************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 7-8 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 11, 2010
Q & A 7-8
"Where Did We Go Wrong?"
Take the North Fork in Three Rivers. Go past the smallest Post Office in the country. Go past the last home. Keep going after the pavement runs out even though the road looks like a goat trail. Keep following the river, enter the Sequoia National Forest, and eventually you come to a historical marker on the left side. The marker explains that in the mid 1800s a group of homesteaders established a community they so bravely (or foolishly) named Utopia.
I wonder what life was like in Utopia? Did everyone get along? Was there no theft? No adultery? No lust? No lies? Were children always obedient? Did teens never rebel? Did the members share equally in the work and in the fruits of their labors? Was there any sickness or death? Were all children born whole and healthy?
All that remains of the original community is a chimney. So, we can safely say that Utopia probably was not so perfect after all.
We all do know of a perfect place on this earth. It was called Eden. Everything about this Garden was perfect. It was filled with trees producing fruits that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. With a river running through it, the Garden was well-watered. The creatures of the Garden lived in harmony with each other: no blood-shed, no staking out of territory, no fighting over food, the wolf and the lamb ate together, and the lion ate straw like the ox. All of this was perfectly ruled by a man to whom God gave dominion over everything: the fish, the birds, the livestock, all creatures, and over the trees and plants.
The man had it made in the Garden. No hunger. No thirst. No sleepless nights. No worries. No doubts. No fears. No disease. No death. No sudden storms. No tornados. No earth-quakes. No mud-slides. No floods. No oil-spoils. No unmet needs. No wants.
Not only was man in a perfect setting, he was also given a perfect helper and companion. No quarrels. No fights. No squabbles. No disagreements. A perfect marriage. A perfect relationship.
Finally, in the Garden man had a knowledge of God and the things of God. Man's will and heart were righteous. Man's emotions were pure. Indeed, the whole man was holy.
Then, then, something happened that deprived man of all these outstanding gifts. Man's mind experienced blindness, terrible darkness, futility, and distortion of judgment. Man's heart and will became perverse, defiant, and hard. Man's emotions were filled with impurity. To use the language of the Catechism, the result was misery, alienation, and exile. Man was no longer at peace with God, with his partner, or with Creation.
What went wrong? What happened? What wrecked man's perfect existence in the beautiful Garden? Or, as the Catechism asks, "Where does this corrupt human nature come from?"
I The Fall
A Genesis 3 tells us what went wrong. It tells us about the blackest day of human history – the day when man first fell into sin and exiled himself from God and the Garden.
We all know of the "Covenant of Grace" – God's gracious promise to give eternal life to all believers by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We all may not know of the "Covenant of Works." This is the original covenant God made with Adam and Eve in the Garden. The promise of this covenant was life, never-ending life. The penalty of this covenant was death. The condition of this covenant was obedience – total obedience – to God. This is how Genesis puts it:
(Gen 2:16-17) And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; (17) but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."By the way, the Covenant of Works has never been revoked, cancelled, or nullified by God. It still holds for today. In other words, God still demands our total obedience and the penalty for anything less is death.
Within this setting comes Satan and casts doubts on God and His Word. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" (Gen 3:1). Then Satan denied the penalty of death: "You will not surely die" (Gen 3:4). Instead, he said, "you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3:5). That sounds attractive, doesn't it – to be like God? What Satan neglected to say was that the man and woman already were like God – after all, they were made in God's image.
We don't know for how long Eve listened to the lies and half truths of Satan. We don't know how long Eve struggled and wrestled with her conscience: perhaps a month, maybe only one day, or was it a year or more. Eventually, though, Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And Adam also ate the fruit of that tree. This marked the start of man's misery. As Q & A 7 puts it, man's corrupt nature comes "from the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise."
B A most interesting question was asked on a recent bike ride (the group expects theological discussions when I am with them). I was asked, "What was the first sin?"
