Herbert Armstrong addressed whether Christians are to keep the Law or not by insisting Christians were not free to sin, and that sin is the transgression of the Law. (I John 3:4) This concept was so hammered into the membership of the Worldwide Church of God (and today Philadelphia Church of God and similar offshoots) that it is doubtful anyone does not have this scripture memorized.
The Question HWA Never Asked
In addressing the “Sin Question,” HWA never asked the question, are Christians free from sin? The question was sidestepped, and a rationale was given in its stead. It was rationalized that sin was disobedience, grace was not unconditional, and therefore Christians should not sin—sin being defined by I John 3:4.
Freedom from sin, and being dead to sin were concepts conveniently ignored and spun away. One who “sinned” was declared resurrected to sin, in so many words. “Freedom from sin? You mean free to sin! How ludicrous! How ridiculous! Shall we sin so that grace may abound?”
The topic, and the Scriptures associated with the idea, were never given a hearing. The lessons of Scripture were buried under accusations and knee-jerk rationale.
Free to Murder?
HWA rationalized away the concept by declaring Christians would be “free to murder without consequence”… so much for addressing the idea based upon scriptural evidence instead of blind rationale.
When this accusation is taken out to its logical conclusion, he would have us ask, “Would a Christian, in possession of God’s Holy Spirit, go about committing murder all the time with abandon?” If we are going to accept rationalization and accusations to form our belief system, deception and false Christianity is guaranteed.
Shall we examine what the Scriptures say on the subject, and abandon false rationalizations and accusations?
Dead to Sin
Romans 6:2: “God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”
When one is dead to something, he is no longer held by its power and control. Those influenced by HWA were taught to ignore the first part of the passage and focus in on the latter. One could not live therein; consequently, one is not permitted to sin; another rationalization. Paul is talking about living in sin where one’s daily life revolved around selfish human endeavor—a lifestyle where one did not occasionally sin, but practiced sin as the daily lifestyle. The verses immediately following I John 3:4 point this out.
In chapter 7 of Romans, Paul uses the analogy of marriage and the marriage covenant to explain how, if one’s mate has died, he or she is free to marry another and not be guilty of adultery.
Dead to the Law
This example is followed immediately by the declaration that Christians are dead to the Law. They are no longer bound to it; they are no longer controlled by it or answerable to it. Why? How? Paul explains, but those who bought into HWA’s rationale were blinded to the answer.
Romans 7:4: “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.”
Christians are dead to the Law and to sin so that they can now be joined—be bound to Christ. Without dying to the Law; without being dead to sin, it is impossible to be bound to Christ.
Bound to Christ
One bound to Christ brings forth fruit unto God; spiritual fruit—the fruit of the Spirit. The Law can only arouse sin and sin brings forth death.
Romans 7:10: “And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.”
Romans 7:5: “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.”
Those indoctrinated into Armstrong theology would insist on bringing up I John 3:4, claiming sin is the transgression of the Law, with the rationale we cannot possibly be free from sin. How can we be condemned justly by God for sin, then turn around and claim we are no longer subject to sin and the Law?
Romans 3:19: “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.”
It was necessary to establish that no one, with or without the Law, could attain to the perfection of God. All had to know they were guilty before God, unable to attain that which God requires.
Cannot Keep the Law Perfectly
HWA claimed having the Holy Spirit enabled the Christian to keep the Law. If one believes what HWA taught in this regard, then why didn’t those within the “true church” who believed themselves to be the “true Christians” keep the Law perfectly? They could not and did not.
The answer is that now Christians are Sons of God and joint heirs with Christ. Christians have passed from death to life. They are a new creation, no longer subject to those things that were prior.
I John 3:4 makes the declaration sin is lawlessness (anomia). One could debate the meaning of anomia, seeing as it is usually translated as “iniquity,” which is much more than just lawlessness. When this scripture is quoted, though, by HWA and those who follow in his steps, the next verse, as well as the entire context, is ignored.
Verse 5: “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.”
