There is a cause for every effect. That is one of the profound truths taught by Herbert W. Armstrong. Deeply understanding this law is one of the lessons of the feast of Unleavened Bread.
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). This is a law! Whatever we sow, we will, eventually, reap. Whenever you are discouraged, there is a reason. Whatever the effect, there must be a cause.
We can sum up that cause in one three-letter word: sin.
We need to recognize how sin deprives us of joy—and how we can break free from it.
Why Sin Is Sin
Why does God classify some behaviors as right and others as wrong—sin? Did He arbitrarily decide that some things must be considered wrong? Did He pick some nice, tantalizing things to be sin, so that anyone caught doing them would be punished?
Is that how sin came to be sin? Is it only because God says so? No!
Sin is the transgression of God’s law (1 John 3:4). To understand why sin is wrong, we need to understand why God gave us His law.
God and the Word have always lived in perfect harmony, unity, full cooperation. They enjoy the abundant life, full of peace, joy, absolute contentment and true freedom. That way of life is what became the law.
Living that way of love is how we can enjoy the same lifestyle and benefits God does! Sin is the way that violates that lifestyle and, as a result, robs us of the joy and happiness we could have, causing instead, anxiety, stress, pain and suffering.
Consider the commandment forbidding adultery. Would committing adultery or fornicating be enjoyable in some way? Proverbs 9:13-17 describe a woman saying that adultery is “sweet and pleasant.” Hebrews 11:25 acknowledges that sin can be enjoyable “for a season.” That is why people engage in it: because it can be fun and pleasurable—for a while. No one denies that.
What makes it sin is that it is not God’s loving way, and it results in a terrible kickback! Proverbs 9:18 shows that the end is death. “Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel” (Proverbs 20:17).
What is the problem with fornication and adultery? Besides the risk of sexually transmitted disease, it hurts your mind! It robs you of the ability to enjoy sex as God intended. A man in the throes of adultery is no longer attracted to his wife. His marriage relationship, which is where true happiness can be found, loses its appeal and becomes dull. He then looks for more thrills outside the marriage and is never satisfied because his mind becomes more and more seared.
Slowly but surely, an adulterer or fornicator destroys the capacity of his mind to experience true joy in marriage. It leads to desensitization, then frustration, heartache, and ultimately death. That’s a hefty price to pay for the temporary, fleeting pleasure of sin.
Ephesians 4:17-19 describe people walking “in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” Illicit sex renders people “past feeling,” incapable of right emotions and feelings. It robs them of joy!
This is true of any sin. It robs you of pleasure and the exhilaration of living God’s way. That is why sin is wrong. There is nothing arbitrary about it. Sin is wrong because it will hurt you! The more you engage in sin, the more dulled your mind becomes so you cannot experience the lasting pleasures of a truly abundant life with no kickbacks.
God doesn’t want to deprive us of thrills and excitement. He gave us His law to tell us how to avoid damaging our minds and bodies, so we can experience a life full of joy and free from unnecessary pain and suffering. The law defines what sin is so we know what to do and what not to do, to avoid hurting our minds and bodies. Breaking that law—which is what “sin” is—will break us! It is automatic. It is cause and effect.
God’s law is not like mankind’s laws, which you may break and suffer no consequences for if you are not caught. Breaking God’s law always damages your mind and character whether you are caught or not!
Enslaved by Sin
Furthermore, each time you sin, it becomes a little easier to sin the next time—especially if you fail to repent toward God. Your mind can soon become hardened to a particular sin. You begin to deceive yourself into thinking that your particular sin might not be all that bad—after all, you did not get hit by lightning. You begin to think that doing it again is no big deal, and you become dulled and lulled into coexisting with your sin and never considering the devastating effect on your character! As the Apostle Paul warned, you can become “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
Are there sins in your life that you have become all too familiar with? Are you apathetic, lukewarm, lethargic toward your sins? Have you been dulled and lulled into accepting your sins? Are you deceived into thinking you don’t really have to conquer them?
That is why God tells us to flee fornication, flee idolatry, flee the love of money, flee youthful lusts; indeed, flee from all sin. He commands that we never even start down the path that hardens us to sin, which makes it much harder to repent, unwittingly addicts us to sin—and leads to sin overcoming us to the point that we become enslaved.
2 Peter 2:19 states, “whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved” (Revised Standard Version). When you yield to sin, you become its slave. You are not in control of your life. Instead, the sin controls you! It holds you in its clutches like a merciless taskmaster over a slave.
