All Have Sinned (e) Sin is a Transgression of the Law
The title of this study is based upon the answer to the 14th question in the Shorter Catechism, “What is sin?…Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” It is to be expected that in this section of the epistle which deals with the sin, Paul would bring out the true definition of sin, that which transgresses God’s law. Yet this defining of the law would come as he addresses the Jews in particular. In so doing he is continuing to emphasise that they were in need of the Gospel as much as the pagan world they despised. Furthermore, implied in this passage is the inevitable conclusion that the Jews on account of their position and pride were more sinful than the ignorant Gentiles.
1: The Privilege Denied
The Hebrew people had eight special privileges which they despised:
i. “restest in the law” – they were custodians of the law as it was entrusted to them. ii. “makest thy boast of God” – this was no idle boast as they had a unique relationship with Jehovah.
iii. “knowest his will” – possessing the law and the ancient scriptures they were not ignorant of God’s will.
iv. “approvest the things that are more excellent” – the Jews accepted only the highest moral standards.
v. “a guide of the blind” – their knowledge of the law enabled them to teach the spiritually ignorant.
vi. “a light of them which are in darkness” – the truth held by the Jews could bring light to those in the darkness of sin.
vii. “An instructor of the foolish” – again the responsibility of using the law to teach the wayward is established.
viii. “a teacher of babes” – a particular feature of Judaism is their dedication in teaching the law to their children.
Despite these remarkable privileges the Jews still sinned and transgressed the law of God.
2: The Proof Declared
Paul brings three charges against the Jewish people based upon their transgression of God’s holy law. In this he demonstrates that:
a)“thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?” Stealing is often much more subtle than breaking an entry and committing burglary or taking items from a shop without paying. Lies on the tax return, fraudulent insurance or benefit claims, withholding payments for services and goods or an employer not paying the minimum wage are forms of stealing.
b) “Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery?” The biblical standard of morality is purity before marriage and faithfulness afterwards. The liberal lifestyle approved by our liberal society in addition to the the many immoral media available are contraventions of the 7th commandment. Christ taught that this precept is broken by thoughts as well as actions.
c) “thou that abhorrest idols dost thou commit sacrilege?” Sacrilege literally describes the crime of robbing temples. Paul is now focusing upon the first and second commandments where commanded to (1)objectively worship God alone and (2) in a manner regulated by scripture. We can be guilty of breaking these ordinances without raising up idols of wood or stone and falling down before such. The 1st commandment is contravened when we fail to make God the first love of our hearts and when his will is not the supreme judge of all our actions. The second commandment is transgressed when we introduce innovations into worship which has no scriptural basis. These failures are in essence the robbing of God. The first and last questions contained in this little section sum up the argument. These Jews who claimed to teach others need taught themselves (v21) and although they boasted about the integrity of the law they dishonoured that same law by their hypocrisy. This resulted in the Gentiles blaspheming Jehovah as they were poor ambassadors for his name.
This passage has three major applications for the church today:
a)Our own hearts are examined regarding our faithfulness to the law. Are we all that claim to be? Certainly we are reminded that our depraved nature pulls us up short.
b)Hypocrisy among those who profess faith causes the greatest damage to the testimony of our Lord.
c) Those who regard themselves spiritually superior, who have been exposed to the true Gospel but have never embraced Christ, will receive the greatest condemnation in the day of judgement.