ARTICLES

Why The Sinner had to Die

by David Clayton

As we consider the title of this article, our response may be to think, “well, the sinner has to die because the law proves him guilty and requires his death.” We see his death as completely dependent upon his relationship to the law. This concept is rooted deeply into the thinking of Christians and while in a way, it is correct, this common understanding does not fully explain the truth. Let us consider for a moment what a law really is. A law is basically a principle or a rule which governs behaviour. A law dictates the way we operate.

But when we speak of law, there are two kinds of law which we need to consider. There is natural law and there is judicial law and understanding the difference between the two is critical to a proper appreciation of the reason why the sinner has to die.



Natural Laws

In the case of natural laws, all men recognize the importance of always working in harmony with them. The rules are built into nature and we cannot change them or adjust them. These laws simply describe the way nature works and they are called laws because nature compels all things to behave in conformity to those particular principles. We must work in harmony with them. One such law is the law of gravity. This law compels us to behave in a certain way with the sure knowledge that if we change our behaviour, drastic consequences will follow. For example, I may not agree with the law of gravity and so may step from the roof of a 50 story building. I will speedily find out that by not acting in harmony with the law of gravity I have suffered severe consequences. I may not like natural laws, but if I disregard them, unhappy consequences are sure to follow. This is true of all natural laws.

Judicial Laws

Judicial laws on the other hand, are laws which are laid down by a governing authority. They are laws which are considered good or necessary for the harmonious existence of a particular society and they are not necessarily the same in every society. The nature of these laws often depends on the nature of the society and those who govern and make the laws. With these laws, disobedience does not always bring a consequence. In many cases these laws are broken and the offender seems to get away scot-free. The enforcement of these laws is not built into nature as in the case of natural law. With judicial law, the governing authority has to do two things. First they have to make the laws and secondly, they have to enforce these laws. They do this by imposing penalties for transgressing the laws which they themselves must enforce.

Of course, many judicial laws, established by various governments are faulty and even unjust. But God is the author of all natural law. Natural law is always good. He designed the universe in a perfect way with these natural laws built in to ensure that life would exist and continue in a pattern of balance and harmony.

The nature of moral law

The moral law has been said to be a “transcript” of God's character. As this moral law is outlined in the Ten Commandments it is stated in a somewhat limited way and does not express the fullness of God's character and may better be described as an “expression” of God's character, rather than an exact transcript. However, when the moral law is properly understood in all its deeper implications, it certainly expresses what God is like in His moral nature and may be appropriately described as a transcript of His character. This means that The moral law is what God is. God did not make the moral law, all He did was put into words what He was and gave it to us as the way of life. 

The law is to be presented to its transgressors, not as something apart from God, but rather as an exponent of his mind and character. As the sunlight cannot be separated from the sun, so God's law cannot be rightly presented to man apart from the divine Author. {E.G. White - RH, February 3, 1891}

To live in harmony with this law is to be in harmony with God. Since God is life, then harmony with Him means to be in harmony with life. However, when a person steps out of harmony with the moral law, he is out of harmony with God and out of harmony with life. Death as a consequence is the inevitable result! God does not have to sentence or kill such a person. He automatically brings death upon himself by choosing to separate from God, in whom alone there is life.

God is the fountain of life; and when one chooses the service of sin, he separates from God, and thus cuts himself off from life. He is “alienated from the life of God.” Christ says, “All they that hate Me love death.” Eph. 4:18; Prov. 8:36. {DA 764}

So we see clearly that the moral law is a natural law. It is a law of nature. To walk in harmony with it is to have life. To step aside from it is to embrace death. No one has to sentence you, no one has to kill you. Sin itself will do the job as a natural consequence of the way the law operates.

