What is Sin without the Law?
© C. O. Bishop 10/26/15 THCF 11/1/15
We have already addressed how sin came into the world, but, as we are about to see, there is a slight theological issue there: Since the Mosaic Law was not given for another 2500 years or more, what are we identifying as sin? How can we say something is sin, if there is no law to break?
In fact, perhaps we should briefly address the question of “What is Sin?” In the first place, the Greek verb “to sin” (hamartano—the noun is hamartia) means to “miss the mark”. The New Testament offers four clear definitions of sin, which, collectively, cover every type of sin:
- Sin is the transgression of the Law. (1st John 3:4)
- All unrighteousness is sin. (1st John 5:17)
- If a man knoweth to do right and doeth it not, to him it is sin. (James 4:17)
- Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. (Romans 14:23)
We are not given a list of “seven deadly sins”, or “nine nasty no-no’s” to avoid: we are given principles to live by and principles by which to recognize sin. We need to learn those principles and, on the basis of that learning, avoid sin because we want to walk with God. This is only possible for those who have been born again; born from above; born of God.
When I had only one nature, I could not please God, because the only thing I had to offer was already fully contaminated. I had already broken God’s Law and could not “un-break” it. I had fulfilled all four of the above definitions. What little I knew of God’s Law I had openly broken. I had wallowed in unrighteousness, and schemed to commit more. Things I knew were right, I had failed to do. And I certainly did nothing out of faith. I was a sinner, plain and simple.
But, in this passage, Paul speaks specifically of the Law, and is pointing out that “the Law” the Jews considered to be the “end all” (the Mosaic Law) did not even exist at the time of Adam. So, then, what was the problem? How could people be in sin?
13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.
The Law spoken of here, in verses 13-21, is the Mosaic Law. But Law, as a principle, existed before the world began. The Law, as given to Man, existed from day one of Man’s existence—but in very limited form: Genesis 2:17 “…but of the tree that is in the midst of the Garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shalt NOT eat, for in the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.”
That is the principle of Law, sometimes called the Law of Sin and Death. But Paul is presenting a narrower scope, here: he is talking about the law of Moses, given by God at Sinai, and inscribed in the rock, literally by the finger of God.
There were things in that law, given through Moses, which had never before been addressed. Some of those things actually became capital offenses, whereas before that day they were non-issues. We need to keep that in mind as we read.
Death reigned from Adam to Moses, because of sin…but not sin as the Jews thought of it (transgression of the Mosaic Law). That Law had not been given. Death reigned, first, because of sin inherited from Adam, and second, because it was rampant in the life of every human, to one degree or another. We can read the Old Testament account and see individual examples, to ascertain that evil was abundantly present.
Paul is not suggesting that the Law initiated man’s slide into sin. It only highlighted it, and made it abundantly clear that something is terribly wrong with the Human Race. (A radar trap does not make you speed, nor do traffic cameras make you run a red light. They only reveal that you were speeding and/or that you did not stop at a light.)
Why does Adam’s Decision affect Me?
15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
There is a contrast and a similarity drawn here: The similarity is that in each case one individual made a choice as a representative of a huge group of individuals. We might not like that fact, but it is true. It can be true is a positive sense or a negative sense, even today. When a man or woman chooses to emigrate from the place of their birth, to find a better place to live, their children and grandchildren in generations to come will reap the benefit of that decision, good or bad, regardless of whether they were aware of the decision. But other decisions have lasting effects, too:
I know a man who was the youngest of eighteen kids by one Hispanic couple. The couple was in their sixties by the time he and his next older brother were born, and, at a very young age, the two boys were left with a much older brother to raise, while Mom and Dad travelled, for their remaining years. The two toddlers had no choice in that matter. Another thing about which they had no real choice, is the fact that their older brother had, along with his wife, made the decision to speak only English in their home. So, by the time they were grown, my friend and his next older brother were the only ones of the original eighteen siblings who did not speak Spanish, and they were fairly bitter about it, as it meant they could not even converse freely with their own mother and father, who were in their nineties by that time. The choices we make affect others. That is simply a fact.
When General Lee surrendered to General Grant, it affected every single individual in the United States, for better or worse. Some members of the Confederacy may have insisted upon continuing the war after Lee’s surrender, but the fact is; the war was over—whether they believed it or not—and if they kept fighting they simply became murderers. They had no choice in the matter. There are many such tragedies in history, but it all began with Adam.
The choice Adam made affected all of his progeny, including you and me, whether we like it or not. You had no choice in that one. But concerning the choice Jesus made, to go to the cross as the representative of the whole Human race, and to satisfy the righteous demand of the holiness and justice of God, you actually do have a choice. You can choose to join him there, by faith, to eternally be found in Christ: or you can reject the opportunity, and stay where you are: in Adam.
