Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Four – Our First Parents, Sin, and the Fall (Q.22)

Earlier Studies –

Listen to the audio for this lesson here.

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Q.22: What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?

A. All mankind by their fall lost communion with God,1 are under His wrath and curse,2 and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell for ever.3

1Genesis 3:8, 10, 24

2Ephesians 2:2-3; Galatians 3:10

3Lamentations 3:39; Romans 6:23; Matthew 25:41, 46

The catechism teaches that there are two prime aspects of man’s estate after the fall. Our estate is marked by both sin and misery. In our last lesson, we considered the sinfulness of our estate. In this lesson, we shall consider the misery of it. The Catechism delineates into three particularly miserable results of man’s fall: our loss of communion with God, our standing under His wrath and curse, and our subjection to the miseries of this life, death, and hell.

Loss of communion with God. Let us begin with a consideration of our loss of communion with God. The first instance we see in Scripture of man having lost communion with God is all the way back in the temple garden. First, we see the man and his wife hiding themselves in their shame from the presence of God, as a result of their sin against Him. The work of the law written on their hearts (Rom. 2:15; cf. Eccl. 7:29) moved them to shame, and they could not bear to be seen by Him in their disobedience.

Second, we find that God took their predicament even further. He not only created them with a conscience that bore witness to their sinfulness, but He cast them out of the garden of Eden—His very presence—and barred them from ever entering again. “So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life,” (Genesis 3:24; NASB). The way into the holy of holies, the innermost room of the temple of Israel, was also barred to all men. Only the high priest could enter it once a year to make intercession on behalf of the people of Israel (Heb. 9:6-7).

This is the predicament in which we find ourselves as well. We are each born at enmity with God (Rom. 8:7), our communion with Him having been broken through the sin of Adam our first high priest. We know that we are sinners, and the shame of that sin drives us from the presence of God in fear and dread of discovery. Furthermore, God has cast us out from His presence, and has barred the way to eternal life (Eph. 2:3).

Under God’s wrath and curse. We are barred from eternal life, children of wrath, because we are born under God’s wrath and curse. This is the second result of the fall brought to our attention by the Catechism in order to helps us understand the misery of man’s estate after Adam. We are not merely ashamed, nor are we merely cast out of God’s presence and barred from entering it anew. We are actually His enemies, hostile in mind toward Him and He toward us.

It has long been claimed, “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.” R.C. Sproul, in a lecture that recently aired on Renewing Your Mind, stated in response, “He doesn’t send the sin to hell; He sends the sinner.” We must recognize this fact of man’s existence outside of Christ. Man, by virtue of his sin against an eternally, infinitely, immutably holy and righteous God, is under the wrath of God until he comes to Christ.

When Paul writes in Ephesians 2 that men are “children of wrath,” He does not mean that we are experiencing the wrath of God. What he means is that men are born with the certain expectation of God’s wrath, until such a time as they turn from their sins toward God and place their full trust and allegiance in Christ alone for salvation. They are born on a trajectory, in other words, toward the wrath of God that awaits all who are found to be stained by the world, the flesh, and the devil.

We are not merely born under the terrible expectation of His wrath, though. We are also born under the curse of the Law. “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them,’” (Galatians 3:10; NASB). Who though are under the works of the Law? In Romans, Paul makes clear who have the work of the law written on their hearts:

14For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them . . . 9What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one,’” (Rom. 2:14-15; 3:9-10; NASB).

So—whether Jew or Gentile, whether those who are born under the Law of Moses or those who instinctively do the things of the Law—all who are born in Adam are born under the curse of the Law. We have each received his curse. Sinning as we do, we each also have earned the curse. Let all who are outside of Christ, then, own it. Let them come under the great weight of this curse and the dread of impending divine wrath that they may see their need of Christ.

Subject to miseries, death, and hell. This list given us in the Catechism follows a natural progression. As a result of man’s broken communion with God and the resulting enmity with Him, the wrath that now awaits him in his sin, and the curse under which He finds himself, he now finds himself subject to the miseries of this life, to death, and to an eternity of torment in hell. The consequences of the fall, then, are exhaustibly thorough. They fall upon the unregenerate both in this life and, if he does not bow the knee to Christ in this life, in the life to come.

Regarding the miseries of this life, these are a universal reality. A murderer may repent of her sins and come to Christ on death row. However, she will still be subject to the consequences of past actions. The same is true for all who sin before Christ. There are myriad expected and unexpected consequences for the sins we commit in the flesh. This is all the more reason parents should fervently pray for the salvation of their children at an early age. A deathbed conversion, be it genuine, is surely sufficient for the salvation of our children, but a deathbed conversion is of no guarantee. Many have gone to their deathbeds after telling themselves for years that they will one day repent and believe on Christ only to find that, in their final hours, their hearts had so hardened to the gospel that they could not bow the knee as they had supposed they would be able. Beyond the uncertainty of deathbed repentance is the certainty of compounding miseries that accompany the unrepentant life. Best that they follow Christ from their youth and be spared such miseries than, being strapped with a lifetime or regret and shame, to barely eek out a mustard seed of faith.

Regarding our looming death, we have all heard the statistic, “One out of one person dies.” None of us can expect to be granted the unique dispensations granted to Enoch or Elijah, being taken up without ever experiencing death. Unless Christ returns during our generation, we will each go to sleep with the saints who preceded us. Our deaths are yet another consequence of sin that cannot be avoided, even with repentance. Paul refers to it as the very wage of death: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 6:23; NASB).

Death is not presented in Scripture as an event to be celebrated, as some denominations teach today. Death is a result of the fall, and it is a terrible rending of a soul from its eternal home. Paul refers to the state of man from the point of death to the final resurrection as a kind of nakedness and destruction of our earthly home (2Cor. 5:1-4). However, for those who are in Christ, there is a consolation. “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord,” (2Cor. 5:8; NKJV).

The concept of hell should not be treated lightly. Those who find themselves outside of Christ on the day of judgment should not expect that they will be removed from the presence—that is the present activity—of God for all of eternity. God is omnipresent (everywhere present), which means that He is present also in hell. What will be removed from the unrepentant in eternity is God’s loving, forbearing, providential kindness and grace. What they will receive instead is only His justice and wrath poured out upon them for all of eternity.

In Scripture, hell is described as outer darkness (Mt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30), a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt. 8:12; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Lk. 13:28), a lake of fire (Rev. 20:10, 14-15), an eternal fire reserved for the devil and his angels (Mt. 25:41), a place of eternal punishment (Mt. 25:46), etc. Hell is the ultimate, just consequence of any and all sin committed against an infinitely holy, incomparably worthy King, Master, Creator, and Sustainer. None among the descendants of Adam can stand and claim, on his own merit, the right to be exempt from this dreadful destination. It is our just reward for the sin we have committed, no matter how small, because the One against Whom we have sinned is deserving of nothing less than perfect obedience from us.

In closing, we must be careful not to press this point as the point of greatest concern in evangelism. Christ does not bid men to come to Him out of a dread of consequences. Our sin, misery, death, and future wrath are not sufficient to move us to godly sorrow over our sin. What is required is a godly sorrow (2Cor. 7:8-11) that can only be worked in us by an equal measure of the good news of Christ.

