LAW BEFORE THE LAW?
By Larry White
December 2, 2001
Word of mouth doctrines are those doctrines that all of us have learned over the years and yet if challenged to show that particular teaching in the Bible we would not be able to produce a scripture that supports it. You will hear preachers and teachers confidently affirm these bits of lore as if everyone knows it, and there couldn’t possibly be any doubt or question about it. The dead giveaway is when they say it but do not ever cite a scripture to support it. I call these “Word of Mouth Doctrines” because they are not “word of God doctrines.” They are not written in any authoritative work so they have to be spread by word of mouth.
I’m going to be debunking three of these doctrines in my forth-coming lessons. So, I will be “…casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God”. That’s Paul’s way of saying that I will be stepping on some toes. But that is just the nature of the subject matter before us.
The first of these word of mouth doctrines is “Man has always been under law”.
I have three criteria for identifying word of mouth doctrines.
1. It is not in the Bible.
2. It is confidently affirmed (averred).
3. The Bible states the very opposite.
You will hear men state in a rather forceful manner that “God is a God of Law”, or “Man has always been under Law”, or “Every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God is Law”. But is that true?
The way I will handle this one is to do an expository lesson on the scriptures that say the very opposite. Namely Rom. 5:12-14
But first I would like to set it up simply with a chart.
(I've color coded my points below in the article to correspond with the chart.)
One primary attribute of God is that he is righteous. This stems from his nature of Holiness, separate from all sin and evil. His holiness is expressed in his Love, which would be the natural response of the heart that is holy. God's love is manifested in his glory of Truth, Goodness, Justice, and Mercy. Therefore he does Righteousness.
"Jehovah is righteous in all his ways, Gracious in all his works."
"According to your name, O God,
So is your praise to the ends of the earth;
Your right hand is full of righteousness."
This attribute of his is inherent and resides in his own nature and character as the eternal God.
"I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth;
I did not say to the seed of Jacob, "Seek me in vain';
I, Jehovah, speak righteousness, I declare things that are right."
Abraham asked "Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?"
Everything God speaks is righteous; everything he does is in righteousness. Because of this, the Righteousness of God becomes The Standard of all right or wrong conduct in the universe.
God has placed within man the rare ability to know right from wrong. This, as far as it has been revealed, happened in the Garden of Eden when the first humans ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The eyes of a self-reflective Moral Conscience were opened.
Therefore man's conscience was opened to this divine ethic of righteousness. We know right from wrong. You can see this in Paul's statement, speaking of the Gentiles in
"...for when Gentiles, who do not have law, by nature do the things in the Law, these, although not having law, are a law unto themselves, who show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them)"
"...who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them."
Paul shows that man on his own fell far short of God's righteous standard. The way Paul could judge just how far the Gentiles had fallen was by a documented code of right conduct that God gave to one nation in the earth -- the Jews.
This was the Law of Moses. It was given as an earthly application of Heaven's righteous standard to give man a realization of how far he was in sin (by law is the knowledge of Sin) and to make sin worse by making it a transgression of a positive command from God. (Rom.7:13)
Since man as a Gentile ruled by conscience was unable to match the righteous standard of God, and man as a Jew was just as incapable of keeping the righteousness of God in the form of a legal code -- it has been clearly demonstrated that man in the flesh, falls short of the glory of God.
God then sent his son to do what the Law could not -- condemn sin in the flesh. Now by a ministry of the Spirit (2Cor.3) we can have the righteous requirement of the Law fulfilled in ourselves by walking in the spirit instead of the flesh.
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.
For what the Law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: he condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
So, What is Paul talking about in our text?
In Rom.5:12-ff he is showing that eternal life from the grave can come to everyone through one man, Jesus Christ, because physical death came to everyone through one man, Adam.
"Well Paul, how do you know that everyone's physical death is caused by Adam?"
Because, between Adam and Moses, sin existed. But sin was not reckoned to an individual, because there was no law to do so during that time. Therefore their own sin did not cause their physical mortality. But nevertheless, death reigned between Adam and Moses.
