Caleb’s Baptism — Heidelberg Catechism, Q.) 11

Dear Caleb,

Question 11 is the last question in the 1st section of the Catechism that explicitly deals with Man’s sin and misery. Starting with question 12 of the Catechism the instruction works towards providing the only solution to Man’s sin and Misery.

Question 11. Is not God then also merciful?

Question 11 opens this way because question and answer 10 was so exacting as to the truth of God’s justice. It seems as if what is happening here is that God’s justice has been so clearly put forth that there might be some doubt as to whether or not God is merciful and so the question is asked.

And the answer is given,

God is indeed merciful, (a) but also just; (b) therefore his justice requires, that sin which is committed against the most high majesty of God, be also punished with extreme, that is, with everlasting punishment of body and soul.

In answer #10 the Heidelberg confirms God as merciful but it immediately returns to the reality of God’s justice. It is as if the Catechizers are saying, “Yes, God is merciful, but you better be sure that you reckon with His justice before you end up nullifying the reality of His justice by a slovenly appeal to a sloppy mercy that ignores God’s justice.”

Clearly, God is indeed merciful. Mercy is God’s attribute wherein He does not give to people that which they deserve. All of Adam’s descendants deserve God’s condemnation and yet not all of Adam’s descendants are condemned by God. This is the proof of God’s mercy.

Exod.34:6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Exod.34:7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.

Yet, in question 11 immediately upon affirming God’s merciful character the Catechizers, following the testimony of Scriptures, return to the fact that God is just.

Exod.23:7 Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked.

Ps.5:5 The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity. 6 Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.

Nah.1:2 God is jealous, and the LORD revengeth; the LORD revengeth, and is furious; the LORD will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies. Nah.1:3 The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.

It is tempting to spend a great deal of time here because our current generation has made an idol out of God as love as that idea has been torn from its Biblical context. It is true that God is merciful and loving but not in a way that denies His justice and not in the way that most of your peers think about God.

If you have some time Caleb, give the link below a read,

At that link I spend some time developing the problem with Evangelism that doesn’t follow the approach the Heidelberg is taking by first establishing clearly God’s justice.

With regard to answer 11, notice

1.) God’s justice requires that God punish sin.

God’s word teaches, “the soul that sinneth shall surely die.” If God does not follow through on that promise then God’s justice is called into question. The character of God requires that God punish sin. If God didn’t punish sin then God wouldn’t be God because at that point of failure to punish sin God’s justice, holiness, and truthfulness, as well as His love and mercy would be called into question. If God didn’t punish sin God would un-god Himself. God can not let even one sin go unpunished because if He did He would be a worthless bum.

2.) Sin is committed against the Most High Majesty of God

We don’t talk or think like this much anymore Caleb. What is being communicated here is an older understanding of justice that includes the idea that the seriousness of sin was calculated in terms of the one who the sinner sinned against. For example, once upon a time, if one were to commit sin against Royalty that would be taken far more seriously then if one had committed the same sin against a commoner or a vassal. A person’s degree of majesty increased the degree of seriousness of the sin. Well, our sin is against a royalty no greater of whom can be named. As such, since we have committed sins against the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords the punishment that is equal to that can only be everlasting punishment of body and soul. Any other lesser penalty would be a slight and a dishonoring against the majesty and royalty of the King.

It is difficult for us to think this way since, in our Democratic mind frame, we no longer see people carrying different degrees of majesty, and as such we have a hard time understanding that to sin against a higher majesty requires a greater punishment.

3.) Everlasting punishment of body and soul

Note that the Catechism here clearly teaches the doctrine of Hell. Now the doctrine of Hell has fallen on hard times. Many people don’t want to talk about it. More and more Evangelicals are writing books insisting that Hell does not exist.

Let us posit here that as the doctrine of Hell goes into eclipse so does the idea of the majesty of God go into eclipse, so does the sinfulness of sin go into eclipse and so does the idea of the necessity for commensurate justice go into eclipse. Since the doctrine of Hell is the doctrine that bespeaks God’s majesty and is the consequence of violating God’s majesty, when we eviscerate the doctrine of Hell we also communicate that God isn’t so majestic. Since the doctrine of Hell is the doctrine that bespeaks of the end of all sinners and all sinfulness, when we eviscerate the doctrine of Hell we also communicate that the sinfulness of sin isn’t so bad after all. Since the doctrine of Hell is the doctrine that establishes the concept of justice that “the punishment should fit the crime,” when we eviscerate the doctrine of Hell we also communicate the non-importance of justice.