“Worldly sorrow is sad because people know about your sin. Godly sorrow is sad because God knows about your sin. Worldly sorrow is sad because of a disrupted relationship with a spouse, kids, or others. Godly sorrow is sad because of a disrupted relationship with God,” (Heath Lambert, Finally Free, pg. 38).

Yes, we must know our present condition in order to understand the goodness of the good news. Yet, it is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16), and it is the kindness of God that leads men to repentance (Rom. 2:4). If the Lord wills, we will explore this great and glorious gospel in future lessons.

Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Four – Our First Parents, Sin, and the Fall (Q.20-21)

Earlier Studies –

Listen to the audio for this lessons here and here.

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Q.20: Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?

A. The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.1

1Romans 5:12

 

As we have already mentioned the fall of mankind, which affects us all, has plunged us into an estate of sin and misery. We have mentioned it at great length in the past. Today, we will begin to consider just what that means. Initially, we must consider the fact that, sin entering into the world through one man, all men sin. Correlatively, death entered through that sin and, therefore, death has spread to all men.

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned,” (Romans 5:12; NASB).

As a result, the world we inherit from Adam is a world that is mired in sin and its effects. In this lesson and the next, we will consider just what that means. What does it mean that the world is mired in sin, and what does it mean that the world has succumb to its effects?

 

Q.21: Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?

A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.1

1Romans 5:12, to the end; Ephesians 2:1-3; James 1:14-15; Matthew 15:19

 

In coming to understand the sinfulness and misery of our inherited estate, we come most clearly to the point of understanding our need for the gospel. Thus, we come to one of the most foundational affirmations of the Christian religion in the subject matter we here observe. For lack of understanding these truths, many a man and woman have not come to a vivid enough understanding of their need for Christ. For all of the imagined light in their interpretation of themselves and this present evil age, they have neglected the one true Light that might have led to their salvation.

Adam’s guilt. We must begin with the guilt of Adam, because his guilt is binding on all of his progeny. This is a very difficult truth to even consider. We balk against such a notion who were born into Western societies where individualism is the ruling philosophy. We do not easily think in terms of monarchs and representative heads. What we do is what we do, and that is distinct from everyone else with whom we share this land. If our nation commits an atrocity, we turn on it, and we seek to stand apart from it with the world in condemnation of it. We do not readily accept guilt alongside the nation to which we belong.

Adam did not merely serve as our first father. He also served as our first prophet, priest, and king. It was through him that Eve and their children were to receive the word of God as prophet. It was on their behalf that he was to intercede as priest. It was over them that he was to rule as a benevolent king. When we consider our relationship to Adam through these offices, we understand the stark reality that his sin falls upon us as well. We have a prophet who failed in his duty to convey the statutes of God. We have a priest who is no longer granted access into the presence of God to offer intercession on behalf of the people. We have a king who has plunged his kingdom into a war with none other than the Almighty, the Lord of Hosts! Ceremonially and civilly, we stand condemned in Adam’s guilt.

“The bond between Adam and his posterity is twofold: natural, as he is a father and we are his children; and political and forensic, as he was the prince and representative head of the whole human race,” (Alexander Whyte, An Exposition on the Shorter Catechism, pg. 61).

We may think it unjust that we are so treated, but who are we to respond to the Maker (Rom. 9:20)? We may think it unfair to be represented in such a way by a covenant head, but such a view of fairness would have us all stand in our own sins before the Judge of the world. Fairness, in this sense, would mean hell for us all. Since God did ordain that we should be represented by covenant heads, we now have a perfect Prophet, Priest, and King to stand in our stead. In Christ, we have a Prophet who speaks perfectly the oracles of God. We have a Priest who ever lives to intercede for us. We have a King who rules our hearts and our minds with longsuffering, and lovingkindness.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that our first federal head did sin, and we inherited his guilt. “So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men,” (Rom. 5:18; NASB). Were we only condemned because of our actual sin and not any sin imputed to us, we could only be saved by virtue of actual righteousness and could not trust in any imputed righteousness.

Original sin. Not only have we inherited Adam’s sin guilt, but we have inherited his sin nature. This is what theologians call original sin. As a result of Adam’s sin, all who proceed from him by natural generation are born in sin. That is to say that we are born enslaved to sin. At the same time, it means that we are born with a complete lack of any original righteousness. In this sense, we are not wholly unlike Adam in his original estate, but neither are we wholly like him.

Adam was made with the ability to choose both good or evil. That is the first estate of man. After the fall, we are all born with only the ability to choose evil. There is no amount of good that we may attempt that is not in some way tainted with sin. The extent of original sin is such that it affects the entirety of our beings.

Thomas Watson specifies several facets of our being that are brought under the sway of original sin. He lists our intellect, our heart, our will, and our affections. By intellect, he means to say that we cannot think properly about God since the fall. “The mind is darkened, we know little of God. Ever since Adam did eat of the tree of knowledge, and his eyes were opened, we lost our eyesight,” (A Body of Divinity). Thus, even our humility of mind is mixed with a certain measure of pride, our sound theology mixed with unsound, and our mental assent to the things of God mixed with some doubt. Our suppression of truth stems from our unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18).

Our heart is also under its sway. As Watson observes, “In the heart are legions of lusts, obdurateness, infidelity, hypocrisy, sinful estuations; it boils as the sea with passion and revenge,” (A Body of Divinity). In Adam, our hearts are wholly given over to the passions of this life (Mt. 15:19). They are bound in every way to the sin nature they inherited from our first parents and are restrained only by the grace of God and His sovereign purposes. We often stand in great judgment over the evils we have seen perpetrated, even in our time. We look upon a genocidal dictator, a serial killer, a school shooter, or a rapist, and we think it in some measure appropriate for us to believer ourselves to be better than them. Only by the grace of God, though, do we find that we are not worse than them. Our heart has within it all the original sin necessary to drive us to even worse forms of depravity.

What of the will of man? Much is made in our day about the freedom of the will. Surely, our wills are not under the sway of sin. On the contrary, our wills are wholly enslaved to our original sin nature. “There is rooted enmity in the will against holiness; it is like an iron sinew, it refuses to bend to God. Where is then the freedom of the will, when it is so full not only of indisposition, but opposition to what is spiritual?” (A Body of Divinity). We tend to think of the will as something that needs to be broken or, at best, shaped according to right tendencies. A great deal can be done toward this end, especially by parents. However, sin holds so much sway over our children that only God is ultimately capable of enlivening it and inclining it toward Him (1Kgs. 8:57-58). Thus, peppered throughout all of our dealings with men, women, and children to turn their wills toward God must be our prayers for God to act to bring about the desired result.

What of the affections, though. Can we not stir the affections of man such that he inclines toward God? No. Watson compares the affections of man to a violin whose strings have been allowed to lay dormant and are thus out of tune (A Body of Divinity). The whole of our affections were designed from the beginning to be set upon God. Instead, they have come to be inclined toward His good gifts, thus making them into little god-substitutes. Such is the idolatry of man’s heart. It is not merely seated in our lack of proper affection toward our Creator, but also in our improper affections toward His creation (Rom. 1:25).

