The ‘Law’ of Sin and Death

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:15-17).

One of the biggest misconceptions within Christianity is that the old testament ‘law’ has been done away with and Christians are no longer ‘under the law’.  Though I cannot be sure from where this doctrine originated, I’m going to guess it developed from quoting only half of this sentence in Romans:

“For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14-15). 

In this verse, the word translated ‘law’ is the Greek nomos.   This Greek word can mean anything from general principles of law to the first five books of the Bible known as the Torah.  It’s such a general word that Strong’s Concordance actually says that the meaning of the word nomos must be derived from the context in which it is used.

Within the context of the word nomos is the word ‘because’.  Because is used to introduce a word or phrase that gives an explanation or reason.  To just say “I’m not under the law, I’m under grace” is not giving the reason why.  The reason why in this verse has to do with sin no longer being the master of one’s life. 

Law and Justice

According to the dictionary, law is defined as “the system of rules that a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and may enforce by the imposition of penalties.”  From a Biblical perspective, it would be necessary that the Kingdom of God would have a system of rules that regulates the actions of its citizens.   When one of the citizens breaks the law, they receive justice for doing so. 

This is what happened in the Garden of Eden, the eternal paradise, our first glimpse at the Kingdom of God.   Adam was given one rule.  He couldn’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  If he broke the rule, the penalty was death. 

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden;  but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:15).

Adam was given the command before the woman, Eve, was made.  It was his responsibility to pass the one command on to his wife.  However, because she was deceived by the serpent, she ate the fruit and gave some to Adam who committed the sin of disobedience.  They realized their sin in their nakedness and tried to cover it up.

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (Genesis 3:6-7).

God was not fooled by their fig leaves.  He knew their hearts.  He saw their sin.  He cursed the serpent who deceived Eve.  He gave Eve pain in child bearing and made her desire her husband.  He cursed the ground from which Adam was made so that Adam would toil all the days of his life for food.  He proclaimed His justice on Adam’s sin: death. 

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). 

Because of Adam, everyone sins.  Because of Adam, sin and death entered the world.  Because of Adam, everyone was kicked out of the Kingdom of God.

Going Beyond God’s Boundaries

Some time ago, my son invited a friend to spend the weekend.  This friend was not a Christian, did not even believe in God.  However, he had questions he wanted answered.  Starting with the basics, I asked him to define sin.  He thought deeply for a few minutes and said, ‘doing bad things’.  Of course my response could only be, ‘Who determines what things are bad, or good for that matter?  He replied, “Good question.”  I explained that if someone puts their faith in God, it should be God, not mankind, who makes that determination.  He agreed. The foundation was laid. 

As Creator of the Universe, God gave one law to Adam.  After the flood, God gave more laws to Noah for mankind.  To Abraham, God gave laws for him and his descendants.  Through Moses, God gave 613 laws to Israel outlining how to love and worship Him and, how to live in a community and love your neighbor.  All of these laws from Adam to Israel have one thing in common – they are God’s laws.   In Hebrew, the word law is torah and means “teachings or instructions’ of God.  Sin is nothing more and nothing less than breaking God’s torah, His teachings and instructions.

“Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4).

God as the Ruler of the Kingdom of Heaven defines sin as breaking His law or torah. Sin is ultimately disobeying His instructions and going beyond the bounds of His established desire for our behavior.  The consequences for sin, as Adam learned, is death (Romans 6:23).

In Hebrew, the word for ‘sin’ is chata.  It means ‘to miss or go wrong.’  In Greek, the word for ‘sin’ is hamartia and means ‘to miss the mark’.  This is exactly what Adam did.  He went beyond the boundaries that God established for him in Paradise, disobeyed God’s one instruction, and missed the mark.  As a result, everyone sins (Romans 3:23).  Everyone.  There is no exception to the ‘law of sin and death.’

God’s Grace and Sin

“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?” (Romans 6:15).

“We’re under God’s grace” is no excuse to continue breaking torah.  What if Adam and Eve’s conversation went something like this:

“God loves us.  He created this Paradise for us.  We named all these animals.  We walk and talk with him every evening.  He has given us all the trees in the garden from which to eat except this one.     He won’t kill us if we just taste the fruit.  Besides what does ‘death’ mean anyway?”  Just look at the Tree of Life.  It’s full of fruit.”

