In this short blog, we return to Chapter 6 of the 1689 entitled: “Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and of the Punishment Thereof.” The last paragraph of the chapter deals with the reality of sin in the believer’s life. Here is what it says: Paragraph 5.
The corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and the first motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.
Paragraph 4 refers to “actual transgressions.” The present paragraph states that this phrase does not mean real transgressions as if only outward sins were real sin. No, the corruption of our nature is really sinful. The phrase “actual transgressions,” simply means acts of transgression but does not imply that only the acts are sinful.
The corruption of our natures is really sin in itself. This is taught in many texts that prove original sin (Ps. 51:4, 5; Prov. 22:15; Eph. 2:3). It also follows from the definition of sin given above. Any lack of conformity to the law of God is sin. A. A. Hodge says, “from its very essence the moral law demands absolute perfection of the character and disposition as well as action…. God requires us to be holy as well as to act rightly.” Finally, the term, flesh, in the Bible is often used of fallen human nature. It is specifically described as sinful (Rom. 7:17, 18, 25; 8:3-13; Gal. 5:17-24). If our corrupt natures are sinful, then, of course, even their “first motions” are also sinful (Gen. 8:21; Prov. 15:26; 21:4; Matt. 5:27, 28).
The specific point of the paragraph is, however, that the corruptions of believers are sinful. This is probably asserted as over against those known in Puritan times as “antinomians.” One of their traits was to emphasize grace and interpret the doctrine of justification as to deny that Christians sinned or had a sinful nature.
The classic passage on this point is 1 John 1:8-10:
8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
1 John 1:8-10
The general context teaches that Christians walk in fellowship with the God who is light, v. 5. This means, of course, that their lives differ radically and practically from those who walk in the darkness, v. 6. It also means that they are marked by honest dealing with their remaining sin as it is continually exposed by the light in which they walk, vv. 7-10. At this point, John is specifically addressing the claims of Christianized Gnosticism, the antinomianism of his day. Its promoters claimed to be above sin. John’s point is that such claims in themselves manifested the unsaved condition of those who made them. One mark of genuine Christianity was ongoing confession of and cleansing from sin.
Two things make clear the indisputable relevance of these verses to Christians. Firstly, the statements of vv. 8-10 are made in the first person plural. The first person plural pronoun (we or us) is used 13 times in these three verses. Since John is writing to Christians as an apostle of Christ (1 John 1:1-3), the reference must, therefore, be to John himself and his Christian readers. Secondly, the statements about the confession and cleansing of sin in these verses are in the present tense. They are not speaking of past experiences of John and his Christian readers, but of present, ongoing realities in their lives. Verse 9, for instance, could well be translated, “If we go on confessing our sins, He is faithful and just to go on forgiving our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.”
A final point of interest in this passage is that John refutes both the claim to be without a sinful nature (v. 8) as well as the claim that we do not commit sinful actions (v. 10). The teaching of this passage is confirmed by the rest of Scripture (1 Kings 8:46; Ps. 130:3; 143:2; Prov. 20:9; Eccles. 7:20; Rom. 7:14-25; James 3:2). James 3:2, for instance, teaches: “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.”
The teaching of this final paragraph is an important safeguard against two errors: perfectionism and Pharisaism. It shows that though the standard of Christian behavior remains perfection (1 Pet. 1:15, 16; 2:21, 22; 1 John 2:1), yet no Christian attains that standard in this life. This guards the humble Christian against the bondage of feeling that because he still struggles with sin, he is a second-class Christian or, perhaps, no Christian at all. It also exposes the Pharisaism which concentrates on external conformity to God’s law and thus avoids really confronting its own depth of depravity. God’s law regulates our very natures as well as their inner and most fundamental motions and first actings.
Dr. Sam Waldron is the Academic Dean of CBTS and professor of Systematic Theology. He is also one of the pastors of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. Dr. Waldron received a B.A. from Cornerstone University, an M.Div. from Trinity Ministerial Academy, a Th.M. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1977 to 2001 he was a pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. Dr. Waldron is the author of numerous books including A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, The End Times Made Simple, Baptist Roots in America, To Be Continued?, and MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response.