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 the tenets of Christianity is that the old testament ‘law’ has been done away with and followers of Christ are no longer ‘under the law.’  Though I cannot be certain from where this doctrine originated, I’m going to guess it evolved from choosing only half of this verse in Romans as a doctrinal view.

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

The word translated ‘law’ in this verse 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 Romans verse using nomos is the word ‘because.’  Because is used to introduce a word or phrase that gives an explanation or reason.  To claim “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 an online 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 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, the 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 was made.  It was his responsibility to pass this 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 gave her a desire to rule over 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 and no one else, who makes that determination.  He agreed. A foundation was laid for the law of sin and death and the gift of eternal life. 

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 along with 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.’ Sin is nothing more and nothing less than breaking God’s teachings and instructions.

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

As the Ruler of the Kingdom of Heaven, God defines sin as breaking His law or torah. Sin is ultimately disobeying His instructions and going beyond the boundaries 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 and 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 one who escapes 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).

According to Paul, stating “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 unconditionally.  He created this incredible Garden for us.  He gave us authority over the animals that we named.  We walk and talk with him every evening in the breeze.   He has given us all the trees in the garden from which to eat except this one.    Why would he kill us? He won’t care if we just taste the fruit.  We will be like Him.  Besides what does ‘death’ mean anyway?”  Just look at the abundance of fruit on the Tree of Life!”

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 killed 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.  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 the Kingdom with the power to overcome sin and disobedience to torah – the same power that resurrected Yeshua from the dead.   Kingdom citizens no longer live as slaves to sin and disobey God’s laws.   They no longer live under condemnation because they are set free from the law of sin and death through faith in the work of Messiah Yeshua.  They are now free to live out the Torah of the Spirit 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).

Does Sinless Mean 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 a rationalization for things that were less than virtuous and honorable in her life.  I wanted  to laugh, if it wasn’t so sad.

“Perfect” in the Greek is teleios and means ‘mature and adult.’  When this pastor wrote, “I’m not perfect,” what she really was saying,  “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 the life of a pastor!

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 who should be teaching and guiding a flock of God’s people, 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.  We must be transformed into maturity, making wise decisions for our actions,  not making foolish excuses regarding our ‘imperfection.’

Biblical 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 a transformation of mind to a 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).

Maturity puts away childish behavior and acts like an adult.   

“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, and using discernment when it comes to evil.   With another reference to evil, it must be an important concept  to understand when growing from a babe drinking milk and basic elementary teachings into maturity (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 so they embrace this 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 God’s standards of living rightly before Him.    

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 a right heart and therefore walked 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 because he had obeyed God and witnessed His mercy. 

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 as evidence of his faith.  He is also  called tamim, mature and blameless.

Did Abraham sin?  Of course he did.  Twice, he lied about Sarah not being his wife nearly killing the kings of Egypt.  However, his sin did not affect his maturity in the sight of the Lord because he believed God and witnessed His Provision. 

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’ because when he sinned, he repented and retained the Holy Spirit (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 and they raised the last prophet who proclaimed the coming Messiah. 

The Body of Messiah

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

(Deuteronomy 18:13).

Yeshua quoted this command from the Torah because he understood the Kingdom of his Father and how its citizens must behave.  If he didn’t believe it was possible to be ‘perfect’, he would never had commanded his followers to be so.  The Amplified Version of the Bible adds more understanding to Yeshua’s words in Matthew 5:48,

“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.”

Accordingly, we must be perfect, growing in complete maturity of godliness in mind and character before God just like Noah, Abraham, King David, and Zechariah and Elizabeth.  As citizens of God’s Kingdom, we have been give His Spirit that empowers us have victory over ‘the law of  sin and death’  and live blameless in a world as corrupt as ‘the days of Noah.’  We must keep ourselves spotless from the world’s corruption and idolatrous practices so that we  are mature and can discern good from evil and reach the proper height of virtue and integrity.   In order to do what Yeshua commanded,  we must live according to the Spirit of life that is found in the teachings and instructions of God, erroneously translated as ‘the law.’  To claim ‘imperfection’ is no excuse for sinful behavior any more than being ‘under grace’ should give us the freedom to disobey God’s commandments and break the law.  When we misinterpret the ‘law’ that was destroyed on the cross,  we put ourselves back under the law that brings death and forfeit the amazing grace of God that was given to Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, and David; the empowering grace of God that we are called to proclaim.

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

©2012 Tentstake Ministries, chapter from the book Journey with Jeremiah on amazon.com

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