By Jesse ben Yosef.
Published 01-05-2012. Revised 02-27-2016.
If God did not provide us with an absolute, solid definition of sin- what it is, and what it is not- then the definitions and boundaries of morality and righteousness are, by default, completely arbitrary, and are dependent solely upon the will of fallen man.
1 John 3:4 states, “Everyone who sins also commits lawlessness. Sin is lawlessness.” Clearly, above all other references in the Apostles’ writings, 1 John 3:4 points us toward the Torah as our definitive guide to understand sin and righteousness.
The Greek word “anomos” (anwmoV) is usually translated as either “sin” or “iniquity,” but a closer look will reveal a much more telling definition. The root word “nomos” means, quite literally, “law,” and the prefix “a-” means “lack of.” So anomos, rather than retaining such vague meaning as “sin” or “iniquity”, really should be translated as “the absence of the Law,” or “Lawless.” Taking this a step further, in the Hebraic context to which the New Testament was written, it should be understood as “a lack or violation of the Torah.”
Based on 1 John 3:4, it can be said that the purest, most simple, straight forward definition to ascribe to the concept of “sin” found in the New Testament is to transgress the Torah of Moses. But is 1 John 3:4 alone sufficient evidence to establish this? The answer can be rightly ascertained by looking toward the same standard of sin that Yeshua Himself recognized and taught.
Yeshua’s Definition of Sin
There are some who live under the false assumption that Yeshua, during His own lifetime, repealed the commandments of the Torah, leaving us with only the “bare essentials” of rules to live by. However, a close examination of His life will prove this to be false, and will rather enrich us with the same understanding regarding sin that He recognized and taught. As we read the words of the Messiah in Matthew 13:41-42, “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather out of his Kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and those who do lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be weeping and the gnashing of teeth.”
Yeshua has said here that He will cast all who live as if there is no Torah will be cast into the furnace of fire. It will be a shocking day for those who falsely assume that Yeshua held some standard other than the Torah, given what He said so clearly about “lawlessness.”
The Messiah says elsewhere in Matthew 7:15-23, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do you gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree produces good fruit; but the corrupt tree produces evil fruit. A good tree can’t produce evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t grow good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name do many mighty works?’ Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from Me, you who work lawlessness.’”
Yeshua has just taught that those who live as if there is no Torah will be cast out from His presence. This same thought has been expressed in the the writings of the Prophets. It is written in Ezekiel 18:20-24, “‘If the wicked turn from all his sins that he has committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is Lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him: in his righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked?’ says the Lord God; ‘And not rather that he should return from his way, and live? But when the righteous turns away from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of his righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered: in his trespass that he has trespassed, and in his sin that he has sinned, in them shall he die.’”
Yeshua here, walking in the footsteps of the “Old Testament” prophets who came before Him, preaches essentially the same message, to “Go, and sin no more.” (John 5:14, 8:11) Now we are able to clearly see that this standard of sin that Yeshua upheld, in every aspect of His life, is none other than our God’s eternal Torah. He did not come to render the Torah obsolete; rather, He came to make it more abundant.
James, in his letter, writes to us also in James 1:25, “He who looks into the perfect Torah of freedom, and continues, not being a hearer who forgets, but a doer of the work, this man will be blessed in what he does.”
James refers to the Torah as “the perfect Torah of freedom,” echoing the thoughts of King David in Psalm 19:7, “The Torah of HaShem is perfect.” Unlike man’s corrupt law, God’s Torah brings freedom, not bondage.
Paul likewise, in all his writings, expresses this same teaching, that righteousness is the polar opposite of lawlessness. 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers, for what fellowship have righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”
In like manner, the Letter to the Hebrews testifies also in Hebrews 1:9, quoting Psalm 45:6-7, “You have loved righteousness, and hated lawlessness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows.”
One cannot walk in the light and fellowship with the darkness. Conversely, one cannot be righteous while breaking His Torah. It is a solid impossibility. One cannot say, “I am righteous!” but break even the least of God’s commandments, precepts, and ordinances.
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