We are enslaved to the sin we inherit from Adam, but we are also found to be spiritually dead in it. Adam might have initially had occasion to breathe a sigh of relief when he saw that he did not immediately die a physical death after eating the forbidden fruit. The day that he did eat of it, however, he did surely die. He died spiritually and was found to be dead in his trespasses and sins. Thus, all of his posterity finds themselves in the same predicament. We are all spiritually stillborn. That is, we are born spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-3).

Actual sin. Such being our nature, we still have the matter of our actual sins. The term actual as it is used in the The Baptist Catechism does not mean what it might mean in our day. The Catechism isn’t saying that there are fake sins and real sins, and only those sins that we commit outwardly are real sins. Rather, the word is being used in its classical sense. It is speaking of our acts of sin. Those sins that we commit, whether by omission or commission that are rightly ours and for which men will give an account on judgment day.

On that day, none of us will be able to stand and pass blame on to Adam for the sins we have committed. We cannot choose otherwise, but we do not choose against our will. It is a desire we inherit, but it is nonetheless our desire. When we are carried away and enticed by lust, it is our own lust. “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death,” (James 1:14-15; NASB).

We must nevertheless understand the original sin from which this actual sin stems. How else will we discover the cure for it? When a poisonous substance is found to flow in a stream, the poison must be traced back upstream to its source so that it can be eradicated. Sadly, the source of original sin cannot be eradicated in this life. It is lodged immovably in the rocks of man’s soul, and will continue to affect all of our proceedings. An ever deepening awareness of it, though, can aid us in subduing and mortifying it. Original sin may taint all that we do, but we war against it nonetheless and daily, through the work of the Holy Spirit, see victory over it.

We will never be perfect in this life. The idea that man can be perfect in this life has been a plague on the Western church for the better part of three centuries. There is no such doctrine to be found in the Bible. “The truth is, an unspeakable torture and wretchedness, because of indwelling and ineradicable sin, has always been a mark of the presence of a deep and evangelical work of grace in the soul,” (Whyte, An Exposition, pg. 64). So take heart, Christian, if you find yourself to be a great sinner; so did Paul (1Tim. 1:15). Acknowledging the enemy is the first step in waging war against him.

Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Four – Our First Parents, Sin, and the Fall (Q.18)

Earlier Studies –

Listen to the audio for this lesson here.

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Q.18: What was the sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created?

A. The sin whereby our parents fell from the estate wherein they were created, was their eating the forbidden fruit.1

1Genesis 3:6, 12

Today, we arrive at the actual deed of our first parents, the deed that led to their descendance into an estate of sin and misery and ours. On the surface, there does not appear to be very much here. It seems fairly forthright. Their sin was that of eating the forbidden fruit. Let’s move on, right?

It is important, though, that we pause and consider the nature of this act and what it has to teach us about our own sin today.

Satan. Let us begin by considering the tempter himself. What do we know about Satan from other passages of Scripture that also bear true in this one? First, we should consider the fact that Satan was a guardian cherub (Ezek. 28:11-18). He was placed in the garden of God and was more beautiful than all the other angels of God, and yet unrighteousness was found in him. His unrighteousness was found in his desire to usurp God and assume a higher throne (Isa. 14:12-17). In attempting this coup, Satan and all his angelic companions secured their eternal fate.

Satan would be cast from the blessed presence of God, just as our first parents would later be. His ability to attack God Himself had proven impotent. However, he saw for himself yet another opportunity at the creation of man: the finite, temporal, mutable image of God. An attack on God Himself had proven pointless, so an attack on His image would suffice.

The second thing we note is the fact that Satan came as a serpent (Gen. 3:1). Now we must not think of the serpent as some ugly, green, slimy thing. This was likely not the case. The serpent was not likely even foreboding. The woman certainly did not fear to talk with it. She spoke with it, as Balaam’s donkey spoke to him. How though, in God’s garden, did Satan find ability to possess an animal and tempt our first parents to fall from their holy and happy estate? You may have missed it when we studied Question 16, but Boyce takes this temptation of Satan to be a clear test from God.

“[God] had the right to test man at his will, and thus testing, to leave him to himself, without constraint to the contrary, to choose as he might see fit. This he did, and man fell; but his fall was not due to the lack of any natural perfection,” (Boyce, Abstract, pg. 217).

Satan’s temptation of man was just that: Satan’s temptation. However, it is not as though God was removed from the equation at all. He had made man upright and perfect, but He made him with volition. Having been so made, God also purposed to test the man. He did so, not by forcing the hand of Satan, but by enabling him in his natural unrighteousness to tempt the man in a manner suitable to God’s purposes.

We ought not look upon God’s sovereignty over this event and find fault with Him, though. God does ordain all things whatsoever come to pass, even our temptations, but He is not the author of sin. He Himself tempts no one (Jas. 1:13-15). Furthermore, He does not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can handle, but always provides a way of escape (1Cor. 10:13). Our first parents were made upright and were not forced into their sin. They had a choice, and they chose sin. They were tested, and they failed miserably.

Third, we note the method of Satan’s temptation. He disguised himself by possessing another vessel, a vessel perhaps less suspect. This method is in keeping with everything we know about Satan. He does not show up with horns and a pitchfork declaring, “Satan has arrived!” Rather, we are told that he often uses other vessels and in so doing disguises himself as an angel of light.

12But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. 13For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 15Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works,” (2Cor. 11:12-15; NKJV).

Fourth, our Lord refers to Satan as a murderer. “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him,” (John 8:44b; NKJV). Satan, in luring our first parents into this sin murdered them and all of their progeny. This one act was the greatest of all murderous acts ever committed.

The nature of our first parents’ temptation. When considering the temptation of Adam and Eve, we must pause to consider the nature of it. This temptation had less to do with the object or the culprit providing the temptation. Our temptations are never primarily external. The fall of man was not primarily external. We transgress the law and come to lack conformity to it as a result of allowing our hearts and minds to incline away from the revealed will of God.

Let us recall that Adam and Eve did not merely have general revelation at this point. They had been given direct, special revelation. The Lord told them not to eat of the tree. Had their sin been such that they only sinned against the light of nature, they would still have been cast out, but they had received direct, special revelation from God Himself, and still disobeyed. In A Body of Divinity, Thomas Watson theorizes that the fall must have happened on the very day that Adam and Eve were created, and he supports his theory with several proofs. Were this the case, the verbal command of God would be fresh on their minds. What could have facilitated such blatant rebellion?

The apostle John gives us three elements that are common among the temptations of this world, and all of them point to the human heart. “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world,” (1Jn. 2:16; NKJV). Theologians have long noted that all three of these elements were present in the temptation of Eve.

We’re told that the woman saw that the tree was good for food. That is to say that her flesh yearned for it. She had an abundance of other fruit of which she and the man were permitted to eat in this vast, glorious garden, including the Tree of Life! Yet, her flesh was drawn to this tree, the forbidden tree. This tree, this one is good for food. This one appeals to my flesh.

