PFOA : Psalm 51
Many discipleship programmes focus on Bible study, prayer, fellowship, and evangelism but often miss out on a comprehensive understanding of Christian doctrine. Catechism classes remedy this shortcoming. Recently I had the opportunity to deal with the question “What is Sin?” in a course based on the New City Catechism (www.newcitycatechism.com).
The topic of sin is often avoided in sermons and conversations. The presentation of the gospel depends on acknowledging the presence of sin, but attention is directed to problems associated with the consequences of sin rather than the root cause – our sinful nature. While we may reject the behavioural legalism of previous centuries it is obvious that the church has, to a large extent, assimilated the pragmatic standards of the secular world.
Throughout history God has chosen a people for himself who will be a contrast to the surrounding nations, and to display an attractive lifestyle to his glory. Abraham was a friend of God, King David a man after God’s heart, but overall Israel as a nation had failed. The church has been incorporated into the people of God. As God’s own people, it is to be a holy nation, a contrasting people displaying godly lifestyle in community.
David’s sin was adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah, yet when he truly repented after being confronted by Nathan (2 Sam. 12:7) he says in Ps. 51;3,4 “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment”. Did he not sin against Bathsheba and Uriah? Of course he did, but the sin against God who is transcendently holy is so much greater that the others pale in comparison.
Above all, God wants a holy people, a holy church. All sin is sin first and foremost against God himself. We need to have this God-centred understanding of sin. The world’s view of sin – “wrongdoing” is their preferred term – has a purely horizontal (person-to-person) perspective, hence it’s all right if “no one is hurt”, or when nothing external actually happens, as in envy or greed or even procrastination.
If sin is just horizontal, then the gospel does not make sense. The human-to-human offense does not merit the eternal punishment of hell, nor requires the death of the infinite Son of God to redeem sinners. Because all sin is against God, every sin is infinitely serious.
David recognised that he had sinned against God. In his repentance, he brought to God “a broken and contrite heart”, and called on God to “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me”. And he demonstrated his new direction by “teaching transgressors God’s way” and asked that his “mouth will declare his praise”. God forgave David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Sam. 12:13). We are comforted that we have a loving and merciful God.
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:12, 13).
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
What a wonderful Saviour!