Our encounter and experience of sin is often immediate, intimate and personal and never theological. People think it is embarrassing and demeaning to talk about sin because it not a topic we should all be talking about. It is considered impolite to air your dirty laundry for everyone to see in public.
This is why some people think as a church, we should not teach anything about sin. It simply drives people away, leads to a lot of misunderstanding, and stands in the way of love. We should just love, love one another.
Yet, I think the doctrine of sin, while an emotionally charged topic because of the personal and subjective experience we attach to it, needs to occupy pulpit preaching in order to add more light than heat. Yes, I do admit some pastors today often use their pulpit airtime to guilt trip their hearers and people equate this with preaching sin but this is not we are after. What we need is the reformed view and doctrinal understanding of sin and the Fall of Man. And this is what our catechism teaches in Q#14 which reads:
Q#14: What is sin?
Answer: Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.
After learning about God, his Word, his nature and persons, his will and works of creation and providence, we come now understanding ourselves as his creation, and our status in relation to God. According to John Calvin, in his introduction to his book Institutes of Christian Religion, this is wisdom – to know God and ourselves.
“Nearly all wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves” (Inst. I.1.i)
To know ourselves in relation to God will definitely lead us to knowing our fallen sinful state, and the miserable life it brings. And this is the sermon point we will hear preached this morning. So before we begin, let us pray:
Our heavenly Father, we ask You to look upon us in grace, as we look away from ourselves into the face of Your Son, whom You have appointed our Mediator and Savior. As all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Your Son, guide us by Your Holy Spirit into the true understanding of the doctrines of Christ. May our meditation upon His truth produce in us the fruit of righteousness to the glory and exaltation of His name, the instruction and edification of this congregation, and the salvation of the lost through our witness. We pray this in the name and favor of Your well-beloved Son, Jesus Christ, in dependence on His Holy Spirit. Amen.
What is Sin?
Simply put, the term “sin” means “to miss the mark”. This is how Paul used the word hamartia in Romans 3:23 where it reads, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The verbs he used are sinned and fall short. Taken as a parallel, “to sin” is defined as “to fall short”. Then Paul added a possessive object from which the falling short refers to and it is God’s glory. Glory as we have learned from Q#1 is man’s chief end. It means to make manifest the praises of God in lives of those he created in his own image.
Now, this implies the failure to reflect God’s glory means man was created in an original state in which he does not possess anymore. The subject of the sentence in Romans 3:23 is all which refers to same all in Romans 3:12 where it reads, “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” From this particular verse we can deduce that all here means the exclusion “no one”. I think that is clear enough but to further prove the point we can refer to Romans 3:9 where it reads, “…all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin”. There we can understand again that all specifically refers to both Jews and Gentiles and do not have any ethic religious distinction. All means all here. Then furthermore, Paul states that all are under sin. It is a copula verb that equates all with being under sin and the preposition visually convey all being covered wholly with sin.
This means sin is a condition before it becomes an action “sinning”. We sin because we are sinners. Q#13 relates this condition original coming out from the fall of our first parents:
Q#13 Did our first parents continue in the estate wherein they were created?
Answer: Our first parents, being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the estate wherein they were created, by sinning against God.
We inherited the guilt and corrupted nature of our parents. Later we will learn about the causes and effects of sin but for now let us focus on the meaning of sin. And from Q#14 sin is defined as “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” The term “want” is an old way of saying “lack”. So by this definition, sin means lack of conformity to God’s law. Now, God’s law is the expression of God’s will and God’s will brings God glory. By it, God’s majesty, his wisdom, goodness, and power are demonstrated. Our failure to glorify God for his perfections is sin. This lack of conformity is an internal and inherent quality we all possess because of our sinful nature. We do not desire to follow God’s law and worse we transgress it. We willfully violate God’s laws and commands. This what transgression means. Instead of following we choose to go against God. We choose ourselves over God who created us good and provided good things for us to possess and yet we squandered his good gifts and used it for our own selfish ends. King David in Psalm 51 expresses this reality in verses 3 and 5:
“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me…Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
David uses the word transgression as a sin he acknowledged, iniquity referring to corrupted nature, then sin as existing before me as a condition or a state. So as demonstrated, Scriptures, both in the Old and New Testament defines sin in sync with the definition laid down by our catechism. Now before we go to our next question sin’s origin, let me address some observations on the definition of sin.
First, our society have a low of sin. In fact, it fights against anyone who thinks they can define what is sin and what is not sin. Again, we live in lawless world who would rather define sin on its own terms rather than accepting what God says about it.
Second, defining sin in relation to God’s law makes it objective and never impersonal. It teaches something about ourselves and often we rather forget and even neglect. We deny objective truth to avoid intellectual ascent to any objective reality of sin then in an attempt to save ourselves from guilt, by shifting any blame and point our finger to anything or anyone other than ourselves. We try to de-personalize the matter rather accepting any personal responsibility over the matter.
Lastly, we can only acknowledge, understand, and accept the definition on these terms when the Holy Spirit regenerates our hearts and renew our minds and wills. Only from true and saving faith comes true repentance. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin through the law of God.
So that is the definition of sin but what is its cause and effect?
The cause of our sin is Adam’s original sin. His disobedience leads to our fall to sin. Q#15 to 17 explains:
Q#15: What was the sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created?
Answer: The sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created, was their eating the forbidden fruit.