The fruit was also pleasant to the eyes. Long before her first bite, she took the time to examine it, to study it, to caress it and even to devour it with her eyes. This was the woman giving herself over to the fruit in her heart and, in so doing, her choice was sealed. By giving in to this intent gaze upon the fruit that had been given her, she was given her very heart over to the lust of the eyes.

All that was left was for her to give herself over to the pride of life. At this point, we are told that Eve judged the tree “desirable to make one wise.” The serpent declared to her that, in the day that she ate of it, she would become like God. Oh, what a thought! Such thinking has led to the spiritual shipwrecking of many men. Such thinking is the root of all kinds of unbelief. It begins by appealing to man’s natural pride, and ends with their doubting of God’s worth by comparison.

Such was the temptation of Adam and Eve, but it is also the temptation we all face. As we have already noted, it is not primarily an external temptation. It is a temptation that begins in the heart. We hunger for unrighteousness, so we set our eyes on that which has been forbidden us and take possession of it in our minds—or rather allow it to take possession of us—and then, thinking ourselves to be wiser than God, we follow headlong after it to our own destruction. This is the nature of all temptation that leads to sin.

We must remember also that we have a common tempter as our first parents. They were made in the image of God, so the enemy of God attacked. How much more, then, should we expect to be attacked who are now being made over daily into the image of Christ? Christ was tempted at this very point. “If You are the Son of God…” We should expect to be tempted in jus the same way. Some come into the Christian life with the false assumption that things will get easier, but conversion is only the beginning of our trials. We now have targets painted on our backs and should expect the enemy to amp up our temptations.

When we are tempted, and even when we fail, it is important for us to always remember that Christ was tempted and prevailed. We inevitably give in; we have some form of release. Christ’s temptation, from this angle, was far greater than our own. He was tempted, and He was faithful to the end.

15For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” (Heb. 4:15-16; NKJV).

Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Four – Our First Parents, Sin, and the Fall (Q.17)

Earlier Studies –

Listen to the audio for this lesson here.

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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.[1]).

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.[4]). 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.[2]).

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).

Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Four – Our First Parents, Sin, and the Fall (Q.16)

Earlier Studies

Listen to the audio for this lesson here.

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Q.16: Did our first parents continue in the estate wherein they were created?

A. Our first parents being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the estate wherein they were created, by sinning against God.1

1Genesis 3:6-7, 13; Ecclesiastes 7:29

Last we visited the Catechism, we observed the estate wherein our first parents were created. According to the Catechism for Boys and Girls, Adam and Eve were created “holy and happy.” They had everything they needed and much, much more. As we embark on the fourth section in our study, we will see how they did not long remain in this state of holiness and happiness but, by their disobedience, descended into a new estate: an estate of sin and misery. We will further observe how we, their descendants according to the flesh, fell along with them into an estate of sin and misery.

Free Will

Before considering the fall of man, we must consider one last aspect of his original estate. One of the great misrepresentations of a Reformed anthropology is the suggestion that the Reformed teaching presents man as a robot created with no will of his own. This simply is not the case. Note for instance the first two paragraphs of The Baptist Confession’s chapter on Free Will:

“God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty and power of acting upon choice, that it is neither forced, nor by any necessity of nature determined to do good or evil,” (The Baptist Confession of 1677/1689, 9.1).

…and…

“Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom and power to will and to do that which was good and well-pleasing to God, but yet was unstable, so that he might fall from it,” (Ibid, 9.2).

Adam and his progeny, by nature, were given the liberty and the power to act with respect to choice. This is merely to say that we make choices every day to do either good or evil. In support of this thesis, the Confession need not offer any justification, because it is self-evident. Regardless, biblical justification is offered in the form of biblical citations:

“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live,” (Deut. 30:19; NKJV).

God does put before us choices in this life, and these choices are not mere façades. Rather, mankind is offered real choices. The question is, though the choices are offered, are we capable in our own power of choosing the God-honoring choice and, if not, by what or by whom are we hindered?

We shall see in our future studies how the Bible answers the question of our inability to choose but, for our current study, we see that Adam and Eve were capable of choosing good. The “teacher” of Ecclesiastes explains, “Truly, this only I have found: that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes,” (Eccl. 7:29; NKJV). The nature of Adam was good and well-pleasing to God, but he was yet unstable so that he might fall.

He was made upright in that he there was no natural inclination against God’s moral law written into his being. In other words, it would not be by the finger of God impressed upon the nature of man that he would of necessity fall. He was made upright, with the ability to choose both good an evil. He was created perfect, but he was created with a will, fallible and mutable as he was in his creatureliness.

“Indeed fallibility belongs to the nature of created spirits. It is involved in their possession of the power of contrary choice, that whenever good and evil are presented, the latter may be chosen, and thus the spiritual creature may fall. Any idea of a probation implies such choice,” (James P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology, pg. 216).

Man was created in perfection with the ability to choose good and evil. God is not the author of evil, so He by no means forced his hand in the fall. He did, however, create him with the ability to fall of his own agency, and knew precisely how and when and to what end this fall would occur. This doctrine is perhaps one of the most difficult for the human mind to try to grasp, because it is so tied up in the mystery of God’s secret counsel.

“It is a very mysterious thing that God should so ‘innovate upon His own eternity’ as to summon into existence a race of creatures, and bestow upon them the perilous gift of free-will: a perilous and in the event a fatal gift: because, as experience proved, the possessor of it might rise up against his Maker, might oppose and obstruct His will, and introduce sin and misery and death where life and love and holiness had been intended to dwell,” (Alexander Whyte, An Exposition on the Shorter Catechism, pg. 52).

We began this discussion in the context of the covenantal estate in which man was created. We spoke of the righteousness and the holiness of man in his original state. This was truly a blessed position in which to be placed. It was also, as the above quote demonstrates, a perilous one. Man was created upright, but he was mutable and insecure in all his ways.

Man was like a log teetering on a precipice, a log into which freedom of choice was suddenly introduced. With this volitional nature, the outcome was inevitable. Man would certainly choose the wrong path; it was only a matter of time. As a free agent, the will of Adam would surely, eventually incline against the will of God.

“The covenant of works rested upon the strength of man’s inherent righteousness; which though in innocence was perfect, yet was subject to change. Adam was created holy, but mutable; having a power to stand and a power to fall. He had a stock of original righteousness to begin the world with, but he was not sure he would not break. He was his own pilot, and could steer right in the time of innocence; but he was not so secured but that he might dash against the rock of temptation, and he and his prosperity be shipwrecked; so that the covenant of works must needs leave jealousies and doubtings in Adam’s heart, as he had no security given him that he should not fall from that glorious state,” (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, 3.17, II [3])

 

The Fall

The Fall of mankind presents itself in Scripture in narrative form. As we have seen, God created man upright, reasonable, holy, innocent, and unashamed. He placed man in the garden and provided him with all good things necessary for a comfortable living and, indeed, with far more. He created him upright, which is to say that He wrote the work of the law on his heart (Rom. 2:15). However, this uprightness was subject to change. Unlike God, man by nature is fallible and mutable. Let to his own devices, man would inevitably choose against God.

