Defining the terms “Sin”, “Law” & “Grace”

Some people rush to say that “whoever that keeps God’s Law is fallen from Grace” quoting such verses as Gal 5:4 or that “we are not under Law, but Grace” quoting Rom 6:14. Before we can make assumptions such as “the Law is against Grace”, shouldn’t we fully understand the meaning of these terms? Today, we will look into the Greek words that these English terms originate from, and try to understand the true meaning behind these and the connection between these 3 terms.

Definition of Sin
Sin can be a very subjective thing. Some can think a little lie is not a Sin, while there could be criminals who justify even horrendous crimes as not sin in their minds. Sin according to the Scriptures and God is a completely different story. In 1 John 3:4, Sin is defined very clearly.
According to this verse, John says: Sin = Transgression or Violation of Law.

The Old Testament also agrees with this definition (1Sam 15:24, Exo 32:31, Dan 9:5, Neh 9:29, Lev 5:17)

The Greek word used for “Transgression of the Law” is
Strong’s Hebrew & Greek Concordance:
G458 – ἀνομία – anomia – an-om-ee’-ah – illegality, that is, violation of law or (generally) wickedness: – iniquity, X transgress (-ion of) the law, unrighteousness.

This is the same word used by Yeshua in Mat 7:22,23, to those who say to Him, “have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” He says to them “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Again in Mat 13:41, The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;

G458 – anomia –
is translated as iniquity in Mat 7:23, 13:41, 23:28, 24:12, Rom 4:7, 6:19, 2Thes 2:7, Heb 1:9, 8:12, 10:17
is translated as Transgression of the Law in 1John 3:4
is translated as Unrighteousness in 2Cor 6:14

Definition of Law
Law! Even hearing the word, makes you feel threatened. The Word Law sounds like a School Teacher who is out to punish you. Or a Policeman trying to slap handcuffs on you. What a harsh word. But what does the word translated as “Law” in our English Bibles, actually mean in the original Greek and Hebrew Manuscripts?

Strong’s Hebrew & Greek Concordance:
H8451 – תּרה    תּור – tôrâh – to-raw’ – From the word ירה yaw-raw’ ( to flow as water (that is, to rain); transitively to lay or throw (especially an arrow, that is, to shoot); figuratively to point out (as if by aiming the finger), to teach: –  (+) archer, cast, direct, inform, instruct, lay, shew, shoot, teach (-er, -ing), through.) ; a precept or statute, especially the Decalogue(Ten Commandments) or Pentateuch(Genesis to Deutronomy – The 5 Books of Moses): – law.

G3551 – νόμος – nomos – nom’-os – From a primary word νέμω nemō (to parcel out, especially food or grazing to animals); law (through the idea of prescriptive usage), generally (regulation), specifically (of Moses [including the volume]; also of the Gospel), or figuratively (a principle): – law

The word which is translated in English as “Law”, according to the Original Hebrew and Greek words(to-raw’ & nom’-os) mean to “point out”, “to parcel out”, “to teach”, “precept”,  “statute”, “regulation”, the Ten Commandments” or “the 5 books of Moses”.

From ancient days, the First 5 books of the Bible written by Moses, (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deutronomy) which includes all the Commandments, has generally been known as “The Law” (Torah in Hebrew), as the “Old Testament” has always been generally broken into 3 parts and it is still used in this way by mainly the Jewish Community. Given below is how it has been divided:

  1. The Torah (“Teaching” or “Law”, also known as the Five Books of Moses/Law of Moses)
  2. Nevi’im (“Prophets“)
  3. Ketuvim (“Psalms/Writings”)

This is not a Jewish idea or an alien thing to Christianity, as it is even seen in the New Testament. In Luke 24:44, Yeshua said “These are the words which I spoke unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. This verse clearly shows the 3 parts, the Scriptures were broken into and that this division was even there in Yeshua’s time. (See also the Tanakh)

The word Law is used to speak of the 5 books throughout the NT. (Mat 5:17, 7:12, 11:13, 22:40, Luk 16:16, 24:44, Joh 1:45, Acts 13:15, 24:14, 28:23, Rom 3:21)

The Commandments were part of the Law. (Mat 5:18,19, 22:36,40, Rom 7:9,12, Heb 7:5, 9:19)

The “Law/Commandments of God” could do only 3 Things : 1. Bless who keep it (Deut 11:26,27) 2. Curse who break it (Deut 11:26,28) 3. Let us know what sin is (Rom 3:20, 7:7)

The Connection between Sin and Law:
Sin is breaking of the Law. You could also say that “If there was no Law, there would be no Sin”, as no one will know what Sin is. But because God has shown us right from wrong by giving us the Commandments/Law, we cannot say that we do not know what Sin is.

To put it in a different way, if driving on a Red Light wasn’t Illegal, you cannot be fined for it, as it’s not breaking the Law. But if you are told that driving on a red light is Illegal, then breaking that law makes you a Law offender and you can be fined. As long as there is no Law, you are not an offender of the Law. The moment the Law is introduced, you become an offender if you break it.

