The Bible and the Doctrine of Sin (Hodge)

The Way of Life by [Hodge, Charles] If you read Scripture and take it seriously, you cannot get around what it teaches about the sinfulness of man.  Here’s how Charles Hodge explained it:

[The doctrine of sin] is not a doctrine taught in isolated passages. It is one of those fundamental truths which are taken for granted in almost every page of the Bible. The whole scheme of redemption supposes that man is a fallen being. Christ came to seek and to save the lost. He was announced as the Savior of sinners. His advent and work have no meaning or value but upon the assumption that we are guilty, for he came to save his people from their sins; to die the just for the unjust; to bear our sins in his own body on the tree. Those who have no sin, need no Savior; those who do not deserve death, need no Redeemer. As the doctrine of redemption pervades the Scripture, so does the doctrine of the universal sinfulness of men.

This doctrine is also assumed in all the Scriptural representations of what is necessary for admission into heaven. All men, everywhere, are commanded to repent. But repentance supposes sin. Every man must be born again, in order to see the kingdom of God; he must become a new creature; he must be renewed after the image of God. Being dead in trespasses and in sins, he must be quickened, or made partaker of a spiritual life. In short it is the uniform doctrine of the Bible, that all men need both pardon and sanctification in order to their admission to heaven. It therefore teaches that all men are sinners.

This quote is found in Hodge’s The Way of Life, chapter two.  (And, if you’re interested, it’s only $0.99 right now on Kindle!!)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Concerning Sin Against the Holy Spirit (Ursinus)

The Commentary of Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism Zacharius Ursinus, the primary author of the Heidelberg Catechism, wrote a helpful explanation of the sin against the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:31).  The title of one part of this section is called “Certain Rules to be observed in relation to the Sin against the Holy Ghost.”  Here they are:

1. The sin against the Holy Ghost is not found in every wicked person; but only in those who have been enlightened by the Holy Ghost, and who have been fully convinced of the truth, as Saul, Judas, etc.

2. Every sin which is against the Holy Ghost is reigning sin, and a sin against conscience, but not the reverse [e.g. sin that does not reign in a person and sin that is not against the conscience – spl]. For it may occur that some one may, either ignorantly, or even knowingly and willingly, hold certain errors, or violate some of the commandments of God, from weakness, or torture, or from fear of danger, and yet not purposely and maliciously impugn the truth, or totally fall from holiness, and continue in sensuality and a contempt of all that is sacred; but he may return unto God and repent of his sin. These forms of sin differ, therefore, as genus and species.

3. The sin against the Holy Ghost is not committed by the elect, or those who are truly converted. They can never perish; for Christ safely preserves and saves them. “They shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hands. (John 10:28. Also, 2 Tim. 2:19. 1 Pet. 1:5. 1 John 5:15.) Hence those who sin against the Holy Ghost were never truly converted and called. They went out from us, because they were not of us.

4. No one should decide hastily or rashly concerning the sin against the Holy Ghost; yea, judgment should in no case be passed upon any one, unless it be a posteriori, for the reason that we do not know what is in the heart of man. 

 Ursinus, Z., & Williard, G. W. (1888). The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (p. 47). Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church, OPC
Hammond, WI, 54015

Paul’s Devastating Exposure of Universal Sin and Guilt (Stott)

 Romans 3:19-20 makes this declaration: “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (NET Bible).

I appreciate John Stott’s conclusions on this part of Romans 3:

In conclusion, how should we respond to Paul’s devastating exposure of universal sin and guilt, as we read it at the end of the twentieth century? We should not try to evade it by changing the subject and talking instead of the need for self-esteem, or by blaming our behaviour on our genes, nurturing, education or society. It is an essential part of our dignity as human beings that, however much we may have been affected by negative influences, we are not their helpless victims, but rather responsible for our conduct. Our first response to Paul’s indictment, then, should be to make it as certain as we possibly can that we have ourselves accepted this divine diagnosis of our human condition as true, and that we have fled from the just judgment of God on our sins to the only refuge there is, namely Jesus Christ who died for our sins. For we have no merit to plead and no excuse to make. We too stand before God speechless and condemned. Only then shall we be ready to hear the great ‘But now’ of verse 21, as Paul begins to explain how God has intervened through Christ and his cross for our salvation.

 Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (pp. 104–105). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Naming our Struggles (Murray)

 Quite often we as Christians know the various sins against which we struggle.  We might be strong in some areas, but are weak in others.  For example, a person might not have a violent or quick temper, but he does struggle with discontentment and envy.  A Christian might have real and genuine loves for others, but she has a hard time being a good steward of her money.  The list goes on.  Usually as we mature in the faith, we start to see our strengths and weaknesses.  The Lord, through Scripture, helps us see our failures so we can repent of them and ask for grace to “put off” what is sinful and “put on” what is good.  However, sometimes we can’t always name our weaknesses, we don’t know what to call them, or they haven’t been pointed out to us yet.  In Refresh, the authors list some of the main areas of stumbling for women – though I’d add these are areas of stumbling for men as well:

Idolatry.  We make idols of beauty, fashion, career, husband, or children – especially their success in school and sports.

Materialism.  Our pursuit of money or bigger and better homes often results in working more hours or jobs than we can handle and also nourishes the womb of discontent that gnaws away at our minds and hearts.

Debt.  One of the greatest causes of stress is living beyond our means.  Maybe we don’t spend 50 percent more than we can afford, but 10 percent, year on year, grows our debt and our anxiety levels.

Comparison.  Pinterest, Facebook, and mommy blogs can lead us to compare ourselves unfavorably with others who seem better looking, better homemakers, better organizers, and better everything.

Indiscipline.  Although it’s hard to be disciplined and organized, it’s more stressful to be the opposite, which so easily occurs as we use technology.  How many hours are wasted on the internet, resulting not only in guilt over wasted time but a pileup of other duties that now have to be rushed.

Identity.  We define who we are by our successes, our failures, or some part of our past, instead of who we are in Christ.

Media diet.  Just as what we put in our mouths affects our emotions, thoughts, and hearts so what we put in our ears and eyes has emotional, intellectual, and spiritual consequences.  Many live as if Philippians 5:8 said, ‘Whatever things are false, whatever things are sordid, whatever things are wrong, whatever things are filthy, whatever things are ugly, whatever things are terrible, if there is any vice, if there is anything worthy of criticism, meditate on these things.’

Perfectionism.  We strive for flawless family, house, meals, and appearance.

Failure.  We fail at school, or at a job, or at homemaking, or in witnessing, or we fail to meet our own or others’ expectations.

Later in this helpful book the authors talk more about dealing with these dangers and sins in light of God’s grace and his word.  It’s good to know our sins and weaknesses so we can, by God’s grace, fight them.  We don’t want to wallow in weakness, we want to press on obediently in the strength of the Lord!

NOTE: I edited the list for length; you can find it in its entirety on pages 46-48 of Refresh by David and Shona Murray.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Apart from the Law Sin is Dead

 Romans 7 is a rich text that has some very deep truths about sin and the law.  Some phrases that stick out to me are these: “Sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind...” and “…when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died” and finally “…sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me” (Rom  7:8, 9, 11 NASB).  Herman Ridderbos has some helpful comments on these verses:

It is not the law itself, therefore, which is sin.  But sin avails itself of the law as its starting point, that is to say, sin – here thought of as a personified power – gets its opportunity through the law.  For the law forbids sin.  Consequently, when the law comes on man with its prohibition, sin springs into action and awakens in man the desire for what is forbidden by the commandment.  In that sense it can be said that the desires are ‘by the law’ (v. 5).  Thus it can also be understood that sin is ‘dead’ apart from the law, that is, sin asserts itself in man only when the law comes to him with its prohibitions.  Then sin begins ‘to live’ (v. 9), it stirs from its slumbering, its resistance awakens to the power that is bent on bridling it.

What is written in 1 Corinthians 15:56 applies here as well: ‘the strength of sin is the law.’  Without the law sin would not have been able to make men rebellious and lawless.  For this reason it can also be said that sin, starting from the law, deceives man.  By holding up the commandment to man as the end of his liberty and by promising him life in the transgression of the commandment, sin draws man under its enchantment.  It promises him just that which the law appears to take away, and leads him thus into death.

Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, p. 144.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

God’s Wrath/Anger Against Wickedness (Morris)

Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Romans Here’s a helpful commentary by Leon Morris on Paul’s discussion of God’s anger or wrath being revealed against man’s ungodliness and unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18):

It is, of course, true that God is love. But it is not true that this rules out any realistic view of God’s wrath.  …Wrath is perhaps not an ideal term, for with us it so easily comes to denote an emotion characterized by loss of self-control and a violent concern for selfish interests. But these are not necessary constituents of wrath, and both are absent from the “righteous indignation” which gives us the best human analogy. In any case “wrath” is the word the Bible uses, and we need the strongest of reasons for abandoning it. It is a term that expresses the settled and active opposition of God’s holy nature to everything that is evil. Until some better suggestion is made we do well to stick to the biblical term to convey the biblical idea. What we should not do is to abandon the idea that the wrath is personal. This leads to the position that God does not care about sin, or at least does not care enough to act. It is impossible to reconcile such a morally neutral position with the scriptural teaching about God. The Bible in general and Paul in particular see God as personally active in opposing sin.

 Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 76.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Workings of our Remaining Sinful Nature

51Wtr7fGObL._SX358_BO1,204,203,200_ Those who have true faith have truly been given new life in Christ.  If a person believes in Christ, he or she has been “born of God” (1 John 5:1).  Regeneration means that someone who was dead in sin is now alive in Christ (Eph. 2:4-5).  However, new birth (regeneration) does not mean that the old sinful nature is completely gone.  True believers still struggle with indwelling sin (Gal. 5:17).  As Luther rightly said, the Christian is a saint and a sinner at the same time.

This means that when we stumble into sin, we can’t simply blame the devil or the world.  The devil can mess with us and the world can entice us, but we sin because we still have the “old man” in us, the “flesh.”  So how does this “old man” function in us?  W. Brakel (d. 1711) explained this well in his discussion on sanctification.  I’ll summarize it below:

  1. Sometimes the old nature stirs us up to sin by violent assaults.  The lusts are so agitated and are stirring so vehemently that there is no time to think upon the fear of God. Even if the fear of the Lord is present, the lust is so strong and forceful that any good inclinations are quickly extinguished.
  2. Sometimes the old nature seeks some rest and relaxation.  He begins to think upon natural things and the lusts of the flesh begin to stir, and the thoughts pertaining to natural things become sinful.  His mind wanders and he lusts, covets, or becomes proud.  He falls into more sin as the moment permits, or even to the degree he never thought himself capable of.
  3. Sometimes the old nature gains strength due to recklessness.  He puts himself into situations he knows will ensnare him, but he does it anyway.  The sin at hand gains the upper hand.  Contact with grease cannot but leave a stain (vetjes maken smetjes).
  4. The old sinful nature also is engaged in keeping us from doing good.  A) He makes us think there is no time to pray, read Scripture, sing, or meditate upon the word.  B) He makes us procrastinate and say we will do godly things later.  C) He makes us believe that doing good is too difficult and impossible to do.  D) He makes us think that doing good is in vain because God is not paying attention and it will not benefit us. E) He makes us compromisers by saying the path is not as narrow as we think.
  5. The old sinful nature also wants to keep us from doing good so he attempts to spoil that which is good.  A) He makes our thoughts wander.  B) He distracts us by making us think about a good thing that isn’t applicable to the situation. C) He causes us to be proud of doing good, and the purity of the duty is contaminated.  D) He causes us to think we do not have the Spirit.  E) His atheism and unbelief surface and it ruins the good with evil.

Why is this important?  For one thing, it helps us as Christians to know ourselves.  We can’t point fingers and blame others for our sinful words, thoughts, and actions (Ps. 51:3-4).  It also keeps us truly humble to know we still have the old man of sin dwelling in us.  It helps us stay near the cross, where we receive continual cleansing from Jesus’ blood.  It makes us constantly confess our sins to God.  It makes us all the more dependent upon the Holy Spirit to give the new man strength in the battle.  It teaches us that God gets all the credit for any good in us or anything good we do in his sight.  Realizing that our old man remains in us also makes us long for heaven, when sanctification will be complete and we will be fully delivered from our remaining sinful flesh.  And the list goes on.  Paul put it this way: What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body?  I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:24-25 HCSB).

The above edited and summarized quote is found in volume three of Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service, p. 9-11.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015