“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who
really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9, New Living Translation)
SIN HAS A LAW?
What is “sin”? What is “the law of sin”? Many people think these two things are the same thing, but they are not. They are different. For example, gravity and the law of gravity are also not the same thing. The law of gravity is actually an explanation of how gravity works. In much the same way, the “law of sin” explains how sin works. The interesting problem in understanding many of Paul’s phrases in his writings is that he doesn’t stop to define terms too often.
WHAT IS “SIN”?
Let’s start here. “Sin” is defined repeatedly in the book of Leviticus as “to do any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done” (see Leviticus 4:2, 13, 22, 27; 5:17). In addition, there is a New Testament parallel to this definition found in the epistle of I John:
Whosoever commits sin transgresses [violates or breaks] also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. (I John 3:4)
In the United States, if someone breaks “the law,” then that person has committed “a crime,” and one who commits “a crime,” we call “a criminal.” However, in God’s kingdom, if someone breaks one of His laws, then then that person has committed “a sin” (i.e., “a crime”), and if someone has committed “a sin,” then God and His Word says they are “a sinner” (i.e., “a criminal”). But understand that even though the terms differ, their essential definitions are really the same. In other words, when we compare these terms, sin/crime and sinner/criminal, they are essentially synonymous terms.
But who determines what is “sin”? Through all the years that I have spent studying the Scriptures, I have not found even one verse or passage that teaches that we have the right to decide what is a sin or what is not a sin. Only God has the right to make that determination. The problem with any religion, including Judaism and Christianity, is that we have created our own ideas of what is or is not sin, and in so doing, we have added to the Scriptures, but we’ve also deleted portions of those same Scriptures. For to add to or delete from the Scriptures is in itself an act of sin.
YOU SHALL NOT ADD to the word which I am commanding you, nor TAKE AWAY FROM IT, that you may keep the the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. (Deuteronomy 4:2; Emphasis Mine)
Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; YOU SHALL NOT ADD TO NOR TAKE AWAY FROM IT. (Deuteronomy 12:32; Emphasis Mine)
Consequently, for us TO ADD TO or TO TAKE AWAY FROM any of the commandments of God is, itself, a sin. Therefore, for any Christian to say, even from behind the pulpit, that “the Law has been done away,” “the Law is not for the Christian,” “the Law ended at the cross,” etc., is to “TAKE AWAY FROM” the commandments and, therefore, constitute a sin. So am I saying that Paul sinned? If our interpretation of Paul was correct, then yes, it would be a sin; however, since our interpretation is wrong, then Paul is not the one who has sinned, but us, in the church, through our misinterpretation of his teaching.
WHAT IS “THE LAW OF SIN”?
What we do see Paul arguing against in the New Testament is not the “law of God,” but the “law of sin,” and it’s a concept that’s expressed in several different ways. For example, he refers to it as our “sin nature,” “our old man,” “the law in my flesh (or members),” “the law of sin,” or simply as “sin.” The root cause of human sin is a multi-level defect in our human hardware. The “law of sin” is the central topic of the book of Romans and is foundational to properly understanding the book of Galatians. For example, in Romans 7:25, he writes,
So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
Notice in this verse, Paul identifies two different laws: the law of God and the law of sin. This is only one of many references in the New Testament that demonstrate that the law of God, given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, did not, in fact, end at the cross as Christianity has taught since the mid-second century, C.E. If it had ended as they contend, then why is Paul serving “the law of God” with his mind? The “law of God” and the “law of sin” are not the same. (contrary to some who teach that “the law of sin and death” is the Ten Commandments.) Therefore, if we are going to understand his argument, we need to have a clear definition of “the law of sin.”
The problem with the way society, psychology, sociology, education, and even many religions approach sin is that they all approach it as a “software” problem – not a “hardware” problem. From their perspective, the reason people “sin” (or “do bad things”) is because they’ve not been taught or trained properly or because of the environment that they have been raised in, not because that there’s something wrong with the individual himself or herself.
Although this may explain some surface level issues in people, it really does not get at the heart or root of the problem. The heart or root of the sin issue is not found in humanity’s “software” (teachings, understandings, or habits) but in our “hardware.” It is a defect in every aspect of our being, who we are mentally, emotionally, spiritually, socially and physically. It permeates every aspect of who we are, even further down than our very own DNA, every second of every minute of every day. People will say, “But I’m not a bad person,” but in comparison to whom? Perhaps in comparison to murderers, rapists or thieves, but what if God were to compare you to Himself? How would you do then?
According to the Bible, humanity was created “in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:26-27). This means that when you stand before God on judgment day, He will not be comparing you to your family, neighbors, or the bad people in town, but He is going to compare you with Himself. We were created to reflect “His image and likeness” in the earth. The central question He will be examining in our lives is, How well have you reflected His image and likeness in your own life, to your family and friends, and to the society around you? In considering this question, the Bible tells us,
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
Even in the Psalms, we are told,
The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that does good, no, not one. (Psalm 14:2-3; Psalm 53:2-3; Romans 3:10-12)
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. (Psalm 51:5)
The wicked are estranged from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from birth. (Psalm 58:3)
Even in the first book of the Bible, we are given this view of the condition of humanity:
And God saw that the wickedness of man [humanity] was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)
Some may say, “I’m not THAT bad; I don’t think ‘evil continually’.” That depends on your definition of “evil.” In God’s view, if He is not at the center of your thoughts and life, then it’s “evil.” Remember, you were created to reflect His “image and likeness,” so how are you doing that if He is not at the central core of all that you are thinking about and doing?