Q#16: Did all mankind fall in Adam’s first transgression?
Answer: The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.
Q#17: Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
Answer: The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.
Today, I will teach Sunday school and our topic is transmission so can go back again to this question about the effects of sin later so for now, let us examine the cause.
God is not the author of sin. He does not make us evil. Evil as result of sin comes from beings who lacks conformity or transgresses God’s law. There is no opposite or equal divine being called Evil like what pagans or some Gnostics believe. God is perfectly good and we cannot evil or sin in Him.
So the cause of our sin is clear. It comes from the disobedience of Adam, by the temptation of Satan, and this results to the Fall of Man. Man is at fault and not God. The buck stops at Adam. Scripture clearly states: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned (Romans 5:12).” That one man is Adam. His transgression brought everyone under the curse of sin and death. This original sin brought us to a life of sin and misery which is essentially death for us.
Many people upon hearing the cause of sin often object to the severity of the punishment over the seemingly harmless command of not to eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. I remember Dr. Sproul when he was still alive was asked a similar question from a group panel interview in a Ligonier Conference:
Moderator: Since God is slow to anger and patient, then why, when man first sinned, was his wrath and punishment so severe and long lasting?!
Sproul: Time out! Didn’t we just have that question just a second ago? That God’s punishment for Adam was so severe. This creature from the dirt, defied the everlasting, holy God. After that, God had said, “The day that you shall eat of it, you shall surely die.” And instead of dying (thanatos) that day, he lived another day and was clothed in his nakedness by pure grace and had the consequences of a curse applied for quite some time, but the worst curse would come upon the one who seduced him, whose head would be crushed by the seed of the woman. And the punishment was too severe?!? What’s wrong with you people?! I’m serious! I mean this is what’s wrong with the Christian church today. We don’t know who God is. And we don’t know who we are. The question is, why wasn’t it infinitely more severe? If we have any understanding of our sin and any understanding of who God is. That’s the question, isn’t it?!
God created man good yet despite of it, Adam still choose to transgress God’s command. He is guilty of sin and deserve the punishment God sets for him to suffer. God being the law-giver is perfectly holy and just to determine these matters for he alone is both wise and good.
So that is cause of sin but what was its effect to us? Adam’s fall brought everyone born under him into the evil of sin and misery. He brought us the curse of death.
The reality of death to all men because of Adam’s original sin brings to an understanding of Paul argument in Romans 5:14-19. The contrast between Adam and Christ expounds on this matter and so emphasize here are verbatim statements from Paul:
“Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. (verse 14)”
The point Paul makes between the relationship of law, death, and sin is that even though Israel did not receive the ten commandments yet there is death. Why? Because the punishment of death exists therefore sin extends even until now. Then Paul continues with his comparison between Adam and Christ.
“For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 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 (verses 17-19).”
So in Adam, all men receive death, condemnation, and ultimately all these comes from sin but in Christ, the elect receives life, grace, and all because we are justified in Him.
Now, there are common objections to this. The first comes from a depraved mind saying since God made me a sinner so if sin then I have no choice on the matter. Therefore, I will just sin anyway. The second comes from modern Christians in our day complaining since original sin happened a long time ago, and I was not even born yet, why am I being punished for someone else’s sin?
First, we need to again go back to Scripture and receive its authority on the matter. God is good and when he created us, he created us good (Genesis 1:31). He is not the author of sin (Romans 2:4). Therefore, whenever we sin, it is by our own doing. We are responsible. When we sin, we “freely” do it according to the inclination that resides in our sinful and fallen nature. We choose to sin and every time we do we give our consent to it. James proves this point when he wrote: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire (James 1:14).” Sin while foreign to the good creation of God is what we as sinner embrace by default. Think of it a s a light switch that is always on because the electrician pranked you and short circuited the wire to always on. So even though you try to turn the toggle on or off, it remains on. What is funny in this illustration, the electrician turns out to be you as well (epic twist)! Because sin deceives us into thinking we are innocent but in reality we are always guilty of sin. Unless regenerated, we will never come to acknowledge it.
Second, we cannot claim life in Christ, when deny death in Adam. The logic of Romans 5 does not allow such thinking. If Christ is our representative freely giving us grace and justification then by contrast, we receive our condemnation and death from Adam. So accept the former is to receive the latter. I think kind of complain comes the hyper-democratized worldview. I should not be made responsible for something happened a long time ago. It is unfair to impute the sins of the father to his sons. According to the prophet Ezekiel: “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself (Ezekiel 18:20).” Now this is true and simple justice. However, we need to understand that when we sin it is not our father who actually sin but ourselves. The father and the son both sin they are both responsible for it. After the fall, both Adam and his posterity continue to sin and consistently choose to sin according to the desire it chooses in rebellion against God. The original sin from Adam puts all mankind to fallen state which perpetuates condemnation and death.
How did then God saves from all this mess? The Triune God delivers us from the curse of sin and misery. Romans 5:20 declares, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Yes sin increased as it get perpetuated from generation to generation by grace abounded all the more as the Father elects, the Son redeems, and the Spirit regenerates. This is God’s covenant of grace in redemptive history and we will all learn about it next week.
ZCRC(Imus), in Adam, all men receive death, condemnation, and ultimately all these comes from sin but in Christ, the elect receives life, grace, and all because we are justified in Him. Let us give praise to God who saves. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.