|From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase
Part three of a series. Read part two.
In order to be saved, a sinner must have a "knowledge of sin" that goes beyond mere intellectual knowledge. It must be an understanding of sin that spurs repentance towards God and faith in Christ.
In the second article of this series we saw that Romans 3:19-20 declares five undeniable facts about God's moral Law, and our relationship to it. In this age of global lawlessness we must understand them - and act upon them. Thus far we have examined four of them:
1. Every individual is subject to God's moral Law. Literally in the original language, to be "under the Law" means that we are "fenced in" by God's Law with no way of escape from its standard, or the penalty - eternal death - for violation of it.
2. Under that Law, every one of us is guilty before God.
3. Keeping the Law - even perfectly, were that possible - cannot save anyone, because we all bear a sin nature inherited from Adam that must be dealt with.
4. The primary purpose of God's Law is to show us His perfect holiness, our hopeless sinfulness.
As the Holy Spirit declares through Paul at the end of Romans 3:20, "By the Law is the knowledge of sin."
This is the final undeniable fact about the Law of God. But to understand it fully, we must understand what Scripture means by "the knowledge of sin."
Two Different Words for Knowledge
In the first article of this series I mentioned earlier that in Romans 3:19-20 we find two different Greek words that are both translated "knowledge". We encountered the first one at the beginning of verse 19 - "Now we know" meaning "we know absolutely." We know the following things, Paul says, with unassailable certainty, because God says them.
But then we come to a second and different word for knowledge at the end of verse 20. "For by the Law is the knowledge of sin." In the original this is a very significant word. There were several words for knowledge in the Greek. The word that is used most often in the New Testament is gnosis. It means "knowledge in a general sense." It is the word from which we derive English words such as the medical terms diagnosis and prognosis.
But then there is a different form of the word gnosis, a superlative form of the word. That is the word we find at the end of verse 20: "For by the Law is the knowledge of sin." The Greek word here is not gnosis but epignosis. Epignosis means full, accurate, and correct knowledge.
The word gnosis, general knowledge, speaks of intellectual knowledge. But it is not necessarily knowledge that affects or influences character. You can know things to be true, without that knowledge having any real effect on you. But epignosis - the kind of knowledge that Paul speaks of in verse 20 - is knowledge that has an impact.
The Purpose of God's Law
This is the purpose of the Law, Scripture is telling us: To give us an ever-deepening understanding of the sinfulness of our sin. The chief end of that knowledge is to bring sinners to the end of themselves and face to face with Christ. We who are sinners - every one of us - need to see our hopeless condition, flee to Christ, and say, "God be merciful to me a sinner."
This is why the church must never preach a half-way "gospel". Often in our circles we speak of a person coming to "a saving knowledge of Christ." That is an accurate way of describing what it means to be born again. But to truly have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, you must have a saving knowledge of sin - an understanding of sin that goes beyond mere intellectual knowledge. It must be the kind of knowledge that spurs repentance toward God and faith in Christ (Acts 20:21).
The knowledge of sin that comes through a proper understanding of God's Law is the kind of knowledge that causes you to understand the full weight of your sin problem.
The knowledge of sin that comes through a proper understanding of God's Law is the kind of knowledge that causes you to understand that you have no righteousness of your own - and, to understand that you can never hope to have a righteousness of your own.
The knowledge of sin that comes through a proper understanding of God's Law is the kind of knowledge that brings you to the point where you understand what Augustus Toplady in the great hymn, Rock of Ages, called "the double cure - save from wrath, and make me pure." To truly be saved is to believe that Christ provided that double cure. It is to say, "Yes, I need my sins forgiven through the blood of Christ. I need for my own sins - and my sinfulness in Adam - to be placed on Christ. I believe that my sins and my very sin nature were dealt with at the cross."
Sinners must receive the double cure. As Toplady continued in his great hymn,
Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfill Thy Law's demands.
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone.
Thou must save, and thou alone.
Dear reader, you need the Law-keeping righteousness of Christ, because that is the only Law-keeping righteousness that exists. It is the only righteousness that can save, the only righteousness in which you can stand, un-condemned, at the Day of Judgment. As we read in another great hymn of the faith,
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed
With joy shall I lift up my head.
Bold shall I stand in Thy great day,
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved through these I am,
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.
Knowledge That Produces Sanctification
And yet there is more. The knowledge of sin, that deepening acquaintance with the sinfulness and pervasiveness of sin - that epignosis knowledge of sin - shows us our need of sanctification. It shows us that we need to be made more like Christ.
We see this in the experience of the Apostle Paul himself. What does he say over in Romans chapter 7? "I would not have known sin, except through the Law." He says,
For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the Law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. (Romans 7:15-19)
And so at verse 24 he cries out,
O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!
And then he goes on in Romans chapter 8 to speak of the great privilege that is ours because of Christ. We now have the Spirit of God living within us, and it is the work of the Spirit to conform us to the image of Christ, so that we will walk in the Spirit, and not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.
A deepening knowledge of the sinfulness of sin must characterize the life of every believer, because it is only as we grow in our understanding of the surpassing sinfulness of sin that we can grow in our understanding of the surpassing righteousness of Christ, and what it means therefore to walk in the Spirit, and to bear the fruits of the Spirit, and not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.
Next: God's Cure for Lawlessness
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