We often give in to a temptation for the excitement, the “high” of a temporary, deceitful, passing pleasure. Because that sensation doesn’t last, you find yourself wanting to do it again—and again—and again—until it overcomes you and enslaves you!
Studies have shown that addictions to drugs or alcohol, for example, actually cause physical changes in the brain. The addict thinks that the only way to continue pleasurable feelings and avoid increasingly terrible depression is to get another high, which makes the depression worse and motivates him to seek yet another high. This vicious cycle is all-encompassing until the sin strangles a person. Other sins have the same effect.
Are you sure you are not enslaved to something? Don’t be fooled. Some are addicted to alcohol, psychotropic drugs or other substances. Some are addicted to wrong types or amounts of food. Some are addicted to television, video games or the Internet. Some are prone to fits of rage, losing their temper, addicted to arguing. Some have a penchant to gossip or be sarcastic. A lot of teens are enslaved by the opinions of their peers.
Often we start down this path because we lack emotional maturity to deal with problems in our lives or to stand up for what’s right, and we turn to the “comfort” or “escape” of something more immediately pleasurable. But the problems worsen as we fail to deal with them, and we grow more deeply enslaved to sin.
Whatever prevents you from choosing to serve God with all your heart, mind, life and strength is your taskmaster. It is enslaving you.
God hates to see you enslaved! He wants you to be free from destructive addictions, free from selfish relationships that fall apart, free from depression, free from guilt, free from anxiety, free from lying to cover your tracks, free from worrying because you might be found out, free from all negativity.
God wants you to be free to enjoy a full, abundant life that you can live out in the open with nothing to hide—the same kind of life that He and Jesus Christ enjoy: a life filled with peace, joy, extraordinary and satisfying accomplishments. A life that is fully content. His law, which codifies the way Helives, shows us how to achieve that kind of life.
It is also well illustrated in the spring holy days, which are filled with practical lessons on how to implement that law.
The Lesson of Unleavened Bread
For the Days of Unleavened Bread, God commands that we purge all leaven from our homes (Exodus 13:7). But that is only half the command; the other half is that, for this seven-day observance, we are to instead eat unleavened bread(verses 6-10).
During these seven days, leaven represents sin, and unleaven represents the righteousness of God. “Therefore let us keep the feast,” the Apostle Paul wrote, speaking of the Days of Unleavened Bread, “not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:8).
The spiritual principle this illustrates is deeply important. After repentance and baptism, God commands us to keep His law—to spiritually deleaven our lives, just as He commands us to physically deleaven our homes. The act of eating unleavened bread teaches us that we must put out leaven, or sin, and put in the opposite way of life, God’s righteousness. It teaches us to obey God!
Sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). But there is an additional definition of sin that we also must understand to become completely unleavened.
“Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). These are sins of omission as opposed to sins of commission. Committing adultery or even lusting after a woman is commission of sin. But not doing something God commands is also a sin. And sins of omission also lead to unhappiness and discouragement and deprive us of joy and true freedom. Jesus Christ told people who believed on Him, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). If you omit doing the things Christ commands us to do, you sin. That causes us heartache and suffering too.
During this festival, we replace leavened bread with unleavened bread. The lesson: It’s not enough to avoid the spiritual leaven of sin; we also must seek, eat and digest “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” We cannot simply remove sin and avoid the sins of commission; we also need to fill our lives with righteousness and DO what God commands. Follow through with acts and deeds of righteousness. That is the lesson of the feast of Unleavened Bread!
Now, let’s return to the slavery analogy. When we are living in sin, we are enslaved to it spiritually just as surely as the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt. God wants to liberate us, just as He liberated the Israelites. But does that mean He just turns us loose to be “free” to wander in the wilderness?
Read carefully how Paul answered this question: “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:16-18; New King James Version).
The way to break free from the slavery of sin is to become a slave of righteousness!
The Spirit of the Law
God’s law, the expression of His way of life, is the way to escape terminal slavery to sin. It is summarized in the Ten Commandments, which God gave to the Israelites after He delivered them from Egypt. He introduces these commandments in Exodus 20:2 by saying, “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Keeping these commandments is the way out of slavery! That is why the Apostle James calls it “the law of liberty” (James 2:10-12; 1:25).
With the ancient Israelites, who lacked the Holy Spirit, God only expected physical obedience to the letter of the law. But true baptized New Testament Christians have God’s Holy Spirit. Developing the character of God to be born into His Family—a reward not offered to physical Israel—requires that we keep His commandments in their fullness!
