Is Sin Transgression of the Law?

For over 20 years, I took it for granted and I believed that 1 John 3:4 means what it says in the King James version when it says that: “Sin is the transgression of the law.” But sometime in 1995, I learned more about what the Apostle John really meant based on the context within the passage. It was an eye-opener for me. The Lord gave me a broader understanding of what was really meant by John.

So, according to John, is sin the transgression of God’s law in 1 John 3:4?

Well, yes and no. Let me explain. First, yes, because sin truly is a transgression of God’s law. I have no problem with that. I believe that is a correct understanding of Scripture.

What John Meant by Lawlessness

But the question is: What did the Apostle John really mean when he wrote 1 John 3:4? What was his point? What was the context when he wrote that? Was he really saying that “sin is the transgression of the law?” Well, the answer is no. That’s not what he meant.

The phrase “the transgression of the law” is only one word in Greek which is, anomia. This Greek word does not really mean “transgression of the law.” This word anomia actually means “lawlessness” and is rightly translated in modern versions like the New King James Version and the New International Version. The New Jerusalem Bible translates it as “wickedness.” In other words, what the apostle John actually said was that “sin is lawlessness.” 

What he really meant to say was that sin is a lifestyle, a way of life, a habit, that is opposed to God’s law, that is opposed to God’s willnot merely the breaking of just one point of the law. John was talking about a a way of life—the bad habit of sinning.

Context: A Life Living in Sin—Lawlessness

In context then, the apostle John was saying: “how great is God’s love for us that we should be called children of God and that is what we are right now” (1 John 3:1). As children of God, we shall be like him and we shall see God as He is (1 John 3:2). We have hope of a bright future and therefore should purify ourselves (1 John 3:3). In view of such a status before God (the indicative), we ought not to live a life living in sin—or lawlessness (the imperative). We should no longer live a life going against God’s will. That’s the point being driven home by the apostle John. He was not just merely stating a fact that “sin is the transgression of the law.” (1 John 3:1-6).

Sin in 1 John 3:4 is not just a mere breaking of a point of law. Sin is not just a mere “transgression of the law.” It’s more than that. The Apostle John here is talking about a lifestyle of sinning, a lifestyle of lawlessness (anomia)—going against God’s law—going against God’s will. We should not do that according to him. That’s what the apostle John was really trying to say.

For as long as we are alive, we will always be prone to sinning. We will always sin. But thanks be to God because although we sin continually, through Christ he has already forgiven us and will continue to forgive us of our sins. Of course, this is not a license to sin. The apostle John reminds us not to make sinning a habit. He reminded us to purify ourselves! Let’s not make it a lifestyle of living in sin. Let us not turn God’s grace into a license to live a life of sinning. Since we have hope in Christ, let’s continue to live pure lives in Christ—away from sin.

“Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:3-4).

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Does God Love Only the Elect?

There is a belief that God loves only those who are considered to be the elect—that is, the chosen ones, the Church or the believers. This limits the love of God for only a few selected ones. All unbelievers are excluded. They are not loved by God—because, according to this reasoning, they have not been elected or chosen by God. It’s their fate, whether they like it or not. God is the Potter, humans are the clay. We have no say on this matter. This is the logic behind this belief. Is this biblical truth? Is this the God of the Bible as revealed by the Lord Jesus Christ himself?

God Loves Everybody

Thank God that is not true. The truth is, God loves absolutely everybody. He so loved the whole world that he was willing to give his Son for the salvation of everyone. In his heart he is not willing that any should perish (John 3:16). He did not come to condemn people but to save (John 3:17). The God revealed to us by the Lord Jesus Christ is a God of love. God is love (1 John 4:8). Everything he does is because of and results in love.

Israelites Commanded to Love their Neighbors

The ancient Israelites were told to love their neighbors as they loved themselves (Lev. 19:18). It was nothing new. But I have a feeling the Israelites misunderstood it for centuries until the time when Jesus came on the scene some 2,000 years ago. To them, this command to love their neighbors was only applicable to their blood relatives, their fellow Israelites! They continued to despise the Gentiles and considered them as lowlife—”Gentile sinners” (Gal. 2:15).

