Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Forgiveness or Rescue?
Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. 1 John 3:4NKJV
This morning we continue to study Westminster Larger Catechism Question 194, which asks, “What do we pray for in the fifth petition?” The second part of the answer states “…acknowledging, that we and all others are guilty both of original and actual sin, and thereby become debtors to the justice of God…” Today we consider the guilt of our sin before a holy God.
Last time by looking at the two places in the New Testament where Jesus teaches “The Lord’s Prayer.” We saw that asking God to forgive us our debts, means asking Him to forgive our sins. Debts in this passage has the meaning of sins (compare Matt. 6:12 and Luke 11:4). The Catechism goes on to explain the two kinds of sin for which we need forgiveness: original and actual. Original sin refers to the sinful condition of every human being. Because Adam represented the human race, the guilt of his first sin was justly imputed to all of his offspring. Similarly, when Adam sinned his whole nature was corrupted into that state we know as total depravity, wherein every part of his being was tainted and stained by sin. Scripture describes this state as being in slavery to sin or dead in sin. Original sin, therefore, includes not just the guilt of Adam’s sin but also the corruption of his nature. What this means is that from The Fall on, every human descendant of Adam (excepting Christ alone) is born with a sinful nature and is guilty before God even before he can consciously and intentionally think, do, or say anything. Original sin, then, refers to our sinfulness; our proclivity and proneness to sin. Actual sin describes our own personal, evil works in thoughts, words, and deeds. Whenever we disobey God in any way we are guilty of another actual sin.
Why is this important to know? Because today more than ever before when we hear or think of sin – if it’s mentioned at all – we almost immediately jump to the misery, suffering, and pain of sin both personally and socially. We focus on the effect of sin towards ourselves and others in this world. How it hurts us and brings ugly and painful consequences into our lives. We constantly hear the true doctrine that sin cannot bring us happiness, it cannot bring us fulfillment or satisfy our deepest needs or make us whole. This is almost always the incentive given to us in order to avoid sin. “Do not sin, do not give into temptation for it is a lie, it will not satisfy, it will only leave you frustrated, ashamed, and lonely. In the long run sin will always cost you more pain than pleasure, and it will never bring you contentment.” As I said above, this doctrine is true; it is absolutely and 100% true! And it is a valid incentive to avoid sin. However it is by far the lesser of the two incentives to avoid sin. The real reason to avoid sin, the real reason why sin is so dreadful and evil is not so much what sin does to us, but because sin is a blasphemous and monstrous offense against the beauty, holiness, and justice of an absolutely perfect God.
In other words the true evil of sin is not what it does to us. But what it would do to God if He did not avenge Himself by exacting the full punishment that is due upon the guilty sinner. Therefore, we need to see the Catechism’s teaching that we are guilty of sin and that we are debtors to the justice of God. Sin may indeed have hurt you in many ways. We hear of people “broken” by their sin, “hurting” in sin. We are told they need “help.” They need “rescued” or “made whole” again. “Come to Jesus,” we are told, “and He can make you whole.” Again it is true that sin usually will, eventually bring suffering and loss in this life. You may indeed be suffering terribly on account of your sins, but in none of these sufferings have you even remotely begun to endure the true punishment that you deserve for what you have done towards God. Beloved, we are not weak victims and we do not need to be rescued. We are guilty rebels and we need to be forgiven. And forgiveness does not so much cancel the consequences of sin. Indeed, it is especially Christians who suffer the pain and persecution that comes as a result of peoples’ sins. No, forgiveness delivers us from the justice of God; from that future, eternal, and fullness of God’s holy wrath, which is coming to every unforgiven sinner. And this wrath will make any brokenness in this life seem like a blissful day in paradise by comparison. When you go to God in prayer, ask Him, sincerely from your heart to forgive you the guilt of your sins, so that you may be delivered from the wrath and justice of a holy God.