Absent of the Law, Sin is Not Imputed—Romans 5:13
"For before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law" (Romans 5:13)
This verse paints a dramatically different picture of God, than religion usually records. Even as a small child in Sunday School I learned that God had pronounced judgment upon Adam and Eve immediately after the fall in the garden. They were kicked out of paradise and left alone to toil upon the earth until they died in their sins. However, Paul makes it perfectly clear that God did not credit sin to the accounts of men from the time of Adam to the time when Moses received the law from God. In fact God operated in grace and mercy from the very beginning of time, the same way He deals with us today by blood of Jesus. Why is this truth not widely known among Christians?
The truth is, that God's immediate reaction to their disobedience was based on mercy not in banishment from his presence, as many churches teach. God removed Adam and Eve from the garden to protect them from eating from the tree of life in their sinful state. If they had eaten from it, they would have remained captive to the effect of sin forever. This is recorded in Genesis 3, "And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken." (Genesis 3:22-23) Removing Adam and Eve was an act of mercy on God's part. It would have been terrible for mankind to live captive in a sinful body, subjected to the decay and disease that sin brings upon us, throughout eternity.
After the fall, God remain in close fellowship with Adam and Even and with their children, even after they were removed from the garden. It is clear that the result of their sin was not being cast away from God's presence. Instead, for mercies sake, they were removed from the garden, lest the reach out and partake of the tree of live and live forever. In mercy, God put cherubims with flaming swords in front of the entrance to the garden to protect the way of the tree of life. Even after Cain killed his brother, the Lord, in mercy, put a mark upon Cain to protect him from anyone seeking Abel's vengeance. The Lord continued to operate in this manner of grace and mercy with mankind until the Law was given to Moses. It is clear that before this time, sin was not imputed upon the individual.
Now over time, sin and corruption exploded and people mistook God's forbearance with sin as His acceptance of it . So the Law was given to remove any doubt concerning God's righteous requirements. The Law clearly defined what God ascribed too. The Law is what actually brought death, because no one was capable of fulfilling the letter of it. In our passage today, Paul tells us that '"before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law." (Romans 5:13) So sin was nothing new, it has existed since the fall of mankind. But with the Law, came a different way of dealing with sin. Before the Law, sin was not held against us. After the law, sin was imputed or credited to our accounts showing us our unrighteousness and our inability to be reconciled unto God by our works. The purpose for the Law was to lead us to Christ as our Savior so that we could be justified by faith in him. And God once again, could impute mercy to our accounts instead of sin. Now that Jesus has come and fulfilled the Law, by faith we are no long subject to it. (Galatians 3:23-24)
This one small verse nestled in the middle of chapter 5, has huge implications for us. This one small verse give us amazing perspective into the character of God. God has always operated in love and mercy on our behalf from the moment that sin entered into the picture, until the moment that Jesus died upon the cross to take care of the sin problem. His goodness, love and mercy has been his banner over us since the beginning of time. Today I thank God that he deals with us in mercy, not giving what we deserve but graciously giving us what we don't.
Original article published October 8, 2009.