Sin

J.C. Ryle on Sin as the Root of All Sorrow

old-pathsIf you were to ask 100 people at random what lay at the root of all of the world’s problems, what answers do you suppose that you might hear? (You might very well hear nearly 100 different answers.) But how many people in a hundred would point to sin as the culprit?

In his book, Old Paths, J.C. Ryle has some pointed words about the evils of sin as the ultimate source of all of the misery that mankind encounters in this fallen world:

“Sin is the cause of all the burdens which now press down mankind. Most men know it not, and weary themselves in vain to explain the state of things around them. But sin is the great root and foundation of all sorrow, whatever proud man may think. How much men ought to hate sin!” (p.338)

And so while all of mankind shares in the miseries of this life since the fall, how few there are who trace those miseries back to their true root – sin.  And apart from that, there really is no right explanation or understanding of the state of the world. But if we understand that sin is “the great root and foundation of all sorrow,” then we will begin to truly hate sin (and not just its effects), especially our own (not merely those of other people).

And how thankful we should be that God in His great mercy and grace did not leave all of mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery, but rather, “out of His mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.20). Thank God that He gave us His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to be the Redeemer of God’s elect (Q.21)!

Becoming “Sermon-Proof” (John Owen on The Dangers of Sin)

mortificationofsinIn his book, The Mortification of Sin, John Owen notes (among other things) the importance and necessity of having “a clear and abiding sense” in our minds and consciences of “the guilt, danger, and evil of sin” (p.65). Without a clear, biblical understanding of sin for what it really is, we will be ill-equipped to “put to death the deeds of the body” by the Spirit (Romans 8:13).

There he points out a number of the many dangers that sin poses to us, the first of which is the danger of being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13). He writes:

“This hardening is so serious that your heart becomes insensitive to moral influence. Sin leads to this. Every sin and lust will make a little progress in this direction. You who at one time were very tender and would melt under the influence of the Word and under trials will grow ‘sermon-proof’ and ‘trial proof.'” (p.68)

Sermon-proof. What a sobering phrase! It is bad enough that so many in our day simply avoid hearing the preaching of the Word in public worship altogether; but how much worse is the condition of those who, though they regularly attend the preaching of the Word, nevertheless have grown immune to its benefits.

Sermon-proof. That is a fitting description of the people of Isaiah’s day:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10, ESV)

To be sermon-proof is to continually hear, but not understand, to see, but not perceive. And what is the end result? A refusal to “turn” (or repent) and “be healed.” No wonder the writer of the book of Hebrews warns us of the “deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13)!

Are you sermon-proof? Do not content yourself with the mere hearing of sermons. Hearing sermons is certainly a good start, but it is not nearly enough. Hearing sermons, even on a regular, weekly basis is no firm evidence that one is not sermon proof. One can hear sermons until the proverbial cows come home, and yet do so with no benefit whatsoever.

Let us learn to attend the preaching of God’s Word in public worship “with diligence, preparation, and prayer; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.90).

And, as the writer of the book of Hebrews puts it, let us “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13, ESV).

Playing with Matches?

ezgif.com-resizeCommon sense tells us not to play with matches. Most of us develop a healthy respect for fire at a young age. You only need to be burned once to learn not to get too close to an open flame. As the old saying goes, if you play with fire, you are going to get burned (cf. Proverbs 6:27).

Needlessly exposing yourself to the occasion of sin (i.e. that circumstance, place, or person which is likely to tempt you to commit sin) is a lot like playing with matches or pouring gasoline on a fire.  Nothing good will come of it. Thomas Brooks offers some words of wisdom regarding such things:

“He that adventures upon the occasions of sin is as he that would quench the fire with oil, which is fuel to maintain it, and increase it.” (Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, p.68)

So if you are struggling with a particular sin, ask yourself this question: Are you unnecessarily exposing yourself to the occasion of that sin? If so, you are (to use Brooks’s words), actually giving your sins “fuel” to maintain them and increase them! It is not without good reason that Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer, not only to ask for forgiveness (Matthew 6:12), but also to ask that we not be led into temptation (Matthew 6:13). That request is basically concerned with the occasion of sin.

If you are not paying attention to the occasions of sin in your life, you may very well be pouring gasoline on the fire. And if that is the case, is it really any wonder that the fire is not quenched, but rather increased?

Louis Berkhof on Original Sin

BerkhofHave you ever wondered why theologians use the term original sin? The term is often used to distinguish it from the actual sins and transgressions that flow from it. But in what way is it said to be original? Louis Berkhof (as usual) is helpful in dealing with this question. In his Systematic Theology, he writes:

This sin is called “original sin,” (1) because it is derived from the original root of the human race; (2) because it is present in the life of every individual from the time of his birth, and therefore cannot be regarded as the result of imitation; and (3) because it is the inward root of all of the actual sins that defile the life of man. We should guard against the mistake of thinking that the term in any way implies that the sin designated by it belongs to the original constitution of human nature, which would imply that God created man as a sinner. (p.244)

So Berkhof gives us three (3) reasons why we call it “original” sin. First, because this sin is “derived from the original root of the human race” (i.e. Adam). The sinful condition (including both guilt & the corruption of our whole nature) of all mankind is inherited from Adam and stems from his sin and fall in the garden (Genesis 3:1-24; Romans 5:12-21). Second, we call it “original” sin because this sin is “present in the life of every individual from the time of his birth.” In other words, in Adam we all come into this world as sinners; it is part of our nature, inherited from Adam. In the words of King David, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5 ESV). He is not there saying that the act of his conception was sinful  (e.g. adultery or fornication), but rather that he was a sinner from his very conception – it was a part of his fallen nature. Third, we call it original sin because it is the “inward root” of all of our actual sins and transgressions. It is cause & effect. So we are not sinners just because we sin; we sin because we are sinners by nature. The origin of our sins is to be found in Adam’s first sin and the sinful nature that we all inherit in him.

And note that the idea of original sin does not mean that the human race was originally created by God as sinful. We often say things like, “to err is human.” That may be so, but it is really only the case in Adam after the fall. Prior to the fall, “to err” was indeed possible, but it was in no way inherent in human nature as originally created by God.

 

Original Sin – Rotten to the Core

Apple 2What is original sin? The Westminster Shorter Catechism provides us with a helpful definition:

Q.18. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate [i.e. condition] into which 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.

So according to the Shorter Catechism, original sin refers to the sinful condition or state that all mankind fell into in Adam’s first sin the garden of Eden. And it basically consists in three (3) things:

  1. The Guilt of Adam’s First Sin
  2. The Want (or Lack) of Original Righteousness
  3. The Corruption of Our Whole Nature

First, the guilt of Adam’s first sin. Adam was not only the first sinner, but also the first representative (federal head) of the entire human race.  So when he sinned and fell, he did so not only for himself, but on our behalf as well.  And the proof is in the result – we are all sinners, and we all die (Romans 5:12-21).  We all sinned in Adam; we all fell in Adam, just as if we had ourselves partaken of the forbidden fruit. That is what Paul is talking about when he says that “one trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Romans 5:18, ESV, italics mine). Outside of Christ all of humanity shares in the guilt of Adam’s first sin.

Second, the want (or lack) of original righteousness. Too often we conceive of righteousness in merely negative terms, as if it consisted only in refraining from transgressing God’s law. That is really only half of the story. True righteousness consists also in the positive fulfilling of God’s law, the actual doing of His will. Adam was originally created as a righteous man. As the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it,

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, mutably [i.e. subject to change], so that he might fall from it (9.2).

And fall from it he did. And we all in him as well. That is why, as Paul says in Romans 3:10, “None is righteous, no, not one.”

Third, original sin also involves the corruption of our whole nature. Every faculty of our nature was corrupted, so that we became dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-3). Outside of Christ we all now have a natural inclination toward evil and away from God. It is from this corruption of our nature that “all actual transgressions” proceed (Q.18, above). In other words, we are not just sinners because we sin, but rather we sin because we are sinners. As Paul puts it in Ephesians chapter 2, outside of Christ we are all “sons of disobedience” (v.2) and “by nature children of wrath” (v.3).

Maybe you’re reading all of this and thinking to yourself that it doesn’t seem fair. Worse than that, it seems downright hopeless. That would certainly be the case if not for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:14 tells us that Adam “was a type of the one who was to come.” And that one to come in the likeness of Adam to be the representative or federal head of a new humanity. As Paul writes in Romans 5:18-19,

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

In Jesus Christ, through faith in Him, we have the cure for the curse of original sin. Where we used to share in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, in Christ we now have “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). Where we formerly had no righteousness in Adam, in Christ we now have the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ accounted to us by faith alone (Romans 1:17). And lastly, where we used to be dead in sin in Adam,  we are now made alive from the dead in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5), so that we are “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). We are not thereby made perfect or sinless in this life, but the Spirit of Christ within us works in us to conform us more and more unto the image of Christ.

