Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 21-25)

Dear Church Family,

Continuing in our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), this past Sunday we covered questions 21-25. Here is a brief review.

WLC 21  Did man continue in that estate wherein God first created him?
A. O
ur first parents being left to the freedom of their own will, through the temptation of Satan, transgressed the commandment of God in eating the forbidden fruit; and thereby fell from the estate of innocency wherein they were created.

As we have seen in a previous catechism question (WLC 17), Adam and Eve were created by God in a state of innocence, yet subject to fall (WLC 17). So, being left to the freedom of their own will, our first parents sinned and transgressed the commandment of God by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evel (Genesis 3:6-8).

WLC 22  Did all mankind fall in that first transgression?
The covenant being made with Adam as a publick person, not for himself only, but for his posterity, all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell in that first transgression.

According to Scripture, there are two covenant (or federal) heads: all men have either Adam or Christ as their head – “For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22).

This question, however, deals with how the covenant headship of Adam affects the whole human race. One of the key passages in the New Testament that describes our relationship to Adam as our covenant head is Romans 5:12-21. In this passage, we learn that Adam’s first sin brought sin and death into the world, and that all mankind sinned in Adam’s first transgression (Romans 5:12). Because Adam was our representative, all mankind receives condemnation through Adam’s first sin (Romans 5:18). And, we are all born with a corrupt or sinful nature (Romans 5:19).

In this answer, it’s important to note that it is those who are descended from Adam by “ordinary generation” who have sinned in him and fell with him in his first transgression. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is descended from Adam not by ordinary generation, but by extraordinary (or supernatural) generation (Luke 1:34-35). As the perfect God-man, Jesus is exempt from the consequences of the fall of Adam.

WLC 23  Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A. T
he fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.

An estate of sin and misery is the natural condition for all mankind descended from Adam. As Romans 3:23 tells us, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And again, from Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”

WLC 24  What is sin?
Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, any law of God, given as a rule to the reasonable creature.

Here, the catechism gives us the definition of sin. Having a clear and biblical definition of sin is important because it helps us to understand our lost condition and how every man falls short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). And, the two kinds of sin which are defined here are sins of omission (the want of conformity unto any law of God) and sins of commission (the transgression of any law of God).

It is easier to understand sins of commission where in everyone who practices sin practices lawlessness (1 John 3:4). In the case of sins of commission, one breaks the law of God. However, in the case of sins of omission, one fails to live up to the standards of God’s law, and “cursed is everyone who does not abide by all the things written in the book of the law, to perform them” (Galatians 3:10).

Thus, we sin when we fail to live up to God’s standards. And, we sin when we break God’s standards.

WLC 25  Wherein consisteth the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. T
he sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consisteth in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of that righteousness wherein he was created, and the corruption of his nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually; which is commonly called Original Sin, and from which do proceed all actual transgressions.

In WLC 25, we learn that there are three aspects of the fallen state of man. The first two aspects make up what we commonly refer to as “original sin.” Original sin includes two parts which we might refer to as “legal” and “organic.”

The legal part of original sin is the imputed penalty of Adam’s first sin. This is the judgment or condemnation due for Adam’s sin, which the Bible tells us is imputed to all men (Romans 5:16). The organic part of original sin is the corrupt and sinful nature which all men inherit from Adam (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9). In Ephesians 2:1-3, the Apostle Paul speaks of both of these parts of original sin when he says that before believers were born again, we lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind (the organic part of original sin – a corrupt nature); and we were by nature children of wrath (the legal part of original sin – the imputed penalty of Adam’s first sin).

The third aspect of the fallen state of man is “actual transgressions” – individual sins of our thoughts, words, and deeds. These actual sins proceed or flow from the original sin in which we’re born. Jesus taught that the actual sins that we commit – things like evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, and slander – these all come out of our sinful hearts (Matthew 15:19). Likewise, James tells us that we are tempted when we are carried away and entices by our own lust, which when conceived, gives birth to sin, resulting in death (James 1:14-15).

Conclusion & Application

Some of these distinctions – especially in this last question (WLC 25) regarding the different aspects of our fallen, sinful estate and the different parts of original sin – may seem overly pedantic and of no practical usefulness. Yet, properly understanding the definition of sin and these categories of original sin is very important and practical.

Let me give you just one current example of an issue that is plaguing Christians and the church today. There are some professing Christians who are part of what has come to be known as the “Side B, Gay Christian Movement.” In essence, they confess to be “gay but celibate” Christians. In so doing, they are actually saying (or at least, implying) that one of the aspects of original sin (the organic part – our corrupt nature) is not sin itself and therefore does not need to be repented of. Only “actual sins” need be repented of.

This is essentially an adoption of the Roman Catholic Church’s (RCC) doctrine of concupiscence. According to the RCC, concupiscence is the desire, lust, or inclination to evil in all human beings, but it is not sin itself and therefore, we are not thereby made guilty; and, we need not repent of this inclination (see the Catechism of the RCC, 405). Just so, there are some in the “gay but celibate Christian” movement who may repent and abstain of “actual sins” but who do not recognize the inclination to sin (a corrupt nature) as sinful in itself.

Additionally, this movement also tends to speak about sins of commission (the actually breaking of God’s law) but fails to adequately deal with sins of omission (failure to abide by God’s law). Viewed this way, the pursuit of righteousness is not about positively seeking to keep God’s law, but only negatively seeking to not break God’s law.

In stark contrast, the good news of the gospel tells us that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Those who are born again by the Spirit of God (John 3:3-9) are washed, sanctified, and justified!

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-12)

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch