Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Forbidden Fruit

Q. 15: What was the sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created?
Answer: The sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created, was their eating the forbidden fruit. (WSC
God had made our first parents, Adam and Eve, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. He had given them dominion over all the earth and an abundance of plants and trees producing food for them. They could eat of any tree of the garden, except for one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, on pain of death (Gen. 2:16-17). It was to be a symbol of God’s authority, a reminder that everything else was given by his generosity, and a test of man’s loyalty to his Creator.

Yet, despite all these good and generous provisions, our first parents violated God’s law by eating this forbidden fruit. In doing so they rebelled against God, aligned themselves with his enemy (the serpent), and demonstrated ingratitude for God's gifts, unbelief in his word, and the proud desire to be as God. This was the sin that broke the covenant of works and caused their fall from their first estate.

Genesis 3 describes how this sin took place. A serpent came to tempt Eve to sin, a serpent who is identified in Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 as the one who is called “the devil” and “Satan.” In John 8:44, Jesus described the devil as “the father of lies” and “a murderer from the beginning.” While he was good when originally created by God, yet this has been his character since he first came on the scene in Genesis 3. The devil was filled with malice as he came as a serpent to destroy mankind. He achieved this destruction by deceiving Eve, persuading her with lies to doubt God’s word and to desire and eat the forbidden fruit. She then gave Adam the fruit and he ate, knowing that it was forbidden. The devil continues to prowl around, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8), so be watchful and prayerful that you might not succumb to temptation. And be grateful that this sin was not the end of the story. While it caused immense harm for all mankind, it also set the stage for God’s glorious work of redemption.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Three Church Fathers

Let me briefly introduce you to three important leaders in the early church, Athanasius, Chrysostom, and Augustine. All of them encountered opposition and faced either exile or invasion. Yet they held firm to the faith, preaching and teaching it to the end.

Athanasius (c. 296-373), Alexandria, Egypt. He attended the council of Nicaea as a deacon, assisting one of the foremost opponents of Arianism. He then became the bishop of Alexandria for 46 years and defended Nicene orthodoxy. During his time as bishop we was exiled five times for a total of 17 years because he refused to readmit Arius and his followers (the emperors going back and forth between opposing Arianism and seeking to force reconciliation). And so the saying came about, "Athanasius contra mundum": Athanasius against the world. You can read his book, On the Incarnation, online here

John Chrysostom (347-407), Antioch, Syria. "Chrysostom" means “golden-mouth” and was a nickname given him because of his reputation as a preacher. In his preaching he exposited Scripture, verse by verse, with lively and bold application. He was called to serve as the archbishop of Constantinople, where his preaching against the abuse of wealth and power gained him influential enemies. These enemies eventually achieved his banishment. Though he died in exile, his reputation recovered after his death. You can read his sermons on the Gospel of Matthew online here

Augustine (354-430), North Africa. Despite having a Christian mother, he grew up in Carthage as a pagan. His journey to Christianity is recounted in his Confessions. After his conversion in Milan, he became a presbyter in Hippo in North Africa in 391 and bishop in 396. He engaged in a controversy with Pelagius, defending the doctrine of God's grace in salvation. In response to pagan critiques following the sack of Rome in 410, he wrote The City of God, a masterpiece of apologetics, an evaluation of Roman history, and a history of redemption (past and future). He died with his city besieged by the Vandals. You can read his Confessions online here, although other translations are available for purchase. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

What Is Sin?

Q. 14: What is sin?
Answer: Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God. (WSC)
The apostle John gave us a simple definition of sin when he said that “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Sin is defined by the law of God. If it is not a violation of God’s law, it is not a sin. But God’s law requires perfect conformity. It is a perfect rule of righteousness, showing us what is right, revealing to us the will of God. As Paul says, the law is “holy and righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12). It is not an arbitrary law, but an expression of God’s holy character and our place in God’s design. Any departure from this law is a departure from righteousness, a deviation from our duty, a rebellion against God, and a basis for judgment.

Our catechism mentions two ways we fall short of God’s law. First, "sin is any want [lack] of conformity unto … the law of God." This lack of conformity is found in our sins of omission, not doing what the law commands. The law calls us to fulfill our duties, and failure to do our duty is sin. This lack of conformity is also found in original sin, our innate hostility against God’s law in our fallen state. It is sinful for our nature to be hostile to God, out of accord with his will. This is described in Romans 8:7, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” Sin is deeper than our actions. It also refers to our desires, our mindset, our heart. Unlawful desires that spring into our minds are sin. We ought to confess them to God and mortified them, seeking the renewal of our minds and hearts.

Second, sin is also the "transgression of the law of God." This refers to sins of commission, doing that which is forbidden. He has given us a good deal of freedom within his law, as he gave to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Yet, God has also set boundaries with his law, guardrails to our path. To violate these boundaries is sin and a manifestation of pride and a lack of faith in God. Instead, let us say with Psalm 119:32, “I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!” As God renews our minds and hearts by his grace, we are enabled to not merely stay on the path, but to run eagerly in the good and righteous way of his commandments.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Fall of Our First Parents

Q. 13: Did our first parents continue in the estate wherein they were created?
Answer: Our first parents, being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the estate wherein they were created, by sinning against God. (WSC)
Our first parents, Adam and Eve, began in a state of innocency and blessing, enjoying communion with God, his favor and gifts, and the promise of eternal life. Yet, this situation would not last.

Our first parents had free will in two respects. First, like us, they were able to make free choices, doing what they wanted. As our confession explains, “God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil” (WCF 9.1). Second, God had made them as good people, able to obey God perfectly. Not only were they able to choose what they wanted, but they were able to want what was good. This is a freedom that they lost when they fell from their original estate and were alienated from God.

Our first parents fell from their original estate by sinning against God (Gen. 3). The devil came to Eve as a crafty serpent and tempted her with deceptive words. Eve chose to sin against God, and Adam followed her. In his case, he sinned against knowledge, not being deceived like his wife (1 Tim. 2:14).

Why did good people chose to sin? Why did they rebel against the God who had been so good to them? Yet we are not in a place to feel superior to Adam and Eve. There is some mystery to why they sinned, but at least it is a mystery we can relate to. Why does anyone sin? It doesn’t make sense to sin, whatever the circumstances. As Herman Bavinck wrote,
“Sin started with lying (John 8:44); it is based on illusion, an untrue picture, an imagined good that was not good. In its origin, therefore it was a folly and an absurdity … The impossibility of explaining the origin of sin, therefore, must not be understood as an excuse, a refuge for ignorance. Rather, it should be said openly and clearly: we are here at the boundaries of our knowledge. Sin exists, but it will never be able to justify its existence. It is unlawful and irrational.” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 3, p. 70)


Thursday, April 8, 2021

The First Covenant

Q. 12: What special act of providence did God exercise toward man in the estate wherein he was created?
Answer: When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon pain of death. (WSC)
This question explains the first covenant that God made with man. Note several things about this covenant:

1. This covenant was an act of providence rather than creation. Man owed obedience unto God as his Creator, but God did not owe man this covenant relationship. As our confession of faith says, due to the distance between God and his creatures, “they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.” It was of God’s generosity that he placed Adam and Eve in a fruitful garden, gave them fellowship with him, and promised eternal life on condition of the perfect obedience that they already owed to him.

2. While Genesis 2-3 does not explicitly describe this arrangement as a “covenant,” all the elements of a covenant are there: two parties (God and mankind under Adam’s headship), a condition (perfect obedience), a promise of blessing (life in its fullest sense), and the threat of curse (death in its fullest sense). Some have even described the tree of life as the “sacrament” of this covenant of works, a sign and seal of the promise of life. In addition, Hosea 6:7 seems to call this arrangement a covenant, and the parallel between Adam and Christ in Romans 5 also indicates the covenantal nature of this arrangement.

3. While Adam and Eve were covenantally obligated to obey God by keeping the moral law and fulfilling the creation mandate (Gen. 1:26-28, 2:15), their loyalty and obedience was particularly tested by the prohibition of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17).

4. While we are no longer able to obtain life by this covenant due to our sin, yet it forms the background of the rest of the Bible. In the end, through Christ and by grace, we end up with what was promised in the covenant of works. Not only does Revelation 21-22 contain many references to Genesis 2, but echoes of Eden are found throughout the Bible. Even outside the Bible, in the hearts of men and women, there is a natural longing for Eden, for a time and place where man dwelt in peace with God, with each other, and with creation. But the way to that condition is now blocked by sin. It would take another special act of providence, and a costly one, to open again the way to paradise.