The concepts of sin and law are not difficult at all; just a bit anti-intuitive. And since Paul is notorious for explaining things in the impervious manners of his time, the Abarim Publications Editorial Team joyfully volunteers to list the essentials in the impervious manners of ours.
A brief history of sin and such
In the beginning, or rather a bit after the beginning, things were groovy and the living was easy. But then an event called The Fall introduced sin and people started growing boils and getting disobedient children and talk-back wives. And worse of all: they were dying, because death, and the long, hard road towards the grave is a direct result of sin. Sin causes separation; primarily from your purpose. Sin separates you from other people, from what would fulfill you and give you happiness. We'll reach a more specific definition of sin later on, but for now:
What is death?
It is very difficult to establish a proper definition of life, and it is therefore equally difficult to say what death really is. But for argument sake, let's just simply state that you (since you are now, here, reading this text) are alive.
And the clue is that this living collective is on earth (comprised of humans that are alive on the earth) and in heaven (comprised of humans that are alive, but not on earth). The loose cloud consists of humans that hang around the living nucleus, and that's where this cloud derives it earthly consistency from. As soon as a human from that cloud departs this earth, all connections with the living nucleus are irrevocably severed (see the paragraph entitled Heat Death to the left). Death, therefore, is any state that persists outside the living collective, whether on earth or not.
But since the Creator invented life, it is safe to assume that He wants life and death is not life. Now, God is almighty, so one might expect Him to weave His magic wand all make all things better, but any kind of power is only relevant when the things that power is released on, are things that can be pushed without any other consequence. Mankind is no such thing, because every human being is sovereign in action and essence. That's how God made us, and forcing us into something we don't want would destroy our freedom and hence our essence. Which is the same thing as killing us, which is just what God not wants. So God decided to cultivate us into a living collective, and teach us how to live and stay alive.
God first told about this decision to a man named Abram (later Abraham), who lived about 2000 years before Christ. God promised Abraham the life-without-death that He invented. And God told Abraham that He was going to do the doing, and mankind just had to sit and enjoy the ride. Call it evolution for lack of a better word. Or call it telesphoreo if you want to impress people at your Bible study. Telesphoreo is a Greek word and it means "perfect making." You can read about it in Hebrews 5.
And all Abraham had to do was believe it. And he did. And so he lived! And although Abraham departed from earth, he certainly is not dead; he just went home (Matt 22:32). We call this promise that God made to Abram "the covenant".
But after Abraham people continued dying and God decided to let the people in on the reason why they were dying. Roughly five centuries after Abraham, God gave the Law to Moses.
Where the word Law in English brings to mind a long list of regulations that can either be broken or kept, in Hebrew the word denotes a set of revelations on how the world works. The Law of God is typically a righteous law that tells us how things are, rather than how they should be, and which has much more to do with the "law" of gravity than with any human rule. And the result of breaking either one shows this difference. If we break a human law and nobody notices this, we get away with it and live happily ever after. If we break the law of God it is like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute: the result is death, not at all as a punishment but as a logical consequence.
God then commanded everybody to:
1) Keep this Law, or in other words: keep yourself alive by living exactly on par with God and every little magical natural law that makes the universe and the bio-sphere and the human mind tick.
But Paul discovered a big disadvantage of imagination. Namely, when the Law says not to covet our neighbor's wife, our imagination readily achieves the notion that the neighbor's wife is really not at all a bad looking broad. Before the Law came, a man could live his life and steal a sheep here and there and murder a neighbor or two and be absolutely guilty of breaking a Law of which he has no sense. But after the Law came, this man not only knows what he is guilty of, but he also has a wide pallet of gruesome crimes to contemplate and to explore in his mind. In effect, the Law not only convicts of sin but provokes it to come up wherever it is! This doesn't mean that the Law is sinful, it just means that we are.
The results of the revelation of the Law:
1) It makes people aware of their sin.
