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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:Where does sin come from?
Text:LD 3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 29
Psalm 75:1-3
Hymn 82:1,4
Hymn 1
Hymn 10

Scripture reading:  Ezekiel 37:1-14
Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Once there was this young man hanging out with a bunch of friends.  They were bored so they decided to do something exciting.  One of the people in the neighbourhood had some pear trees.  He was one of those people obsessive about his trees.  He didn’t want people on his property taking his pears.  In other words, he was the perfect target for these bored young people.  They jumped the fence, snuck into his yard, and stole a bunch of his pears.  They ran back out as quickly as they could, hoping not to get caught (or maybe to get caught and make a close escape).  Once they made their get-away, they looked at the pears.  They were ugly and didn’t look very edible.  So they threw the pears to some pigs. 

The young man was the church father Augustine.  He wrote about this in his classic book Confessions – which, if you’ve never read it, you really need to.  It’s the most readable book by Augustine and very edifying.  Augustine reflected on the pear incident in Confessions.  Why did he do it?  Simply, he says, for “the excitement of stealing and doing something wrong.”  Augustine goes on to write about how sin is always irrational and self-destructive, and yet we love it just the same.  This is what he says:

I had no motive for my wickedness except wickedness itself.  It was foul, and I loved it.  I loved the self-destruction, I loved my fall, not the object for which I had fallen but my fall itself….I was seeking not to gain anything by shameful means, but shame for its own sake.

Augustine did this when he was still an unbeliever.  He wasn’t converted to Christ until much later.  But if you read further in his Confessions, it becomes clear how the irrational and self-destructive nature of sin hounded him his whole life, even after becoming a Christian.  He’s really honest about that.

I can relate and I’m sure you can too, if you’ve given it any thought.  Why do we sin?  If we’d stop and think for a moment, we’d see the utter stupidity of what we’re doing.  But sin blinds us, sin makes us deaf to reason, sin turns us into fools.  We know God is holy.  We know he hates sin.  We know he will punish sin with unquenchable wrath.  Yet we do it.  We sin every day with our thoughts, our words, our actions.  The gospel tells us God will forgive all our sins through Christ and so we go to Christ to escape the coming wrath.  We’re assured of forgiveness through him.  You’d think that would make us into people filled with love and thanksgiving, people wanting to obey and please our Father in heaven who has loved us so much.  But instead, so often, we forget his love, we trample on the gospel, and still want to do things our own way.  Does it make any sense to you?  As I’m speaking to you right now, it makes zero sense to me.  And yet, sin has compelled me and sin will compel me.  The same is true for you.  For all of us, we’re burdened with the utter irrationality of our wickedness.  For a Christian, it’s totally frustrating. 

Our experience of the struggle with sin and our frustration with it inevitably makes us wonder:  where did this all come from?  Our human tendency is to want answers when we’re faced with frustration.  We want someone to blame.  If we can pin it on someone else, we feel less responsible and more vindicated.  “It’s not my fault!  I can’t help it!”  Well, this afternoon, with the help of our Catechism we want to consider what the Bible teaches about this.  We’re going to answer the question, where does sin come from?

We’ll see that sin comes:

  1. Not from God, but
  2. From Adam and Eve and
  3. From within us

If you buy a computer or some other piece of electronic equipment and something goes wrong with it the day you bring it home, who’s likely to get blamed?  Likely you’ll be putting the blame on the manufacturer.  Obviously the manufacturer messed up and you got a defective product.  If you follow through and complain to the company that made your computer or whatever, you expect them to make it right again.  They either have to give you a rebate or a new product.  That’s the way it works in so much of daily life.  Something goes wrong, you blame the people who built it.

However, that way of thinking isn’t going to work when it comes to the human condition.  Humanity is wicked and perverse.  There’s no shortage of examples to illustrate this.  You just have to read or watch the news.  A boy was sitting in his living room watching TV and a bullet fired from the street kills him.  The world encourages women to shout their abortions.  They shouldn’t be ashamed that they made this choice, but instead be proud.  Such wickedness is celebrated.  Pornography is another wide-spread evil accepted and often encouraged in our society.   There’s big money to be made in this evil.  Meanwhile, people are enslaved, lives are destroyed, and marriages are decimated.  Let me stop here with the examples.  You get the idea.  The human race is evil to the core.

We know this from our experiences and observations of everyday life.  And we also know it from Scripture.  Right before the flood in the days of Noah, God “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”  That’s in Genesis 6:5.  There’s no indication the Flood changed the sinful hearts of men.  The wickedness just continued with the descendants of Noah.  If you’re ever inclined to have a positive view of the human race, if you’re ever tempted to think differently, you need to read again the first three chapters of Romans.  Those chapters lay it out clearly:  the depravity of the human race is pervasive.  Sin has stained everything, ruined everything. 