“[God] had the right to test man at his will, and thus testing, to leave him to himself, without constraint to the contrary, to choose as he might see fit. This he did, and man fell; but his fall was not due to the lack of any natural perfection,” (Boyce, Abstract, pg. 217).

This fall was occasioned not merely by the moral law sown into the heart of man. Man was given also a positive law—a law uttered by the very voice of God: “The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die,’” (Gen. 2:16-17; NASB). Had Adam continued in perpetuity in his righteousness and his obedience to this positive command, mankind would never have fallen into sin and misery. Man did take and eat, and mankind did fall into an estate of sin and misery, but it was not for lack of perfection. Rather, as we have seen, it was due to the introduction of the agency of free choice. We read about this great fall from man’s original state in Genesis 3.

6When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she too from its fruit and ate; and she gave to her husband with here, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings,” (Genesis 3:6-7; NASB).

Our inclination might be to think that we would have chosen otherwise. If I had been created first, I would not have sinned like Adam did. We must be careful not to judge Adam too harshly. We tend to think that it is only the result of sin that causes a man and wife to endure such difficulties when they first marry. It is not only sin, but the competing of two different minds—two different wills. When free agency entered into the equation, a finite, mutable creature, the sin of our first parents was inevitable.

It was inevitable, but it was not excusable. In eating of this forbidden fruit, Adam rebelled against a holy, righteous, and beneficent God. God had given him everything, and yet Adam squandered it on a bit of fruit. We would all have done the same thing, but that does not make it right. Adam had sufficient knowledge of the One against whom he was sinning. He chose to sin anyway, plunging mankind into our current estate of sin and misery.

“Adam was brought into existence with a nature inclined to holiness, and a will able to choose either obedience or disobedience. He freely chose disobedience, and so sin originated, as it only could originate, in the free act of a free agent. It was at the beginning a voluntary act against sufficient knowledge. It was a free, inexcusable act of rebellion against the All-perfect and All-beneficent,” (A.A. Hodge, The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, pg. 30).

Repentance unto Life (Defining Evangelism)

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.

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DEFINING EVANGELISM

PART V – The Gospel Commands

Lesson Eleven: Repentance unto Life

“From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,’” (Mt. 4:17; NASB).

 

The gospel in its essence is not a command, as though it were comprised of a list of dos and don’ts. The gospel is a set of historical and theological facts painting the picture of God’s great redemption of His people from the beginning of creation to final glory. Yet, wherever we find the gospel being preached in the Greek Scriptures, we find along with it the commands to repent and believe. As such, when we refer to repentance and faith as gospel commands, we do not mean the gospel to be taken as a set of imperatives. We simply mean that these are the commands that, by necessity, accompany the gospel.

Order of consideration. The first of these commands we will consider is the command to repent. We’re not considering repentance first because it is in any way prior to faith, but rather the opposite. Faith and repentance, as they are found in the pages of Holy Writ, are chronologically simultaneous events. That is to say that they occur at one and the same time at whatever point they are found in the lives of Christ’s disciples. Repentance is impossible apart from faith, and genuine faith in Christ necessarily breeds repentance.

There are numerous instances in the Bible in which hearers are told explicitly to believe, but not to repent. There are similar instances in which they are told explicitly to repent, but not to believe. In all of these instances, the command not mentioned is not therefore to be seen as excluded. Rather, where one is commanded, the other is implied. It has rightly been asserted that faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin.

One of the most difficult struggles I’ve personally watched a child endure is the struggle of the child raised in the Reformed tradition who desperately wants to know if he or she is among the elect. The reason we start with repentance is not because we believe it to chronologically precede faith, but because it is the evidence of genuine faith. A child raised in the Reformed tradition should not be made to rest his or her assurance upon the genuineness or strength of a faith considered apart from a biblical understanding of repentance. Rather, it is a faith that will manifest itself in the fruit of repentance. The root of faith, then, will be known by the fruit of repentance.

Defining repentance. Before venturing further, it is imperative that we pause to define our terms. When we speak of repentance, what do we mean? For some, this can be a rather archaic term. The term in the Hebrew Scriptures basically meant a change of mind (Num. 23:19). In the Greek Scriptures, the term took on more of the idea of turning from sin toward God (Acts 20:21; Heb. 6:1). Thomas Watson defined repentance in this way:

“Repentance is a grace of God’s Spirit whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and visibly reformed,” (Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance, pg. 10).

As such, even as we consider the fact that repentance and faith are gospel commands, we must simultaneously recognize that they are graces of God worked upon the soul of man, not mere works of man conjured up in man’s own strength. As such, in our consideration of repentance, let us first consider it as a command, and one that is impossible to be fulfilled in the mere strength of the hearer. Then, we will consider repentance as a grace, and one that is worked upon the soul by the good pleasure of God by His word and Spirit.

The command to repent. The very first message we find John the Baptist preaching in the Greek Scriptures is a message of repentance: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” (Mt. 3:2; NASB). Strikingly, the Christ began His own public ministry with the exact same message of repentance: “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,’” (Mt. 4:17; NASB). From the beginning of the New Covenant era, it was clear that repentance was not merely a requirement for Israel, but for all who would hope to be found in Christ (Lk. 24:46-47; Acts 11:18).

John the Baptist commanded his hearers to repent. So did Christ. We also see in the preaching of the apostles that repentance was a requirement of all believers. Repentance was a staple of Peter’s preaching (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 8:22) and teaching (2Pt. 3:9). Paul also emphasized the universal obligation of all men to repent in his preaching (Acts 17:30; 26:19-20) and teaching (Acts 20:21; Rom. 2:4; 2Cor. 7:9-10).

Some may think it strange to refer to repentance and faith as commands. After all, in 21st century Western Evangelicalism, haven’t we all deemed ‘gospel invitations’ to be the more appropriate term? Nowhere in Scripture do we see God inviting every man everywhere to repent and believe in Christ. Instead, we read: “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,” (Acts 17:30; NKJV). Thus, we see that repentance is both a universal requirement and a command.

The grace to repent. Some would interject here that we are adding to the gospel a new law. We are in a sense, according to these detractors, making the gospel conditional upon a work. First of all, we must admit that the salvation afforded us in the pages of Scripture is a salvation by works. It simply is not a salvation by our works. We are saved instead by the works of Christ alone.

As Thomas Watson asserted in the aforementioned quote, even the repentance we exercise is a grace worked upon our souls by the sovereign God of our salvation. Repentance, then, is not a condition for our justification and regeneration, but the fruit of it. When the sinner, by grace through faith, receives with joy the good news of salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ, God works upon his soul the grace of repentance. Repentance, in this sense, is not a work but a gift from God (Acts 11:18)!

When we think about repentance, it is necessary also that we consider it as part of our overall sanctification. In Philippians 2:12-13, we’re commanded to work out our own salvation. At the same time we’re informed that, as we work out our own salvation, it is God who is at work in us to accomplish it. As we consider this great grace of sanctification afforded us by the indwelling, preserving work of the Holy Spirit, we must recognize that repentance and faith are vital parts of it.

