Meditations on the Larger Catechism, pt. 18
Our Estate of Sin
Quick; what’s the first thing you think of when I say the word “estate?” Got it? Now let me take a wild guess and say that you probably thought of the word sale, as in estate sale, right? To us materialist Americans, an estate is the sum total of our lives that we can pass on to our children, with the help of a living trust or will. In a word, we think of an estate as what we have.
There is an older use of the word, though. We may have no doubt it even exists. The Oxford English Dictionary gives us this use of the word speaking of a condition of our existence. Our estate is not our accumulation, then, but our condition; not what we have, but what we are. Our Catechism explains the biblical data concerning the fall of Adam by saying it has placed us into a new condition of existence: “an estate of sin and misery” (Q&A23).
Our lives are characterized by sin, which John described in 1 John 3:4 as “lawlessness.” Our condition is to be lawless, meaning, both that we do not keep the law but in fact break the law. This is why the Catechism defines sin as a “want [lack] of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God” (Q&A 24). Not only was Adam and Eve plunged into this estate but “all that proceed from them” by means of “natural generation” (Q&A 26) also enter this state of existence. What does it mean that Our Estate of Sin is a condition of our lives?
The Guilt of Sin
To be in an estate of sin is to be under the guilt of sin. We know from Romans 5:12–21 that when Adam sinned, we sinned. In Ephesians 2:4 Paul says this in another way: we were “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:4). By “nature” Paul means the way we are.” Spiritually speaking, we are “by nature” sinners. This means that this is just the way we are. We were born this way.
What a weighty thing this natural state of ours is. We are “by nature children of wrath.” This does not mean that we are naturally angry with people, but it means that we were born under the wrath of Almighty God. When was the last time you, as those who trust in Jesus and who have joined yourselves to his church, meditated and reflected upon the reality of God’s wrath and judgment upon the unbelieving? Pail does this in 2 Thessalonians 1, where he says
“God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (1:6, 7–9).
Our natural estate of sin should cause in us awe and reverence at what God is like. It should also cause heartfelt gratitude that God has saved us from this estate. It should cause deep concern for the lost because this is their predicament.
The Lack of Righteousness
To be in an estate of sin is to have the lack of righteousness. The Catechism speaks of “the want [lack] of that righteousness wherein he was created” (Q&A 25). This means we were born lacking the original righteousness of Adam. He was created upright; we are born fallen. In Ephesians 4:24 Paul exhorts God’s people to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” What Paul says about us we can read backwards as being true of Adam. What Paul means, then, is that when we come to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith we regain something that we had lost. What we lost was that original righteousness and holiness, which Adam had. In Christ we are re-created. This is why Paul says of all humanity outside of Christ, that “none is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). What does this lack of righteousness look like? It means that “no one understands” rightly the God who made them and that “no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11). It means that “all have turned aside,” “become worthless,” and, therefore “no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:12). It means that “their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness” (Rom. 3:13–14). It means that “their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known” (Rom. 3:15–17). Finally, it means “there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18). This is an estate you do not want to belong to.
The Corruption of Nature
To be in the estate of sin is to have the corruption of nature. Corruption is defined by the Catechism as being “utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually” (Q&A 25). In Ephesians 2:1 Paul simply uses the term “dead.”
We were born not only with this guilt and lack of righteousness, but also with a corrupt nature. This “original sin” is who we are as humans. And from it “proceed[s] all actual transgressions.” Before Christ came to save us we actually walked in the deadness of our nature and transgressions against God, we followed the world’s ways, and we followed Satan’s ways. We lived in the passions of our flesh, we carried out the desires of our bodies, and the desires of our minds.
What a sorrowful state we found ourselves in! We a heinous state our neighbors are in! This is a state of undeniable guilt. This is a state of total unrighteousness. This is a state of utter corruption. O how sorrowful. O how lamentable. O how pitiful. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church