All this to say that the doctrine of Hell is extremely important for Christian theology as well as for a Christian World and life view. Wrong views on Hell have sweeping implications.

4.) Body and Soul

Note the affirmation here in the Catechism that the reprobate are raised to life and in their earthly bodies they will suffer everlasting punishment. The whole person –Body and Soul — will be punished everlastingly. No soul sleep. No disembodied misery. It is man, body and soul, who will suffer.

Finally, I would note here that this everlasting punishment against sin begins in the present. Those who are warring against God are already partaking in God’s everlasting punishment, and unless they repent and flee to Christ for safety, they will live a life that goes from everlasting punishment unto everlasting punishment in ever greater degrees until they spend eternity with no hope of relief.

All of this is why it is so important to warn people of God’s justice. We do people no favors when we try to soft pedal this attribute of God. I hope for better days when the Church will once again find its voice on this truth because the lovely dulcimer tones of God’s love for sinners only makes sense when that love is heard against the backdrop of the reality of God’s justice.

Caleb’s Baptism — Heidelberg Catechism — Question 10


We covered question and answer #9 yesterday,

Question 9. Does not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in his law, that which he cannot perform?

Answer: Not at all; for God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, and his own wilful disobedience, deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts.

And so it is on to question 10 today.

Question 10. Will God suffer such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?

Answer: By no means; but is terribly displeased with our original as well as actual sins; and will punish them in his just judgment temporally and eternally, as he has declared, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things, which are written in the book of the law,to do them.”

Note how this answer flies in the face of much of contemporary Churchianity.

1.) It asserts that God is just.

If modern Christians think of God as being just at all, more often than not they think of His justice being reserved for the other guy. It seems that they take the attitude of one author who famously wrote regarding God’s disposition towards sin he was being forewarned against, “God will forgive. That is His nature.” Of course God will forgive and it is His nature to forgive those in Christ, but such a cavalier attitude towards sin communicates the our author, and people who think in his terms, don’t understand God’s justice.

God’s justice is functionally denied by folks who believe that God will ignore the little sins without realizing that God never ignores any sin. Not one. They seem not to comprehend that the death of Christ was the justice of God against all sin for those who trust in Christ. In all of time, the God of justice has never ignored one sin. He has never let bygones be bygones. All sin is justly punished, either as born by a substitute or as born by the sinner who has no substitute. God’s justice is of such a exalted and honorable nature that even if a person could be perfect in word and deed their whole life (and of course no one can) that still would not have them escaping God’s justice, for His justice rightly addresses the sin nature that we received from Adam (God is terribly displeased with our original sin…). God is just Caleb, and will by no means clear the guilty (Exodus 34:7) and there are none who are not guilty.

2.) It asserts that God is terribly displeased with our disobedience and rebellion.

This is another aspect of God’s character that many modern Christians can’t seem to get their minds around. In our contemporary setting God is seen as a “God of love.” How many Christians think of God being “terrible displeased?” I’ve spoken to any number of people concerning any number of sins and often what the conversation will revert back to when I press the issue that God is just, is that “Well, my God is a God of love and He wouldn’t punish ________ .” (Fill in the blank with whatever sin you might imagine). God is a God of love, and it is precisely because He is a God of love that he is terribly displeased with our disobedience and rebellion. You see, while it is true that God is a God of love, the love of God is first and foremost for Himself, and if He loves Himself as the highest good and as that which His love has nothing more excellent to pursue then the love of God necessitates that He be terribly displeased with all that which is contrary to Himself. For God to not be terribly displeased with our disobedience and rebellion would be the most unloving cut of all. The Scripture that is cited regarding God’s disposition toward the rebellious and disobedient here is even stronger than the idea of “terribly displeased.”

Psalm 5:5 The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.

Nah.1:2 God is jealous, and the LORD revengeth; the LORD revengeth, and is furious; the LORD will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies.

Rom.1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

Eph.5:6 Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.

Keep in mind what the Catechism is attempting to do in this Lord’s Day #4 is to shut every door against the sinner that would argue for some solution to their rebellion and disobedience that is other than the solution held out in the Gospel. They do this in hope that the sinner will see that there is only one door through which they must walk if they are going to solve the problem of a Sovereign God who is terribly displeased with their rebellion and disobedience.