Repentance and faith are not one-time requirements in the lives of disciples; they are regular expectations throughout the Christian life. Thus, just as every other element or our sanctification is wrought by God who is at work in us, so it is true also of repentance. The same grace that comes bringing the saving grace of conversion also comes bringing the saving grace of sanctification. The apostle Paul is very clear on this matter when He writes:

11For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds,” (Titus 2:11-14; NASB).

The same grace of God that converts us also instructs us to deny the ungodliness and worldy desires in which we formerly walked when we were dead in our trespasses and sins. It calls us instead to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age, having been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life. Rather than dreading the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, the grace of God causes us to look upon it with blessed hope and joyful expectation. The grace of God in Christ redeems us from every lawless deed and purifies us for Him who purchased us, sowing in us a godly zeal for the good deeds God predestined from the foundation of the world, that we should walk in them.

The grace of God, then, is not a mere forgiving grace. It completely renovates us throughout our sojourn in this foreign land. It grants us new hearts with new desires. It renews our minds. It causes us to hate sin, such that we gladly turn from it, and to love God, such that we turn to Him finding in Him our all-in-all. Let us pray, then, that all with whom we have the joy of sharing the glorious news of redemption in Jesus Christ will be granted the grace of repentance unto life and salvation.

The Resurrection (Defining Evangelism)

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.

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DEFINING EVANGELISM

PART IV – Redemption Accomplished

Lesson Ten: The Resurrection

4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:4-7; ESV).

Perhaps the element of the gospel we are most prone to forget to mention in our evangelistic discussions is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Often, by the time we have discussed with the unbeliever the holiness of God, man’s sin and its wages, and Christ’s obedience in life and death, we are ready to move on to the gospel commands of repentance and faith. For several reasons, though, it is important for us to remember the significance of the resurrection and how it is essential to the proclamation of the gospel.

Union with Christ. As we approach the task of evangelism, one way to remember the primacy of the resurrection in the gospel is to remember the purpose of evangelism. Our goal is to make disciples. We seek, by the work of the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of the gospel, to see men forsake their identity in Adam for a new identity in Christ. We want to see them become disciples of Christ united with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection.

We must never think of our union with Christ as a secondary doctrine within Christianity. Union with Christ is the essence of what we mean when we refer to ourselves as disciples of Christ. When we speak of our election, we speak of it only in terms of our union with Christ (Eph. 1:3-6; John 6:39). When we speak of our effectual calling and regeneration, we speak of it in terms of our union with Christ (2Thess. 2:14; 2Tim. 1:9; 1Pt. 1:3). When we speak of our justification, we speak of it only in terms of our union with Christ (1Cor. 6:11; 2Cor. 5:21). The same bears true for our adoption, sanctification, and glorification (Eph. 5:1; Gal. 4:4-5; Heb. 2:11; 1Cor. 1:2, 30; Heb. 10:10; Rom. 8:17, 30). Only by means of our union with Christ, the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Christ are all made effectual unto our salvation.

“By this union believers are changed into the image of Christ according to his human nature. What Christ effects in His people is in a sense a replica or reproduction of what took place with Him. Nor only objective, but also in a subjective sense they suffer, bear the cross, are crucified, die, and are raised in newness of life, with Christ.,” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pg. 451).

Victory over sin. In this vein, there are two senses in which we are “raised in newness of life, with Christ.” We are raised with Him in His victory over sin in this life, and we are raised with Him in His victory over death in the life to come. We are raised with Him through the subjective, sanctifying work of the Spirit in our lives and the objective reality that we will one day partake of final victory over death with Him.

We must recall that the final consequence of sin is death and judgment in the life to come. Therefore, Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection would not be complete merely to address the wages of sin. The atonement must also address the cause of death: sin itself. In order for the fruit of death to be finally and utterly destroyed for the believer, there must be an addressing of the root. Indeed, in our union with Christ in His resurrection, we do see an addressing of sin.

1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7for he who has died is freed from sin,” (Rom. 6:1-7; NASB).

New disciples must be brought to an understanding that the Christian life is not one of grace abuse. We are not saved to sin all the more. Rather, as we saw in our last lesson, disciples of Christ are those who have died to sin through the death of Christ and our union with Him. In being united with Christ, we have not merely been immersed into His death, though. We have also been raised with Him to walk in newness of life!

Our relationship with sin has been severed. We will still battle against it as long as we live in these bodies and in this fallen world. Like insurgents in a conquered land who wage guerilla warfare against the occupying nation, sin will ever wage guerilla warfare against the Christian who has already achieved victory over it through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. However, the Christian will wage war. The Christian will seek to search out and destroy every last stronghold of sin in his or her life.

After the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves in America, those who had been victims of that system did not automatically take to their freedom as those who had never known slavery. For many, the mindset of the slave could not be shed for the rest of their lives. When in the presence of a white man, their tendency was to revert back to old customs and courtesies and to grant a certain authority that was not truly held by the white man in question. Due to Jim Crow laws in the South, the analogy obviously falls apart at some point.

Surely, though, you get the point. After a life of slavery, it can be near impossible to shake the slave mentality. This is as true in the soul of a man in relation to his sin as it is in the mind of a slave in relation to other men. What Paul means to tell the Christian, here, is that he has been freed from slavery to sin, so he now needs to wage war against his tendency to submit to sin as a slave. He must rid himself of the slave mentality.

By virtue of our union with Christ in His resurrection, we now have victory over sin. If we have died with Him, we have also been raised with Him in the likeness of His resurrection to walk in newness of life. We are no longer slaves to sin, but we are slaves to righteousness.

We have already decried the testimony-only approach to evangelism, an approach that suggests that Christ’s primary purpose in the life of the believer is like that of a genie making all things better. However, here is the one place in the evangelistic encounter where it might be beneficial to offer a personal testimony to the work of Christ wrought in our own life. As we share our faith with unbelievers, it can be beneficial for them to see how, through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, you have personally seen victory over the sin that once enslaved you.

Victory over death. Through the resurrection of Christ and our union with Him, we do not only experience victory over sin in this life. We are also promised ultimate victory over death. Paul writes, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep,” (1Cor. 15:20). Christ’s victory over death was not merely a victory for Himself, just as nothing He accomplished on this earth was merely accomplished for His own benefit.

The resurrection of Christ accomplished victory both for Christ and for those who are united with Him. Just as Christ was raised and is now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, so too we shall all be raised from the dead with glorified bodies to reign with God for all of eternity. Our victory over sin is merely a down payment of sorts for the great privilege we have yet to receive in Christ.

50Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. 55O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1Cor. 15:50-57; NASB).

In the churches in which I was raised, we did not avoid talking about end times. We were taught at length about the rapture, the tribulation, the millennium, and many other of the less clear events prophesied for the end of the world. Rarely if ever did we hear teaching on the resurrection. Of all of these events, Paul teaches that the resurrection is “of first importance” (1Cor. 15:3; NASB).

The Bible teaches that it is through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ that He secures for us our own resurrection. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the dead will be raised and those who are still living will receive imperishable bodies fit for eternity. Those who are raised in Christ will be raised with bodies fit for everlasting life. All who are outside of Christ, though, will be raised with bodies fit for everlasting contempt (Dan. 12:2).