"So why did they physically die?"
They all died in Adam, because of what Adam did in transgressing a positive command, even though they had not done the same thing. So when Adam transgressed, the whole human race sinned, simply because Adam was the whole human race at that time. Therefore his descendants inherited Adam's physical mortality, even those who did not sin like he sinned. And we know that is true because sin in not reckoned when there is no law.
Today Paul could use an easier example of an infant that dies. Did it die because of its own sin? No. But because of the transgression of Adam. We in the churches of Christ understand that. Paul couldn't use this example in the first century because of the common belief that one could be born in sin from his parents and suffer for it. (Jno.9:2,34) Denominations today have the same problem in understanding Paul's thought because of Calvinism and its unwarranted and false assertion that infants are born in sin.
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned-- (For until law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed [reckoned] when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of him who was to come.
Please follow the logical progression in the following verses. And keep in mind that I am not saying there was no sin before the Law of Moses, it is very evident there was. But there were no transgressions because there was no law to transgress. There was no boundary to trespass.
Rom.5:13 Those between Adam and Moses sinned but did not sin after the likeness of Adam's transgression,. i.e. a positive commandment. Rom.4:15 Where no law is, there is no transgression. You cannot go beyond what is not there. You cannot trespass without boundaries. Gen.4:9-16 Therefore Cain sinned. He fell short of the righteous requirement of Heaven, of God's glory, but he did not transgress. Rom.1:18 The wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. When speaking of Gentiles he does not mention transgressions. Gen.4 Therefore Cain was punished. Gen.6 Therefore the whole world was punished. Gen.19 Therefore Sodom and Gomorrah was punished. How was this possible? Rom.2:12 They that have sinned without law will also perish without law, they that have sinned in the Law will be condemned by law.
1. You do not have to have a law to sin. (i.e. a legal code) You just have to do what is unrighteous and fall short of God's glory, what God intended for you to be. The cause of one's spiritual separation from God is our own sin. Personal, "now you've done it", sin. That act marks the break in one's heart in estrangement from God. Falling from his image; not abiding in his presence; not remaining in the truth; not walking with him in the light. Please don't think in legal terms when you hear such language. All of these consequences can be had without a legal code, a law. It is the relationship with our creator that is broken. It is the image in which we were formed that is marred and abandoned. One cannot live (survive) without that image. Those that survive are the salvaged. Those that have the image restored are the saved. Those that have the relationship mended are the sons of God.
2. If your death is certain (i.e. before Christ comes) and it was caused by the disobedience of one man -- your resurrection to eternal life is even more certain because of the more powerful obedience of one man, Jesus Christ and your willing application of his sacrifice to yourself by faith.
3. We are "in Christ", which also means "in the spirit". Death has no more dominion or power over you, because you will never die. Sin also shall not have dominion over you -- for you are not under law, but under grace.
4. We as Gentiles, are not now, nor have we ever been under law, i.e. relying on an external code of commands to govern our behavior before God. Christians are led by the Spirit. These are the sons of God. The dominion, or rule of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus is what governs our behavior. The righteousness of faith in Jesus Christ has the power to justify us without law, (Rom.1:17) also faith in Jesus Christ is effective to sanctify us without law. (Rom.8:1-4; Gal.5:18)
Now understand me. People say that man has always been under law. If by "under law" they mean that man has always been amenable to and responsible for the righteous requirement of Heaven, then they are right. But saying that he is "under law" doesn't mean that. It means something far different and it is simply not true. They are using the wrong words. The only law of which they are aware is a legal code - rules and ordinances.
As Christians, our law is "Freedom in Christ" to do what is right in the spirit, and mirror the Truth, Goodness, Justice and Mercy of God. The law of Christ is to love your neighbor as yourself. If you are led of the Spirit, you are not under a legal code.
(Originally delivered as a sermon in Boise, ID. December 2, 2001)