Just a few more words on the idea that a God of love would never hate workers of iniquity, or would never be storing up wrath against the sinner, or would never be furious against the sinner. When we deny these realities we turn the love of God into the love of a harlot. When we deny that God is terribly displeased with the rebellious and disobedient we affirm that God has no moral standard and so we deny God’s Holiness. If we lived in an age where all that was ever said about God is that He is a consuming fire we would need to emphasize properly the love and grace of God. However, we live in an age of moral degeneracy and so it really is the case that the truth that God is terribly displeased with our rebellion and disobedience needs to be repeated. One of my five star Theologians put it this way,

“From the fact that to a generation which knew God only as a righteous Judge, and in an atmosphere surcharged with the sense of retribution, He (Jesus) made the sum and substance of His preaching the love of God, it does not follow that, if He were in person to preach to our present age so strangely oblivious of everything but love, His message would be entirely the same.”

Geehardaus Vos
Redemptive History & Biblical Interpretation
The Scriptural Doctrine Of The Love Of God

One final observation on this score. It is commonplace among Evangelicals to insist that, “God hates the sin but loves the sinner.” Bunk! Psalm 5:5 above teaches that “God hates workers of iniquity.” God doesn’t just hate the iniquity. God hates the worker of iniquity. It is an odd abstraction that allows us the ability to extract how a person behaves from the person themselves. At that final day, it will not be sins but sinners that God throws, body and soul, into hell. But even here, God hates the elect worker of iniquity on the basis of His love for them. Because God loves the elect, even while he hates them as workers of iniquity, God hatred has as its end that they will be awakened to His personal opposition against them so that His opposition might instill in them a fleeing to Christ so as to find a refuge from God’s wrath and hatred against them. So, for the elect, God’s hatred upon them before conversion, while they are workers of iniquity, is serving His love for them as those eternally set apart for salvation.

3.) The catechism teaches that God is terribly displeased with two types of sin.

The two types of sin that God is terribly displeased with are,

a.) our original sin (our sin nature as received from Adam) (Romans 5:12)
b.) our actual sins (Romans 3)

We’ve talked about our sin nature and original sin previously so I will only say that our sin nature refers to the essence of who fallen man is. Birds fly, and fish swim because of their “nature.” Just so humans sin because of their sin nature as inherited from Adam.

Our actual sins are merely the instantiation or demonstration of our sin nature. Before we can be cured of our actual sins we need to be cured of our sin nature.

An important point here to keep in mind is that it is not the case that I am a sinner because I sin. It is rather a case that I sin because I am a sinner. Actual sins are only symptomatic of a sin nature that needs to be cured. This is why, unless men are born again (given a new nature) they can never stop sinning, even if they, comparatively speaking, clean up their sinning.

4.) The catechism teaches that God will punish sins and sinners temporally and eternally.

A.) Note here that the God the catechizer’s present to us is a God who will punish sins (Matthew 10:28). Again, this flies in the contemporary view that God is a harmless old grandfatherly type chap that would never hurt a fly. Unless some kind of solution to this sin problem is found God will punish.

B.) Note also that God’s punishing of sins and sinners is both in the here and now and during unending eternity. This portion of the catechism reminds us that to the sinner outside of Christ, God stands in relation to them as only a condemning Judge. God is opposed to the wicked 24-7 and while He does extend common grace to them (rain, sunshine, family life, etc.) that in no way diminishes the fact that God is the enemy of the wicked outside of Christ. God is not a Father to those outside of Christ but an avenging deity.

C.) Note also here that with the statement that God will punish eternally their is a hint of the doctrine of hell. The doctrine of hell as fallen on some hard times and is denied by a goodly number of Christians these days. We will deal with the issue of hell later when it comes up more directly in the catechism.

5.) The final Scriptures that the catechism cites in the answer are drawn from,

Deut.27:26 Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen.

Gal.3:10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

The importance of this citation is found in the reality that God is not terribly displeased only with those who have perfectly filled all that His just law requires. God does not grade on a curve Caleb. God grades on a straight scale and if someone isn’t 100% perfect with all that His just law requires and forbids God is terribly displeased with them.

