The Law and Sin
Jack M. Lane
One of the traditional meanings of the Feast for us has been picturing the Wonderful World Tomorrow Ė the Millennium. The time when Christ has returned, and the ekklesia is resurrected. The time when Satan is chained (and presumably his demons are also chained). It will be a time when peace spreads over the planet.
You are aware that we, today, live during the time of Satan, and we are supposed to fight against sin, while at the same time the devil is also pushing us down just as hard as he can.
During the Millennium, people will still have to fight against sin, but they wonít have the additional crushing weight of the devil trying to bring them down. It will be so much easier for people to fight against sin, and win, in the Wonderful World Tomorrow.
Today, we have an incredibly difficult job in waging the war against sin. So I thought it would be good to begin this Feast by taking a look at this subject.
Today Iíd like to talk to you about sin.
Let me say at the outset -- Iím still against it. But since sin is what weíre supposed to fight against, and overcome, and avoid at all costs, I think it might be a good idea to settle into a study of exactly what this thing is that weíre supposed to defend ourselves against.
Iíd like to walk you through the subject of sin. Weíre not going to do one of those lengthy word studies, and look at fifteen different types of sin. Weíre just going to get more familiar with what sin is.
The Law Versus The Torah
We know that Godís law is supreme. Even God Himself doesnít violate His own law. Thatís why Christ had to come to die, because God had set in motion the law that claims the life of anyone who sins -- and all have sinned.
But we may have thought of "law" as being harsh, stern, unyielding, unforgiving, exacting its penalties without respect of persons, when in fact the biblical concept of "law" is merely "torah" Ė teaching, instruction, guidance. In the Old Testament scriptures, "law" is translated from the Hebrew word torah. So, whatever torah meant to the Hebrew-speaking people, thatís really what we ought to think of today. We tend to think of the books of Moses as "The Torah." But torah means teaching, instruction. It isnít just a strict list of doís and doníts.
This can be demonstrated by comparing the "long form" of the Ten Commandments with the "short form." The short form says, "Thou shalt not!" The long form says, "Thou shalt not, and hereís more information." Instead of just stating a brief list of doís and doníts, the Bible often tells us why we would want to avoid doing certain things.
We might say that the "short form" reflects our understanding of law, and the "long form," with more information, is torah, or teaching. Once we understand the difference -- that the one can be a harsh taskmaster while the other is a loving teacher -- we can look into the Bible and find, to our surprise, that the "short form" of the Ten Commandments is not there. Only the "long form" is in the Bible.
The Concept Of Sin And Law
Most of us should be able to answer this simple question: "What is sin?" We should be able to answer, automatically, "Sin is the transgression of the law." We might even be able to quote the reference, 1 John 3:4.
We were taught that simple equation, A=B. We learned that there was an equals sign (the word "is"), and on one side was "sin," and on the other side was "the transgression of the law." Sin equals the transgression of the law. Since it was a simple equation, A=B, the opposite was also true: B=A -- the transgression of the law equals sin.
Here we had a cut-and-dry definition. We learned it, we memorized it -- and we may have missed the whole concept of what sin actually is!
We spent our time trying to dodge those fragile and brittle laws of God so we wouldnít break them. The ancient Jews erected safeguards around Godís laws, so they would have to break several man-made rules before they might get close enough to an actual law to break it.
We see several examples of that sort of thing in the gospels. Jesus heals a man and tells him to take up his mat and go home. The Jews berate the man for carrying his bed on the Sabbath day. They completely overlook the fact that the man was walking!
Jesus heals a man with a withered hand. Again, itís on the Sabbath day. The leader of the synagogue gets hot and heavy about Jesus healing on the Sabbath day. Like itís an everyday occurrence!
What were these Jewish leaders doing? They were defending the Sabbath day! They were trying really hard not to let anyone trample on Godís holy Sabbath! Noble motives. But they overlooked some incredibly important things in the process.
Iím afraid many of us did the same kind of thing in times past, not just with the Sabbath day, but in many areas. Out of a pure heart and a clear conscience, we did things back then weíd probably do differently today, with the greater understanding we now have.
Two Types Of Sin
Because, in our zeal to overcome sins, we might have missed the idea about sin! The Bible uses both words Ė "sins," to refer to specific acts of wrongdoing, and "sin," meaning the entire realm of sinfulness.
