Earlier Studies –
- Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section One – Authority, Revelation, and Scripture
- Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Two – Theology Proper
- Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Three – The Decrees of God
Listen to the audio for this lesson here.
Q.17: What is sin?
A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God. 1
11 John 3:4
Taking into consideration the fact that sin entered the world through our first parents, we now have set for us a scene, but with little doctrinal framework in which to couch it. We have seen that Adam and Eve were made upright and with volition, but that they used their free choice to sin against God. They sinned both against the righteousness with which He had endowed them and against the positive command He gave them when He placed them in the garden: not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
In these deeds they sinned. They demonstrated want of conformity unto God’s law and, further, they transgressed His law. They not only deviated from the uprightness in which they were created; they also willingly rebelled against God’s command. This was the nature of the sin of our first parents, and it is the persistent nature of sin to this day. All sins fall into these two categories. They are either want of conformity to God’s law or an active transgression of it.
“We may commit sin either by doing what we ought not to do, or by not doing what it is our duty to do. We may become guilty either by commission or omission. Want of conformity here means sins of omission, and transgression means the commission of actual deeds of sin. This two-edged definition is admirably observed and illustrated in the analysis of the Ten Commandments given in the practical parts of the Catechism. Under each commandment it is asked, What is required? and, What is forbidden? In other words, What is ‘conformity’ here? and what is ‘transgression’?” (Alexander Whyte, An Exposition on the Shorter Catechism, pg. 55).
When we arrive at our study of the Ten Commandments, then, it will be appropriate for us to consider anew this question and its answer as they relate to each commandment. For now, though, we will consider how they help us understand our sin more generally. We will consider them in two parts. First, we will consider how sin is any want of conformity unto God’s law and, second, we will consider how sin is transgression of God’s law.
Want of Conformity unto God’s Law
It has well be noted that men do are not sinners because they sin, but we sin because we are sinners. We have it within our nature to sin. There is a natural bent in man that turns him from the womb from God toward sin. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me,” (Ps. 51:5; NKJV). All men are corrupt from birth, and naturally bent toward corruption. As a result, even our reason is fallen. Every faculty of our being is now enslaved to sin such that we now sin even without oftentimes thinking about it.
This is because our very nature is to sin. We are sinful beings. We are naturally aligned with the ways of the world and not with the ways of God. We have the work of God’s law written on our hearts, but our inclination is against it. Our natural inclination is against His law, because our natural inclination is against Him. This is the state into which Adam’s sin has cast us. Sin is such a part of our nature now that the natural man can fool himself into believing that no such phenomena as sin exists. This is the dilemma in which the natural man finds himself. He is so blinded by sin that he is blinded to sin. He is so immersed in it that he can easily forget it even is. Sin has become to him like a part of the backdrop, something that is always there, but never deserving of much consideration.
Nevertheless, it is always there. Man cannot escape the reality of sin; he can only suppress it in his unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Man’s sin is just that overpowering. It can poison the mind of man to the point that he suppresses the very reality of it. It is under the influence, then, of sin that man suppresses truth—in this case, the truth about sin. Nevertheless, it is always there.
“Sin is one of the saddest but also one of the most common phenomena of human life. It is a part of the common experience of mankind, and therefore forces itself upon the attention of those who do not deliberately close their eyes to the realities of human life,” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pg. 227).
Sin is so deceptive that, even when men think they are committing righteous deeds, they only further defile themselves, having done them with sinful motives from sinful hearts. We are so deceived that we can convince ourselves, in our sin, that we will stand before God on the day of judgment and be accepted on account of our own righteous deeds. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
God sees all things, even the thoughts of man. “The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are a mere breath,” (Ps. 94:11; NASB), and, “Then the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and He said to me, ‘Say, ‘Thus says the Lord, ‘So you think, house of Israel, for I know your thoughts,’’’” (Ezek. 11:5; NASB). Nothing can be hidden from God. How foolish is the man, then, who thinks he will stand before Him on judgment day and be accepted on account of the deeds he has done in the flesh? If his iniquities are laid bear on that day, how will he stand (Ps. 130:3)? It is because he has, in his sin, deceived himself into believing that his sin is of little consequence. Perhaps he has even deceived himself into believing himself to be righteous.