"What was the first sin?" The obvious answer says something about the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Under this view, the first sin was when Adam and Eve ate the apple or orange or pomegranate or whatever it was. But, when you think about it, the first sin had to occur before the apple was ever eaten.
"What was the first sin?" The first sin was pride and/or covetousness. To what did Satan appeal? He appealed to human pride – "You can be like God." He got mankind to covet God's position – "You can be like God." That was the first human sin. But, when you think about it, there was another sin before even this one occurred.
"What was the first sin?" When we keep pushing this question we have to say the first sin was Satan's. Interestingly enough, Satan's sin was the same as the one with which he tempted Adam and Eve. His sin was pride and/or covetousness. It is Isaiah who gives a description of Satan's fall into sin:
(Is 14:12-15) How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! (13) You said in your heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. (14) I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High." (15) But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.Satan, out of pride and/or covetousness, is the first one who wanted to be like God. And, he put it into the heart of Adam and Eve to sin the same sin.
So, Adam and Eve listened to Satan. And, filled with pride, wrongly coveting God's position, they fell into sin.
C After I explained all of this – while cycling uphill – I was asked, "Why should the sin of Adam and Eve affect us?" That sounds like a reasonable question, doesn't it? Is it fair that we should suffer for the sin of someone who lived thousands of years ago?
Let's talk about the BP oil-leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Many people are disappointed that President Obama and the federal government have not done more. They want to see the President on oil-covered beaches pledging the might of the federal government to help in the cleanup, to stop the leak, and to punish BP. In the same way, people wanted to see President Bush take action after Hurricane Katrina. Why is it so important that the President be seen doing something? Because the President is our Federal Head. What he does, he does on behalf of all the people. What he decides, commits the federal government to go down a certain path.
Do you know what "Adam" means? "Adam" means "mankind." Do you know what "Eve" means? "Eve" means "mother of all living." Do you know what these names say about Adam and Eve? That they are mankind's federal head! What they do, they do on behalf of all mankind. What they do, commits all of mankind to go down a certain path. So, when they fell, we fell. When they sinned, we sinned. When they became miserable aliens and exiles, we became miserable aliens and exiles.
After explaining all of this, it was my turn to ask my cyclist friend a question. I asked, "Did you know that the Bible speaks of a first Adam and a second Adam?" He was amazed to hear this. He had never heard of a second Adam.
The first Adam lived in the Garden. The second Adam came down from heaven. This second Adam is also our federal head, and in Him too we go down a certain path (cf 1 Cor 15:22,24; Rom 5:12-21).
II The Affects of the Fall
A How, exactly, has the fall into sin affected us? The Catechism uses the word "poison" here. The fall has "poisoned our nature."
This makes me think of rattle-snakes and black-widow spiders. Every time we lift a flower pot on the patio, we have to wear gloves and check for spiders. And, on early morning bike rides, I often see rattle-snakes sunning themselves on the edge of the road. Rattle-snakes and black-widow spiders inject poison into their victims. This poison is strong enough to kill a large rat in a couple of minutes. The poison enters into the blood-stream and very quickly circulates so that every part of the body becomes poisoned.
It is the same way with sin. Sin is a poison that has entered the human blood-stream. Or, maybe we should say the human gene-pool. So, because of Adam, every one of us is poisoned with his "Original Sin."
B The poison of original sin, says the Catechism, means "we are born sinners – corrupt from conception on."
The last baby to be baptized into our church family is Kaylin Grace McCutcheon. Based on the Bible, the Catechism tells us Kaylin Grace was born a sinner. She was born with original sin. Her blood-stream and gene-pool carries this inheritance from Adam. Kaylin Grace was not only born a sinner but she was "corrupt from conception on."
I suspect Kaylin Grace is too young to have committed an actual sin. Does this mean she is holy and pure? Or, is she at least neutral, like a clean chalk-board? No, Kaylin Grace is a sinner before she has done a single bad thing. Because Kaylin Grace is conceived and born in sin.