And, as the choice of Adam brought death to all his progeny, the choice of Christ brings life to all His progeny—all those who are born again by faith in His shed blood.
Paul further explains the contrast, showing another difference between the choice of Adam and the choice of Christ.
16 And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.
17 For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)
Adam’s one sin brought sin and death to the entire human race, who were not even born yet. He made that decision ignorantly, not having any understanding of the results, nor of the personal God against whom he had rebelled. Jesus knew from eternity past ALL of the sins of ALL of the human race, and ALL of the monstrous evil that would occur because of sin…and chose, before he created the world to become the sacrificial lamb that would erase that sin, and heal the world.
The result of the offense of Adam was universal, even in the lives of people who never heard of him…they are lost sinners. The result of the gift of Christ is only universal in the sense that every single person who receives him as Savior will definitely be saved. But not everyone receives him when they hear the good news…and not everyone even gets to hear it. Jesus did make it clear in John 5:24 that whoever does hear it, and believes it, HAS everlasting life. Eternal life is immediately and irrevocably given to them. They are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and He, the Holy Spirit, immediately begins housecleaning and renovations.
Notice too, a small change in wording. The result of Adam’s sin was that Death, as a principal, “reigned” on planet Earth. The result of Jesus’ choice was not that Life reigns on planet earth (it still does not), but that His people reign in Life. The word translated “reign”, here is the Greek verb “basileuo”. When we get into the next chapter, we will see that we no longer have to sin. We are told to not allow sin to “reign” in our lives (same word), but we are to rule over sin.
In Genesis 4:7 we can see where that same offer was made to Cain, but he rejected it. God said “sin lies at the door, and its desire is for you (to control you), but you shall rule over it.” You are to reign in life. We will address that again at a later time, as it is also mentioned in Revelation 5: 10, as well as in other passages.
18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.
Verse 18 makes it clear that the gift was given “to” the whole human race. But verse 17 makes it clear that not everyone actually receives it.
19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.
Finally the contrast is completed in verses 19-21: the one act of rebellion brought death and destruction as all humans became sinners: in contrast, the one act of obedience brought Eternal life and grace and righteousness, as righteousness was imputed to (“placed upon the accounts of”) all who believe in Him.
Choose your Ruler: Sin or Grace
20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:
Verse 20 could be misunderstood to say that “more sin brings more grace”. I have read of people in our age that actually teach this. They claim that the way to experience the fullness of God’s Grace is to deliberately wallow in Sin. (Remember Romans 3:8? Paul had already been accused of teaching just that…he said that their “damnation was just.”) People who teach that perverse doctrine are in deep trouble with God. It would be similar to suggesting that if you want to really appreciate how good it feels to be healthy, try getting as sick as possible—become a drug addict. Then you will see how good it is to be healthy. That is an abominable idea.
Honestly, when you see the human wreckage that is the result of such folly, you can be glad that they have “done your homework for you”. You do NOT have to experiment with that foolishness to see the results. You can learn from the mistakes of others, and stay healthy. The same is true for a rebellious spirit. If you see the result of sin in other’s lives (especially those in the Word of God, where someone is clearly telling you that “this is the sin, and this is the result”, you can choose to learn from their example and escape the judgment under which they fell. At work, or in society at large, we can see people who rebel against God, against the Law, and against any other authority. And, in general, it results in some sort of bad consequences. One can see people losing jobs through foolish rebellion, or immorality, or drug abuse, etc. If it continues, they can lose their freedom for all those same reasons. And, left unchecked, it will cost them their lives.
But what verse 20 actually says is that God was not caught short: He did not have to “go scrape up some more Grace” because of the magnitude of human sin. He knew it all from the beginning, and His Grace reached out to remove all the wreckage of our failings.
Paul concludes the idea of the transition from Adam to Christ, from Death to Life, asd from Sin to Grace, in the last verse of chapter 5:
21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
Notice it does not say that “Satan has reigned”, but that “Sin has reigned, unto death”. The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the Psalmist says…and that has always been true. But the people have been enslaved to Sin. At the Cross, Sin was deposed from the throne of the believer’s life, and Grace was put in its place, through the righteousness of Christ.
Sin is no longer to be allowed to rule in the life of the believer—Grace is the new master, by the authority of Jesus Christ. And, yet, this is something about which we are expected to make a choice, every moment of every day.
Are you willing to allow God’s Grace to rule in your life? Then you need to start looking at the scripture to find out what that means. If you want to read ahead, you can begin looking at Romans 6 to see how that concept works. We’ll discuss it more next time.
Lord Jesus, we thank you for the work you accomplished at the Cross, and we desire to walk more deeply into the river of your Grace and Love. Teach us to live by your Grace.