Lesson One – The Law of Sin and Death

The Law of Sin and Death

Lesson Aim:  To show how sin is a violation of the law of life and how death is a lawless life separated from God.


The Apostle John assumed the Christians to whom he was writing understood the law of life for he defined sin as it relates to this law.  “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.”  I John 3:4.  We need to understand the law of life of the new covenant to recognize sin (Heb. 8:10-12).

The English word “sin” is translated from the Greek word harmartia.  It means error.  The error is missing the mark.  Sin is lawlessness; therefore, we must quickly identify the law before we can discuss sin.  A review of the last lesson of Part One will be most helpful.  The law we must identify is the law of life.  This law is called the law of God and the law of Christ by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians (I Cor. 9:21).  He used the phrase “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” and “the law of God” in his Roman letter (Rom. 8:2, 7).  Paul said this law has set faithful Christians free from the law of sin and of death.


What is the law of sin?  Let us start with a simple answer.  The law of sin is everything the law of life is not.  And then at this point, the definition of sin becomes more complicated because as Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”  John 8:34.  Sin becomes more than lawlessness.  It is a tyrant over the lawless person (II Pet. 2:19).

Sin entered the world through a lawless act of Adam.  Its power over sinners was increased by the Law given to Moses (Rom. 5:20).  Sin separates mankind from God and it reigns in their separated dead state (Rom. 5:12, 20, 21).  Sin is a lawless tyrant reigning over the sinners.

Now let us return to John’s uncomplicated definition of sin before we take up the complications of sin in its total fury.  John said sin is lawlessness.  We learned in our earlier lessons that life is the result of adherence to the law of life.  Sin is not following those laws.  This is the simplistic definition of sin.  The result of sin is death.

We will now depart from the subject of sin and give the definition of death.  Death, as it is translated from the Greek word thanatos, is used to indicate a separation.  The English word “dead” is translated from the Greek word nekros and identifies the state of separation.  In physical death the body is dead, nekros, when the spirit departs (James 2:26).  James also said, “When sin is accomplished it brings forth death,” thantos (James 1:15).  In this latter scripture he speaks of the separation of people from fellowship with their Creator, God Almighty.  The Colossian Christians were said to have been dead, nekros, in their transgressions before they were united with God in Christ.  This was the state in which they existed.  They were separated from God (Col. 2:13).  Their lawless deeds; that is, their transgressions of the law of life caused them to be in a dead condition.  The following scripture contains a list of death traits from which born again people have been freed.

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.  For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.  Col. 3:5-7

Death is the way the Colossian Christians once walked; therefore, death is a way of life.  It is a low quality, or perhaps we should say, a no quality life.

Let us again discuss the statement, “sin is lawlessness.”  We must quickly identify the law before we can discuss sin.  Many religious people, and perhaps some Christians, have a lack of discernment about the seriousness of sin.  This is because they have never contemplated the preciseness of the law of life.  It is amazing how realistic mankind can be about laws of nature but totally unaware of spiritual laws.  For instance, people of the world may be very respectful of the law of gravity but reject the laws of God about their “self” – their inner person.  Of course, they recognize those laws they themselves make for the government.  Even then, they apparently believe they will suffer no adverse effect to their “self” unless they get caught breaking one of these laws.  At the same time, they would not think they could break the law of gravity secretly and suffer no ill effects.

A farmer respects the law of nature in relation to his precious planted seed.  He knows it will not produce without his adherence to the principles of the law of nature.  He knows he cannot have the desired fruit without taking his seed-grain and carefully following God’s law of nature.  Even a heathen farmer would scorn another farmer who would laugh at God’s law of nature.  Yet, he may not give much thought about the same type of law for his inner-man.  He may live in opposition to the law of life for himself and then become perplexed because he is unhappy.

Similarly, all people must come to understand we cannot enjoy the fruit of life without the law of life.  This law governs our nature and personality.  It describes the way we were designed by God to function to have good mental health and to attain our unique potential as a human.  We must be citizens of God’s kingdom and let Jesus rule over us by His commands and laws of life.  This is what Jesus was speaking of when He said, “For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.”  Matt. 7:14.  Furthermore, these laws must be written on our hearts and minds.  This is the new covenant.  James stated the same thing when he said, “…in humility receive the word implanted.”  James 1:21.

We must understand how our present personality is the fruit of following, or not following, the law of life.  Just like violating the law of gravity, the result is disastrous every time we transgress a spiritual law.  This is true whether anyone catches us or not.  The price is paid by the inner man.  God’s laws of life develop sons of God and sons only.  To the degree we transgress this law, we subtract from our potential growth as a living soul.  There is a point at which our transgressions take over and rule our lives.  This is the condition where sin reigns in death.  We have now returned to the more complicated definition of the law of sin and death.  Peter echoed the words of Jesus from John 8:34, when he said, “For by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.”  II Pet. 2:19.  Paul adds, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, … .”  Rom. 6:12.  James puts it all together for us in the following scripture:

But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.  James 1:14, 15

Lust, temptation, sin and then death, is the route to spiritual death according to James.  Our understanding of the way God put us together will now be of the utmost importance.  You may want to read again Part One, Lesson Two.  Consciously, or subconsciously, we go about trying to satisfy our inherited drives.  God has the perfect plan.  Sometimes because of ignorance or weak faith, even Christians do not perceive God’s plan.  It is at times like these the devil is able to tempt us with another plan.  It will be a lawless way.  He will “carry us away” from the law of life.  Remember, following the law of life is the right plan.  Temptations prepare us to be enticed by our own lusts.  If lust were not present in ourselves we would not be so easily tempted; however, after people mature to the point of exercising the knowledge of good and evil, we all have a tendency to lust.   

