The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

Jeremiah 17:9

 

Chapter 6 of our Confession is a summary of the origin and impact of man’s fallen and rebellious condition. This condition is explained and displayed in the Bible. Understanding this topic is critical for a proper comprehension of the gospel and understanding what it means to become a follower of Jesus Christ. It is a very sobering topic, which provides a clear diagnosis of man’s condition.

 

In the opening paragraph of chapter 6 we have a summary of how man fell in sin, based on Genesis 2:16-17 and 3:1-13. The Scriptures begin in Genesis 1 with the teaching of the perfect creation of all things by God. Mankind was 'upright and perfect', created in God's image, and had dominion over the earth. In Genesis 2 we read about a covenant made between God and Adam, where the Lord gives him a ‘righteous law’, stating that he is not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This has been defined as a covenant of works, where the man was given the promise of eternal life based on his perfect obedience to God’s moral law. There is then a theological mystery, as one wonders how man, made in the image of God, could disobey his creator. Within this great mystery, we can confidently assert that this action and what follows is the sovereign decree of the Lord, that man is accountable, and that this was to display God’s glory (as mentioned at the end of the opening paragraph). Thus, in Romans 5:14, Adam is described as a ‘type of Christ’, and this is because Christ came to do what Adam failed to do, and we come before the word of God now as the ‘new creation’ in Jesus Christ.

 

The Confession then draws on Genesis 3, a crucial text for understanding this topic. There is much taking place in this Chapter, including the first appearance of Satan (John 8:44) in the form of a serpent. Satan lays a charge against the Most High God, by countering the consequence of the command in Genesis 2:17, informing the woman, ‘you shall not surely die’. Satan further adds to this claim by stating that ‘your eyes will be open and you will be like God’ (v. 5). And in verse 7 we read that ‘the eyes of both were opened’ as a result of man’s disobedience. In this text, a pattern emerges as a blueprint for what is to follow; Satan not only encourages disobedience against God by questioning the very nature and character of God, but in its place, encourages self-enthronement as a means of purpose and pleasure for the glory of self. As man disobeys, and their ‘eyes are opened’, this is in one sense a victory for the enemy, but it is the damning fall of mankind. As a result of this fall, man has gone from being naked and knowing no shame (2:25), to hiding because of his nakedness (3:10). After the fall, something has changed. Something has died. The consequence of man’s eyes being 'opened’ is that man’s perfect relationship with God is crushed. Man is no longer living in perfect obedience, which gives birth to mistrust, insecurity, and a trust in one's self as opposed to God. This is the curse of the fall on mankind, unpacked in the following paragraphs of this chapter.

 

The second paragraph begins by stating that our first parents ‘fell from their original righteousness and communion with God’. We now come to the definition and explanation of the weighty doctrine of original sin. This doctrine exposes the folly of religion that emphasises man’s work and effort as the desired standard of a deity and afterlife. Man’s fallen nature renders him ‘dead in sin’, falling short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and unable to do any good work.

 

The Scriptures provide a very clear explanation of the cause, impact and outcome of man’s fall, and this is summarised in the third paragraph. This is of crucial importance because it is the framework for challenging the worldview of the fallen sinner and the base for the confrontation of the Gospel, declaring that one is wrong and in sin, but for repentance and faith in Christ.

 

We see that the cause of man’s fall is because Adam, as the federal head of the human race, is because he has sinned against God. Romans 5:12 states,

'Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned'.

 

The impact of this is that sin is then imputed upon all mankind. It is at this point that man becomes a sinner by nature, and not simply by an action itself, and this is what makes it impossible for man to live a life that is right and pleasing to God. We have inherited a nature that is an abomination in the sight of God.

 

Thus, the outcome of man’s fall is that we experience separation from God, which leads to a physical death, and eternal separation in hell. This is why the Scriptures declare that we are 'children of wrath' (Ephesians 2:3) because we are under the wrath and judgement of a righteous and holy God. This is the inescapable truth by which we can assert that man’s condition is one of total depravity.

 

The depraved state of man is summarised succinctly in the penultimate paragraph, and this is where we go further to assert the inability of man to do any good thing. The Christian stands upon the foundation that sinful man can do no good thing. One disposition of the human heart is to falsely assert some good in man. In truth, as children of wrath, even our good works are done with a carnal nature, and not in obedience to, and for the glory of God. This is why Isaiah 64:6 states that our righteousness is but ‘filthy rags’. Furthermore, it explains why the opening chapters of Romans are so weighty. They reach the culmination in Chapter 3 that no one does good, not even one. This does not imply that we are capable of doing bad things, but rather, that we are incapable of doing good. Our condition renders every man and woman on this earth a slave to sin and given over to Satan, and consequently incapable and unwilling to come to God. I have used this following illustration to explain the point: Imagine that you have fallen into a great dirty pit and are covered in mud. You try to climb your way out of the pit, but you continue to slide, and only make yourself even more filthy. Now, even if you managed to climb your way out (good works), you are filthy and need to be cleaned. This is the picture of the human heart. We are filthy in sin, and incapable of doing anything to rescue ourselves. Therefore, for any who comes before the Most High God with a conviction of sin, we come as those who are the doers of evil. Our very fallen condition is evil, and the punishment can and must be to be cut off from the goodness of God, and eternally under the weight and judgement of the living God in hell. This is the daunting reality of man’s fall. This is the daunting reality of man’s condition in this fallen world today. But for Christ.

 

This is a chapter of solemn truth that summarises man’s condition. However, the hope and saving power of the Gospel is intimated in the closing paragraph. What hope and great joy it brings to the Christian as we come before the throne room of grace as wretched, undeserving sinners. We come to God as our Father only and absolutely by the work of Christ. This is our only hope. And yet, this paragraph concludes chapter 6 with the assertion that while we are alive on this earth, we are not perfect and still battle against the corrupted sinful nature. As we study texts such as the latter stages of Romans 7, we unravel the struggle for the regenerated Christian. We are set free and set apart for Jesus Christ, yet our wretched fallen nature and the sinful temptations of the human heart still wage war with our soul. However, it must be stated and stressed that for the Christian, though we do sin, we now live as those who have an increasing disdain of it. We now live as those who go to war with our sin within our souls and before the Lord in prayer. We come to the Lord in prayer daily, with hearts of repentance, and a yearning for the Spirit of God to have His way in us. This is the Christian’s battle. Sin is not ‘glossed over’, or of great indifference now that we are saved. Absolutely not. Sin is very real, it is a potent threat and a means by which the evil one will sift you out. This is the reality in a fallen world. But praise be to God, Christ has been crucified as our sin bearer, He has conquered our sin and death, and He rose victorious. Our promise is the joy and blessing that we will have eternal bodies where sin and death will be no more. When we understand the doctrine of original sin, the weight and power of Christ’s eternal victory becomes all the more and increasingly clear and a joy to behold. It is upon that victory that we stand as the Church of Jesus Christ today.

John-William Noble

29th May 2021