Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Sinfulness of Fallen Man

Q. 17: Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A: The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.

Q. 18: Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A: The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam's first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it. (WSC)

As we saw last time, Adam’s sin had consequences for all those whom he represented in the covenant of works. By his sin, mankind fell from its original blessed estate. Now the catechism goes on to explain the estate into which man fell. This second estate is one of sin and misery. “Estate” here refers to man’s state or condition. The condition of fallen man is marked by depravity and its consequences.

Next week we will come to the question regarding the misery of this estate. But first, the catechism describes the sinfulness of this estate. This sinfulness consists of two kinds of sin: original and actual. “Actual” is not contrasted here with “imaginary.” Rather, the distinction is between the corruption of our nature and the activity which proceeds from it, namely, sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. Both original and actual sin are truly and properly sin, being out of accord with God’s law.

Original sin consists of three things. 1. The guilt of Adam’s first sin. This guilt is imputed to mankind, (Rom. 5:12-19), since Adam acted on our behalf as our covenant head. 2. The lack of original righteousness. God had created man not merely neutral, but good (Gen. 1:31), with a knowledge of God and an inclination and ability to serve him. It was natural then for man to love and obey God, but this natural tendency was lost in the fall. 3. The corruption of his whole nature. This is sometimes referred to as total depravity, that is, the idea every faculty of man is morally corrupt. His mind is debased and hostile to God (Rom. 1:28, 8:7), his heart is deceitful and wicked (Jer. 14:9), and his body is an instrument of sin (Rom. 6:13, 19). Not every sin is equally depraved, and not every man is as bad as he could be (thank God!), yet even when he does things which externally may conform to God’s law, they are defiled by sinful motives (Matt. 6:1-16, Heb. 11:6, Titus 1:15) and therefore cannot please God (Rom. 8:8).

From this sinful nature proceeds all actual transgressions. “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). As Jesus said regarding false prophets, “every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:17).

This was the condition which we all inherited. We were all dead in trespasses and sins, carrying out the sinful desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph. 2:1-3). It is only by the grace of God that we are delivered from this bondage to sin (Eph. 2:4-10).

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