“Sin is not only a defection, but a pollution. It is to the soul as rust is to gold, as a stain is to beauty. It makes the soul red with guilt, and black with filth. Sin in Scripture is compared to a ‘menstruous cloth.’ Isa. 30:22, and to a ‘plague-sore.’ 1 Kings 8:38,” (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, Q-14.2.II.).
All of this to say that, even in our thinking that we have not sinned, there is great sin to be found. The man that thinks he has not sinned is the man who has not truly assessed his condition before an infinitely holy and righteous God. In fact, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us,” (1Jn. 1:8; NASB). Thus, even the sins we do not know that we commit do not fail to be discovered because of a neutral imperceptivity on our part. We fail to discover our sins of omission, because we choose not to root out and destroy them. As such, they are no better than sins of commission, but actually compounded by our negation of duty to mortify them.
Transgression of God’s Law
Not only is sin found in the want of conformity to the law of God, but also in the willing transgression of it. We not only have deviated from the proper path, but we have run roughshod through the safety rails and into enemy territory. We not only know Lord’s requirements of us and have not met them, but know what He forbids and have engaged in it.
In sinning against God in this manner, men demonstrate themselves to be of their father the devil. Thomas Watson well wrote: “It fetches its pedigree from hell; sin is of the devil. ‘He that committeth sin is of the devil.’ 1 John 3:8. Satan was the first actor of sin, and the first tempter to sin. Sin is the devil’s first-born,” (Ibid., Q-14.2.I). When we transgress the law, we play the part first played by the devil. We dress up and rehearse the lines, walk out on stage and find our mark. We wait for the curtain to rise and, as it does, we assume the very persona of the devil himself as we look out into a dark auditorium to see the only face we can make out: our beaten and bloody Savior. The Savior we kissed. The Savior we betrayed. And yet the show must go on. So we play the part.
As we consider the devilishness of sin, and the love of our on-looking Savior, we ought to recognize another great evil in our sin. When we sin, we spurn the One who has given us all good things. “God feeds the sinner, keeps off evils from him, bemiracles him with mercy; but the sinner not only forgets God’s mercies, but abuses them,” (Ibid., Q-14.2.II.). Truly, our transgression are a trampling underfoot of Gods great kindness toward us.
Perhaps the greatest kindness God has done toward us, besides the sacrifice of His Son on the cross for our sins, is the giving of His Holy Spirit to indwell us. When the Christian sins, he goes even further than merely sinning against the God who blesses him. He also is said to grieve the God who indwells him (Eph. 4:30).
“Sin is said to grieve the Spirit; because it is an injury offered to the Spirit, and he takes it unkindly, and, as it were, lays it to heart. And is it not much thus to grieve the Spirit? The Holy Ghost descended in the likeness of a dove; and sin makes this blessed dove mourn. Were it only an angel, we should not grieve him, much less the Spirit of God. Is it not sad to grieve our Comforter?” (Ibid. Q-14.2.II.).
Our transgressions, our commission of sins against our Creator, truly are of a greater quality of evil than we give them credit. When we do not think them of great significance, we demonstrate just how truly sinful we are. The world would say that we are desensitized to our sins. We know, though, that the reality is that we are self-deceived. A desensitized person can scarcely be made sensitive again to the thing he has regularly exposed himself. At a single touch of the hand of God, though, a heart of stone is made flesh (Ezek. 11:19-20).
Sin has truly made men sick. It has weakened us, caused us to be rebels against our King, deceived us, and brought us to deceive ourselves. Sin is the great ruin of mankind, because it robs us of conformity to God and moves us to the point of transgressing His law. Sin is the condition in which we live, and breath, and have our being. For those of us who are in Christ, we have been freed from it, but we must still live in the environment of it and under the influence of it. However, our senses have been awakened to it. It has gone from being a sweet aroma of life to being a foul stench of death in our nostrils. We are ever in the presence of it, but thanks be to God that it stands for us as a reminder of His mercy and not our condemnation.
“It is this state of affairs that lies behind and makes necessary the work of Jesus Christ. This creation/fall background is the Bible’s context for the work of Christ on the cross. To deny either man’s original state of integrity or his self-willed fall into the state of corruption and misery is to rob the cross of the only context in which it has any meaning,” (Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, pg. 457).