Oh yeah, those were the serpent’s words.  Adam and Eve had no understanding of God’s grace, the power of His grace to overcome sin and even the desire to sin.   However, because of their sin, God’s grace abounded to Adam and Eve.  He removed the leaves and covered them with garments of skin.  In order to make the garments, blood had to be shed.  Animal blood.  This set up the torah of blood for the forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22).  His incredible grace did not stop them or their children from sinning.  Cain did kill Abel. 

The incredible grace of God was probably something they told and retold their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They probably spoke often about  how they sinned against God, how He promised a Redeemer,  and how He shed the blood of an innocent animal to cover their sin.   God’s grace did not remove them from the law of sin and death nor did it change the fact that they had to live out God’s judgments for their lives in a fallen world.   God’s grace kept them alive for many more years and kept them walking in the hope of a Redeemer.   God’s grace empowered them to put the past in the past and press on toward the goal, the higher calling of God’s promised Seed that would restore all things to the way they were in the Garden, but it included an even better promise, the power to overcome sin and death  (Philippians 3:14).   

Victory Over Sin and Death

“Because the Torah of the Spirit, which produces this life in union with Messiah Yeshua, has set me free from the law of sin and death …  (Romans 8:2).

The law of sin and death brought on by Adam’s disobedience to God’s one instruction was destroyed by the Seed of woman, the second Adam, the Messiah Yeshua.  Through his death, his blood atoned for sin and brought universal forgiveness.   Through his resurrection, he destroyed the power of death.  When Yeshua ascended into the heavenly realm, his Father poured out His Spirit in order to begin the restoration process.    Those who are born again of the Spirit of God re-enter His Kingdom with the power to overcome sin and disobedience to torah – the same power that resurrected Yeshua from the dead.   They no longer live as slaves to sin and disobedience to God’s laws.   They no longer live under condemnation because they are set free from the law of sin and death by faith in work of Messiah Yeshua.  They are now free to live out the Torah of the Spirit or  the spiritual Torah written on their hearts.

“In fact, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed (the Spirit)  remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God” (1 John 5:18).

Is Sinless Perfect?

“Be perfect therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Not long ago I read a letter in the newspaper written by a local pastor.  In the letter the woman commented several times that she was ‘not perfect’ as an excuse for rationalizing things that were less than virtuous and honorable in her life.  I wanted  to laugh, if it wasn’t so sad.

“Perfect” in the the Greek is teleios which means ‘mature and adult’.  So, in essence when this pastor wrote “I’m not perfect” what she really said was,  “Please excuse the sins in my life.  I’m not behaving maturely and acting like an adult.”  What a sad commentary on the power of God in her life.

Most of the world and even people in the church think of ‘perfect’ in the same way this pastor does – incapable of sinning.  Consequently, they just muddle along rationalizing their disobedience and never experience the victory of God in their lives.  As a pastor, she should be teaching and guiding a flock of God’s people, but her words mock the Father who is perfect and Yeshua who told us to “be perfect as our heavenly Father.’

Of course, sinning and ‘falling short’ are inevitable in life.  We must learn from our ‘shortcomings’ and mistakes and be transformed into maturity and not make foolish excuses regarding ‘imperfection.’ 

How does the Bible define maturity?

“We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing” (1 Corinthians 2:6).

Maturity involves wisdom that is not of this world and does not act in the ways of this world.

“Brothers, stop thinking like children.  In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults” (1 Corinthians 14:20).

Maturity involves the way a person thinks in regards to evil.

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, argued like a child; now that I have become a man, I have finished with childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:10-11).

We are to put away childish behavior and act like adults. 

“Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:13-14). 

Maturity involves growing up spiritually, eating solid food,  being trained in righteousness so good from evil can be discerned.  Again, there is a reference regarding evil so evil must be important concept when growing into maturity.   (For the milk or elementary teachings, read Hebrews 6:1-3).

“Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Messiah Yeshua, sends greetings.  He is always wrestling in prayer for you that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (Colossians 4:12).

Maturity means being fully assured that you are in God’s will and you stand firm.

Noah

“This is the account of Noah.  Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time and he walked with God” (Genesis 6:9).

The Hebrew word in this verse for blameless is tamim and means ‘perfect, blameless, sincere, whole, complete.”   This word carries with it the idea of being free from objectionable practices.

Tamim is also used in reference to the people of God being called to avoid the idolatrous practices of the Canaanites (Deuteronomy  18:13).  Though there are no Canaanites today, there are many idolatrous practices that the people of God should be avoiding, but instead they lack the discernment that maturity provides and sin.