But can we blame the Manufacturer, the Creator, for this terrible state of things?   The Bible’s answer is a definite “No.”  In Genesis 1, the consistent refrain is that everything God created was good.  Moreover, in Genesis 1:31, when everything was finished, the Bible tells us that it was all “very good.”  Everything was the way it was supposed to be.  Everything was in harmony with the Creator.  That included Adam and Eve.  They too were created good.  They were created in the image of God.  We could spend a lot of time talking about what that means.  Being created in the image of God is a topic all in itself.  But for our purposes this afternoon, Ephesians 4:24 lays out something crucial involved with humanity originally being created in the image of God. 

According to Paul in Ephesians 4:24, the image of God involves true righteousness and holiness.  Adam and Eve were created upright.  They were created in such a way that from the beginning they were right with God, in a good and holy relationship with him.  Their relationship with God was unlike the relationship God had with his other creatures.  Adam and Eve alone were created to live in covenant fellowship with God, to love him, and live with him forever to his praise and glory.  They were designed and created for this good purpose.  At the beginning, there were no obstacles in this fellowship.  That’s expressed powerfully at the end of Genesis 2 when Moses points out that Adam and Eve were naked and felt no shame.  There was nothing between them and God.  There was nothing for which to be ashamed.  This is the way our good God created the human race.

So, no, no one can blame God for the way things are today.  The Creator isn’t responsible.  As Abraham says in Genesis 18:25, the Judge of all the earth does what is just.  Similarly, Psalm 119:68 affirms that God is good and he does good.  And Psalm 106:1 instructs us to “Praise the LORD!  Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”  God is the overflowing fountain of all good.  Therefore, no one can accuse him of evil or wrong-doing.  No one can pin the blame on him for the sinful things going on in this world.  As we confess in article 13 of the Belgic Confession, “God is not the author of the sins which are committed nor can he be charged with them.”  You can’t blame him for sins which are committed today and you can’t blame him for sins committed in history either. 

Well, so then where do we place the blame for man’s depraved nature?  The answer is two-fold.  The first part of the answer begins in the Garden of Eden with our first parents Adam and Eve.  They believed the lies of Satan.  They believed God wasn’t acting in their best interest.  They believed they could live independently from God.  They believed that disobeying God’s command about the tree would lead them forward in a good direction.  They’d become a new and improved Adam and Eve.  Not only did they believe these lies in their hearts, but they acted on them.  Their false beliefs led them to unfaithful actions.  They fell already when their hearts became disloyal to God and their fall led to their disobedience.

That’s where sin comes from in the human race.  It comes in history from the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.  The first human beings are responsible for the first sin.  They introduced wickedness and rebellion into God’s good creation. 

Now the important thing to realize is that their sin didn’t only affect them.  When Adam and Eve fell into sin, the human race fell with them.  Not just Adam and Eve, but all human nature became corrupt when our first parents rebelled against our Creator.  Today, all human beings come into this world conceived and born in sin.  When our Catechism says that, it’s using biblical language.  The language comes from Psalm 51:5.  Psalm 51 is the psalm David wrote after he was confronted by Nathan about his sin with Bathsheba.  It’s what we call a penitential psalm, it expresses sorrow over sin.  It’s the kind of Psalm we can use today too when we know that we’ve sinned and we find it hard to come up with the right words to pray to God.  In Psalm 51, David is humble.  He doesn’t blame God for his sin.  Some might be inclined to do that.  “Why did God put that attractive woman on the roof-top in the bathtub right next to my house?  This isn’t my fault.  God has to carry some of the blame here too.”  David doesn’t say that.  Instead, he’s humble and he says the sin is all his.  He owns it completely.  And he also recognizes how he has come into this world as a member of a sinful race.  That’s Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

“Conceived and born in sin” – those words have sometimes been misunderstood.  Sometimes people have understood “conceived and born in sin” to refer to the evils of human sexuality.  In other words, we’re conceived with a wicked act and because of that wicked act, we come into the world.  But this has nothing to do with sexuality.  The Bible is clear elsewhere that inside of the marriage relationship between one man and one woman, sex is a good and beautiful thing.  Like anything else, it can be corrupted and stained by sin, but in itself it isn’t evil.

So what does it mean that we’re conceived and born in sin?  It means that somehow a sinful nature is transmitted down through the generations of our race.  After the fall into sin, human beings are all born sinful, with a sinful nature.  This is what we call original sin.  Original sin has corrupted and polluted the entire human race.  The Belgic Confession points out in article 15 that even infants in their mother’s womb have been infected with it.  That’s just the working out of what it means in Psalm 51:5 that we were conceived in sin.  We come into this world with a sinful nature inherited from our first parents Adam and Eve.  We not only sin, but we are sinners, we’re sinful in our nature, in the core of our being.  In fact, we sin because we are sinful in our nature.  The sinful nature is the root and sin is the fruit. 

