One of the biggest mistakes I notice in the world of Bible study stems from a failure to maintain distinctions between the Law of Moses and the Law of Sin and Death. A generation or two ago, such vital distinctions were much better understood by the average Christian. But believers today hear almost nothing about these distinctions. The resultant proliferation of erroneous opinion and bad teaching on topics of "sin and death" has prompted me to share some Bible truths on this matter.
Most such errors have their basis in a common conception that "Christ took away sin and death." This position might be expressed in a number of ways: Christ defeated sin and death; Sin and death are no more; Sin has been removed; Death has been removed. If these expressions are understood in a particular, qualified sense (that is, a sense that maintains the proper distinctions), they can be thought of as true in a manner of speaking. But not in a strict, literal, universal, unqualified sense. The sad fact, however, is that most of the time these expressions - they are paraphrases of scripture - are taken purely at face value, without drawing any distinctions between which law is being considered. And hence they more often breed error than understanding.
Regardless of their various wordings, these paraphrased expressions ignore certain vital Bible doctrines and exaggerate or modify others.
But let's just see for ourselves, with a few examples.
One source on the internet states the following beliefs in a document he posted:
"When we, like Paul, leave the religion of the Pharisees, the religion of do’s-and-don’ts-Christianity, we come unto the perfect law of liberty. (James 1:25, 2:12) In fact, we begin to live after Romans 8:2, which states: 'For the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death.' " He tries to explain that passage by saying: "Jesus removed the law of sin and death and established the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus."
JFM here: Wait a minute! The verse he quoted did NOT say that "Jesus removed the law of sin and death." It said that "Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death." There is a huge difference!
But back to our examples. Here is one from a blog on the web:
"The crucified Jesus has been raised from the dead. God has confirmed through this that sin really was condemned when He died. The world really was crucified. The law of sin and death is no more [his wording, but my emphasis - JFM], and in its place, the law of the Spirit of life."
That writer was referencing the same passage that the previous example referenced: Romans 8:2. And the blogger paraphrased Romans 8:2 when he said that "death is no more." Romans 8:2 does NOT say "death is no more." It says that "Jesus set us free from sin and death."
One person, commenting on a YouTube video, had this to say:
"Jesus did not cover anyone's sin - He removed [italics mine - JFM] the law of sin and death. (Gal 3:13) 'Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree...' "
From a page on Facebook:
"Since the Law of Sin and Death has been removed, so that we are now free (from it)..."
This is from another page on the web, in a post entitled "Sin is Gone":
"We can take it even further. Romans 7 talks about how we as Christians cannot even sin any more! Now this has to be read in full to understand what God is saying... What Paul says in Romans is that since we are free from the Law of sin and death we can no longer sin... His spirit can no longer sin, since the law has been removed! Look at it like this. If you are driving down the road, and there is no speed limit posted or otherwise, is it even possible to break the law as far as speeding goes? Not if that law has been lifted it certainly is not! And the Law we were under - the law of sin and death - has been removed [italics mine - JFM] for us! Now that is worth shouting about!"
And here is a remark that was part of a posted message on a website discussion group I follow:
"Scripture teaches but one gulf between God and man, and that is sin. Bridge that gulf, and the controversy ceases. If death was destroyed... then there is no more sin."
So much for the examples. They are easy to find. This particular misconception (that the Law of Sin and Death has been done away with) is shared by an ever-larger community.
It might help if we established some matters in positive terms. Yes, something was removed. The Law of Moses was removed. Yes, Christians can sin. Yes, sin does exist. Yes, people who are not Christians - people who are lost - can sin and do sin. People who are saved can sin and do sin. The difference is that people who are saved can cleanse themselves of those sins by praying and asking for forgiveness. The person who has not been saved cannot. For an explanation of that difference, see this article by Jack Thompson.
Apparently, what most of our misinformed individuals believe is that when death (spiritual death, that is) is "destroyed," it is completely removed from human affairs... that no more spiritual death exists anywhere. Likewise, they seem to be of the belief that if sin is defeated, then no sin exists - that people no longer sin, anywhere.
Why do so many people fall prey to this error? To this notion that sin and (spiritual) death have been defeated, as in the idea of being "removed"?
Whatever the reason, we should be able to easily rectify the misunderstanding.
We could start with two laws. And two ways of "defeating" each.