God is not an old guy on a cloud. He is not some vague and impersonal force that runs the universe. God is a living Being with hopes and dreams, just like us. God loves and gets angry, just like we do. God is intimate and personal and, just like us, He is one person who displays different kinds of behavior, which may seem a bit strange at first. But since God is a "one," we can learn about His behavior by looking at the "ones" that He created: quantum particles. Click here for a fun-filled introduction to Quantum Mechanics. Suffice to say that all God's behaviors break apart into three major groups:
Group 1) The making up of things (like a king in a kingdom does; or an old-fashioned father in a household).
It's Group 2 (God the Son), who eventually assumed a human form, namely in Jesus Christ. This Group is also known as the Word Of God. And this Word Of God is also responsible for bringing creation into existence (Col 1:16). When God cut the covenant with Abraham, it was typically this Word Of God that came to Abraham. Some translations read for Genesis 15:1 "and God said" but that is incorrect. The Hebrew states that "the Word Of The Lord came to Abram".
Another principle is that of balance; you know it from the saying, "what goes up must come down." This balance-principle has helped scientists understand gravity, electricity, relativity and many more processes that make the universe tick (much of the Standard Model of Elementary Particles was deducted by means of this balance-principle).
The group of laws that God initiated to govern the material universe is known to us as the laws of thermo-dynamics. The First Law of Thermo-Dynamics states that the amount of energy in the universe or any closed process must remain constant. The Second Law of Thermo-Dynamics states that entropy (the total amount of ways to organize stuff, also known as the amount of chaos) must increase over time. That means that the parts that form your car only if they are assembled in one specific way must turn into a heap of rust, which can be assembled in countless different ways and still form the same heap of rust.
These laws make the universe the way it is. If God, in His almight, would decide to briefly cancel any of them, He would destroy the entire universe in the blink of an eye, and us along with it. He's capable of doing it, but He simply doesn't want to. Anything God pulls off in the universe will always be in subject to the laws that make it the way it is.
During the 20th century, it has become evident that the bio-sphere and the mental sphere are organized highly similar to the material world (The notion that the laws that govern the material universe have repercussions in the biological and mental spheres is not at all a stretch of the imagination. See our introduction to Chaos Theory, and specifically our article on the Household Set). Somehow, the effects of sin cause a debt in the universe, which had to be annulled to maintain the universe. Jesus, who could not be condemned to death by the Law, died anyway, and His death supplied the excess of whatever it is that sin causes a shortage of (perhaps agape, which appears to be the mental equivalent of gravity; see our article).
Sin causes a debt, but since Golgotha this debt is no longer to the universe but to God. And God forgives.
This leaves any human with the following choice:
1) Expect salvation from keeping the Law; an attempt which is doomed to fail.
Although the New Testament is written in Greek, many scholars agree that it maintains a Hebrew spirit. And because most issues and principles of the New Testament originate in the Old Testament, which in turn is based on the Hebrew language mechanisms, we will have a look at the Hebrew depiction of Romans 7's key-phrases "sin" and "law":
The Hebrew word for Law (Torah) is a derivation of the verb (yara), throw, cast or shoot. This verb is used when arrows are shot, stones are thrown or stacked and even when lots are cast. Other derivations of this same verb is (yoreh), early rain, (moreh), which means both early rain and teacher. Basically, the verb and its nouns have to do with many little impulses that cause a larger and unified event, or serve to obtain a larger and unified objective.
Jesus summed up the Law by stating what the "larger and unified objective" of all God's instructions are: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind & You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
These words sum up the true purpose of man. If this purpose is obtained, sin is without effect and the Law is fulfilled.
The noun (het) means sin and comes from the identical but differently pronounced verb (hata), which means to miss a mark, target, goal, objective. The word sin literally means "a missing."
The verb occurs many times in the Old Testament. Some instances:
Judges 20:16, "Out of all these people 700 choice men were left-handed; each one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss ."
Proverbs 19:2, "...and he who makes haste with his feet errs ."
This peculiar word salah is used only to describe the response of God to atonement for sin, and roughly means the same as our English words forgiveness or absolution if these phrases weren't as loosely used to also describe actions between humans. Salah never refers to people forgiving people; it is solely reserved for God.
Harris, Archer & Waltke write, "One of the greatest evangelical notes in the OT is struck by this word: forgiveness and pardon from the very God of forgiveness."