How Death Came

In the garden of Eden God said to Adam, “… in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Gen. 2:17). Most people have understood this to mean that God was threatening Adam, that He was saying, “if you eat of this fruit, I will be forced to kill you.” Was this how it really was? Was God threatening Adam or was He making a prophecy? Was He stating what He would do, or was He simply making Adam aware of the natural sequence of events which would follow if he stepped out of harmony with God? The apostle Paul says,

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (Rom 5:12)

Notice, one man brought sin into the world. When sin came in, death came with it. It was not God who brought death or imposed it upon man, it was sin which brought death. When sin came in, death came riding on its back! In 1 Cor. 15:56 Paul says that, “the sting of death is sin.” When something stings you, a poison begins to work in your body and eventually brings about an end result. Somebody who gets stung by a deadly insect such as a scorpion, for example, has in himself the seed of death. The poison works in him and eventually brings the end result of death. So Paul says, “the sting of death is sin.” Sin stings you, it injects you with a poison which begins a deadly work, killing you by degrees until inevitably, inescapably, your life departs from you.

So, Paul says, Adam brought sin, which brought death. This death came upon all men, because all sinned. All men die only because all men have the disease of sin in them (Rom. 5:12). See how Paul proves this. He says,

(For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. (Rom 5:13)

What time period is he referring to when he says, “until the law?” He is speaking of the period before the law was given on Mount Sinai, from the time of the creation of the world until the time of the giving of the law to Moses. Of course, the law has always existed as a natural rule of life because the law is an expression of God's nature and God was always there, but it was not understood by the people of the world in general before it was given on Mount Sinai. Paul goes on to say, “but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” What is the point which he is making? His point is, sin was here. Men were sinners, but God did not impute sin to them, that is, God could not charge them with guilt. Why couldn't he? Because the law was not yet given. Without the law men did not have a clear idea of what was right and what was wrong and therefore, there was no clear way of charging men with wrong doing.

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. (Rom 5:14)

In spite of the fact that the law was not generally known to men before God proclaimed it (that is from the time of Adam to the time of Moses), yet death reigned over men. All men suffered death (excepting Enoch). Since sin was not imputed (charged) to them, then it could not have been God who was judging them and killing them because they were guilty. They had not sinned as Adam had sinned, in deliberate disobedience of a specific command. Without the law, there was no way of charging them with guilt, yet they were dying. What was killing them? It was sin which was killing them. Even though they did not have a clear definition of right and wrong, yet they were in a state of sin, passed on from Adam to all men and it produced death in all. (Rom. 5:21; 7:24; James 1:15).

Why Judicial law entered

Yet there is no denying the fact that the Bible teaches that men will be judged on the basis of the law and those found guilty will be sentenced to die.

For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. (Eccl 12:14)

So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. (James 2:12)

These, as well as many other verses make it clear that our individual actions are significant, that God will consider every deed in the judgment. How can this be explained? If sin kills those who embrace it and death is the inescapable consequence of sin, why did God need to impose a penalty upon those who commit sin? Why was there the need of a judgment to rehearse and examine the deeds which men have done that each might be rewarded “according to his works?” Why did God not just leave the sinner alone in his dying state, knowing that sin would eventually kill him? Why did God place the issues in a judicial framework, why did He establish judicial law with penalties, instead of simply leaving it where nature had put it, leaving sin itself to eventually destroy those who embraced it?

In Romans 5:20 we are told,

Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: (Rom 5:20)

The law entered for the purpose of making the offence increase, that it might multiply. That is, that men could become aware of just how great was the power of the sin which existed in them.

Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. (Rom 7:13)

In other words, when Adam sinned, sin came upon all men. As a result men became involved in vile and evil deeds and all men eventually died as a result of sin. But for the most part men had no true concept of how sinful they really were. Men came to regard death as the normal way of life, they made no link between the kind of life which they possessed and lived and the death which came upon them all. God, in love, had to find a way to make men appreciate what really existed in their natures and to make them see that there was a connection between that nature and death – that sin was the cause of death, so that they might learn to fear and hate sin. He had to set a system in place “that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.” He expressed the law in a judicial formula so that man could understand the true nature of sin.

The “Discovery” of The Law

The story goes that Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree one day when an apple fell on his head. To the inquiring mind of this scientific genius, this simple event became the catalyst of an amazing “discovery.” Why,” he wondered, “did the apple fall on my head? Why did the apple fall down instead of up.” In considering this he became aware of the fact that this was the way things always behaved, every time, in every circumstance. This led him to formulate what is called the law of gravity and so he is credited with discovering this law.

