We come to Chapter 6 of the 1689 which has the longish title: “Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and of the Punishment Thereof.”
This chapter can be conveniently outlined using as the theme part of its long title: “Of Sin.” Paragraph 1 speaks of the origin of sin. Paragraphs 2 and 3 speaks of the solidarity (of the whole human race) in sin. Paragraphs 4 and 5 speak of the effects of sin. In this post, I want to consider the first paragraph and what we learn from the origin of sin. Consider the first paragraph:
Although God created man upright and perfect, and gave him a righteous law, which had been unto life had he kept it, and threatened death upon the breach thereof, yet he did not long abide in this honour; Satan using the subtlety of the serpent to subdue Eve, then by her seducing Adam, who, without any compulsion, did wilfully transgress the law of their creation, and the command given unto them, in eating the forbidden fruit, which God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory.
Let me focus your attention on the nature or definition of sin which is clarified by its origin. The nature of the fall clearly reveals the essence or definition of sin. The first sin consisted in the transgression of law. Adam, according to the Confession, violated both the general obligations of the law written on his heart and the specific and specially revealed command regarding the tree when he fell. This strongly suggests the definition that sin is rebellion against, transgression of, or disobedience to the law of God.
- This suggestion is confirmed by the rest of Scripture (Rom. 2:12-15; 4:15; 5:13; 1 John 3:4). 1 John 3:4 is perhaps the classic, scriptural statement: “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.”
- The classic definition of the Shorter Catechism (Question and Answer # 14) is, thus, fully justified. “Sin is any want (lack) of conformity unto, or transgression of the law of God.”
This definition of sin suggests several practical observations.
- If sin is (negatively) transgression of divine law, then it may be described (positively) as autonomy (being or desiring to be a law unto oneself). It is the assumption of or desire for independence from God and His law. It need not be self-conscious rebellion against God. It may be the presumption that in any area of life I may do just as I please without reference to any standard other than my own desires. The anti-law mentality and anti-authority attitudes of our day are the essence of what sin is. Sin is the desire to live without reference to an authority outside myself, whether that authority is the law of God himself or the laws of His appointed representatives in the state, the church, and the family. The modern idolization of freedom is very close to the worship of the very essence of sin. “I did it my way,” as the popular song goes, really articulates the very essence of sin.
- If the definition of sin offered here is correct, then another popular definition of sin cannot be correct. It is popularly said that sin may spelled S – E – L – F. Is sin self-love, selfishness? Augustine himself said, “The first ruin of man was his love of himself.” Such sentiments do, of course, have an element of truth in them, but they are ambiguous and confusing. Both logically and practically they form a very bad definition of sin. The fact is that there is a proper self-love. The Bible commands all men to love their neighbors as themselves and commands husbands to love their wives as their own bodies because in so doing they will be loving themselves (Matt. 22:39; Eph. 5:28). Our truest and highest self-interest is always consistent with the glory of God. Definitions of sin as self-love tend to drive a wedge between God’s glory and our good and lead thereby to moral confusion in the lives of the people of God. They steal from them biblical motivations for doing right and serving God. The entire Bible from beginning to end witnesses to the truth that it is normally in our temporal interest to serve God and it is always in our highest interest and, thus, an expression of true self-love.
- The definition of sin offered here is liberating. The law of God is a law of liberty (Ps. 119:45; James 1:25; 2:12). If sin is only the transgression of God’s law, then it is not the transgression of what my friend thinks and it is not loving myself. What a liberating concept to our consciences! I have not sinned merely because I have violated a brother’s desires, nor merely because I have acted in my own interest. There is one Lord and one lawgiver. To that master and lord alone I am accountable (Isa. 33:22; Rom. 14:4; James 4:12).
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.