Sticking Your Neck Out to Sin?

guillotine

The Apostle Peter has some strong words for us when it comes to dealing with our lusts of the flesh.  He says that we should abstain from them because they are waging a war against our souls.

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Peter 2:11 ESV)

In other words, sin is dangerous to us, even though we do not often perceive that danger.  John Calvin’s comment on this verse has stuck with me for a long time. He writes,

“He reveals our carelessness in this respect, in that while we anxiously avoid enemies from whom we fear danger to the body, we willingly allow enemies hurtful to the soul to destroy us, indeed, we as it were stretch forth our neck to them.”

Are we abstaining from the lusts or passions of our flesh, or are we sticking our necks out to sin?

May our Lord Jesus Christ give us the eyes of faith to see the danger of our sins for what it really is.  And may He grant each of us mercy and repentance that we might live as sojourners and exiles in this world, to the glory of God!

Grace and the Walking Dead

The Walking Dead

Sorry, this isn’t going to be a deep philosophical discussion of the spiritual truths that we can discern from America’s obsession with all things zombie-related.  (For that, you can check here.)

But if we really understood what the Bible says about the depravity and utter inability of man in sin, we would find it no less frightening than a zombie show (even if less outwardly grotesque).  The Apostle Paul tells us that outside of Christ we are all dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1).  Not just sick; not just limited in our abilities; not just neutral in regard to good or evil; but spiritually dead in our sins.

The Heidelberg Catechism describes our depravity outside of Christ (including our total inability to do any true spiritual good or believe in Jesus, and our inclination toward sin) this way:

Q.8. But are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined toward all evil? A. Yes, unless we are born  again, by the Spirit of God.

The Westminster Larger Catechism tells us that the corruption of our nature by sin in Adam is so complete that we are “utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined toward all evil, and that continually” (Q.25).

What does that mean in terms of our ability to hear the gospel and respond to it with saving faith?  It means that even if all of our outward circumstances tended toward leading us to believe in Christ for salvation, we would never turn to Him by faith.  Even if we were rightly & clearly taught the Word of God and the gospel of Christ from our youth, that seed would never take root in our dead hearts of stone.

The walking dead cannot and will not believe, not on their own.

And this has been borne out in the pages of history and Scripture.  A sobering example is that of the Pharisees and Scribes.  John Foxe writes,

At the first preaching of Christ, and coming of the Gospel, who should rather have known and received Him than the Pharisees and Scribes of that people which had His law? And yet who persecuted and rejected Him more than they themselves? What followed? They, in refusing Christ to be their King, and choosing rather to be subject unto Caesar, were by the said Caesar at length destroyed. (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, p.2)

Think about that for a moment.  He couldn’t be more right!  We are so accustomed to reading the gospels and seeing the Pharisees and Scribes cast as the bad guys (so to speak), that it is all too easy to forget that they were supposed to be the good guys!

If anyone should have readily believed in Jesus as the Messiah, it was them!  If anyone should have known to expect His coming and believe, it was them!  And yet we find that time & time again, they are the very ones rejecting Him, opposing Him at every turn, testing Him, and seeking to kill Him!

Think about what that says about the nature of sin, depravity, and unbelief.  That is what depravity does to the heart and mind – not just deadening people to the truth of God’s Word, but convincing them that they are the experts, the guardians of it, while they are, in fact, radically opposed to it!

And if that could (and did!) happen with them, what hope does anyone have on their own to believe in Christ for salvation?  None.  On our own we are all hopeless; we are unable to believe; we are the walking dead.

That is why salvation is, and can only be, the work of God’s free grace; it is all of His mercy.  In Ephesians 2:4-10, Paul writes,

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

God, because of His great mercy, love, and grace toward people who are dead in their sins, makes us alive in Christ.  The above text could not be more clear or more thorough in pointing out over & over again that our salvation is all the work of God.  It is by His grace, not by anything that we do.  Even our faith is the gift of God.

Only God can take the walking dead and make them spiritually alive in Christ.  Only He can take cold, dead hearts of stone (that were totally unable to repent & believe, that were totally inclined toward sin) and turn them to flesh, so that we believe in Christ and walk in newness of life!   Praise the Lord for His grace, mercy, and love toward sinners!