On the one hand, there is sinfulness, and on the other hand, there is (what I term) "the greater overall morality of the universe."
Itís Godís universe. God is love. Godís Spirit is everywhere. Thatís what I mean when I talk about "the greater overall morality of the universe." Iím not trying to slip in some "new age" term on you. There is a right and wrong, there is a morality and immorality, that existed even before God ever set finger to stone to write out the Ten Commandments.
There have been some who would read how Christ magnified the law and made it honorable, but miss the point. Jesus said, "In the past it was wrong to commit adultery. Now Iím telling you that itís wrong to think about commiting adultery." So we might think, "Okay, more rules -- donít commit adultery, donít think about commiting adultery. Easy. Two rules instead of one."
But it isnít simply a matter of adding more rules; itís a matter of being a different kind of person than we were before we were baptized.
Christ expanded the torah from simply refraining from certain actions, and He elevated obedience to a new, higher level of pure thinking and sinless motivation. He magnified the torah, and made it even more honorable than it was before.
Jesus said, in Matthew 5:17-20 (NIV): "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."
How could people expect to have more righteousness than the high and lofty Pharisees and teachers of the law? Didnít they observe every jot and tittle of the law scrupulously? Didnít they add laws of their own so people could be even more righteous?
Thatís the whole point! Perhaps thatís not what Christ meant. In the New Testament, when the word "law" is used, either by Jesus or Paul, you can be sure that, if they were speaking Hebrew or Aramaic, they would use the Hebrew word torah. The Hebrew-speaking audience would understand that they were talking about Godís instructions to mankind.
Christ didnít come to abolish the torah, but to magnify it. We can read throughout the Sermon on the Mount how he expanded the teachings of God, to encompass our thoughts as well as our deeds. This is instruction. This is torah.
Before Messiah spoke these words, people may have thought that it was permissable to hate people, lust after women, and a whole host of other things, as long as the crime only took place in your mind, and didnít actually take place in real life.
But here comes God in the flesh, teaching that if the crime took place in your mind, there was still a crime taking place! Just to "run the movie" in your mind was as much a sin as to actually commit the awful deed. Messiah was telling His followers: "Patrol the corridors of your own mind, and sweep the sin out."
How We View Law
Thereís a difference between our idea of law and law-keeping on the one hand, and the overall morality of the universe on the other hand. Laws are a subset of morality. Laws are not the morality itself. Laws are a codification of behaviors, to point out which behaviors violate the greater principle of morality.
Let me illustrate. Maybe you never stopped to consider this, but something isnít wrong because itís against the law. Itís against the law because itís wrong! Iím talking about just laws -- not the politically motivated, Iím-in-control laws, but those laws which govern and regulate society wisely. These laws are written to legislate against behavior which violates the overall morality of the universe.
Right and wrong exist. Morality and immorality exist. Laws are simply there to define, for the heard-hearted and hard-headed, which behaviors are acceptable and which are not.
Now, we all sin. We all violate a law here and there. Escaping sin altogether is an ideal, but something which we canít really do. In 1 John 1:8 (NIV), we read, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." But John continues in verse 9, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will  forgive us our sins -- and  purify us from all unrighteousness."
To sin is part of being human. But we in the Body of Christ try to live within that morality God created. Those who try to live outside of that code of conduct, we call "sinners." That is, not only do they sin, but they deliberately, willfully, sin as a way of life. They prefer to live in the realm of lawlessness, or immorality.
1 John 3:4 is a key scripture that can open up our understanding that weíre dealing with two different things when we talk about sin. In the King James version, we read, "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law." The New King James has it this way: "Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness."
Iíd like to point out that word, "also." That one word shows that it isnít a simple A=B equation, after all! This verse says: if youíre doing one thing, youíre also doing the other! If youíre commiting sin, youíre also transgressing the law. If youíre commiting sin, youíre also commiting lawlessness. It appears that these two things are not entirely the same!
What does it mean? It means that, while we all transgress the law occasionally, and miss the mark, we try to live within the realm of Godís teachings. In so doing, weíre not just observing ten commandments, and the statutes and judgments, but rather we dwell within the greater morality. Itís where we live.
