good and evil. But the really important purpose of the Law of God is to show us our sin and our total impotence in overcoming it. The law also leads us to depend on Christ and His grace for all things including the ability to obey as His spirit leads us. The Spirit is the one who writes the Law of God on our hearts, the law of love and mercy and grace. Let us think about the ways we follow the letter of the law too rigidly in our own lives or apply it to the lives of others. We should never tolerate or excuse sin in ourselves or others but we should always be ready to grant mercy and forgiveness to those who live as enemies of God, just as Christ has done for us.