The knowledge of sin comes by the Law
Therefore, by the deeds of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the Law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20)
In Romans chapter 3, Paul discusses deeds or works of the law, and faith apart from works. Since we know from Romans 4:3 that Paul refers to the Scriptures in noting Abraham’s righteousness, as stated in Genesis 15:6, it would not be a stretch to imagine that Paul was working through the Scriptures in making his point in Romans 3. This would include his reading and studying of the Genesis 3 account of The Fall – that the knowing of good and evil was not so much to ignore God’s command to keep away from the Tree but also to avoid doing something with God’s law that makes it of no application to self; that is, to say things like, “I can handle this or do that, it’s not really a big deal; God will overlook this one.” I will acknowledge that disobedience was the matter, though taking matters into one’s own hands, and out of the Master’s, always leads to a matter of disobedience.
How does this relate to The Fall when the fruit was eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Were there laws, say, of nature, paradox, or reality which, in the absence of sin, simply defined supernatural living in the company of Creator God? If, and likely, so, they revolved around the one Law above all others: Do not disobey Me; or more positively stated, obey Me. As an example: When an ax head falls into the water, it will sink (II Kings 6:1-7). When God commands that it floats to the surface, the laws of nature yield to the Creator, that is, they obey, the ax head is recovered, and the day is saved… by God.
The wording of the Law yields to Jesus’ statement of the greatest command: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and will all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). When you love God like that, you will obey Him. This human-Divine relationship is then lived out eternally, as it started out in the beginning. God spoke and everything obeyed Him, and for a time, man obeyed Him, too. Sin was not known for God’s Law – obey Me – had not been called into question by any of His creation.
But when man called God’s Law into question by disobeying it, the Law revealed what was meant to be hidden: the knowledge of sin. The Law thus became the knowledge of sin, but not sin itself (Romans 7:7). Represented by a tree bearing fruit that was pleasant to see and to touch and to taste, this knowledge enlightened man to the extent with which they could get away with disregarding God’s Law. This was not what God wanted for His own people and for that God determined that His creation could not live. Thus, the Tree of Life, eternal life, was forbidden and the Garden was hidden.
I’m reminded of St. Augustine’s response as to why God created man in the first place:
“Whatever man does, he finds God worthy of praise in His deeds; if he acts rightly, he finds Him worthy of praise for the justice of His rewards; if he sins, he finds Him worthy of praise for the justice of His punishments; if he confesses his sins and returns to an upright manner of life, he finds Him worthy of praise for the mercy of His forgiveness. Why, then, should God not have made man, even though He foreknew that he would sin, seeing that He was to crown him if he stood firm, make him conform to the divine order if he sinned, and help him if he repented, being Himself at all times and in all places glorious in goodness, justice, and mercy?” (From De Catechizandis Rudibus 18.30)
And in his Confessions, he remarks:
“(W)ho else is it who calls us back from the death of all errors except the Life which does not know how to die and the Wisdom which gives light to minds that need it, although it itself has no need of light – by which the whole universe is governed, even to the fluttering leaves of the trees?”
And so, by the deeds of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the Law is the knowledge of sin. And the cross of Christ is the forgiveness of the blight.
Where there is no death, there is no sin:
One who cannot die is sinless;
One who dies to self is becoming sinless;
One who lives to die will never be sinless.