If you think it’s okay to dismiss the Law, you clearly don’t know Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 June 2020

1 John 3.4-6.

Here we get to the parts of 1 John which bug Christians.

1 John 3.4-6 KWL
4 Everyone who commits sin also violates the Law. Sin’s against the Law.
5 You knew Jesus was revealed so he could take away our sins, and there’s no sin in him.
6 Everyone who remains in Jesus doesn’t sin:
Everyone who sins has neither seen him, nor knows him.

“Violates the Law” is my translation of τὴν ἀνομίαν ποιεῖ/tin anomían piheí, literally “does the anti-Law.” (KJV has “transgresseth… the law”; NIV “breaks the law.”) I capitalize Law because John wasn’t writing about Roman law; plenty of Roman laws encouraged if not committed sin. John meant the Law of Moses, the Hebrew Law, the תּוֹרָה/Toráh. The stuff God commanded the Hebrews at Sinai and thereafter. It’s the formal part of the relationship between the LORD and Israel, the backbone of Hebrew culture, the foundation of the Old Testament, the basis of the commands and interpretations Jesus himself presented to his students, and the backdrop of the Christian religion we practice to facilitate our own relationship with the LORD through Jesus.

The Law warned the Hebrews if they didn’t stick to it, the LORD would remove his hand and their enemies would have at ’em. And history has recorded they really didn’t stick to it. Time and again the LORD had to let Israel’s enemies crap all over them; then when they finally returned to him, he rescued them. The whole point of the Pharisee denomination was to break this cycle once and for all: Create schools which taught the Law to every Hebrew in every generation, make ’em experts in it, and they’d never break it again.

Problem is, some Pharisees missed the point, and thought following the Law saved them. After all, it broke the cycle and kept their enemies back! But that’s not how salvation works. The LORD already saved his people; that’s what the Exodus is about. And now that you’re a saved people, how ought you live? Good question; the Law is the LORD’s answer. Live like this.

But I should point out, same as other comparative religion scholars have pointed out, most Pharisees knew better. Paul was a Pharisee, Pp 3.5, Ac 23.6 and properly articulated the Pharisee view: Nobody’s saved by the Law. That’s not its purpose. That makes people think we’re saved by good deeds and good karma—and unsaved by bad deeds and bad karma. The Law doesn’t save; God does. His grace does. And grace forgives when we slip up and break the Law from time to time. Don’t break the Law; but when we do, we have Jesus. 1Jn 2.1 Our relationship with the LORD is more than merely the Law. It’s not contractual obligations: “I did such-and-so, and now you owe me salvation.” No he doesn’t. But he wants to save us.

So what was Jesus’s beef with Pharisees? Cherry-picking which commands they wanted to enforce, and which ones they’d create loopholes to slip through. Inconsistency. Hypocrisy. You know, all the stuff we Christians commit too.

And contrary to what the scriptures teach, many a Christian claims a giant loophole in the Law: They claim Jesus did away with it. The New Covenant wholly cancels out the old one. Because we’re saved by grace not Law, it’s okay to ignore the Law; even willfully break it.

So when John writes stuff like “Sin’s against the Law,” such Christians’ visceral reaction is to ignore John. Or explain him away, till he means nothing—same as they figure the Law means. They don’t wanna follow the Law. They don’t wanna quit sinning. Much easier to claim nothing’s a sin, or claim God’s reduced all the commands to the ten… plus abortion, homosexuality, and anything else which bugs them personally. Funny how their idea of God only hates the things they do.

Christians against the Law.

It’s not accurate to say Christians reject the Law because it doesn’t save. Christians reject the Law because we’re sinners. We don’t wanna follow the Law. We wanna sin. We want to take advantage of God’s grace regardless of our laziness and selfishness.

Well, one of the Law’s purposes is to make our laziness and hedonism super obvious—so we’d realize we massively need God, and turn to him for salvation. But one of its other purposes is this is how we oughta live. It still needs to be followed. We may not do it perfectly or well. But we’re expected to at least make the effort. It’s God’s minimum expectations for humanity.

And despite what people claim about the Law being impossible to follow: Once you subtract the commands which don’t (and can’t really) apply to Christians—

  • Ritual sacrifice, wholly superseded by Jesus’s self-sacrifice.
  • Temple practices, wholly superseded by Christians becoming the Holy Spirit’s temple.
  • Ritual cleanliness, likewise wholly superseded by Christians becoming the Holy Spirit’s temple.
  • Laws specific to the descendants of Israel (which Jewish Christians should probably still follow).
  • Laws specific to the land of Israel (which residents should still follow).

—the Law’s not as hard as most people make it out to be. Read it sometime. Its difficulty has been exaggerated so people could point at that, and claim it’s impossible. Christians keep quoting Simon Peter,

Acts 15.10 KJV
Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

and claim he rejected the Law. No; he rejected legalism. He rejected the idea certain Pharisees put to the Jerusalem Council—that gentiles gotta follow the Law before they could be saved. Nope; wrong; we’re not saved by Law. But now that we are saved, what’re we gonna do? Good works. Ep 2.10 Which good works? Well, there’s the Law.

John was at that council. He knows what James ruled; Ac 15.19-21 he agreed with it. He still wrote this letter years after that council. It’s not inconsistent with James’s ruling: You don’t have to be sinless to have a relationship with God, but you should strive to stop sinning. You shouldn’t be lawless!

And yet lawless Christians have accused 1 John and its author of gnosticism, or ignored this passage altogether. Others, who recognize they can’t ignore bible, try to twist its meaning away: “It’s about how impossibly high God’s standards are. If we don’t have grace, we’d have to follow the Law, perfectly. And we can’t. Therefore grace.” No; John already said there’s grace. But at the same time, in the same verse, 1Jn 2.1 he told his readers to stop sinning. And here he defines sin: “Sin’s against the Law.”

This is why I’ve known Christians to be simply horrified when I read 1 John 3 to them. They wait for me to offer an explanation which means 1 John 3 doesn’t count. They wanna hear we don’t really have to strive for sinlessness; that “Christians aren’t perfect just forgiven.” That we don’t really need to obey the Law. But God’s grace isn’t a loophole: He honestly does want us to obey him. Those who don’t, may make it into his kingdom anyway… but they’ll be the very lowest of the people in it. Mt 5.19

One common excuse of lawless Christians is this one: “All have sinned. Ro 3.23 So there’s no point in trying to not sin; we’ve already sinned. It’s too late. Our sins have condemned us.” True, if you were hoping to achieve salvation through sinlessness, it’s much too late. But John’s not writing about that. This is about those who abide in Jesus. If we’re actively following Jesus, truly following Jesus, we’re not gonna sin. Right now we’re not gonna sin. Like I tell my students all the time, “Are you sinning right this minute?… No? Good. Keep it up.”

So if we’re in Christ, continually in Christ, we’re gonna fight our tendency to sin, and not sin. No it’s not easy. That’s why we gotta remain in Christ: When we stay in the light it’s easier to stay away from sin.

So this becomes our litmus test. When we sin, clearly we’re not living in the light right now. And when we claim to have a relationship with God, but break the Law—no matter what excuses we use for doing so—it makes no bloody difference. We’re lying to ourselves and others. We’re not following God. And Christians who have an entire lifestyle of Law-breaking and loopholes and excuses, arguably aren’t even Christian.

So let’s cut the crap and follow Jesus. Repent! Repent daily, or hourly, or a minute at a time; but repent, stay in the light, and resist temptation instead of embracing it with lazy excuses.