Lust is translated from the Greek word epthumia.  It denotes strong desires of any kind.  Usually, it is used in the Bible in a bad sense.  Paul recognized these strong desires even in Christians in Rom. 6:12.  The fact is, people have had a problem with lust ever since Adam sinned.  We cannot manage the knowledge of good and evil in our fleshly bodies without becoming susceptible to temptation.  Adam and Eve could be tempted, and were, but our case is more severe.  They did not have a problem until after they succumbed.  They did not have a tendency to lust as we do.  We have a problem before and after we sin.  This very well could be Paul’s point in his description of a certain person in Christ.

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord:  So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.  Rom. 7:25

Again, let us consider James 1:13-15 in order to understand sin and death as they relate to mankind.  God does not tempt anyone with evil.  He leads us in truth.  The other force is Satan.  He has a large number of active programs in the world to catch our eye as we seek to satisfy our natural drives.  His programs are evil because they are not “of truth.”  They do not follow the laws of our Creator.  They are not God’s will.  The programs of the devil appeal to the lust element in mature people.

The inherited drives of man should not be confused with lust.  Lust is a tendency existing in all mature people, including Christians (Rom. 13:14).  It can become very aggressive when satisfaction of the natural drives is elusive, or when more satisfaction is sought than is normal.  Lust seeks satisfaction where and when satisfaction is not possible.  Lust may be doing the right activity to satisfy the drive; however, the spiritual element is wrong.  Paul told the Thessalonians:

That each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.  I Thess. 4:4, 5

He said they should abstain from sexual immorality (I Thess. 4:3).  We should possess our vessel in sanctification and honor – not in lustful passion.  We are to satisfy our sex drive with one man and one woman in marriage (I Cor. 7:5).  Another way is fostered by lust of the flesh and its response to evil temptation.  Of course, sex is not the only drive where lust may be found.  Lust may lie dormant within us but when the elements of temptation and lust have been brought together in a lawless activity, this is sin.  James said, When lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin.”  Our error is not lust, or “tendency to sin.”  This we cannot help but our error is committed when we make provisions for our lust.  The provision, we ourselves make, awakes a “sleeping giant” within us; a giant we cannot control – lust.

In such cases we are law breakers of the worst kind.  We break the law of life.  We are guilty before God because we broke His law of our life.  It is equal to our entering a farmer’s field and applying the wrong, or too much, fertilizer.  When we break the law of nature and bad things will happen.  When Christians find ourselves being driven by the lust of our flesh; we must repent; ask God to forgive us and determine to follow the law of life.  We must quit making “provisions for the flesh in regard to its lust.”  Rom. 13:14.

Consider the following scenario depicting the normal life of a mature person living in the world realm:   They are separated from God.  They have left God’s will and God has given them up.  In this scene they are trying to attain satisfaction for one of their natural drives; however, their lust of the flesh may be tempted in an evil way.  Their lust quickly responds to the element of the temptation they provide.  The activity is put in motion but no satisfaction is forthcoming.  At the same time guilt enters the scene.  They now have degraded passions (Rom. 1:26).  They are operating on the wisdom of the world and fear enters the scene.  They have depraved minds (Rom. 1:28).  This chaotic condition is a description of how a simple lawless deed, sin, gives way to the more complicated definition of sin.  This is sin as a reigning power.  This is sin reigning in death (Rom. 5:21).  People in this turmoil do not do what they want to do, they do what their sin dictates.  Paul asked the Roman Christians if they were not aware of this problem:

Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?  Rom. 6:16

Death is that sphere in which people exist outside the law of God.  Sin is the dominating force.  Very little satisfaction is ever attained, but because of lust and the natural drives of man, everybody keeps on trying, and trying and trying to get satisfied in the world realm where sin reigns in death.

Sin will not let people walk away from its clutches.  Sin is a body which must be put off (Rom. 6:6; Col. 2:11).  It cannot be remodelled, re-worked, or undone.  It must be put away and forgotten in order to remove its grip from those who are guilty.   People cannot forget our sins until God is willing to forgive and forget.  God is willing to do just this when sinners in the world will repent and die to sin in baptism with Jesus Christ.  This places them “in Christ” where they can follow the law of the Spirit of life and stay free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2).  The law of sin and death enslaves every mature person in the world realm.  This will happen as people mature to the age where they exercise the knowledge of good and evil and understand the consequence (Rom. 2:14, 15; 5:12).  Those of us in Christ must be careful to walk by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus in order to stay free from the law of sin and death.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What must be identified before we can discuss sin?
  2. What complicates the definition of sin?
  3. Define death.
  4. What fact is misunderstood when Christians do not take sin seriously?
  5. What is the immediate “cost factor” of violating the law of life?
  6. List the steps in their order leading to the spiritual death of a Christian.
  7. What is the difference between lust and peoples’ natural drives?
  8. What is the element within Christians Satan can use in his attempts to accomplish his goal?
  9. God recognizes the difference between peoples’ natural sex drive and sexual lust.  List some scriptures that prove this statement is true.
  10. Show what happens when we make provisions for the flesh in regard to its lust.
  11. What are all people trying to accomplish even though they are spiritually dead?
  12. How can the spiritually dead be free from sin?

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