Blog Archives

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