It is not necessarily important for the new disciple to understand all that is wrapped up in the doctrine of the resurrection of Christ. It is helpful, however, for new disciples to learn fairly early the fact that Christ’s redemption has both temporal and eternal implications. In Christ’s resurrection, we are presently raised to walk in newness of life, and we are promised final victory over death unto everlasting life!

Christ’s Obedience in Life (Defining Evangelism)

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.

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DEFINING EVANGELISM

PART IV – Redemption Accomplished

Lesson Eight: Christ’s Obedience in Life

“For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous, (Romans 5:19; NASB).

 

Having established that the Great Commission is the driving motivation behind our evangelism, the church are the messengers, and the unregenerate are the recipients, and having discussed God’s holiness and man’s sin and its wages as the backdrop to the gospel, today we finally arrive at the gospel itself. We have just spent two lessons describing man’s terrible predicament. Now, we will discuss God’s great remedy. In the next three lessons, we will observe Christ’s accomplishment of redemption through His perfect obedience.

Is Calvinism the gospel? One famous preacher is often quoted as having said that Calvinism is the gospel. I have even been out doing door-to-door visits before with individuals who insisted on bringing up the five points of Calvinism in their gospel presentations. While it is certainly helpful in one’s evangelism to know and affirm the doctrines the doctrines of grace, conveying them in an initial evangelistic encounter is not always wise. Besides, our goal in evangelism is to make disciples, not Calvinists.

This is not to say that there aren’t some elements of the doctrines of grace that are essential to explaining the gospel. For instance, we certainly want the unbeliever to understand his or her depravity and the fact that Christ provided an atonement for His sheep. Discussions about election, the irresistible call, and the perseverance of the saints can come later in the process of discipleship. How redemption is applied to the individual may be necessary to discuss at a certain point in the discussion, but the main thrust of the gospel message in evangelism should focus primarily on how Christ accomplished our redemption.

Redemption and atonement. First, we must ask, “What is redemption?” The term redemption stems from the biblical concept of being bought back. When a man sold himself into slavery in order to pay off a debt, in the Old Testament, a kinsman redeemer could come and purchase him back and restore him to freedom and to his land (Lev. 25:47-50, 25). In the same way, we are told that the unbeliever is enslaved to sin and in need of a Redeemer.

16Do 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? 17But 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. 18And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness,” (Romans 6:16-18; NKJV).

As slaves to sin, we must have a Redeemer if we hope to be free. John Murray wrote at length about the doctrine of redemption in his book Redemption Accomplished and Applied. Again, it is this accomplishment of redemption that should be our primary focus in our evangelistic discussions. Murray explains in the opening sentence of his book, “The accomplishment of redemption is concerned with what has been generally called the atonement,” (John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, pg. 9).

Second, then, we must ask, “What is atonement?” Atonement is observed in the historic acts of Christ in which He “by His perfect obedience and sacrifice of Himself, which He through the eternal Spirit once offered up to God, has fully satisfied the justice of God, procured reconciliation, and purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven for all those whom the Father has given unto Him,” (The Baptist Confession, 8.5). For our study, we will observe three specific elements of Christ’s work of redemption: His obedience in life, His obedience in death, and His resurrection.

Christ’s obedience in life. In understanding the necessity for Christ’s obedience, we must begin by understanding that we are disobedient. Each of us have the work of God’s law written on our hearts (Rom. 2:14-16) such that none of us are excused in our violation of it (Rom. 1:18-21). None of us will be able to stand in the day of judgment in our own deeds, for “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3; NASB). In ourselves, then, we are deemed to be the pupils of Satan, sons of disobedience, and children of wrath.

1And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.,” (Eph. 2:1-3; NKJV).

However, from the initial sin of Adam, God has been about the work of redemption. From the beginning, He provided for His people the hope of a coming Messiah, one who would make atonement for their sins and reconcile them to God. We know that the many prophesies of this Messiah to come were finally and fully fulfilled in the Person of Christ Jesus. As a result, all who turn from their sins toward God and place their full trust and allegiance in Christ are now considered sons of God, obedient children (1Pt. 1:14).

This transaction required the full and perfect obedience of Christ. The reason Christ needed to live a perfect life is twofold. First, Christ needed to go through all of the trial, temptation, and hardship He did in order to prepare Him for the single voluntary act of dying on the cross for our sins. We’ll explore in more depth the doctrine of the cross next week. Second, Christ had to fulfill on behalf all His sheep the perfect law of God.

“He perfectly met both the penal and the preceptive requirements of God’s law. The passive obedience refers to the former and the active obedience to the latter. Christ’s obedience was vicarious in the bearing of the full judgment of God upon sin, and it was vicarious in the full discharge of the demands of righteousness. His obedience becomes the ground of the remission of sin and of actual justification,” (John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, pg. 22).

Christ then is not only our perfect Sacrifice, as we will see next week. He is also our perfect obedience to the law. He provides atonement for the sins we have committed, to be sure, but He has done far better. When we turn to Christ, we not only receive a clean slate and new standing with God. We receive Christ’s goodness and perfection and all the blessing and privilege that comes with it. In Him, we not only have the infinite debt of our sin expunged, but we have accredited to our account an infinite sum, an eternal inheritance!

It is imperative that we Christians deeply and regularly consider these truths. In doing so, our evangelism becomes second nature. The truth of the gospel and the joy that accompanies it will readily and bountifully spring from our hearts and through our lips as streams well up and flow from deep within the mountains. Let us not take in this knowledge as a purely academic exercise, for that would be contrary to Scripture. It would also lead to the sure death of our evangelism. Rather, we must take these truths and drive them deep into our souls to be regularly meditated upon and regularly discussed as we commune with the saints.

7who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, 8though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. 9And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, 10called by God as High Priest ‘according to the order of Melchizedek,’” (Hebrews 5:7-10; NKJV).

Man’s Sin and Its Wages (Defining Evangelism)

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.

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DEFINING EVANGELISM

PART III – THE PRESENT ESTATE OF MAN

Lesson Seven: Man’s Sin and Its Wages

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord, (Romans 6:23; NKJV).

 

Man’s need for redemption. One of the biggest obstacles we face in our society, when considering the task of evangelism, is helping people see their need for the gospel. Many are simply unconcerned about their eternal state. Even those who affirm the existence of a god out there somewhere believe His primary attribute to be that of mercy, so they live as though they will never have to answer to God for their sins. As we saw in our last lesson, this has never been the Christian affirmation of who God is.

“Q.11. Is not God therefore merciful?

1. Yes, very much so! He is merciful, but He is also just, wherefore His justice requires that the same which is committed against the divine majesty of God should also be recompensed with extreme, that is, everlasting punishment both in body and soul,” (Hercules Collins, An Orthodox Catechism, Q.11).

We live in a nation that has largely forsaken this understanding of who God is. In fact, many Christians will tell you never to talk about sin, guilt, or repentance when sharing the gospel with people. They don’t mind discussions of the love and the mercy of God. They don’t even mind discussions of His holiness, as long as there is no correlation drawn between His complete holiness and the sinfulness of man.