Of course this law was in existence long before Isaac Newton arrived on the scene, but when he discovered it, for him and for the world, it seemed an amazing thing. For him it came as a complete surprise. Isaac Newton expressed this law in words and referred to it as the law of gravity. But although he expressed it in words, this was only a way of describing what was always there long before he or anybody else recognized it. When he expressed this law in words, it did not create or establish the law, it only made it known and understandable to some degree.

In the same way, the moral law of God always existed. All the angels obeyed it naturally with never a second thought.

Lucifer was the first one who discovered and pointed out to the angels that their behaviour was always in one direction, always in keeping with what God wanted. This thought that there was a law by which they were governed came as a strange idea to the angels because their service had always been one of natural, joyful obedience. As it were, Lucifer “discovered” the moral law and determined that he was not going to submit to it.

In order to enable man to understand the way the moral law works so that man might be able to discover the power of sin and to see the connection between it and death, God had to formulate this law, or in other words to express it in a formula which man could understand. This is what He did at Mount Sinai.

Let us look at an illustration which may help us to understand this matter better:

An Illustration

Suppose there are a group of people marooned on the top of a mountain. All around there are precipices with no way off the mountain. On looking down into these precipices, all one can see is darkness, the bottom is too far away to be seen. In actual fact, at the bottom there are jagged rocks waiting to pulverize anyone who falls or is foolish enough to jump from this mountain.

One day, a strange man appears out of nowhere and begins to persuade the people that down below, beyond the darkness there is a land of infinite beauty and plenty – a veritable paradise. He explains that there is a system in place by which those who jump from above suddenly slow down as soon as they pass through the darkness and eventually land as gently as a feather in this paradise. This strange person even takes a leap or two from the top of this mountain and returns with his arms laden with exotic fruit. Gradually the people are persuaded. One after another people start jumping.

However, there is one man who knows exactly what is waiting below. Frantically he pleads with the people not to jump and warns them of the horrible fate awaiting them, but all in vain. The people continue to jump. Finally this man, who is aware of the danger, pulls a gun and stands off to one side. He says, “I am going to shoot anyone who jumps.” A couple of people decide to take the risk and jump. To all intents and purposes, these people are already dead, but regardless of this, this man immediately shoots them dead.

Now the scenario changes. At first it was the fall that was killing the people when they jumped, but now it is this man who is killing them. Instead of the law of action and consequence working, instead of the law of gravity killing the people, now it is this man. He has established a system where they must conform to the rule or face a penalty and this system has taken the place of the law of action and consequence. Now it is a judicial law (“you shall not jump or I will shoot you”) instead of a natural law (if you jump, gravity will kill you). The law of nature, is a higher law and it always exists, but because of peoples' ignorance and their actions of self-destructiveness, this man who understands, has set up this judicial system within the natural system in order to save those whom he can. In actual fact he is only killing those who are already certain to die and in shooting them rather than waiting for them to be crushed on the rocks he is actually acting in mercy because now, he will achieve several positive things.

1. He will make those who remain afraid of jumping. By this means he will give the people an opportunity of living a little longer with the hope that they will discover for themselves the true nature of what lies below and the character of the being who deceived them.

2. He will prevent the suffering of those who are smashed on the rocks but who do not die immediately.

Of course, all the people will become scared of the man with the gun. They may call him a tyrant and seek for a chance to jump when he is not looking. They will resent his presence and blame him for depriving them of happiness although in reality he is only working for their good.

Can you see the parallel? This is why God has put the issues in the framework of judicial law, along with the necessary penalties. In giving the law God was saying, “if you jump, I will shoot you.” Although sin was always killing men, they did not recognize it and did not fear it. They accepted their corrupt lifestyle and their subsequent death as just the way life was and saw no reason to be afraid of sin or to change their ways. This is why God established a judicial system. He set up a framework in which if you transgressed the stated laws He would require your death. Now men feared sin, because they associated it with death and in trying to put it away from them they came to recognize how totally it was integrated into their nature. They came to recognize that they needed supernatural help if they were ever to be rid of it and thus, the law became their schoolmaster to lead them to Christ. (Gal. 3:24).