Why The Law?
What is the purpose of the law? Paul asked that very question, in Galatians chapter 3.
In Galatians 3:19, in the KJV, Paul asks, "Wherefore then serveth the law?". But the word "serveth" is in italics -- it was not in the Greek. It doesnít belong there. "Wherefore" means "why," so the question really is, "Why, then, the law?". Or, as it says in the NKJV, "What purpose then does the law serve?" Paul goes on to answer: "It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made...".
The law was added because of transgressions. But, how could there be transgressions before the law was added? Doesnít the law define transgression? In fact, Paul wrote in Romans 3:20: "... by the law is the knowledge of sin." NIV translates that verse: "Through the law, we become conscious of sin." And in Romans 7:7, he wrote: "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law."
This is why the law -- to define sin, but not to put sin in a box with definite sides and a lid. The law is to help us know what sin is, and to guide us away from it, and back into the realm of morality. This is how there could be transgression, or sin, before the law was given. This explains why the law came to be -- because of transgression of that greater morality.
I think we can see the difference between merely setting our face to refrain from commiting acts that violate the letter of the law, by sheer determination and will power, and actually having our heads in the place where we want to obey God, and have a deep-seated desire to walk in that way of life. Thatís the difference between living in sinfulness and living within the greater morality.
The Spirit Makes All The Difference
It seems as if ancient Israel always failed. From the time of the Exodus clear up until they were all carried away captive, the nation of Israel, and later the two nations of Israel and Judah, were not able to do what God required of them. They simply didnít have the extra power they needed. That power became available to the New Testament ekklesia. It was the Spirit of God, dwelling in humans, uniting with their spirits to become a force that could withstand human nature, Roman dungeons, even the devil himself!
When the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost, in Acts chapter 2, the disciples suddenly "got the picture"! They ran outside, excitedly proclaiming the Good News, and the result was 3,000 baptisms that day, 5,000 on another occasion, and countless others along the way.
Although there were various problems in various congregations, the ekklesia was empowered to do what Israel was never able to do: obey God, walk in the Way, and actually be what a human being should be -- a truly converted individual.
Without the Holy Spirit, Israel of old had only the commandments, the statutes and judgments, and the leadership of local community elders, to guide them. Unless they had a righteous judge, or a righteous king, they would invariably go astray, and not follow the right path. They would sin. But their sin would only be a manifestation of their unrigtheous life style. They were not living within that greater morality. They couldnít! All they could do was try to live within the confines of the law.
You see the difference?
The laws of God are written down to be a guide. If we deviate to one side or the other, we will bump up against some law or another. People who are always bumping up against these laws are obviously not walking in the way of those laws. People who are walking according to the narrow path, which is outlined and bordered by the laws, will not stray from the path and run up against these laws very often.
Psalm 119:105: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path." In the ekklesia of God, we should have the strength, through the Spirit of God, to willingly walk along the path illuminated by Godís Word, His torah, His teaching.
As an example, "Law" says, "Donít drive over 65." "Torah" says, "If you drive too fast, you could be endangering yourself and others." So the overall morality is, "Donít drive too fast, out of respect for yourself and others." But the law says, "Donít drive over 65." If we live within the framework of morality, we will wish to drive respectfully, courteously, and safely -- and within the speed limit. So the law is there to guide us in the direction of morality.
If weíre already living in the realm of morality, we wonít bump up against the law. We live our lives in such a way that the laws donít get in our way, because we donít go in a direction that would cause us to bump up against them.
God shows grace, or mercy, by forgiving our sins. It serves no purpose to hold our sins over our heads once we learn the lesson and repent. God doesnít want to punish us for our sins, He wants to help us learn our lessons and get further along the path!
When we view it in that light, we can see that forgiving sins is easy. If you or I come before God and show Him that we didnít mean to do whatever it was we did, and that weíre trying to live our lives so that we donít do those things, He will quickly forgive -- and itís up to us to quickly forgive each other under those circumstances, too.
Letís turn to Mark chapter 2, and look at the healing of the paralyzed man.
Mark 2:1-12 (NIV):
1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home.
2 So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.
3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them.
4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on.
5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves,
7 "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things?