This means we must learn to live the way of God’s law as He does—the way Christ did when He was a human being and set us the example.
Consider the First Commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before [besides, against] me” (Exodus 20:3). This commandment is straightforward: Our god is not Allah, Buddha or any other god that represents the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). Our God is the Creator God who reveals Himself in the Bible. However, renouncing all other gods and not following after them is not the fullness of this command for those who have God’s Spirit.
The fullness of this law is expressed in what Jesus Christ called “the first and great commandment,” revealed in Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (see Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30-33; Luke 10:27).
Keeping the First Commandment requires loving God wholeheartedly! We must love Him more than ourselves and more than our families (Luke 14:26), which is only possible with God’s Spirit. To keep the First Commandment in its spiritual fullness means God has to be the center of everything we do, and we can allow nothing and no one to pull us away from commitment, devotion and loyalty to God.
“No servant can serve two masters,” Jesus said, “for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13).
Look now at the Second Commandment: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of [God]” (Exodus 20:4). This specifically prohibits gods, goddesses and other figurines, but also crucifixes, paintings and other depictions that supposedly represent Jesus Christ.
Keeping this law in its fullness also means envisioning God’s great glory when we pray to Him each day. Revelation 1 reveals that God’s face beams like the sun in its full strength and His eyes are like flames of fire! We need to think about God’s glory and what He looks like when we pray because our minds and our bodies will be just like His very soon! (1 Corinthians 15:50-54; 1 John 3:2).
The Third Commandment is: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain …” (Exodus 20:7). This means more than simply not swearing or using euphemisms. “Take” literally means to “lift up” or “carry.” We must not carry God’s name in a futile or useless manner. In other words, don’t allow your actions to cause others to blaspheme, scorn or despise God’s name.
True Christians must always be a good example in our conduct toward all people so others will see God in us! To do anything less would be violating the fullness of this commandment. Not swearing or causing people to blaspheme God’s name is like avoiding the leaven of sin. But glorifying God’s name and causing people to praise God is like eating the unleavened bread of righteousness. Doing both is the secret to being free from the slavery of sin and becoming slaves of righteousness.
Fourth and Fifth Commandments
The Fourth Commandment is: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). Keeping this law by the letter means not working, shopping, doing household chores, playing sports, or consuming entertainment on the Sabbath. But fully keeping the Sabbath holy includes making the Sabbath a delight (Isaiah 58:13-14).
“God created the Sabbath by resting, and it refreshed Him,” Mr. Flurry states in The Epistles of Peter—A Living Hope. “He looked at His creation and at the human beings He had made in His image and likeness. He considered His master plan, and how those first six days of the re-creation were a type of the coming 6,000 years He would allot to mankind’s rule on Earth. Then He thought on that seventh thousand-year period, during which He will usher in His Kingdom and govern the world. He meditated deeply on that future—and the way He kept the Sabbath really inspired and encouraged Him! He was lifted up and refreshed! He looked back on His creation, and He looked forward to the time when He would be able to give all mankind rest from sin! …
“We must keep the Sabbath day this way—and look forward to the time when the whole world will be celebrating it. … Look back at the physical creation and God’s transcendent plan to re-create Himself in man, and look to that glorious future …. Proper Sabbath-keeping helps us think like God! We labor spiritually on the Sabbath to etch this vision into our minds. The Sabbath is a day for building hope!… Without the Sabbath, we are stuck in the present. With a proper Sabbath, we are refreshed like God, ready for the challenges of the coming week.” This is what it means to use God’s Holy Spirit to keep His Sabbath commandment in its fullness.
The Fifth Commandment is: “Honour thy father and thy mother …” (Exodus 20:12). This law cements government within a physical family, putting children under the authority of their parents. Learning how to honor an imperfect father teaches a young person how to honor his perfect Father in heaven!
There is a higher level to be concerned about too. Look at the beautiful attitude Elisha had toward his spiritual “father” Elijah (2 Kings 2:12). Timothy had a similar attitude toward the Apostle Paul, and Paul had a fatherly love for him and many others (e.g. 2 Timothy 1:2; 1 Corinthians 4:14-16).
This makes perfect sense when you realize that God reveals Himself as a Father, and He expects honor (Malachi 1:6). Jesus Christ continually showed that honor for His Father (e.g. John 14:28), and again, He is our greatest example. “When Christ returns, His top priority in this world will be to restore God’s government. His top priority today in the Church is to restore the Father’s family government. We have a duty to honor our Father,” Mr. Flurry explains. “Where are the people who honor God as a Father today? And at the same time honor Mr. Armstrong as a spiritual father?” (The God Family Vision).
