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Law and Sin

By R. J. Rushdoony
October 17, 2022

Chalcedon Report No. 158, October 1978

A question often raised by many people is this: why did not God so create man and the world that sin and evil would be unnecessary or impossible? This question exposes the heart of humanistic statism, because it reveals its doctrine of ideal order. The essence of original sin is man’s desire to be his own god, determining for himself what constitutes good and evil (Gen. 3:5). Man’s idea of good means, in part, to prevent the possibility of evil. Man seeks to spare himself and his children the necessity of moral testing. One of the great evils perpetrated by parents in the name of doing good is the attempt to spare their children from the hardships, testings, and decisions they themselves faced. As a result, they help destroy their children.

Biblical law deals with actual sins. The adulterous, covetous, or envi­ous thought is sin, but God’s law calls for the punishment by men of the actual act. It is punishment after the fact, not before. God requires the courts of men which He ordains to deal with actual transgression, not potential sins. God Himself can alone deal with the heart and mind of man, with intentions. Thus, the courts of law are strictly limited: their jurisdiction, and the state’s coercive power, extends to lawless actions, and not over godly men.

When the state begins to play god, it seeks to make men good by legisla­tion which seeks to prevent, not punish, sin. The state as god on earth seeks to make sin impossible to commit. It therefore punishes any intention, situ­ation, or organization which may transgress its doctrine of brotherhood, health, order, or society. It begins when, for example, the state’s surgeon general or some agency determines that smoking, drinking, breathing, or living may be hazardous to a man’s health, and then continues by denying man the right to do what the state feels it is wrong for man to do.

The result is that the state moves from government by God’s law to rule by agencies, committees, and departments of state. It moves from rule by law to rule by bureaucracy. Instead of punishment and control over the fact of crime, we have punishment and control before the fact. Instead of a small criminal element being the controlled segment of soci­ety, all of society is then controlled. To be uncontrolled, or to seek to be uncontrolled, is to be therefore criminal.

One of the most revealing aspects of the current investigations and trials of Christian schools and churches has been the attitude of state of­ficials, both in court, in the hallway, and in more private conversations. Like parents who seek to prevent their children from the testings of moral decision, these bureaucrats believe that the good state is the controlling state. For any segment of society to be uncontrolled is plainly evil in their eyes. In terms of their doctrine of righteousness, a thing is good or potentially good only if it is in the safekeeping of the state, and a thing is holy if it is separated from freedom under God to “freedom” under state rules and policies.

This means, of course, that the state is usurping God’s place and pre­rogatives. It is functioning as the visible god on earth, and it does not lack for worshippers (Rev. 13:4). It seeks by total controls to make sin and evil impossible (Rev. 13:16–17). It sees itself as superior to the godly state and to Biblical law, because it does not merely punish sin but instead by controls works to prevent all forms of transgressions. It fails miserably in this task, but it succeeds in making itself the great transgressor, and the enemy of God (Rev. 13:6).

Neither man nor the state has any legal rights or powers apart from God. God alone is the source of all law. A significant Biblical fact wit­nesses eloquently to this. To put off one’s shoe was to surrender a legal right and duty in relationship to another person (Deut. 25:9–10). In rela­tion to God, putting off one’s shoe meant to be totally without rights. As a result, when men were in God’s presence, they had no rights or claims against Him: they could only be commanded. God commanded Moses out of the burning bush, saying, “put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Exod. 3:5; cf. Josh. 5:15). Shoeless before God, man’s status was like that of a slave to be absolutely commanded by God. (Shoeless before men, a man had surren­dered his duty and place.) Man before God had God’s Word alone; man before men again must be governed by God’s Word alone. To depart from God’s Word is to be shoeless, i.e., a slave.

The choice before men today is a question of rulers. Will men be ruled by God or by the state? Will they stand in terms of God’s sovereign law-word, or in terms of man’s word, the state’s law? Shall the law pun­ish the ungodly, the criminals, or shall it enslave all men? To whom do you answer, “Speak; for thy servant heareth” (1 Sam. 3:10), to God or to the state?


Topics: Biblical Law, Government, Humanism, Justice, Socialism, Statism, Theology

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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