Not surprisingly, this goes against the grain in our culture.  Most people today believe human beings come into this world innocent and with no inclination to evil.  Most people believe children learn to be evil by watching the bad example of others, or because circumstances make them become evil.  But most would object to the idea of children coming into the world evil.  Well, that’s just the thinking of Pelagius regurgitated for today.  Do you remember Pelagius?  He lived during the time of Augustine.  Pelagius lived from about 354 to 420 A.D.  He was a British monk.  Pelagius too taught that children don’t come into this world stained with original sin.  Instead, they learn sin by way of imitation, through bad examples.  Well, most people today basically take a Pelagian view of human nature.  But this isn’t a biblical view.  It runs directly against Psalm 51:5 and other passages.  There’s sin in the world because we come into the world as sinners inheriting a sinful nature from Adam and Eve.  So original sin represents the first part of the answer to the question of where sin comes from.

The second part has to do directly with ourselves.  Human beings are entirely corrupt, totally unable to do any good, and inclined to all evil.  That’s the way everyone is in the natural state.  Where does sin come from?  It comes from human beings, not only by inheritance, but also by individual sinful hearts. 

People are always inclined to have a high view of themselves.  Our society teaches us to have a high view of ourselves.  Ask the average person on the street about their singing ability and most will rank themselves right up there.  Ask the average person on the street if they do sinful things, and most will either deny it or relativize their actions – “I’m not as bad as some.”  The Bible gives sinful human beings a reality check.  It’s like you’ve lived your whole life without a mirror and you have deceived yourself into thinking that you’re the most beautiful person on earth.  Then suddenly a mirror comes along and you look and then you realize you’re a monster, you’re a zombie, the walking dead.  The mirror gives you a reality check.  That’s what the Bible does. 

It does that in passages like what we read from Ezekiel 37.  Ezekiel sees this valley of dry bones.  The life has long departed from these skeletons.  They’re not going anywhere, they’re not doing anything.  They’re not making any choices.  They’re just dead.  In Ezekiel 37, these bones represent Israel languishing in exile, not having any hope.  Yet from a New Testament perspective, we also can’t help but think of what Paul says in Ephesians 2:1, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…”  The Bible portrays sinners with the same type of imagery as we find in Ezekiel 37:  death, total death.  Walking skeletons.  Skeletons don’t do the things living beings do.  Human beings in sin are dead and they cannot please God, they cannot live for him, nor can they make any moves towards him. 

Now let me make two things clear here, two clarifications.  We’re talking here about the doctrine of total or pervasive depravity.  That’s what you find in QA 8 of the Catechism.  It’s also in article 14 of the Belgic Confession and chapter 3-4 of the Canons of Dort.  The first thing I want to clarify is that this doctrine doesn’t mean that unregenerate human beings are as bad as they possibly could be.  We all know unbelievers who are really nice people.  Some unbelievers are even nicer than some who say they’re Christians.  Some Christians can be real jerks and some unbelievers can be super nice, friendly people.  This wouldn’t be the case if total depravity meant that everyone was wicked to the max all the time.  If that was true, then you’d be in constant fear of your neighbour, because you’d always wonder when he or she was going to kill you.   But the vast majority of unbelievers are not homicidal criminals.  Why not?  Because in his mercy, and because of his love for us, God restrains the evil in this world.  The Sovereign God doesn’t allow sin to boil over and destroy his children or his church.  For that, we can be grateful to God. 

Yet, we also have to add that when unbelievers are nice friendly people, they’re not doing anything to change their standing before God.  They might be nice to us at times, but they’re still sinners before a holy God.  Their niceness at times doesn’t balance out the rest of their wickedness before God’s face.  We have to remember that God is so holy that even just one sin committed in a lifetime of niceness is enough to justly send a sinner to hell.  If we don’t understand that, then we don’t understand the all-surpassing holiness of God or the seriousness of sin.  The Puritan John Owen understood how offensive sin is to God.  He gives this powerful chain of descriptive words about sin from the Bible:  disgrace, fraud, blasphemy, enmity, hatred, contempt, rebellion and injury, poison, stench, dung, vomit, polluted blood, plague, pestilence, abominable, and detestable.”  Sin is all about playing God and fighting the real God.  Sinners want to put themselves in the center of the universe and put God on the periphery.  Owen put it well when he said that “sin wills the fundamental abolition of God.  Sin wills that God should not be there.  Sin plays God, sin fights God, and sin wishes that God did not exist at all.”  This is where we find even the nicest person who’s not a true Christian.  Perhaps we don’t find much offensive about them, but the Holy God certainly does.                                                                 

The second clarification I want to make has to do with Christians.  Those who are resting and trusting in Christ alone, who repent from their sins and believe in Jesus, for such people the situation is radically different.  Listen carefully:  we do not believe that the doctrine of total depravity applies to Christians in the same way it applies to unbelievers.  We don’t believe that believers are so corrupt that they are totally unable to do any good and inclined to all evil.  If we look in faith to Christ, this isn’t our story anymore.  When we’re brought to faith in our Lord Jesus, we move from death to life. 