9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ĎYour sins are forgiven,í or to say, ĎGet up, take your mat and walkí?
10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." He said to the paralytic,
11 "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home."
12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"
I think many of us may have missed the point of that story. Sure, it was a great miracle to heal the man, but Messiah was comparing forgiving sins and healing. In order to show how simple it is to forgive sins, He did the more difficult thing -- He healed the man -- and He did it very easily! The point was to show that, if He could heal that easily, you can imagine that He also has the authority to do the simpler thing, to forgive sins!
Is it true that only God can forgive sins? I think you can easily find a number of verses showing otherwise.
A Progression Of Thought In The New Testament
There is a change that takes place as we read through the New Testament. In the gospels, the words "sin" and "sins" are used to describe acts which violate the law -- "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us."
People who sin were referred to as sinners -- "There is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents." In this context, it would be easy to think of sin as being the transgression of the law. It was an act of omission or commission. Yet, in John 1:29, John the Baptizer said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Here "sin" is used in an overall, general sense.
Did Christ come to take away the breaking of laws? Or did He come so that people could receive the Holy Spirit and become a new person, renewed in the Spirit?
If we view "sin" in this larger sense, as the opposite of the regenerated spiritual state Ė the "old man" as opposed to the "new man" Ė we can see that the concept of "sin" might actually describe the human condition itself! "Sin" would actually be synonymous with "unrighteousness."
Indeed, David wrote, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me" (Psalm 51:5, NKJV). He wasnít saying that his parents were sinning, or that sex and reproduction were bad. He was describing the human condition. We were all born in this sinful state!
In John 8:34, Jesus said, "Everyone who sins is a slave to sin." Here He is using the word in both of its meanings. Everyone has commited sins, because everyone is (or was) a slave to sinfulness, or unrighteousness. "All have sinned, and have come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
Beginning in the book of Acts, however, we begin to see a slight shift in the way the word "sin" is used. As the Bible progresses through the epistles, more emphasis is placed on expressions like, "the forgiveness of sins." And the concept of "sin" as an abstract noun takes on greater significance. For example, Galatians 3:22 (NIV): "But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin...".
We can begin to see that sins are individual manifestations of sin, just as laws are individual manifestations of law.
Romans Describes Sin
There is a grand discussion of sin throughout the book of Romans. For instance, in Romans 5:12, Paul tells us that "sin entered the world by one man, and death through sin." Again, in Romans 7:7, Paul explains one of the purposes of the law: "I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ĎDo not covet.í"
Sin is not merely the transgression of written-down laws, because sin, as an institution, existed before the law was given! Long before Israel assembled at Mt. Sinai, Joseph in Egypt said to Potipharís wife, "No-one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9). Was Joseph referring to Commandment #7, "Thou shalt not Ö"? No, we was saying, "This thing you suggest is wrong."
Today, we have written-down rules from God to guide us in our lives. These rules define sin, and are also referred to as a schoolmaster that brings us to Christ (Galatians 3:24).
But back in Romans 5, Paul tells us, in verse 20, that the law was added so that the trespass would increase! Why? Why on earth would God want trespass to increase? So that, where sin increased, Godís grace would also increase all the more!
When we come to understand how sinful weíve been, and how we had been drowning in an ocean of unrighteousness, and then we see a life saver ring come sailing through the air toward us, with big letters on the side, "HMS Salvation," and a big rope attached that goes back to the big ship, then we rejoice to cling to that life saver ring, while the Captain and crew pull us aboard, just in time.
When we violate Godís torah, that creates a need for Godís grace. When we wake up to the fact that weíre about to drown in our own sins, that creates an appreciation for the life saver ring.
But then, in Romans chapter 6, Paul asks, "Well, then, if thatís the case, should we sin -- should we commit acts which violate the law -- so that grace may abound? Certainly not! We died to sin!"
That is, when we were baptized and received the Spirit of God, we fulfilled the picture of our death by being immersed in water -- not our physical death, but our spiritual death, under the penalty of sin. If we had truly repented, we received Godís gift, or down payment, of His Spirit, symbolizing our resurrection into glorified spirit bodies later on. We had acted out receiving the penalty of our sins, by being buried in Christ, and so we were absolved from the guilt of our past sins.
