Law and Sin and Sight

As a marvelous epilogue to the account of Jesus giving sight to a blind man, He tells some Pharisees (who have overheard Him speaking to the man who, after being called before them twice, would not tell them what they wanted to hear):

Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. ~ John 9:39-41

Then He tells them – and has to explain to them – a parable about the sheep and their shepherd and their gate.

But what does He mean, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains”?

I realize a lot of commentary has been written to the effect that Jesus is refuting their erroneous belief that sin led to the man’s blindness, a belief that His disciples were asking Him to clarify (John 9:1-6). I have no dispute with that. I just want to know if there’s more to it.

Was He also talking about the Pharisees’ attitude – that they felt they knew it all? His phrase is “you claim you can see.” Is there anything more absurd than someone who can’t see claiming that he can? Jesus even makes a dark joke about it on two occasions – in the sermon on the plain (Luke 6:39) and after upbraiding the Pharisees on their finicky insistence on conformance to the tiniest detail of the law (handwashing here, in Matthew 15:14). He uses that term “blind guides” against them two more times, according to Matthew’s gospel: once at the beginning of a good lambasting for their following the letter of the law with regard to swearing by the temple (and ignoring the spirit of it, Matthew 23:16) … then again a few verses later at the end of a lambasting about tithing tiny herbs mint, dill and cummin – while neglecting the payment of justice, mercy and faithfulness to God (Matthew 23:24). That’s followed by an even more preposterous joke, “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!”

They thought they knew it all, but they could not weigh out what really matters to God; instead, spending their energies and passions on legislating what God didn’t mean.

Now, to the first part of the original sentence quoted: “”If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin.”

What does that mean?

Does it also mean that if you were blind to the law (which you think you see and comprehend and can perfectly interpret by your legislation, commentary and clarifications) you would not be guilty of sin?

I ask, because that seems to be in harmony with what is said about law and sin by Paul’s powerful treatise on sin and the law to the Christians at Rome:

All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. ~ Romans 2:12

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. ~ Romans 3:20

… 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

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. ~ Romans 6:14

For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. ~ Romans 7:5

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. !~ Romans 7:24-25

Do you not get the picture from these verses that we are much better off without a mindset based on law; that God intended to replace law (not augment it!) for all time with grace through the gospel of His Son; that all the good we would do and all the evil we would shun would be motivated out of gratitude for what He did on the cross; that the good work we surrender to doing and the resistance to evil work are empowered by one and the same Spirit living within us and working through us?

Law has nothing to offer in comparison with grace. Why do we want to go back to that mindset of obeying a law rather than obeying a gospel? There’s all the difference in the world between them – the law was bad news for us and everyone before us; the gospel is by definition good news for all! We obey not because we are fear condemnation for our inescapable failure, but because we feel obligated by His act of ultimate, self-sacrificial love!

“If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin.”

“But sin is not taken into account where there is no law.”

Yes, it is true that where there is no law, there is lawlessness and injustice and God’s displeasure. Is that all these verses are saying? Is it only saying that people were aware of sin before the law; that awareness of it was in their genetic structure from the time the first couple ate from the wrong tree? Is it also saying that law has fulfilled its purpose when making people aware of sin, and it’s time for the next step – grace?

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. ~ Romans 8:1-4

So this new “law” – with very few commandments, and very many teachings and personal examples and requests and with blessings built into all of them – this gospel supersedes the “do this; don’t do that” mindset about every conceivable choice or situation or circumstance. It’s replaced with, “Be like Christ.” It’s succeeded by “Do unto others.” It’s matured by “Sacrifice self.” It’s perfected by “Do all to the glory of God.”

Why would anyone want to go back to being blind and yet claiming to see after being exposed to the glorious light of truth in that gospel?

I know that a Damascus-bound Paul didn’t see things that way.

I don’t believe Jesus expects us to, either.

2 thoughts on “Law and Sin and Sight

  1. Excellent thoughts.<>“…God intended to replace law (not augment it!) for all time with grace through the gospel of His Son”<>Christ Himself said he came, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Could that possibly mean to bring it to completion, to bring it to an end? At least, that’s always been my interpretation of it.

  2. That’s the way I see it, too – as if all creation could say after the cross and the empty tomb, “Hey! Somebody finally obeyed all of that old law – and more!“I guess it’s served its purpose.”

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