Monthly Archives: October 2016

What is right and wrong?

Read Romans 3

“Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” Westminster Shorter Catechism, 14


In the first study on the catechism, we asked who gets to determine right and wrong. In that context we were considering our purpose in life. The answer is the same when we ask who gets to describe morality. The Creator, of course, is the One who determines not only our purpose, but the way we fulfill that purpose. This God does by communicating to us His law.

Sin is necessarily related to this discussion. Last week we hinted at original sin, our guilt in Adam’s first sin; much more could be said on that subject, especially in connection to Romans chapter 5. The Scripture is full with this doctrine; we all like sheep have gone astray, everyone has turned to his own way. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Yes, we in Adam inherit a sinful nature, and that nature leads us to a life of trespasses and sins. But today I want to turn our attention to particular sin – those specific actions of which we are daily guilty.

What is sin? The Westminster Shorter Catechism gives us a succinct and helpful definition; “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” I want to think about sin under three propositions. These come from John Murray’s essay “The Nature of Sin.”

1. Sin is real evil.

There are worldviews that see sin as an illusion. There are worldviews that see sin as even necessary for good to exist. A ying needs its yang; for there to be good, there must also be evil. There must be balance, or good itself ceases to be good. The pantheistic worldview claims sin is a step toward self-realization of divinity. But sin is a real evil. Not imagined. Not necessary, and thus only wrong in contrast. Good is good – regardless of evil. God is perfect in righteous, goodness and holiness. He was so before Satan’s first rebellious sin, or before the sin of Adam in the garden. He will continue to be after the final judgment. God is good, and that is not contingent on evil. Sin is the real rebellion against God’s perfect law, and like any treason, the ruler views it as very real evil indeed.

2. Sin is specific evil.

Not everything that is evil is sin. Our lives are full of disease, tragedy, death, disasters. These are evils, but not of themselves sin. They can sometimes be the consequences of sins, and they all are a result of mankind’s fall into sin with Adam. But the rot in your favorite tree, the cancer in your loved one and the devastation you experience due to the storm are not sin. Sin is a specific evil. It is an evil of rebellion. It is…

3. Sin is moral evil.

There are worldviews that see sin as merely a social construct. Neither good or bad of itself, only viewed as such in a society. But sin is not just a social construct, or a private opinion, it is a moral issue. It is wrong. As Murray comments, “It is a violation of the category of ought; it is wrong; it ought not to be.”

This is because it is a violation of law. Again, not a society’s abstract laws, but a law that is over all society, indeed, over all creation – the whole universe. This law’s authority over all is that it is God’s law, and therefore holds authority over creation, for it derives that authority from the Creator Himself.

We would like to think that we get to choose what is right and wrong. We choose this based on feelings. We choose, if we are honest, based on what makes us feel good, or what puts us on top. But any rejection of God’s law’s authority over us is itself a moral sin. Murray warns us of our tendency toward this, using our best-sounding argument: love supersedes the law.

It is not the law of cosmos, nor the law of reason; it is the law that expresses the nature and will of the supreme personality who has authority over us and propriety in us, to whom we owe complete submission and absolute devotion. We are bound to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and strength and mind, and such love is the fulfilling of the law. Herein appears the perverseness of the idea that the moral law may be abrogated and is superseded by love. Law for us is the correlate of the nature of God, in us and to us the correlate of  the divine perfection. Love is the fulfilling of the law. But love is not an autonomous, self-instructing and self-directing principle… Love fulfills the law but love itself is not the law. Sin is therefore the violation of the law which love fulfills. Abrogate law and we abrogate sin, and we make love an emotion abstracted from all activity and meaning. (Murray, “The Nature of Sin”)

God sets the standard. And it is that standard which is loving, even when it is seen as close-minded, harsh or unfair. Any sin, no matter how much we seek to convince ourselves and other of its loving motives, is in fact, neither loving, nor good, for it is rebellion against the only wise God. Sin is any time we fail to conform to God’s law. Any time we fail to do what God desires. “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17) “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” (Gal 3:10) Sin is any time we break what God commands, or pass the boundary of His law. “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” (1John 3:4) This isn’t an issue of personal opinion. It isn’t an issue of personal belief, in which you are free to believe something else, and not liable or guilty if you don’t see it as wrong. God sets the standards. Sin is any failure to conform to His will, and any transgression of His law, whether we like it or not.

Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: “That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged.” But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? (I speak as a man.) Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world? For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? 8 And why not say, “Let us do evil that good may come”?—as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just…
As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known.”  “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:4-8, 10-18)

Leave a Comment

October 20, 2016 · 7:23 pm

The Covenant of Life

Read: Romans 5

“When God had created man, He entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death…Our first parents, being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the estate wherein they were created, by sinning against God.” Westminster Shorter Catechism, 12-13


God’s decrees are worked out in history through creation and providence. It is clear to any who read Genesis 1 that God created mankind, as He did the rest of creation. But the distance between the Creator and the creature is so great, that although creation itself testifies to His existence, and therefore we owe Him obedience, yet Adam and Eve could not have entered into a relationship with God unless God Himself condescended to enter into relationship with them (Westminster Confession, 7.1). This condescension in the Garden we call the Covenant of Life.

It is true that the Bible does not use the word ‘covenant’ when recounting the events in the Garden. But the arrangement which it does describe contains elements so similar to places where the Bible does use the word covenant, that we can hardly deny a covenant in the Garden. Plainly God in Genesis did enter into what, according to the rest of Scripture, was a covenant.

Biblical covenants are not simply contracts, as we might use the term today. Foundational to Biblical covenants are a promise on the part of God – a promise with a condition. Now God was never obligated to make a covenant, but having made a covenant promise, His honor is involved in the fulfillment of His part of it.

What was the promise? Life. Not a lifetime, as we know it, with death at the end, but eternal life. Not simply a spiritual state of being, but physical life. This both Genesis and Romans 5 clearly indicate. But this promised life, although physical, is also one of favorable spiritual relationship with God, the highest form of living. It would have been an eternal enjoyment of walking with God in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8).

What is the condition attached to the promise? Obedience. Not partial or conditional obedience, but perfect obedience. This is why this covenant is also at times called the Covenant of Works.

Of course, Genesis 2 does not state it in the positive, but rather the negative. “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” (Genesis 2:16-17) Even though this is only put in negative form, the positive implications are clear. Clearly if death is the penalty for disobedience, then the obedient would have life. Underneath the threat of the penalty is the promise of God.

Perhaps it is too easy for our fallen minds to think that this condition was too hard. Like a red flag to a bull, God says, “look at that tree – don’t touch!” And we may wonder how Adam was ever expected to do anything but take and eat! Of course, that is because we are fallen. Adam was not fallen at the time, he had never sinned. Further, we reduce the great blessing of God even in the restriction. God said, “of every tree of the garden you may freely eat,” except one. Now the garden was full of other wonderful trees, trees with no decay. And more importantly, the garden contained the Tree of Life. But Adam, our father and representative, chose the one tree forbidden, over all the other trees of the garden. And so, covenant broken, he lost access to the Tree of Life.

Theologians believe that this initial state was one of probation. When God had created man, He permitted him to be tested. Consider the Christian hope. Dr. Machen asks,

“Does it consist merely in the hope of being given a new chance to obey the commands of God, to have sin removed, and to have set before us all over again in another world the alternative of life and death as it was set before Adam in Paradise? No Christian, who has any inkling of the true riches of the great and precious promises of God will say that. On the contrary, the Christian hope is the hope of a time when even the possibility of our sinning will be over. It is not the hope then of a return to the condition of Adam before the fall but the hope of an entrance into a far higher condition.” (The Christian View of Man, 160)

This clear emphasis in the Scriptures, of a life without the possibility of sin, leads us to see the Garden as probation; had Adam passed the test, the same blessedness that we have in Christ would have been to Adam and his posterity. This is why Romans 5 is so wonderful. We are not to live in fear of a Covenant of Works, for in history only two men have been put in this test: Adam and Christ. Both represent those united to them. One failed and received death. The other perfectly kept the commandments of God, and therefore gives eternal life to all those who are in Him!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

God’s Decrees: Cause of Praise and Humility

“The decrees of God are, His eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His will, whereby, for His own glory, He hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.”
Westminster Shorter Catechism, 7

God executes His decrees in the works of creation and providence.”
Westminster Shorter Catechism, 8

The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men, attending the will of God revealed in His Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the Gospel.”
Westminster Confession of Faith, 3.8

So often our discussions of God’s decree is driven by the urge to respond to those voices which would reject and challenge this biblical doctrine. The doctrine of God’s eternal decree is taught throughout Scripture. Notably Ephesians 1, Romans 9, and John 6:35-40.

