But that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten severely. Luke 12:47NKJV
Question 151 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are those aggravations that make some sins more heinous than others?” The third part of the answer says, “Sins receive their aggravations, 3. From the nature and quality of the offence: if it be against the express letter of the law, break many commandments, contain in it many sins: if not only conceived in the heart, but breaks forth in words and actions, scandalize others, and admit of no reparation…” Last time we saw how the person or persons against whom sin is committed can affect the gravity of the offense. Today we consider how the very nature and quality of the sinful act can do the same.
It is one thing for me as a Christian to admit to sinning in general, or that my obedience in some specific instance was lacking, insincere, or flawed. I can do that without much resistance from my old nature. However, it is another thing entirely when I consider confessing to directly disobeying an express commandment of God. When I am convicted of that type of iniquity, I want to immediately begin to qualify my offense: “There were extenuating circumstances, I was having a bad day, people were pushing my buttons, I did not think things through,” etc. In other words we want to say, “It’s more complicated than that I simply disobeyed. I mean, c’mon, how bad do you think I am? Don’t you see; it wasn’t entirely my fault. These other factors share some of the blame too.” Even as believers we are still quite good at imitating our father Adam, who when he was asked the simple yes or no question, “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat? (Gen. 3:11)” thought instead to offer God some details about which He had not inquired: “The woman, whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate,” (v. 12). God had not asked about the woman. What the woman did or did not do in no way lessoned Adam’s obligation to obey God. As in the Scripture above, Adam knew his master’s will. He had received the command immediately. It was clear and simple, and he directly disobeyed it. No circumstance could ameliorate Adam’s guilt from breaking the express letter of the law. To the inquiry of God the man who was ready to take full responsibility for his actions would have simply replied, “Yes.”
Additionally, Adam’s sin was one that broke many commands. The woman’s voice became God to him as he did her will instead of God’s. The fruit of the tree and his own desires became idols to him as he served them rather than God. He took God’s Name in vain by breaking covenant with God and in exalting the creature above the Creator. He did not honor his Father. He committed murder against himself and his posterity. He stole. He bore false witness. He coveted. Adam’s transgression broke many commandments and contained within it many sins. We know he must have conceived the act of disobedience in his heart as he briefly considered the offer of his wife. Then it broke forth in his actions when he reached out his hand and took the fruit, and later in his words, when he tried to pass the buck. Adam’s sin uniquely scandalized the whole human race, though it then consisted of only two persons. Our sins often cause grief to many more people than that. Moreover, Adam’s transgression, like many of our sins, admitted of no reparation. It could not be undone. Though no doubt he wished it could.
I remember once in elementary school, being late for lunch, and very hungry. As I set down my tray someone distracted me from behind. My friend Pete then grabbed all my tater tots, so that when I turned back around, they were gone. Feeling foolish and angry at the same time, I demanded “What happened? Where’s my food?” Their trays were all empty, so I got up to get help, when someone grabbed my arm. I looked back and saw my tater-tots on my tray again and my friend Pete with a big smile on his face. I started to feel relieved, but then I saw the dirt on my food and on the tray from Pete’s hands, so that even the thought of eating made me nauseous. I pushed my tray away and went hungry that day. Pete did not mean to ruin my food but he did, and though he felt bad because he was my friend, he could not undo it. So also with much sin: we cannot restore what our actions have done; even when we did not mean for things to turn out the way they did; even when we are forgiven. The filth of sin corrupts everything it touches, and we must live with the consequences. May God grant us to see through the lie of sin before it’s too late.