Sin’s Extensive Damage
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Questions 82-84)
by Bob Burridge ©2011
The Extent of Sin’s Damage
Sin is not a minor breaking of a rule. As would be expected, the fallen world minimizes the idea of sin making it an acceptable or even desirable stepping over unimportant boundaries for a few moments of innocent pleasure. To attract those hungry for an escape from the ordinary, we hear advertizing to attract people to “Sin City”, to be a little “naughty” now and then, to try a “sinfully delicious” dessert, or to take in a little “adult” entertainment.
The truth is that sin is not just a little infraction of a rule. It is the violation of the moral principles revealed by our Creator. It is open rebellion against God’s authority and glory. The guilt of even one sin erects an uncrossable barrier that separates every fallen human from fellowship with his Maker.
In question 14 of the Shorter Catechism, sin is defined as the Bible describes it. It says, “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.”
No one is able to keep
the commandments of God perfectly.
The answer to question 82 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that no one naturally descended from Adam can keep the commandments of God when they are rightly understood. He breaks them every day in his thoughts, words, and deeds.
Humans were created in a condition of moral goodness. In Eden there was no inclination to do evil. Adam and Eve were holy and free. To be “free” does not mean that God had no idea what they would do, or that humans could change the plan of God. Eden was not a cosmic moral experiment. God is Sovereign and unchangably knows all things. By “free” we mean that man had no built in pull toward evil, and no blindness about what is true and moral. He had the ability either to do true good for God’s glory, or to sin. The outcome was known by God eternally.
Humans became corrupted in the fall. Adam’s rebellion against God brought death and the bondage of his desires to the mastery of sin. Since Adam represented us all, this depravity entered the human race and our moral freedom was lost. Ecclesiastes 7:29says, “Truly, this only I have found: That God made man upright, But they have sought out many schemes.” Romans 6:23 explains the consequences very clearly, “the wages of sin is death.”
Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus 2:1-3 explaining the death from which Christ delivers them, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.”
Romans 5:12 explains this representative relationship we had with Adam, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned —”
Fallen humans are cut off from their Creator, the only source of life. Sin alienates them from the Holy God. Their guilt deserves eternal judgment. This spiritual bondage corrupts everyone to the very core of his soul. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”
The Bible is filled with verses detailing the depth of fallen man’s resulting inability to do anything that pleases his Creator.
Ecclesiastes 7:20, “For there is not a just man on earth who does good And does not sin.”
Romans 3:10-12, “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.”
1 Corinthians 2:14, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
Jeremiah 13:23, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil.”
No one can change his basic nature. To do that, he would have to decide contrary to his own corrupted desires.
Humans bear eternal guilt for their corruption and alienation. Though God restrains sin so that no one becomes as evil as he could be, yet we say his depravity is “total” because it extends to every part of the person’s soul. The lost have no ability to understand God’s revealed truth, to believe God’s promises, to sincerely repent of his offensiveness to his Creator, or to do good with a humble and thankful heart. In John 6:44 Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
We stand condemned. Psalm 130:3 explains the horrible situation in which we find ourselves, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?”
God’s word clearly reveals our depravity. No man can keep the moral commandments purely. What God has revealed should drive us to repentance begging for grace, but in our corrupted estate it doesn’t. Man’s corruption is so complete that he refuses to see things as God presents them.
Fallen humans hate what the Bible says about God’s grace. He demands to be in control and that God is there for his benefit. The truth in Scripture will either be used by the Holy Spirit to bring him repentantly to Christ for forgiveness and restoration, or it will offend him and stir him to vicious rebellion. He does not want his corruption to be exposed for what it is.
Fallen man is arrogant, proud, and foolish. He finds the idea of a Sovereign God repulsive. W. E. Henley wrote the well known poem “Invictus” saying, “In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed.” and, “It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishment the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul”
Fallen man makes excuses for himself. He refuses to admit the great danger he is in. He speaks of sin as if it was a little matter. He says, “We all have our faults,” as if we should just accept and excuse this rebellion. Experience shows that even sins dismissed as “minor” bring horrible consequences. They break up homes, instigate mistrust, drug abuse, crime, depression, and despair. They are but symptoms of a deeper problem, our depraved condition. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” In verse 10 it says, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”
Fallen man dresses up his depravity. He brags about his education, culture, and what he sees as his own accomplishments. Some say, “Change the external circumstances (housing, medicine, education …) and you will see men at their best” But if you educate a criminal, all you have is an educated criminal. It is his heart that needs to change, not his score on standardized tests. Culture can be like a narcotic that makes the symptoms seem to go away, but it just puts a cover over them. It masks their warning. It is like those pain killer medicines which often keep you from feeling the pain, while the cause remains untreated.
Jesus said, “the tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). Hanging peaches on your palm tree, will not make it a peach tree. Putting culture over a corrupt heart will not make it good. It is what comes out of a man that reveals his true condition.
Some sins are more damaging than others.
Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 83 asks, “Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?” The answer it gives is, “Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.”
Under the Levitical order God set up for the guidance of Israel at Mount Sinai, not all civil crimes had the same punishment. Some sins cascade into the lives of many others created in God’s image. Though selfish hatred is an evil rebellion against God, murder strikes down a human life, deprives children of parents, loved ones of spouses, and the community of its citizens. Coveting what God has given to others shows dissatisfaction with God’s provisions, but theft harms the rightful owner and destabilizes neighborhoods. These aggravations of certain sins multiply their damage, and therefore offend God in many more ways than mere evil intentions.
Some sins more obscure the revelation of God’s nature than others. For example, unfaithfulness in marriage damages the institution set up to reveal God’s faithful love for his covenant people. This is why adultery was punished so harshly in the Levitical justice system.
This is not to say that some sins are not as evil as others. Every sin is at its root rebellion against God and the order he has embedded in his Creation. This is taken up in the next question of the Catechism.
Every sin demands God’s harsh judgment.
Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 84 asks, “What doth every sin deserve?” The answer it gives is, “Every sin deserveth God’s wrath and curse, both in this life and that which is to come.”
The verses quoted in the earlier part of this study make it undeniably clear that even one sin alienates the creature from his Creator forever (Romans 3:23). God cannot accept any immorality. It is all an offense to him and places an uncrossable, impenetrable barrier between fallen humans and their Maker. Habakkuk 1:13 says to God, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness…”
Man’s Total Depravity is answered only by the Doctrines of Grace. Only as Jesus the Messiah satisfied the penalty with his death, can sins be forgiven. The cross sufficiently provides healing and restoration for the totally depraved soul who comes to him in true repentance and trust in the Savior’s work of redemption.
When there is a humble sense of need, a dread of God’s deserved wrath, and a craving for the work of grace, there is clear evidence of the operation of the Holy Spirit upon that lost heart. When this conviction drives the lost to the cross, there is reason to rejoice and worship, for a lost sheep has been found and reclaimed by the Good Shepherd.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)