Spiritual and judicial laws both carry two factors. On the one hand, either law commands those things that one should or should not do; on the other hand, the law defines the magnitude of the punishment when the law is broken. Almost all judicial laws instruct us in what not to do—they hardly ever affirm an action. For example, drivers must obey speed limit signs, not speed encouragement signs. A speed limit sign restricts one’s speed to a certain velocity. It does not encourage someone to drive at the specified limit. Likewise, taxes are required, not mere suggestions. Furthermore, a judicial law makes a distinction between those laws that are misdemeanors and those that are felonies.

God’s law is similar in both senses. The Israelites were accustomed to hearing God’s law in a restrictive manner, and the Pharisees of the New Testament became quite good at extending such laws. Interestingly, many of the commands that Jesus spoke in His Sermon on the Mount were positive inversions of their negative counterparts. Jesus, of course, later summed all of these up with two affirmations (Matt 22:37-40; Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:27). Additionally, God’s law, like judicial law, defines the penalty for transgression—death (Romans 4:15). However, the difference between the two laws is, where judicial law has two classifications, God’s law does not. There is no such thing as lesser or greater (viz. misdemeanor or felony) sins. Any transgression of God’s law carries the same punishment.

Paul wrote that the law was introduced to increase the weight of the violation. We must come to grips with this fact. Our lawlessness (1 John 3:4) is no small matter; there is no such thing as a “tiny sin.” Without fully comprehending the magnitude of our sin, we would see very little need for a Savior. Stepping out of a shallow hole is no more difficult than stepping into it. However, one cannot simply “step out of” the depths of the Grand Canyon, and the chasm of our sin is much deeper. The law was given to us to show us a need for a Savior (Galatians 3:24)—it could never bring us life (Galatians 3:21).

Only after we understand the weight of our sin can we appreciate the counterweight of God’s grace. One depiction of justice is the scales held by the goddess Justitia (Lady Justice), who stands before many courthouses. The scales depict the weighing of evidence that must stand on its own. In a believer’s case before God, the scales are never balanced. God doesn’t simply match our sins. His grace far exceeds them. While our sins fill one side, God’s grace tips the scale to the other.

Our appreciation of God’s grace is directly proportionate to our comprehension of sin. To ignore sin is to devalue grace.