Then, with the help of Godís Spirit, our job is to go on from there, having died to sinfulness, no longer being slaves to sinfulness, and become the new person by the renewing of our minds.
The Bible writers are actually discussing the greater morality that exceeds the mere right and wrong of the written law. In Romans chapter 2, Paul evens shows how the Gentiles understand this greater morality, even if they didnít know a thing about the Bible:
Romans 2:14-15: "Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them."
Paul is explaining that the thoughts and consciences of the nations who did not have Godís torah brought them to many of the same conclusions in their search for the right way to live, which would most benefit society and the rights of the individual. Part of the nobler side of human nature is to understand right and wrong.
We remember that John defined sin as law-breaking in 1 John 3:4. But two chapters later he wrote, in 1 John 5:17: "All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death." Now here is another one of those equations Ė A=B. "All wrongdoing -- equals -- sin." If we flip it around and look at it as B=A, hereís another definition of sin: "Sin -- is -- all wrongdoing"! Sin isnít merely the transgression of laws. Itís doing wrong! All wrongdoing, whether or not thereís a specific law defining it, is sin!
What does James say? James 4:17: "If anyone knows to do good, and doesnít do it, itís a sin unto him"! It doesnít matter if thereís a specific law against it. If you know the right thing to do, and you donít do it, That act of omission is, to you, a sin!
And weíve done it again. Weíve missed the mark, and fallen short of the glory of God.
John really holds our feet to the fire here, by telling us that, not only do we have the written laws to worry about, but simply doing wrong, violating the greater morality, is considered to be sin!
Yet, as John says in this verse, 1 John 5:17, there is a sin that does not lead to death. That would be the little, innocent errors, the missing of the mark, that we all do in our daily lives.
Repentance on our part, and forgiveness on Godís part, and we are justified once again, and sent off to try once again to live our lives in a way that is pleasing to God.
We can dwell in the realm of this greater morality, and still sin. We miss the mark, we fall short. But we cry out to God, and He is faithful and just to forgive us, and He helps us get back up, and we keep going. Weíre still living in the greater morality.
Iíve been calling it "the greater morality." The Bible calls it "righteousness." Being right. Not just doing right, but being right.
To dwell within the greater morality of the universe isnít a new age concept Ė itís biblical! Itís called "being righteous," and "being holy."
Righteous people sin. They violate a law here and there. But righteous people are still righteous people. The unrighteous are the sinners, the ones who live in the realm of sin, or sinfulness.
There are those who have trouble walking along the narrow path that leads to the strait gate. If we are truly "with the program," we will be walking down that path. The laws of God are guideposts and markers along the way. They say, "This is the way; you walk in it." If we stay on the path, we wonít trip over the guideposts.
But there are some who have trouble staying on the path. Some would like to go off to the left, and trample the plants and foliage underfoot. Torah says, "This is the way; you walk in it." Others would like to go off to the right, into the river, and walk on water right away. The guideposts say, "This is the way; you walk in it."
Those who continually bump up against the teachings of God are not trying very hard to stay on that path. The constant run-ins with the law of God show they are still living in the realm of sin, or unrighteousness. They canít stay on the path. Those who are led by the Spirit of God, who keep their eyes focused on the goal, have a desire to stay on that path. As a result, they donít bump up against the guideposts very often. That means, they arenít sinning very often.
We do continue to have sinfulness -- human nature -- as a part of us, trying to overthrow us if we donít overthrow it. The committing of sins, and the realization, and the repenting, help us to learn what is right and wrong. But we must leave the childrenís level of simply learning good and evil, and follow the path, willingly, as mature Christians.
Have you ever walked down a dark pathway that had little Malibu lights alongside, to illuminate the path as you walked? You probably appreciated the light on the path. You can imagine, though, if someone was completely careless, or not looking where he was going, he might trip over those same lamps. Those lamps, that show you the way, might be a stumbling block to someone else.
But weíre not of the darkness. We are children of the light. As Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:5-6: "You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled."
In Ephesians 5:8-9, Paul wrote: "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)."
Sin is darkness. Righteousness is light. Let the Word of God be a light to your path, as we replace the darkness that we once were with the fruit of the light in our lives: goodness, righteousness, and truth.