Christ Took Away All Our Sins
The declaration of sin being lawlessness was used to imply Christians were still required to keep the Law in order to avoid sinning. This conclusion is assumption. Christ took away our sins—all of them.
1 John 3:5: “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.”
John 1:29: “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.”
Hebrews 9:26: “For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world [i. e., at the end of the ages] hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
Controlling People Through Fear of Sin
These truths were obscured by HWA and others by claiming Christians are not yet born of God, hence not truly or completely sons of God, and salvation not a sure thing. These claims are absolutely necessary in order to foster fear in those whom HWA desired to rule and control. Without the threat of sin and its consequences, HWA could not control people through the fear of sin. Without the rule of law, interpreted by him and how he claimed it applied to Christians, he could have no power over people and their money.
One false teaching requires many more false teachings in order to cover a false teaching. When you disprove a falsehood, like dominoes, they begin to topple.
All these false teachings are produced without scriptural backing. They are based upon false rationalization and accusation.
Christians Not Under the Law
Scripture says Christians are no longer under the Law. Without scriptural support of any kind, HWA insisted, “to be under the Law was to be under the death penalty of the Law, which Jesus paid. Therefore, Christians are no longer under the death penalty, but still required to keep the Law. Christians are not free to sin.” It is pure rationalization.
If this were true, then every example where the phrase or a similar phrase is used, it would make sense in the context of being under the penalty of the Law (the death penalty) and not what the Scripture plainly says, Christians are not under the Law.
One need only examine those Scriptures that use the phrase “under the law” and see if the context support HWA’s claim or not. It doesn’t take long to see they do not. One such Scripture alone disproves the claim:
Galatians 4:4: “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,”
This would mean here that Jesus was under the penalty of the Law. According to HWA, the only way one could be under the penalty of the Law was to transgress the Law. Did Jesus sin?
Galatians 4:21: “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?”
It would be incredible to assign the idea that to be under the Law was to be under its penalty with this passage. It would mean people were desiring to be under the death penalty. Not very likely.
No More Condemnation
So what happens when a Christian “sins”? Are they brought back under condemnation? Must Jesus be sacrificed again and again?
Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
Romans 4:5-8: “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.”
Jesus came to take away the sins of the world; the sins of believers. (John 1:29; II Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 9:26; 1 John 1:7; 1 John 3:5; Romans 8:3.)
If Christians were still held to the Law, then there should be plenty of examples in New Testament Scripture, along with other examples of non-Christians being held to the Law. So then an interesting question to ponder would be: what do these Scriptures have to say about why people are judged and condemned now and at Christ’s return?
John 3:18: “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
John 5:24: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.”
1 Corinthians 11:32: “But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.”
John 3:36: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
Sin, as HWA was fond of pointing out, was “lawlessness; transgressing the Law.” If Christians were not dead to the Law and dead to sin, we might well conclude Christians were to “avoid sin” by keeping the Law.
Christians are warned in Scripture to be wary of those who would try to bring Christians under the Law, by whatever means.
Old Covenant Law Was the Yoke of Bondage
Galatians 5:1: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”
The bondage mentioned here is explained in the verses leading up to this. This bondage is defined as the old covenant Law.
Transgressing the Law is not what will condemn the world of sin. Rejection of Jesus as the Christ in whom ONLY we have our salvation results in condemnation.
Christians have transcended this condemnation through faith, having the righteousness of Christ imputed to them as a result. They are no longer under the death penalty. They are dead to sin and the Law.
1 Corinthians 15:55-57: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Our victory is over death, sin, and the Law.
By William Hohmann (former WCG member; graduate of Ambassador College)
Exit & Support Network™
“As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.”
Note by ESN: If we realize that God has forgiven us of all our sins and does not hold them against us anymore, then there is no place for the Law in our life anymore because the Law will have accomplished its purpose for which it was given, and that was to lead us to Christ. Therefore, the sin question is over. Listen to: Atonement and Propitiation (clear explanation of the two) [offsite link]
Related Material: (offsite link)
Christ’s Finished Work on the Cross (Explains I John 1:9; includes MP3 download) [offsite link]
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