Unfortunately, with many people, God came to be regarded as the real problem since He had given these rules and required that they be obeyed on pain of death. Men would have preferred to be rid of God rather than to be rid of their sins and they chafed under His rules and blamed Him for the fact that those who disobeyed had to die. The fact is that whether or not God had sentenced the transgressor to death it would not have mattered. Sin would inevitably kill him anyway.

Consider the case of the antediluvians or the Sodomites. God sent a flood in one case and fire in the other to wipe out their generation. If God had not done this, what would have happened to these people? Well, in a few more years that generation would all have been dead anyway! Sin, working in them would have killed them as it does all men! And they would have been just as dead as the flood or the fire made them! So why did God kill them a few years early? What difference did it make? It was because God wanted to make a statement so that others would learn to be afraid of sin, and also so that there would be a check put on the depths to which sin had degraded mankind.

Three levels 

In our attitude and relationship to God, men are at basically three levels.

1. At the first and lowest level, men believe, “if I disobey God, He will kill me.” So they are afraid of God and seek to please Him from fear of punishment. This is the basis of the pagan religions, but many times the Israelites also worshipped from this warped motivation and sadly, many “Christians” today are still at this primitive level of understanding. These people see the problem as being, God.

2. At the secondary level, people believe it is not God who is the problem, it is their actions. God does not want to kill them, but He will have to if they don't change their actions. Justice will require that He destroy them. These have a better concept of God but they still have not come to grips with the real problem and they see death as God's necessary action because He is controlled by justice. They regard the real problem as the deeds which they do. The effort must be to change their works so that they can meet the requirements of the law. On this level, the sinner sees the issue as a question of satisfying justice.

3. But at the third level, finally we understand. There is one problem and one problem only. It is that separation from God has resulted in a disease in me called sin and it is eating out my life, it is producing evil deeds in me and is killing me. This is the true destroyer and it is not a judicial law that demands the sinner's death, it is a law of nature – a law of consequence. Now we recognize that the real problem is sin in me and what I need is not to change my actions merely, but to change my nature. I must seek life in the only One who is able to accomplish this for me. On this level, the believer finally operates on the basis of righteousness by faith.

We need to understand this because when our understanding reaches only to the secondary level, then our relationship to sin and to God is always viewed and experienced from a legal framework. Sin is related to the details of the law, salvation is related to obedience to the rules, God's favour, and life itself are all related to the rules. In actual fact, this is the foundation of legalism – salvation and life in terms of a relationship to rules.

Not my works, my nature

When we come to the third level, when we are no longer children or servants, but sons (Gal. 4:3,7), then we understand. The real problem is not what I do. It is not a problem of my works, it is what I am. It is a problem of my nature. I realize that God's effort is not to change my works, but to give me a new heart, a new nature by means of which my works will change. Now I am not afraid of God, I am not even afraid of my actions, I am afraid of myself! Now I no longer struggle to change my works, but I seek with all my heart to find and to submit to Christ by faith, who alone is capable of changing my nature! It is not God, or even justice which requires my death. It is my sin cursed nature which is working death in me, and while the law of God has brought me to that realization, it is powerless to solve the problem. I must come to Christ (not the written law but the living law) that I may have life (Gal. 3:24), that I may have a new nature.

God set the controversy in a judicial framework. He established laws and penalties, but this is not the whole picture, this is the picture within the picture, the secondary level. The true issues exist on a higher level, not on the judicial level, but on the level of natural law where we are involved with the principles which are built into the very existence of the universe.

Restoration Ministries

Restoration Ministries is dedicated to the promotion of the truths contained in the word of God. In particular to the restoration of those truths which have been cast down to the ground and trampled underfoot by the papacy, and adopted by her daughters.

Our purpose is to motivate men and women to commit themselves wholly to the task of personal preparation for the coming of the Lord, and to the taking of the final warning message to every nation, kindred, tongue and people.

Website: www.restorationministry.com

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