This question and answer can cause people to flinch. Remember, the purpose of the first section of the catechism is to reveal how black our situation is. Because these truths cause people to cringe many Evangelicals no longer want to state these truths, preferring to try and give the good news (Gospel) to those who are yet clueless about the bad news that requires Good news.

Question #11 in the next entry.

“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that His justice cannot sleep forever.” –
— Thomas Jefferson

Caleb’s Baptism — Heidelberg Catechism Question 9 (b)


Continuing now with the answer to Heidelberg Question #9.

4. Lord’s Day

Question 9. Does not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in his law, that which he cannot perform?

Answer: Not at all; (a) for God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, (b) and his own wilful disobedience, (c) deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts.

First, since Scripture teaches that God is just (II Thessalonians 1:6) we knew that the Catechizers were not going to answer question #9 in the negative by saying “God is unjust.” Scripture is our touchstone for all truth so that if Scripture says that God is just, we therefore know that whatever God does, is by definition “just.”

Second, the Catechizers, following Scripture, inform us that God is not being unfair or unjust to man by requiring of him what, as fallen, he cannot give. God created man in righteousness and true holiness (Ephesians 4:24). God created man upright (Ecclesiastes 7:29). So, God is not responsible to man for man’s sin nature since God made man capable of performing all that God required. The reality that man is not able to meet his responsibility before God is not something that God can be charged with.

Third, note that the Catechism traces the reason for man’s total inability to man himself as through his willful disobedience he partnered with God’s arch enemy against God. Man, moving outside of God’s authoritative Law-Word (Genesis 3:3-4) which defined all reality yielded to the subtilty of Satan’s temptation (II Corinthians 11:3) that man could be his own authoritative law-word, in order to overthrow God in hopes that he might en-god himself in the place of God.

Karl Barth (a well known 20th century theologian) once said that one of the greatest mysteries of all is how someone bent towards God without a sin nature could still sin. How did bad water come from a good well? I can not answer that question precisely (it is a bit of a mystery) though I can say that whatever nature Adam had his nature was one that obviously was “still able to sin.” Clearly Adam, before the Fall, was both able to sin and able to not sin. Before the Fall Adam was judicially innocent before God having committed no sin. Before the Fall Adam was innocent, meaning that he had no guile in him predisposing him to sin. Still, Adam was not confirmed in this state though and so was able to sin and did sin.

Because of the Fall of Adam, men outside of Christ, like Adam when he gave into the instigation of the Devil, are of their Father the Devil (John 8:44). This is because in Adam’s fall we fell all. Adam did not just deprive himself of his divine gifts (a bent towards God, judicially righteous, innocent, favor with God, etc.) but he also deprived all of his posterity of these divine gifts. Whereas before the Fall Adam was able to not sin, now after the Fall, all of Adam’s descendants are not only able to sin but also are unable to not sin. This is the sin nature that results from the fall and this is the sin nature that must be cured before we are once again able to not sin and so choose Christ. Note, that the cure for our inability to not sin must be conferred before we can once again gain a nature that is able to not sin. The implication of this is that man must be regenerated unto faith in Christ.

Here we have being taught again the organic unity of mankind. As Americans we are so prone to think individualistically and atomistically but Scripture teaches that by our first Father sin entered the world and that sin nature, (as well as the guilt of Adam’s sin) was passed on to all of Adam’s descendants (Romans 5:12).

All of this begins to point to why Biblical Christians go on and on about the Sovereignty of God. Man is dead in his trespasses and sins. He is unable to not sin and so increases his debt against God daily. The only hope that dead men walking can have is if the Sovereign God, out of His free favor, sends forth His Spirit to make us alive.

Tomorrow we will move on to question #10.

Caleb’s Baptism — Lord’s Day IV (a)


Lord’s Day #4 is the final Lord’s Day in the first section of Man’s Sin & Misery and it begins by explicitly bringing forward what was implicit in Lord’s Day #3 and that is the issue of “fairness.” Lord’s Day #3 began with, “Did God create man so wicked and perverse,” so as to clear God’s name for man’s depravity. Lord’s Day 4 begins with

4. Lord’s Day

Question 9. Does not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in his law, that which he cannot perform?

Just as in question #6 of the previous Lord’s Day the reason that question #9 is framed the way it is, is in order to clear God’s name of doing man injustice. So, God did not create man so wicked and perverse and so is not responsible for man’s wickedness and perversion and God does not do fallen man a disservice by requiring of fallen man what he cannot preform.