In other words, many Israelites had a limited view of God’s love. They thought God only loves Israelites. They thought that the command to love their neighbor was applicable only to their immediate neighbors–that is, their blood brother Israelites and not Gentiles!

Jesus’ Command: “Love Your Enemies”

Jesus corrected that erroneous concept of God’s love by explicitly saying, “Love your enemies” (Matt. 5:43-48). In this passage, Jesus clarified the scope of God’s love. It was not only limited to a few. Here we are all commanded to not just love our close friends and neighbors but to also love those whom we hate. Jesus was saying that the Jews should not limit their love to fellow Israelites but to also love the Gentiles whom they hate. Jesus did not limit God’s love. He intentionally went to Samaria to encounter and meet Gentiles. Jesus loved everybody and not Jews only. God loves all of us. This is what Christ reveals to us in Scripture.

God’s Blessings: For All—Good or Bad

Notice further what Jesus is trying to explain in Matthew 5:43-48. God’s love is not limited for the righteous only. He sends his blessings (the sun and the rain) to all—the righteous and the unrighteous, the evil and the good!

Israel Chosen to be a Blessing to Others

What for were the Israelites chosen then? Why were they elected? Well, God tells us in Genesis 12:1-3 that they were chosen to become a blessing to others. Why? Because God loves everybody. Why is the Church elected? To show forth his praises so that all may believe in God (1 Pet. 2:9, 12). Why? Because God loves everybody.

God Loves All!

So don’t believe the lie that God loves only the elect, a limited few who happens to be called “believers.” That is very much against the teaching of Jesus himself. Jesus commands us to love not only our friends but even our enemies—everyone. The truth of the matter is, Jesus is the Elected One and through him all of humanity has been elected—absolutely everybody. Everybody is included, elected and loved by God through Jesus Christ. God loves everyone!

Is God Relational or Transactional?

Our God is a Relational God

Image by John StonecypherGod is relational, not transactional. What do I mean by that? Well, by the testimony of Scripture, it says that God is love. He so loved the whole world and not just a few. God who is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit has always been relational within their life and love in the Trinity. God, who created all things through Jesus Christ, has always loved the whole world—humanity and all of creation. He is after all, Creator of it all.

Conditional Love

The teaching that God will love us only if we repent and believe is just that—a conditional kind of love. It’s a transactional kind of love where God will only love us if we repent, believe and obey.

It’s All About Loving Relationships

The truth of the matter is, God has always been concerned about loving relationships—not legal transactions. We have always been loved by God. This is exactly the picture being portrayed in the parable of the lost son. Jesus himself gave this parable to reveal to us who the Father really is. The father in the parable both loved his sons—whether good or bad. It didn’t matter to the father that the younger son committed grievous sins. The Father was patiently waiting for the son to come back home. That’s love! He did not wait for the younger son’s apology before accepting him back. That’s love.

God’s Great Love

In fact, when the father saw him afar off, he ran to meet him, hugged him and kissed him! He was overjoyed to see his lost son back again! He loved his son all the way regardless of his sins! He had a party organized at once to celebrate the return of his lost son. That’s great love!

God’s Love Not Transactional

That’s how God the Father loves us too! While we were still sinners, the Father allowed Christ to die for us (Rom. 5:8)! He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet.3:9). That’s great love! That’s unconditional love. Not a “transactional” kind of love. God doesn’t love us only when we’re good. He loved us even when we were still “bad” and unbelievers. He already loved us even before we believed. He doesn’t love us only when we believe. And all of us are all sinners—all of us were unbelievers before we became believers. God loves us all the way anyway! All of us! How great is the Father’s love for all of us!

There’s no need to end up in hell. According to C. S. Lewis, all that go there is because of their own choice to be in it. But in so far as God is concerned, God loves everyone. That’s who God is as revealed to us by the Lord Jesus Christ.

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