The problem is that man cannot truly understand their need of God’s mercy unless they first understand His holiness and their complete lack thereof. Individuals must be brought to an honest, prayerful contemplation of their own personal sinfulness in light of God’s utter holiness and justice. They must be brought to understand that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23; NKJV), which means they personally have sinned and fall short of His glory. Until then, the gospel will make no sense whatever.

Until man is brought to an understanding of his sinfulness and the consequences thereof, he will see no danger in staying the course. He must be brought to an understanding that his sin means eternal destruction and damnation apart from the gracious provision of God, but engulfed in His eternal contempt. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“The bodies of men after death return to dust, and see corruption; but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them. The souls of the righteous being then made perfect in holiness, are received into paradise, where they are with Christ, and behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies; and the souls of the wicked are cast into hell; where they remain in torment and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day; besides these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none,” (The Baptist Confession, 31.1)

The sinfulness of the individual. Truly, man is fallen in Adam and death has thus spread to all men (Rom. 5:12), but the carnal man must be made to see the particular offense his own sin is against a holy, righteous, and just God. He must be brought, as by a schoolmaster, to Christ and His gospel by nothing less than the sheer condemnation of the law of God (Gal. 3:24). Until then, he will see no need for redemption. He will think himself basically good and in no need of atonement. He will think himself basically good, because he is self-deceived.

“To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled,” (Titus 1:15; NKJV).

The mind untethered to the word of God is a mind in darkness. Even Christians, the farther we stray from the word of God, wander into self-deception and the defilement of the mind. We must ever be confronted by the word of God in order to come to a true understanding of our sinfulness and how far short of God’s holy standard we fall.

One way that this conviction has been attempted in recent years is through an exercise in which the unbeliever is ask if she thinks herself to be a good person. If she says, “Yes,” the Christian asks if he can test that affirmation. If she concedes, he proceeds to ask a series of question about her obedience to the Ten Commandments. The unbeliever inevitably fails this test and, if convicted of sin, is then offered the gospel. I largely agree with this approach. There are just a couple issues, though, that I take with it.

First, there seems to be an assumption that a short 3-5 minute presentation should be enough to convict people of their sin and help them see their need for Christ. In most cases, much more work needs to be done. There needs to be a prolonged period of sitting under the preached word and much soul-searching on the part of the unbeliever. So, while the initial presentation of the law and the gospel might whet a person’s appetite for Christ and the preaching of His word,

We should not expect that most of these initial encounters will necessarily lead to the individual’s immediate conversion. Most often, the unbeliever needs to get under the preached word at a local church where they can be discipled and taught to observe all that Christ commanded. Through that process, Lord-willing, he may eventually turn from his sins toward God and put his full trust and allegiance in Christ Jesus alone for his salvation.

Second, there is often an extremely erroneous assumption made in the way that this method is employed. Some well-known adherents to this approach teach not to even share the gospel with the unbeliever unless he demonstrates a conviction of sin and a concern for final judgment. They claim that offering the gospel to such individuals is a casting of pearls before swine (Mt. 7:6). The problem is that the law only has the ability to lead one to the gospel. It has no power, though, to convict. That power is found in the gospel alone (Rom. 1:16). It’s the kindness of God that leads to repentance.

“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4; NASB).

The universal sinfulness of man. The individual must be brought to an understanding of his or her own personal sinfulness. In the process of bringing the unbeliever to this understanding, though, an understanding of the universal sinfulness of man can be instructive. Imagine you are talking to a man, and he says that he is better than most. How do you respond? This individual needs to understand that he is comparing himself to a mass of fallen, depraved individuals who also fall short of God’s holy standard.

“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” (Genesis 6:5; NKJV).

It always baffled me that pastors and theologians would point to this passage in Genesis, before the flood, when speaking of the universal depravity of man. Then, one day, it occurred to me that there was not real change in the constitution of man after the flood. We are still just as depraved as they were back then. The change that occurred after the flood was in God’s dealings with man’s sin. He established a covenant with all mankind whereby He promised never again to destroy the world with water.

Man, on the other hand, is still totally depraved and under the condemnation of the law. This is indeed a universal depravity. We are all sinners and thoroughly sinful. For a man to stand and say that he is not a sinner is for him to say that he is better than every other human being that has ever lived. It is the height of arrogance, because there is none good.

10As it is written:

‘There is none righteous, no, not one;

11There is none who understands;

There is none who seeks after God.

12They have all turned aside;

They have together become unprofitable;

There is none who does good, no, not one.’

13‘Their throat is an open tomb;

With their tongues they have practiced deceit’;

‘The poison of asps is under their lips’;

14‘Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.’

15‘Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16Destruction and misery are in their ways;

17And the way of peace they have not known.’

18‘There is no fear of God before their eyes,’” (Romans 3:10-19; NKJV).

Another response, especially in the South where a lot of erroneous ideas have been floated in the name of Christianity, is to say, “Well, you don’t know my heart, and you can’t judge me.” While there is some truth to this statement, the Lord has revealed enough about the heart of man in Scripture that we can state with confidence that every man is a sinner in need of redemption. In fact, those who convince themselves that they are not sinners have actually been deceived in their own hearts. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?,” (Jer. 17:9; NKJV).

We, then, are up against impossible odds. We stand in a valley of dry bones and seek to preach to the self-deceived that they are utterly sinful both in body and in mind, the very sin that hinders them from receiving our message with gladness of heart. How can we have any rational expectation, then, that they will respond aright? Lest the Lord act, we cannot. Nevertheless, the gospel message must begin here: with an accounting of both the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man.

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 179

Day 179

Of Free Will.

Chapter 9, Paragraph 4.

“…yet so as that by reason of his remaining corruptions he doth not perfectly nor only will that which is good; but doth also will that which is evil.”

Scripture Lookup

Romans 7:15,18,19,21,23

Reflection

Ah, the struggle. Changed by Christ we are free to will and do that which is spiritually good, yet find ourselves falling short and sinning every day. Failing for the fifth time, the tenth time, the hundredth time, over and over and over! Frustration, fear, and doubt all sidle up to you in these moments, offering their unwanted advice. “Look at your sin,” they scoff. “Real Christians don’t have this problem. There’s no hope for you.”

While the life of a Christian is sometimes presented as all beaming smiles and living happily ever after, the godliest Christian alive still sins. Every Christian still sins. These sins are not always the “oops, I went 10 miles over the speed limit” type of sins, but even vile, horrid transgressions. To admit otherwise is to deny the remaining corruption of sin that remains in the believer.

If Christians still sin, then, what makes them different than the rest of the world? The difference is this: the Christian is able to will and do good. When convicted of sin, the Christian is sorrowful for their sin, repents of it, and trust the work of Christ for forgiveness. Through reliance on the Holy Spirit, the believer hates sin and grows in godliness. The Christian is never left to wallow in despair, but receives in due time the comfort that only God can bring to her soul. Sin does not define a Christian – Christ does.

So when the struggle seems particularly strong, remember that Christ has saved you from this body of death. He who began this good work in you will complete it. Don’t harden your heart to prove yourself never called in the first place. Repent, humble yourself, and lean on Christ for a “more constant dependence for their support, upon Himself” (LBCF 5.5).

Questions to Consider

  • Do you ever think that Christians are perfect?