This simple idea that fallen man is responsible to obey God though not able to obey God is foundational to understanding Biblical Christianity Caleb. The Christian Church that is orthodox everywhere teaches that responsibility does not imply ability. Fallen man is responsible to have faith, repent, and obey God but fallen man is not able to do that because of the depravity coming from the fall. Simply phrased, man’s responsibility to keep God’s law does not imply the ability to keep God’s law.

Most Churches deny the truth established here that man is responsible though unable. Most Churches, whether they are epistemologically self conscious regarding this issue or not presume that because God holds fallen man responsible to his law therefore fallen man is able to obey God’s law. As a result of believing this most Churches, somewhere in their evangelism, tuck the idea in their message that fallen man can do something in and of themselves that God requires in order to get right with God. Yet, Heidelberg Catechism (HC) question 9 forbids that kind of Humanist / Arminian thinking. If fallen man is able to get right with God by his ability to do something in and of himself (even if God is giving him co-operating grace) to meet what God requires in His law (faith, repentance, obedience) then fallen man saves himself. And yet, we learned from the last Lord’s Day #3 that man is totally depraved and so can contribute nothing to his salvation. Indeed, man is so dead in his trespasses and sins that apart from God’s grace alone he can not even become aware of his sin apart from God opening his eyes to see his sin.

So, when churches deny that responsibility does not imply ability they are denying a fundamental truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and do overturn the graciousness of grace in our salvation. If Churches hold in their evangelism that someone’s decision to choose Christ is the pre-eminent fact that differentiates Christians from non-Christians then that Church believes mans responsibility to choose God implies his ability to choose God and so has given up the graciousness of grace. The pre-eminent fact that differentiates Christians from non-Christians is that the Spirit of God, because of the death of Christ for His elect, regenerated a man so that for the first time he has the ability to recognize his inability and cry out to God for mercy in the face of his responsibility to God.

While we are here we might as well give the flip side of this that some also hold in error. There are those who avoid the mistake of thinking that as God holds us responsible therefore we are able,” but fall into the error of thinking that “since fallen men are not able to obey God, therefore fallen men are not responsible to God.” God holds all mankind responsible to Himself and the lack of fallen man’s ability to obey God does not mean that we do not tell men that they are responsible to render up faith, repentance, and obedience.

Caleb’s Baptism (Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 3 – Q. 6-8)


You will remember that in our last entry we left off with the fact that man is required to keep God’s law perfectly and yet man is by nature prone to hate God and neighbor, thus revealing that man can not accomplish what God requires. Because of this deficiency in man — this proneness to hate God and neighbor — God’s disposition towards man is the disposition of a just Judge about to pass sentence on the guilty criminal.

At this point the Catechism pauses to query whose fault this wicked proneness, found in men, to hate God and neighbor is. Whose fault is it that man has this wicked sin nature? Is this sin nature that is prone to hate God and neighbor God’s fault?

Question 6. Did God then create man so wicked and perverse?

In fallen man there is always the tendency to want to blame something besides themselves. Fallen man will always try and play the victim in order to excuse, rationalize, or justify his behavior. Even in Adam’s fall we find this tendency to want to play the victim and blame someone else. Eve blamed the serpent. Adam blamed both God and Eve. This predilection to not shoulder responsibility for our behavior is found everywhere yet today. We blame our parents. We blame our teachers. We blame our environment. We seldom hold ourselves responsible for our behavior.

And so the Catechism asks, in light of our proneness to hate God and neighbor if it is God’s fault that man is as wicked and perverse as he is. Before we charge on from here, pause just a moment to realize that what the Catechism has taught here is that man, outside of Christ, is duly characterized as “wicked and perverse.” Every person you meet, outside of Christ, is wicked and perverse. Now, not all men will be wicked in perverse in the same way or to the same degree but all men outside of Christ are prone to hate God and neighbor and so are wicked and perverse.