Our laws would be the Law of Sin and Death and the Law of Moses.
Our ways of defeating would be these: (A) by completely taking away the law (taking it "off the books," so to speak) or (B) by finding a way to make the law of no consequence to ourselves, personally and individually. Method B is also a way of "defeating" something.
There might be a danger that someone faces - a pitfall, an actual hole in the earth - that someone might need to avoid at risk of death. We can "defeat" that danger by filling it up - taking it away - removing it completely for all people. Or we can "defeat" it, personally and individually, by finding some means whereby we, personally, are not affected. Maybe we procure the services of a guide to steer us clear of pitfalls. Or maybe we can travel about in a hover craft. Okay, okay - I'm not good at coming up with metaphors! : - ) Either way, that danger, that "law," is defeated, though only for the person who takes the proper action.
Our two laws, then, are defeated in different ways.
The Law of Moses is defeated by method (A). By Christ's fulfillment of it. By his death/burial/resurrection. When it was defeated, it was entirely removed. But let us notice something. The reason that we, today - as people who have never been under the Law of Moses - cannot say that taking away that Law took away sin and took away death, is because our sin and our death never came from the Law of Moses. We are made spiritually dead when we reach the age of accountability and we sin. But the law that we break - the law that brings death to us - is not the Law of Moses.
The Law of Moses brought death to Israelites, yes. But it never brought death to individuals who were never under that law. So when Christ did away with ("abolished" - Col. 2:14) the Law of Moses, that did nothing to take away Law from Gentiles. Gentiles, as we said, were never under the Law of Moses. And the Law of Moses is the ONLY law that Christ's victory abolished.
Unsaved people today are under sin and are under death because they come under the Law of Sin and Death - the law that Adam and Eve violated at the Garden of Eden. It is that law - a law that preceded the Law of Moses by thousands of years, and still exists today - that condemned Adam and Eve and condemns us.
The Law of Sin and Death is defeated by method (B). By our obtaining a means of victory over it. (My less-than-artful "hover craft" metaphor, to cite it again, and now to be finished with it!) That victory comes from the gospel, which calls us to faith in Christ. The life of Christ is put into us, and we are made spiritually alive again - an action that overcomes the spiritual death that came to us by - no, not by the Law of Moses - but by that much older law, the Law of Sin and Death. The same law that killed Adam and Eve, individuals who were not Israelites.
But that "defeat" that Christ dealt, when He died and was resurrected, that defeat did not remove the Law of Sin and Death. It simply gave a victory over it. A victory described above as type B. A victory that is obtainable by free will. But only by free will.
Saying that the Law of Sin and Death was taken away at the cross - that is a position that only leads to contradiction. If there is no Law of Sin and Death, then no one today is lost. We have to transgress something to lose our souls. We say it all the time - that a young person today is born spiritually alive. That the young person does not die spiritually anytime before reaching the age of accountability. That when the young person sins AFTER reaching the age of accountability, that that young person transgresses the Law of Sin and Death. The transgression of that law puts the young person in a state of spiritual death. He or she is "lost." We cannot think of anyone as "lost" if there is no Law of Sin and Death. Sin is transgression of law.
To say that Christ conquered sin and death - this is not to say that sin does not exist any more. Nor is it to say that spiritual death does not exist any more. It is to say that He provided a means of overcoming each - one that He shares with us.
When I read the kinds of things that people say today about law and sin and death, I sense that some basic understandings have disappeared from our Christian vernacular. That too many today do not distinguish between the two kinds of laws, or the two ways of achieving a defeat. Going back to our last example:
"Scripture teaches but one gulf between God and man, and that is sin. Bridge that gulf, and the controversy ceases. If death was destroyed, then there is no more sin."
Hmm. "...then there is no more sin..." ??
The Bible nowhere says that spiritual death was "destroyed," in sense (A). In other words, not in the sense spiritual death does not exist anymore, anywhere. Nor does the Bible suggest anywhere that no sins exist anymore.
And yet I think that that misunderstanding is becoming the prevalent view out there.
I say more in this vein in some material I posted online, here:
Your comments are welcome. Thanks for reading. And, too, thanks for clicking through to this article, because any "click-throughs" also serve as alerts to me that you wish to remain on the list. Till next time - blessings! Jesse
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