Part Four: How sin finds us out

     We have seen how the Scriptures conclude all under sin and how sin entered into and spread through the world. We may know all about this yet still do not recognise sin when it confronts us. A knowledge of the letter of the Scriptures does not of necessity bring with it an understanding of what the Spirit wishes to tell us by it. Furthermore, nothing is condemned more in Scripture than paying lip-service only to the law. This kind of behaviour, we read, makes staunch hypocrites but weak Christians whom sin has not yet found out.

Man is a law lover

     Most of us, however, love laws. We like to show others how good we are at keeping them and how bad others are who neglect them. As soon as we form a church, we draw up a constitution and a list of Thou Shalts and Thou Shalt Nots which so often become our Traditions of the Elders and our justification for our odd behaviour and hard hearts. There is nothing like a good pat on our own shoulders to boost our own egos. The Bible calls such self-deceivers ‘hypocrites’ which means ‘actors’ or ‘impostors’. It also means, in English idiom, one who acts the goat and makes a fool of himself. There was a good custom in the old days of decorating church pews and the parson’s stall with goat heads, to remind both worshippers and preachers that they were not there to practice hypocrisy but to be God’s sheep and not the devil’s goats.

     It is the clear teaching of Scripture that such self-complacent outward law-abiders are the worst sinners. Indeed, we read that the letter kills but the Spirit quickens us. In other words, those who feel that they can live law-like under their own steam are misusing the law and to misuse the law is sin and the wages of sin is death. The law is there to drive us into the arms of the Spirit, whom Christ tells us, will make everything plain. Without the Spirit, the law is a dead letter for spiritually dead people. The purpose of the law is to make sinners in the sense that it reveals them as such.

Correcting the abuse of the law

     A large part of Christ’s ministry was to correct the abuse of His law and to define clearly the consequences of breaking it. The heart of this teaching is found in Christ’s numerous speeches beginning with “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time . . . . . But I say unto you.” Here, Jesus points out that the self-righteous have selected a law, dis-attached it from its clear, wider, spiritual meaning, and, feeling that they have kept to the very letter, judge themselves righteous enough if not righteous over-much! We can take Matthew 5:28 as a fitting example. 

     “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Though shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

     Some strive to confuse the issue and belittle sin by saying that Christ is squabbling with Moses and showing the temporary nature of revealed law and thus any demand for eternal moral standards on God’s part is a human invention. Perish the thought! Christ is pointing out that His divine law is being misused to give sinners hope of life when, in reality, their spiritual death is being proclaimed. He is pointing out that Moses, Christ’s own Old Testament expositor, implemented the law so that it covered both deed and thought. He is expounding the full and complete law in His authority as the Lawgiver and not handing out the law piece-meal with the traditional, man-honouring and God-forgetting methods of the scribes as we read in the concluding verse of this ‘Sermon on the Mount’.

Outside and inside application

     The self-righteous man looks only at his own outside appearance, but God searches his heart. The same law that condemns adultery, also condemns the letter-keeper here because it also condemns the one who commits adultery in his heart and covets another man’s wife. We know from the sad example of David that the very best of men are not immune to this kind of sin and David’s adulterous thoughts and actions were used by God to drive him to his knees and pray such deep prayers of repentance as we find in Psalm 51. When David was on his knees in repentant prayer, he was in the place the law was designed to put him. Nevertheless, David knew that he was not forced to his knees by his own efforts. They had produced his sin in thought and deed. They had caused him to stand in his own self-pride. It was God who caused him to fall on his knees. He then realised that this was the Spirit’s work and thus prayed in his repentance for God to give him a new, contrite heart and not take the Holy Spirit from him. David learnt the hard way, as we all must, but this way is the only way for sinners.

Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds

     According to the Scriptures the work of law is a work of grace so that the sinner may stand before his Lord and Saviour with no false ideas of himself. This good, gospel use of the law is called using the law lawfully in Scripture, i.e. giving the law its correct function and application (1 Timothy 1:8). Grace enlightens us by making us blind to all forms of righteousness other than Christ’s own righteousness. Though sin slays us, grace redeems us when Christ’s says to us personally “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee. He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22).