Rather than argue for God’s decree, we will here consider the response we ought to have to this biblical doctrine. I am reminded of something that R.C. Sproul wrote. He tells the story of his own struggle with the doctrine of God’s decrees, providence, election and reprobation. The turning point for him was during a seminary class where he was required to deal, sentence by sentence with Jonathan Edwards’ The Freedom of the Will. Sproul became convinced, and comments that often submission to this doctrine comes before love of it.

First came the intellectual conviction that the doctrine was biblically inescapable. It took some time, however for [Edwards and Sproul] to see the doctrine’s sweetness and excellence. It draws our attention away from ourselves and our petty concerns, and directs our gaze to God, who is truly sovereign and purposive in His determination to bring about the salvation of His people. He does not simply make salvation possible, and then sit like a spectator, leaving our final destiny in our own hands. The biblical doctrine of sin makes it clear that if God left our future in our hands, we most assuredly would not end up in heaven.

When we see the depths to which God goes to bring His people to the fullness of     salvation, we stand in awe before His grace. Is there anything more amazing than that we should be called children of God? The apostle John writes to his flock: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1). This helps us see the excellence and sweetness of grace, and it moves us to praise, reverence, and admiration. (Sproul, Truths We Confess, 107)

Sproul goes on to comment on our cult of the individual, how we like to make everything about ourselves. How we like to turn the kingdom of God into a democracy, rather than realize our need to bow before our Absolute Monarch. This is why even believers struggle with the doctrine of God’s decree so much. It is unacceptable to our egos that God should declare Himself in control, and that His decree includes things we don’t like, yet God chooses not to answer all our questions.

The Westminster Confession of Faith ends its chapter on the Divine Decrees by reminding us that this doctrine should lead us to worship and praise of our Sovereign God. The very fact this doctrine is a mystery, and beyond our ability to fully comprehend should drive us to our knees in awe of our God, as Romans 11:33 declares, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!

But we will never fall on our knees in praise, nor live the diligent life of grateful obedience to which this God calls us, nor enjoy the great comfort that this doctrine extends to all who call on the Name of Christ, unless we come to the doctrine in humility.

Why do some of us call on the name of the Lord, and others reject the offer of the gospel? Is it because some of us are smarter? Paul says that not many of the wise are chosen (1 Cor. 1:26). Is it just random? Is it because we wanted it more? But Scripture tells us that wanting it isn’t enough, for we aren’t able to choose Christ on our own (John 6:44, Rom. 8:8). So why do some of us call on the name of the Lord? Because God predestined us to eternal life, and works this life, this desire to call on the name of the Lord, and the faith to call out, by the work of the Holy Spirit, effectually calling us, and thereby uniting us to Christ.

Isn’t that humbling? Doesn’t that leave your pride bruised and broken? Doesn’t that take all superiority over unbelievers out of us? It was not because we are anything special. It is not because we are better or morally good. It was only God’s love that called us, by His will, unto everlasting life. And it is He, through Jesus Christ His Son, who created and governs all things, in all time and all space (Col. 1).

But that will lead to apathy; why call on the name of the Lord if we are either elect or not? If I am not elect, calling won’t help, and if I am elect, I will be saved whether I call out or not! But friends, God does not tells us what His decree is for our lives. He simply tells us that all the elect will cry out to Him, and then tells us to call out and be saved. God’s decree does not counteract an energetic faith, but spurs it on.

The whole theme of Scripture is all of grace, all of Christ’s mercy. Are we humble enough to bow before the doctrine of Divine decree? If so, you will find that such a position before God’s throne is a joyful place, a place where singing praise is exciting, for the praise is not for us in our weakness, but for the God who loved us, and gave His Son for us!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized