"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)
Did you pay close attention while reading the verse above?
Since the beginning, sin was in the world, but God didn’t consider it before the law came! What?
I never knew that!
God didn’t charge humanity with sin before the law?
I remember learning about Adam and Eve in Sunday School and being the studious little girl I was, if you were to ask me why God kicked them out of the Garden of Eden I would have recited that it was because they ate ‘the apple’.
In reality, this refers to the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The tree God told them to stay away from (Gen1:17). My short Sunday School summary would have been: God told Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree, the serpent tricked them, they ate, God was mad, He kicked them out. The end.
However, Paul is painting a dramatically different picture here. He’s saying Adam caused sin to enter God’s perfect world, but didn’t use it to accuse humanity before the written code. Again, I say, What? Remember, Moses and the law came hundreds and hundreds of years later! That’s a long time to forgive sin patiently.
Bottom line, God has operated in grace and mercy since the beginning of time. He dealt with Adam and Eve in the same gracious and merciful way he treats us today.
Mercy was God’s immediate response to Adam’s disobedience, not judgement. Here’s what really happened after Adam disobeyed God. “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" (Gen. 3:22-23).
God didn’t kick Adam and Eve out of the garden because they sinned. He did it so they couldn’t eat from the tree of life and live forever in their sinful state. This is an act of mercy.
Can you imagine how terrible it would be to be trapped for eternity suffering the effects of disease, decay, trauma, sin? God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden in order to send another representative on humanity’s behalf to do what Adam didn’t, and Paul is setting the scene for this.
Over time, sin and corruption exploded and people mistook God’s forbearance with sin as His acceptance of it. So God gave the Law to remove any doubt about his standards.
The law brought the death Adam was warned about, because no one could fulfil all of it. Instead, it showed how sinful humanity has become. Before the law, God did not hold sin against humanity. The charge of sin came with the law. The law showed us our unrighteousness with the purpose of pointing us to Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:24). Paul calls Jesus the last Adam and says He’s a life-giving spirit (I Cor. 15:45).
This has huge implications. This one small verse gives us an amazing perspective into the merciful character of God. God has always operated in love and mercy from the moment that sin entered the picture until the moment Jesus died to pay for it. His goodness, love and mercy have triumphed since the beginning of time.
Did you ever consider there was a time when God didn’t hold sin against humanity?
What changed with how God interacted with humanity after the law was given?
What would have happened if Adam had first ate from the tree of life instead of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?
God will offer again the tree of life (Rev. 22:2). Describe what this makes you feel?
Original article published October 8, 2009.