Tamim also implies that a person externally meets all the requirements of God’s law or Torah.   In other words, there is nothing in a person’s outward activities that are odious to God.  Because of the inward condition of their heart, they meet the requirements of God’s Torah 

According to Genesis, Noah walked with God and tamim describes his relationship to God.   Noah was a mature man.  He used wisdom in a corrupt world and his maturity to discern good from evil.   He took no part in the idolatrous activities going on around him; he remained separate and his life exemplified this separateness.    He stood firm in God’s will to build an ark while the world around him went from bad to worse and mocked his  faith in an unseen God.  Noah had the correct internal disposition of heart and therefore walked externally blameless or perfect before God.

Did Noah sin?  Of course he did.  He planted a vineyard, got drunk, and lay naked in his tent.   He was shamed by Ham.  However, his sin did not affect his maturity in the sight of the Lord.

Abraham

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God El Shaddai; walk before me faithfully and be blameless” (Genesis 17:1).

Abraham left Bablyon and its idolatrous ways.  He lived in tents with his family apart from the rest of the world. He obeyed God’s commands, even to the point of being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah.  He is called the ‘father of faith’ and was given the sign of circumcision.  He is also tamim, mature and blameless.

Did Abraham sin?  Of course he did.  Twice, he lied about Sarah not being his wife.  However, his sin did not affect his maturity in the sight of the Lord.

King David

“For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life—except in the case of Uriah the Hittite” (1 Kings 15:5).

David had faith in God like no other Israelite soldier.  He trusted in God when he stood before Goliath with only a few stones and a slingshot.  When Goliath was killed, he credited God for delivering him from the hands of the Philistines and certain death.  As a warrior David cleansed the land of Israel from idolatrous people through war.   With skillful hands David led the armies of Israel.  As a King, he shepherded the people of Israel with integrity of heart (Psalm 78:72). 

Did David sin?  Of course he did.  He sinned when he cut off the tzizit of King Saul, God’s anointed king.  He sinned when he had Uriah the Hittite killed.  He sinned when he committed adultery with Bathsheba.  However, his sin did not affect his maturity in the sight of the Lord.  He was called tamim, blameless and a ‘man after God’s own heart’ (1 Samuel 13:14).

Zechariah and Elizabeth

“Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly” (Luke 1:6).

Both Zechariah and Elizabeth were called tamim.  As  a descendant of Aaron, Zechariah did his Temple duties as prescribed for his lineage through Abijah.  Elizabeth was barren.  They desired a child.  An angel comes to Zechariah and tells him he is going to have a son.  He doesn’t believe the angel and is rendered mute until the boy is born.

Did Zechariah and Elizabeth sin?  There is nothing in Scripture that says they did; however they were human beings.  Perhaps Zechariah not believing the angel could be considered sin, and if it was, it didn’t change Zechariah’s or Elizabeth’s maturity in the sight of God. 

The Body of Messiah

“You must be blameless (perfect) before the LORD your God”

(Deuteronomy 18:13).

“You, therefore, must be perfect [growing into complete maturity of godliness in mind and character, having reached the proper height of virtue and integrity] as your heavenly Father is perfect”  (Matthew 5:48, The Amplified Bible).

“We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Messiah” (Colossians 1:28).

We must be perfect before God just like Noah, Abraham, King David, and Zechariah and Elizabeth.   We are commanded to be so by Yeshua.   As born again believers in God’s Kingdom, we have been given the Spirit of God that empowers us have victory over ‘the law of  sin and death’  and live blameless lives in a world as corrupt as ‘the days of Noah’.  We must keep ourselves spotless from the world’s corruption so that we mature in discerning good from evil.   In order to do this,  we must live according to the Spirit of life that is found in the divinely inspired teachings and instructions of God erroneously referred to as ‘the law’, but in reality is God’s divine order for His Kingdom.   “I am not perfect” is no excuse for sinful behavior any more than being ‘under grace, not law’ should give us the freedom to disobey God’s commandments and sin.     When we misinterpret the destruction of the ‘law’  that occurred on the cross, we effectively put ourselves back ‘under the law of sin and death,’  and forfeit the amazing grace of God that was given to Adam and Eve, the true and powerful freeing grace of God we are to proclaim.

©2012 Tent Stake Ministries (This is a chapter from the book Journey with Jeremiah: Nourishment for the Wild Olive. )

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