“HOW DID THIS START?”
To explain this, let me give an analogy. Suppose a new phone company came up with a model I-Phone that would revolutionize our world and lives. They had developed their new prototype and manufacturing was all set to begin the next day. However, that night someone broke into the plant and caused a defect in both the original prototype and the computers involved in its manufacturing. Not knowing what had happened, the owner okayed the beginning manufacturing of the product. Thousands were created and sold around the world. Soon complaints were coming back to the owner regarding this hidden defect.
Did the owner intend to sell thousands of defective products? Of course not. As far as He knew, He had created an awesome product, but something happened which changed something good into something less than good. In much the same way, God had created Adam and Eve (Heb. Chavah) as something good, as people who were made to reflect His image, likeness and character within the earth. However, something happened. Another being got involved who tempted them to disobey God [the serpent], and when Adam and Eve disobeyed, it caused a defect to occur within them, and through them, all of humanity. And since that time, God has been working on correcting this defect in the lives of each and every person who turns to Him in faith.
HOW DOES THE DEFECT WORK?
Our human defect, which the Bible calls “the law of sin,” works by taking anything that God has given to us to be a blessing, and it altars, changes, distorts, or perverts it into something other than what God intended.
For example, consider what Isaiah teaches in the following:
Woe to those who call evil “good,” and good “evil;” who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and clever in their own sight! (Isaiah 5:20-21)
As we can see, there’s an inversion that occurs in sin: good becomes evil, and evil becomes good. And we can blatantly see this. not only in American society, but in the American church as well.
But the hard truth is that as long as the “law of sin” is in operation within our lives, then God’s design can never be fully realized within our lives. And one of the reasons why Jesus died was to provide the means for God to correct this defect in our lives. Although this was not the ONLY reason for His death (contrary to what Christianity teaches), it was one of the main reasons.
Let me give you some examples to illustrate my point of how “the law of sin” operates. For example,
- God gave us speech to be able to speak with Him and to be a blessing to others. Instead, the law of sin distorts this into us denying God’s existence and swearing, cursing, blaspheming God, and speaking evil of others by means of slander, lying, and deceit, etc.
- God gave us hands to care for and be helpful to one another and to care for the earth. Instead, the law of sin distorts that into brutality, fighting, war, maiming, killing, and ripping apart and destroying the earth.
- God gave us the ability to express love, but instead, the law of sin distorts it into lust, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, incest, bestiality, anger, bitterness, and rape. “Our human defect” [“the law of sin”] takes the goodness of God and turns it into an abomination and a curse.
Also, not only does the law of sin twist and distort the use of our own bodies, but it also twists and distorts things God gives to us to help us into something evil. For example, in Numbers 21, the children of Israel has started complaining again about God and Moses. They said,
Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and water, and we loathe this miserable food. (Numbers 21:5)
In response to this, God sends “fiery serpents” that are poisonous among the people, and many of them are bit and die. The people then come to Moses and confess that they have sinned against him and God, and they ask him to intercede on their behalf (Numbers 21:6-7). In response, the LORD gives Moses the following instructions:
Make a fiery [bronze] serpent, and set it on a standard [pole]; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live. (Numbers 21:8)
Moses does this, and when the people look upon the bronze or fiery serpent, they are healed. Now let’s go ahead about 950 years to the reign of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18. He was twenty-five years old when he began his rule and reign over the southern kingdom of Judah. In verses 3-5, we read,
And he did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father [ancestor] David had done. He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the BRONZE SERPENT THAT MOSES HAD MADE, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehustan. He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him.
950 years after Moses makes the bronze serpent, Hezekiah destroys it because people had been worshiping it as an idol. They even gave it a name: Nehustan. What God had given to be a source of healing, the people turned into a god and worshiped it. That’s how messed up the law of sin is within each and every one of us.
This is the law that Jesus died to set us free from, NOT the law of God. The church has traditionally confused these two laws. For example, in Romans 6:14,
For SIN shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.
What “laws” are we not under? Paul tells us in the first part of the verse: “SIN SHALL NOT BE MASTER OVER YOU.” In other words, the “law of sin.” In fact, in Romans 6-8, Paul is answering the question: “Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?” (Romans 6:1) All three chapters are Paul’s answer to this question. And in this discussion, from Romans 6:1 – 13, there’s absolutely NO MENTION of God’s law in the text at all. So obviously to include “God’s law” into that statement is to read into the text someone’s own idea, rather than what the text says itself.
SO WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?
The solution to the law of sin is given by Jesus: “FOLLOW ME.” Notice that Jesus does not say, “ACCEPT ME,” but “FOLLOW ME.” In other words, the solution lies in the process of discipleship to Christ. But this involves more than just going up front to the altar and praying “the sinner’s prayer.” That is just where the process begins.
The solution comes as WE ARE SANCTIFIED (made holy) by the blood of the cross, by the Holy Spirit, the washing of water by the Word of God (Ephesians 5:25-27), and by daily spending time in prayer with God. These four things have to work together as we follow Christ for our “defects” (the law of sin) to be corrected. There is NO INSTANTANEOUS CURE for the “law of sin.” The “sinner’s prayer” at the alter will NOT CORRECT the problem, contrary to what many pastors, ministers, Bible teachers and evangelists are teaching. The “sinner’s prayer” again is where the journey, or process, begins – it is NOT the full journey.