Just like the Law of a country, helps you know what is right/legal & what is wrong/illegal, and if you break the Law, you get fined or if you keep the Law, you get concessions – God’s Law helps us know what Sin is. And it Curses people who sins, while blessing people who do not. (This is the curse that Yeshua took upon Himself)

Definition of Grace
The word Grace is one of the most Misunderstood words in Christianity. It is one of those words that is thrown around by people without defining it properly according to the Bible. Let us see the real meaning behind this word and the application of it, to get to a better understanding of it.

Strong’s Hebrew & Greek Concordance:
G5485 – χάρις – charis – khar’-ece – graciousness (as gratifying), of manner or act (abstract or concrete; literal, figurative or spiritual; especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude): – acceptable, benefit, favour, gift, grace (-ious), joy liberality, pleasure, thank (-s, -worthy).

Throughout the English translation of the Bible, G5485 – Charis is generally translated as “Grace”. Here are a few other applications. The words in bold have been translated from G5485 – Charis

Luke 1:30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
Luke 2:52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
Luke 6:32,33,34 For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye?
Acts 2:47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
Acts 7:10 And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.
Acts 24:27 But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix’ room: and Felix, willing to shew the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.
Rom 6:17  But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
2Co 1:15  And in this confidence I was minded to come unto you before, that ye might have a second benefit;
2Co 2:14  Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.
2Co 8:4  Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.
2Co 8:16  But thanks be to God, which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you.
2Co 9:15  Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.
Phm 1:7  For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.
1Pe 2:19,20  For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

Grace is not exclusive to the New Testament.
Strong’s Hebrew & Greek Concordance:
H2580 – חן – chên – khane – graciousness, that is, subjectively (kindness, favor) or objectively (beauty): – favour, grace (-ious), pleasant, precious, [well-] favoured.

Here are a few places in the Old Testament where God shows His Grace towards people (Gen 6:8, Gen 39:21, Exo 3:21, 33:17, Psa 84:11)

Looking at both words of the original Hebrew and Greek Manuscripts in the Old Testament and the New, we can come to the conclusion that “Grace” mentioned in the Scriptures is a kind of special “Favour” shown by God to His people. We could say that Grace is like being in the good books with God.

The connection between Law and Grace
This is the tricky subject. Most of the Confusion regarding God’s Law/Commandments exist around these two terms. Let’s look at the dynamics of these two terms to see how they connect and interact.

Law, as we know is God’s Commandments. Breaking the Law is Sin. And the Law can do only 3 things (Bless, Curse and let us know what Sin is). Can we attain righteousness by keeping the Law? Can we be justified in front of God by keeping the Law? Can we attain righteousness with our strength? This is what Paul addresses in Gal 5:4. If anyone seeks to be justified by the Law, that person has lost God’s favor, as he or she is putting faith in him/herself rather than in Yeshua, who was the atoning sacrifice for us. If Righteousness could have been attained by each of us through keeping the Law, Christs death is in vain (Gal 2:21). Yeshua died for all of our Sin. Because of His death, Sin has no more dominion over us. When Yeshua died for our sin, we moved from being under God’s Commandments and the penalty of breaking it, which is death, to being under His favour (Rom 6:14).  But, just because we have God’s Favour, and because we are no more under the penalty, can we Sin(Break God’s Law)?  No we cannot. (Rom 6:15)

This is what Paul was trying to say in his letters. We have God’s special favor because of Yeshua. But that is not a free ticket for us to go on sinning. (Remember Sin = Transgression or Violation of Law). Grace is not a free ticket for us to go on Breaking God’s Law.

But isn’t the Law a Curse?
Gal 3:10&13 are used by many to say that God’s Law is a curse. As we discussed before, The Law can do 3 things. 1. Bless us if we keep it (Deut 11:26,27) 2. Curse us if we don’t (Deut 11:26,28) 3. Let us know what sin is (Rom 3:20, 7:7)

“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. 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:”

In Gal 3:10-13, Paul eludes to Deut 27:26 which says whoever does not keep God’s Commandments are cursed. Then he goes on to say, that no one is justified through the Law. We are to live a righteous life in the faith of Messiah Yeshua, who was made an atonement sacrifice for us. The Law/Commandments does not have anything to do with Faith. It cannot help you in any way other than to direct you how to live a sinless life. Christ has redeemed us from the Curse of the Law.

So according to Paul, whoever puts faith in Yeshua is not redeemed from the Curse which is The Law.(The Law is not the Curse) He/She is redeemed from the Curse which comes through breaking the Law (Deut 11:26,28).

Sin, Law & Grace
Grace does not abolish Law. Grace only helps us keep the Law to the best of our ability. Not so that we will be justified by the Law. But, because keeping The Law is living without Sin. Even if we fall short when living this way, we still have Grace, as the Curse of the Law(which should have dominion over us, when we break God’s Law) is no more in Christ.

I hope this study has given you a glimpse into 3 of the most used terms in the Bible. And I hope that how you view these terms will change your walk with God, placing you in alignment with His Word.

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