Often when we talk about sin and evil, we mention names and events like Hitler, Stalin, concentration camps, and other mass killings. These are for sure real examples of brutal wickedness. But we as Americans can’t just point overseas and stop there. Evil and wickedness hit closer to home. I was reminded of this when reading Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup – a man who was free, but kidnapped and forced into slavery. Slavery in the United States is an example of dark evil that ranks up there with other heinous atrocities in the world. On top of this, we can think of the cruel way many Americans treated native Americans in the 19th century westward expansion. Still more, we just need to think of abortion and the various ways helpless babies are brutally killed in staggering numbers. When we want to give examples of sin and evil, we don’t have to point overseas; it hits much closer to home. We walk on the same ground upon which these evils took (and are taking) place.
Even closer to home, the Bible says our own hearts are deceitful, evil, and wicked (Gen. 6:5, Ecc. 9:3, Jer. 17:9, Rom. 3:10-20, etc). Our minds, tongues, and deeds have a sinful bent and track record. God’s law shows us this sin of ours (Rom. 3:20). No one can obey God’s law perfectly. A question comes up: Why does God emphasize his commands so much in Scripture? Why does he instruct his people to know his law? The Heidelberg Catechism answers these questions well:
“First, so that the longer we live the more we may come to know our sinfulness and the more eagerly look to Christ for forgiveness of sins and righteousness. Second, so that, while praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, we may never stop striving to be renewed more and more after God’s image, until after this life we reach our goal: perfection” (Q/A 115).
I like how Zacharias Ursinus (the primary author of the Catechism) elaborates on this:
“This use of the law [as giving us a knowledge of sin], although it likewise has reference chiefly to the unregenerate, nevertheless, belongs to the godly also. For the law is to the regenerate as a mirror, in which they may see the defects and imperfection of their own nature, and also leads them to true humility before God, that so they may continually advance in true conversion [repentance] and faith; and that while the renewing of their nature is going forward, they may become more earnest in prayer and supplication, that they may become more and more conformed to God and the divine law (Rom. 7:22-24) (p. 614).”
We don’t talk about God’s law as well as our sinfulness in order to make us slog around in despair or to scare Christians into being moral. One reason we mention the law and sin is to lead us to repent of our sin and believe in Jesus, the Savior of ungodly sinners. Yes, there is evil out there, there is evil here close to home, and there is sin in me. But God has sent a Savior! There is forgiveness and abundant hope in him. Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (Rom. 5:20 NASB).
The above quote from Ursinus is found in his Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism.