Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4)
Expanded Passage: 1 John 3:4–6
Many people have come across this old Latin adage, taken from Leviticus 5:17, in a courtroom: “Ignorantia juris non excusat.” It’s Latin for “Ignorance of the law excuses no one.” It makes any lawbreaker liable for prosecution, even if they do not know the law is being broken. The judge can pronounce his verdict and sentence any delinquent to the highest penalty.
In 1 John 3, the apostle John made an exciting wordplay with sin and law. The word sin here is translated by two Greek words: hamartía and anomía. The word hamartia is like losing at darts, when one misses the target or the goal. In the spiritual realm, it means violating or departing from God’s law. And the word anomía is composed of a, a prefix meaning lack, deprivation, and nomos, meaning law. In other words, sin (hamartía) is lawlessness (anomia). It speaks of the transgression of the law, of the condition of one who is without law and violating it because of his ignorance. John Wesley used this verse as a basis for his working definition of sin, stating, “Sin is the willful transgression of a known law of God.”
Violating the law voluntarily or involuntarily is not without consequences for the offender, even in situations of ignorance. Do you strive to know God’s law? When known, do you voluntarily, or even accidentally, break it?
Don’t let ignorance of God’s Word be an excuse for violating it.
Handy Calixte is the national director of Christian education for L’Église Wesleyenne d’Haïti. He is pursuing a master of divinity at Wesley Seminary and studying biblical Hebrew at Israel Institute of Biblical Studies.
© 2023 Wesleyan Publishing House. Reprinted from Light from the Word. Used by permission. Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®.