The Bible also likens the Church to our spiritual mother. And notice: We are to have the same love toward those who are begotten by God as we do toward God (1 John 5:1). They are now members of God’s Family! When someone enters the God Family, the Father wants them to receive the same love He receives—to love them with all our heart, soul, strength and mind—more than we love ourselves!
What spiritual depth there is to these commandments of God! Keeping them leads to true freedom!
Love Your Neighbor
The Sixth Commandment is: “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). The letter of this law is easy to understand, and we may think this is a simple sin to avoid. But God has revealed that this includes not hating people (Matthew 5:21-22; 1 John 3:15; 4:20).
To keep the fullness of this commandment, true Christians using God’s Spirit must do even more. Romans 12:14, 17 command us, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them,” and “Repay no one evil for evil” (rsv). Jesus Christ said “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). It is extremely unlikely that you have killed someone. But how much are you laying down your life for God and His Church, which He uses to bless people with His message? Paul said “I die daily” in service to God! (1 Corinthians 15:31). That is what it means to keep this commandment to the full!
“Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). Putting the leaven of this sin out means not killing and not even hating anyone—but putting the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth into our very essence means laying down our lives for others. This is how to break free from the slavery of sin.
The Seventh Commandment is: “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). Adultery and fornication are terribly destructive and must be avoided. But what spiritual “unleavened bread” are we commanded to do instead?
God commands a man to cleave to his wife—for the two to become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:6-8). When husbands cleave to their wives and wives submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1), that cultivates unity, respect, trust and a deep, abiding love. You get all the thrills of physical sex plus the mental or spiritual bonding that adds to the thrill. This is unique to marriage. This is what God wants you to experience: the full joy of marriage and sex when you become “one flesh.” And as you keep that command, you are learning a type of what true Christians will become when we marry Christ. We will become one, spiritually—bonded together in perfect, joyous unity with our Husband (2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:7-9).
The Eighth Commandment is: “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15). This commandment forbids us from pocketing something at the store without paying for it, taking something out of someone’s yard, or hiding an accounting mistake at a bank or store that grants us money in error. But keeping the spirit of this commandment in full requires more.
It means also obeying Ephesians 4:28: “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” This verse encapsulates what it means to get out the spiritual leaven of stealing, and to put in the spiritual unleaven of getting a job, doing good work, and giving to those in need. This would include keeping God’s commands to be hospitable (Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9). But there is no better way to fulfill this aspect of God’s love than to support God’s Work—which aims to save as many physical and spiritual lives as possible—with generous tithes and offerings.
The Ninth Commandment is: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exodus 20:16). This specifically requires that our testimony be accurate and that we avoid slander, gossip and false accusations. God wants us to eradicate the spiritual leaven of lying. But what does God command us to do instead?
“Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. … Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:25, 29). It’s not enough to stop lying and be afraid to say anything. We need to learn to use our words to edify and encourage one another. If you have a problem with gossiping, you need to replace your speech with words that build others up, not tear them down. Put the sin out, but don’t neglect to bring the righteousness in.
The Tenth Commandment is: “Thou shalt not covet …” (Exodus 20:17). Covetousness is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). This takes us right back to the First Commandment and completes the “circle” of God’s way of life. The opposite of this last commandment summarizes God’s entire way of life, and that is to live the way of give, rather than the way of get.
Don’t lust for things you cannot or should not have. Instead, seek to give what you do have. This is one reason some of us are not enjoying the abundant life. We covet; we seek to get for ourselves instead of focusing on what we can give to others.
Remember, sin is what causes problems, pain, suffering and, ultimately, death. The more we sin, the more it hardens us and enslaves us. When sin is our taskmaster, we lose our freedom; we lose the opportunity to make choices. And making right choices is what building righteous character is all about. If we lose the power to choose because we have given sin a choke hold on us, then God cannot reproduce Himself—His character—in us.
Think of the problems in your life. If you lack joy, ask yourself, where are you breaking the perfect law of liberty? What are you doing that you should not do—and also, what are you omitting that you should do? Where do you need to turn to God for His miraculous power, and what actions must you take to do your part so God can break you free from what enslaves you?
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:7-10).
Put the leaven of sin out—and do good and bring in righteousness. Become a slave of righteousness, and God will set you free from the slavery of sin!