What is true for Kaylin Grace is true for each and every one of us. We are all conceived and born in sin. We are all sinners and therefore guilty before we have done a single actual sin.
C The poison of original sin has not only entered the human blood-stream or gene-pool, it has spread to every single part of human existence. All of life and every part of our being is infected with sin. We know this as "Total Depravity."
Let me say what total depravity is NOT. Total depravity does NOT mean every person is as wicked as they can possibly be. We have to thank God that His common grace, His Law, and the conscience He gives us prevents that from happening. It does mean that sin has infected every part of our existence: marriage and family, work, play, finances, entertainment, business, music, art, emotions, church, worship, education, stewardship, and any other area you care to name.
D Because of original sin we are corrupt from conception on, our nature is poisoned, we are wicked and perverse, we are alienated and exiled from God's presence, we are in misery. Which makes me ask, "How corrupt are we?"
If you are without Christ and His Spirit, you are so corrupt that you are totally unable to do any good and inclined toward all evil. But what if you are a Christian? Surely if you have Christ and His Spirit, you are not this corrupt, are you? Surely Christians are able to do good? Surely Christians are not inclined toward all evil?
Some of you might know the claims of the holiness movement. This movement basically claims a measure of perfectionism for the Christian. Some of them actually believe it is possible for believers in this life and on this earth and in this body to be perfect. The Bible teaches, however, that even the holiest of saints has only a small beginning of the perfect obedience that God requires in the "Covenant of Works." Consider the following:
-the Bible makes clear that there is no one on earth who does not sin (1 Ki 8:46; Prov 20:9; Eccl 7:20: Rom 3:10; James 3:2; 1 Jn 1:8)
-according to Scripture, there is constant warfare between the flesh and the Spirit, between the old man and the new man; Paul gives a very striking description of this struggle in Romans 7 when he talks about doing what he does not want to do
-Christians are urged to put on the full armor of God so they can battle against the powers of darkness and evil
-Jesus taught His disciples to pray for the forgiveness of sins and deliverance from temptation
Without Christ and His Spirit, we are so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined toward all evil. With Christ and His Spirit, our life has been turned around but we barely scratch the surface in living the perfect life. So, whether we are with Christ or without Christ, we are still sinners. Sinners in Adam. Sinners with actual sin. Sinners who fail to live according to the "Covenant of Works." Sinners who deserve only judgment and condemnation. Sinners who cannot possibly found a Utopia on this earth.
III The Antidote
A Mankind is poisoned. We are born with the poison of sin within us. That poison has spread to every part of our being. That poison comes to expression every single day that we live and breathe. That poison, if left untreated, can only end in death – eternal death.
Do you know what we need? We need the same thing as when we are bitten by a rattle-snake or a black-widow spider. We need an antidote – something that counteracts the poison, something that neutralizes the poison, something that fights the poison.
It is God Himself Who provides the antidote for sin. As we saw this morning in the Lord's Supper, the antidote for sin is the blood and Spirit of Christ.
B How do we get this antidote? When you get bitten by a rattle-snake or a black-widow spider, you have to go to the hospital or the doctor or the medical clinic. To get the antidote for sin, all you need do is go to Jesus. All you can do, is go to Jesus. He is the only One Who can give us the antidote to the poison of sin. He, Who is the Second Adam. He is the only One Who provides the antidote to what entered us from the First Adam. In Adam all die, but in Christ all who believe are made alive (1 Cor 15:22).
Man's existence started in Paradise – the perfection of the Garden. But then came sin and misery and exile and alienation. Man's life was no longer perfect. No matter how hard we try, no matter what Utopia we build, we remain corrupt, wicked, and perverse.
Man's existence will end in Paradise – the perfection of the new heaven and new earth. Then, and only then, because of Christ and His Spirit, will we again be perfect. What a day that will be!
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page