When Sin is Sin and Grace is Grace

heidelberg2.jpg 13. Can we ourselves make this satisfaction.

By no means, on the contrary, we daily increase our guilt.1

1 Job 9:2, 3. Job 15:15,16. Matt 6:12. * Matt 16:26.

Only Christianity accounts for sin. All sub-Christian (i.e. Christian heresies) and non-Christian religions ultimately deny either the effect of sin or its reality. The Christian heresies (e.g. Pelagianism) denies the power of sin and the federal-legal relations between Adam and us. Non-Christian religions (e.g. Islam) tend to deny sin altogether. It’s pretty difficult to teach a religion of human effort and a thoroughgoing doctrine of sin. The compromise between the biblical and Christian doctrine of sin (that sin is lawlessness and necessarily produces death) and non-biblical views of sin has come to be known as semi-Pelganianism. Speaking anachronistically several of the leading rabbis of the first century were semi-Pelagian. They believed in salvation by grace and cooperation with grace. This doctrine of salvation became the dominant soteriology in the medieval church and it was to this error that the Remonstrants and the neonomians returned in the 17th century. It is to this same sort of semi-Pelagianism that the “covenantal moralists” of our day (i.e. the NPP and FV) would lead us.

It is against the errors of Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism that the catechism says that, “on the contrary, we daily increase our guilt.” Where most of the medieval church and the Council of Trent had it that we sinners could, if we would, increase our merit before God by grace and cooperation with grace, we confess that, were it up to our doing, our cooperating, our accumulation of intrinsic merit, it is impossible. The only merit that is of any use is the merit of another, a merit that is extrinsic to us. As sinners all we can do is to daily increase our liability before God. Apart from the unmerited favor of God imputing Christ’s perfect righteousness to us, we would be utterly lost.

From the biblical view of sin and its consequences we must not only reject the obvious error of Pelagianism (the denial of sin) but also semi-Pelagianism in all its forms because it makes grace a palliative but, because, in semi-Pelagianism, it ultimately depends upon our cooperation, it is not salvation.

In the Reformed faith, grace is really grace because sin is really sin.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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