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THEOLOGY > Sin > The Character of Sin > Violation of the Law


Sin is the violation of Law, the Law of God, which is the Revelation, the Word, the command of God. Sin is the abiding and deep-seated refusal to obey God’s instructions.

What is the relationship of the Law to God? Is God essentially separate from the Law? Are the two fundamentally different? Or is there some connection between the two, such that to speak of the one is to speak of the other?

Law is that which is determined to be good by God; good does not determine God (good is not above God; there is no standard that God follows), but God determines the good, what is good. The Law is not some concept or entity that is outside of God and guides His action; rather God is the One who determines what is Law. Law is what it is because God has determined it to be so. Law is that which is consistent with who God is.

God determines the essence of Law; therefore, Law is a reflection of His nature and will; there is no division nor tension between the two. If there is God then there is Law; if there is Law then there must be God. Law is the verbal extension, the Revelation of who/or what God is. God does not arbitrarily create Law; rather, Law is an expression of Him, of His own essence. Law is the ought that is consistent with and not contrary to the Person of God.

The concept of right or ought, therefore, is dependent upon an objective standard, an external authority; it is something that is outside of us, something which governs us—not really a something, but Someone, for God is the objective standard.

Man does not create the Law, for it is not dependent on human reasoning and reflection; that is, Law is not the result of some ethical evolution that parallels a supposed biological evolution. It is not within man to initiate it or to maintain it or to change it; the being and authority of Law is the relationship of Law to God; it is from above, separate from the human dimension. It is not subject to the adjustments of men but is the infallible guide for men. God is Law and God rules over men.

The Law creates obligation; in the words of Hodge: “The law is that which binds the conscience” (ST, II, 182). Man does not have the option of choosing whether to place himself under Law or not; it is not his prerogative. The obligation, the command, is placed upon him by God; man is responsible before the Law given by God. Man is bound by God to obey the commands of God. There are no options, for the Law is absolute.

The comprehensiveness of the Law is such that no individual can claim perfection and assert that he is not a violator. Therefore, before the Law there can be no justification before God—the Law does not justify; it condemns. To the Galatians Paul wrote: “we know that a person is not justified by works of the law . . . because by works of the law no one will be justified” (2:16).

To keep the Law is to practice that which conforms to the purpose of God and to do all things for His glory. But no individual keeps the Law; in fact, no individual can keep the Law. All are guilty before the Law. Sin is the violation of Law; it is the violation of God, of His will and His way. It is really the manifestation of contempt for the person of God; it is for man to go against God. In rejecting the Law and violating its precepts, the creature is rejecting the Creator and exhibiting disdain for His commands (see: No Fear of God and Hatred of God). Breaking the Law detracts from God’s glory—truly its desire is to remove God from His throne and to thwart His Sovereignty (see: God is Sovereign).

The Law requires total conformity to its precepts, so that a violation of any part is a violation of the whole, for any sin against a particular law is a sin against the very concept of Law. This means that a disobedience of a part is a disobedience of the whole. An individual cannot be partially guilty before the Law; it is all or none: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (Jas. 2:10). Thus, all men are condemned before God’s Law.

To disobey the Law is to be a law-breaker; it is to be guilty of lawlessness. It is to live with no regard for the Word of God. It is to live as though there was no Law. Lawlessness is as old as Adam; in Paul’s day he wrote: “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” (II Thess. 2:7), and Paul speaks of “lawlessness leading to more lawlessness” (Rom. 6:19). In Matt. 7:23 Jesus asserts that on the last day, the day of judgment, He will address some as “you workers of lawlessness.” Lawlessness is consistently exposed and condemned in Scripture.

It seems that sin should not be understood as merely the absence of righteousness (a some sort of negation), but also as the very real presence of unrighteousness; in this sense sin is not merely passive but also active; it is not just something man does not have but it is something man does. Sin is the violation of the Law, and before the Law man is guilty and must be held accountable.

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