That’s the key thing to grasp in answer 8 of the Catechism.  You can’t skip over that word “unless.”  Total depravity is true, UNLESS we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.  If the Spirit makes us alive in Christ, then total depravity no longer applies in the same way.

That can be illustrated with Ezekiel 37 as well.  Those dry skeletons didn’t stay lying on the bottom of the valley.  By the power of the Word, flesh came on to those bones.  The bodies were miraculously reconstituted.  Everything came back together the way it should be.  Then the Holy Spirit came and he breathed life into these bodies.  That which was dead came to life again.  This is prophetic of the resurrection, but it also powerfully illustrates regeneration.  Regeneration happens by the power of the Word and the Holy Spirit.  God uses these instruments or means to miraculously bring the dead to life.      

Now even after the spiritually dead are regenerated, they do continue to sin.  True Christians in this age, living on this earth, will still sin in thought, word and deed.  True Christians still have the remnants of a sinful nature in them.  We’re still sinners.  Therefore, regeneration doesn’t result in the absence of sin in this life.  What it does do is begin a struggle with sin that wasn’t there before.  Regeneration changes our attitude toward sin.  It makes us hate sin and sorrow over it.  Regeneration is what produces the frustration that we feel about our sin.  This is why when we reflect on sin with an open Bible, we now see that it’s foolish and irrational.  Then regeneration changes our actions toward sin – we fight against it.  And loved ones, let me encourage you with the fact that there will be progress in the battle.  As we look to Christ in faith and rely on his Spirit, our sanctification does move forward.  Regeneration really does change everything.   

That’s why we don’t have to end on a down note this afternoon.  The doctrine of depravity can be rather depressing.  We don’t want to talk about sin and dwell on the negative.  Yet we have to be honest about the human condition.  We do have to be reminded from Scripture about the state of those who are lost, so that we’ll care about them and share the gospel with them.  But for yourself, as you look to Christ in faith, you can be so thankful that this is what he has delivered you from.  He has set you free from sin and death.  At the cross, Christ has paid for the original sin you inherited and the actual sins you’ve committed.  All your debts have been paid and your obligation to perfect obedience has also been met.  Jesus has given you righteousness.  Jesus has given you life.  Think about that again right now and let it sink in.  If you’re in Christ, through God’s grace, you can read about total depravity and be thankful that this is not you.  Be thankful.  Not proud – because this has nothing to do with your choices or actions.  All the glory goes to God.  All the praise to him.  Because you’ve been regenerated with the Holy Spirit, because you have Christ as Saviour, you’re now free to rightly know your Creator and heartily love him.  Because of the gospel of deliverance from sin and depravity, you can be assured that you’ll live with him in eternal blessedness to praise and glorify him.  AMEN.   


God of grace and glory,

Your Word always tells us the truth, even when it is difficult to accept.  We acknowledge that you are our good God, always holy, always just.  In you there is no darkness.  But amongst our race, there’s so much rebellion against you.  It breaks our hearts to see so many of our fellow creatures resisting your good will.  It breaks our hearts when we see ourselves resisting your will too.  Father, we confess that we are sinners.  By nature, in ourselves, we’re inclined to all evil, and totally unable to do any good.  But we thank you for the work of your Holy Spirit in our hearts.  We thank you that he has brought us from death to life, through our Saviour Jesus.  Thank you for his work of regeneration in our hearts.  We pray that he would continue his work in each of us so that we would rightly know you, love you deeply, and live with you forever.  We ask too that you would give us compassionate hearts for those who still live in depravity.  Let your Word and Spirit raise them up from the valley of dry bones.

Father, we also ask that you would continue to restrain the evil around us. There’s so much wickedness in our society and it concerns us.  Please hold it back out of your love for us and out of your love for our children.  We bring before you again the horrible tragedy of abortion in our country.  Please open the eyes of our elected officials so that they’d see all this for the evil and injustice that it is and that they would act to end it.  We pray for women thinking of having abortions.  Please use us and others to convince them to do the right thing.  We pray for those who’ve had abortions too.  We ask that you would help them to find peace and healing through our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Please bless those who are trying to bring such healing to broken and hurting women in our country and elsewhere.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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