The Catechism answers this question that has been posed of whether God created men so wicked and perverse,

By no means; but God created man good, (a) and after his own image, (b) in true righteousness and holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love him and live with him in eternal happiness to glorify and praise him. (c)

Only after God had completed His creation with the creation of man did he pronounce all that He had made as “very good (Gen. 1:31).” Man was the crown of God’s creation and the man that God created was not created wicked and perverse nor with a sin nature prone to hate God and neighbor. The fact that there was no proneness to hate God, as man was originally created, is seen in the fact that Adam had intimate fellowship with God prior to his expulsion from God’s temple garden sanctuary due to his sin. The fact that there was no proneness to hate neighbor, as man was originally created, is seen in Adam’s delight in the presence of Eve.

Indeed, Adam was the very opposite of wicked and perverse upon creation. Adam was so excellent that he was the very image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), and revealed that image when, like God, he exercised dominion. Adam’s presence in the garden, having dominion by tending and keeping the garden put under his charge, was a small scale model of God having dominion over the universe through His tending and keeping of the cosmos.

However, the image of God that God created man as, was found not only in man’s dominion activity, but it is also found in the reality God created man as truly righteous (legally innocent of any condemnation resulting from sin) and holy (set apart as unto God). Man was created not wicked and perverse but as legally innocent before God (in righteousness) and as set apart for God’s service (in Holiness) (Ephesians 4:24).

This man who was the image of God was not made to hate God but to know and love Him (Colossians 3:9-10).

So, this begs the obvious question, “If God did not create man so wicked and perverse, prone to hate God and neighbor, where does this sin nature of man come from?” or as the Catechism puts it,

Question 7. Whence then proceeds this depravity of human nature?

First of all a word on “nature.” When Christianity speaks on man having a nature that is depraved it is saying that the substance or essence of man in his spiritual dimension is to be inclined towards evil. Because of the nature of birds they fly. Because of the nature of fish they swim. Because of the nature of dogs they bark. Because of the nature of man, they sin.

So, what is being emphasized here is that man has a depraved human nature. This belief is contrary to most people you bump into. I challenge you Caleb, to do a informal survey by asking your non Christian friends, “Do you think that you’re basically a good person,” and I am willing to bet that they would overwhelmingly say “yes.”

Indeed in some quarters it is believed that man does not have a nature at all. Man has no inclination towards anything and the individual man himself creates and recreates whenever he desires his own temporary nature. As a philosophy this is called “existentialism.” It is quite popular today though most people who are functional existentialists have no idea what the word means.

Back to the matter at hand. If God is not responsible for man’s depraved nature then who is responsible? The Catechism answers that question,

Answer: From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise; (a) hence our nature is become so corrupt, that we are all conceived and born in sin. (b)

Man’s depraved nature is the consequence of man’s fall.

Note what is being presented here is the organic unity of the human race. All of mankind was contained in Adam and so when Adam sinned Adam despoiled his nature and that despoiled nature became the definitive identifying trait for all humans who would follow Adam (Romans 5:12). All men are conceived and born in sin (Psalm 51:5) and all men commit sin because of that sinful nature. Because this is true, any solution we must look for, must be a solution that addresses not merely our individual acts of sin but must provide something of an answer for the sin nature out of which our sinful acts make themselves known.

This idea that mankind is organically one is an important truth grasp that we will return to in later posts. As Americans we tend to think of people as individuals only without relation to other people. There is some truth in that, however there is also truth in the idea that mankind must be considered in its organic unity one with another. The Gospel makes no sense without its teaching on both original sin (that is the teaching we find here) and its teaching on Adam being man’s Federal Head (a teaching that we will find elsewhere in the Catechism and a teaching that reinforces the idea of man as considered in his organic unity from another angle).

The important matter to note here is that man cannot blame God for his depravity and is responsible for his own sin nature. Now someone might object, “Its not fair that I have a sin nature just because Adam blew it.” However, to object this way is only to 1.) indict God for His failure in creating a good enough representative of mankind, and 2.) To wail about the nature of reality as God has created it. Because of the organic unity of mankind, ma has a sin nature regardless of whether or not he thinks it fair.

The catechism then turns to the implication of this human depravity.

Question 8. Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness?

Answer: Indeed we are; (a) except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God. (b)

This answer is known as the doctrine of total depravity. Allow me to explain.

The Bible teaches that man’s nature is fallen and so depraved. Let’s consider just a few of the scriptures that clearly teach that truth,

Gen.8:21 The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth;

Romans 8:7 — The carnal mind is at warfare with God, for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so…

Gen.6:5 And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Job 14:4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one. Job 15:14 What is man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous? Job 15:16 How much more abominable and filthy is man, which drinketh iniquity like water?

Job 15:35 They conceive mischief, and bring forth vanity, and their belly prepareth deceit.

Isa.53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Spiritually man is dead in his sins and trespasses. All man outside of Christ can do is sin all the time. Total depravity teaches that every inclination of a man’s heart is bent away from pleasing God. Total depravity teaches that because of man’s fall all man can do is increase God’s hostility and animosity towards him. Conversely total depravity does not teach that all men are equally excellent in the expression of their depravity. Nor does it teach that all depravity among men will express itself the same way. Nor does it teach that when compared among themselves men cannot do relative good. The depravity of a man who funds a Children’s burn hospital is of a nobler quality then the depravity of a man who molests children. However, the actions of neither men, if outside of Christ, make no difference upon God one whit in terms of their standing before God. Both are condemned as sinners and both have the anger of God set against them. So a totally depraved person might do what we call “civil good” but that “civil good” avails nothing in terms of salvation.

This belief in the Scripture’s teaching on man’s total depravity sets off Reformed Christians as Biblical vs. other denominational expressions of Christianity. Because we believe that man’s total depravity is total we do not believe that man cooperates with God in any way in his being regenerated (born again). This sets us off from Lutherans, Wesleyans, Many Baptists, Church of Christ, Pentecostals, etc. if only because each of these believes, in one form or another, that God’s regenerating power can be resisted and as such they all teach, to one degree or another, that man is not totally depraved. In point of fact, anyone who accepts the premise that Jesus died for all individual men who have ever lived and who ever will live must deny total depravity.

Anyone who honestly believes in total depravity, as the Scripture defines it above, will be paedo-Reformed. All deviations from the Reformed faith are deviations at some point from the doctrine of total depravity. As such, belief in it and a right understanding of it is paramount because a great deal necessarily follows from the embrace of this truth. As such you won’t mind too terribly much if I drone on a bit.

In order to make fine distinctions let us continue to press on. The belief in total depravity is not the same thing as believing in Utter depravity. Utter depravity teaches that unbelieving man never gets anything right. Total depravity teaches that pagan man gets things right sometimes but when he does get things right in is in spite of his hatred toward God. Utter depravity teaches that we are all as wicked as we possibly could be. Total depravity teaches that there is always room for improvement in how depraved man can show himself. As Reformed Christians because we do not believe in Utter depravity we do believe, for example, that a pagan employer could treat his pagan employees in a manner that wasn’t abusive. The thing to note about total depravity is that Reformed Christians, following passages like Ephesians 4:17-19,

17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, [a] excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality [b]for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

believe that men outside of Christ are corrupt at their core and that in all their thinking, acting, willing, and emoting, there is a bent towards sin. This is why they must be born again in order to no longer hate God and neighbor. Because man is totally depraved he is totally unable, apart from the regenerating work of the Spirit of God to do anything that pleases God.

The catechism, allows in a beam of hope when it introduces the idea of being regenerated by the Spirit of God. We are dead in our trespasses and sin, totally depraved and shot through with corruption. However, though our state is sad it is not hopeless. There is the hope that we might be regenerated by the Spirit of God. To be regenerated (born again) is to be given spiritual life so that we have a new nature which alters and counteracts our inclination to hate God and our neighbor. This regeneration is completely gracious (it is a reality that we are given that we do not deserve) and comes to us apart from our own will and decision (John 1:13, 3:3, 5). Being regenerated is something that must happen to us and is not something we can do to or for ourselves and is not something we can successfully resist or decline. Without being born again we cannot be part of God’s battalions nor enjoy His blessings.

Regeneration is a bringing to life and occurs when the Spirit of God is poured out on those who are His. It is a reality that gives us new inclinations and desires. This interior renewal happens within us so to speak and when coupled with what happens outside of us in the reality of imputation, (more on that later) and what will happen in the consummation (more on that later also) the consequence is salvation. A salvation for which we were set apart from eternity past.

So, in summary, God is not responsible for man’s sinful nature. In point of fact God created man as His image, which is to say having dominion, and in being righteous and holy. Because of the organic unity of mankind Adam’s fall in the garden means that all men now have a sin nature. This sin nature is so thorough that unless we are born again we are unable to do any good and are inclined to all wickedness.