For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ; and being in readiness to avenge all disobedience, when your obedience shall be made full (II Cor. 10:3-6).

Captive Thoughts” is dedicated to bringing every thought captive to Christ through the study of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, with primary focus on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This effort is a compilation of several years of catechetical study conducted at Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Westminster, California, by its Christian Education Committee and the author of this site.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q14


The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q14-19) is Original Sin. (see Harmony Index)
“In every circumstance and relationship in life, we are usually faced with making a choice. How are we going to respond to it? Are we going to move toward God in the making of that choice or away from him? Satan wants every situation to be a temptation to doubt God and turn away from him. But God wants it to be something that refines our faith and causes us to move toward God and to trust him.”
That quote ought to be printed on a pocket-sized card and pulled out as a quick reference reminder whenever we are faced with a difficult decision, circumstance, or relationship. In every situation, we do indeed have a choice either to pull away or to move toward our God, to embrace our sin or to step further from it, to sin against God’s law or to be conformed to his purpose for our life. Through every choice we make, our life can become more corrupt in willful self-service, or more refined in faith, practice, and meaning.
In the same journal from which I obtained the above quotation, I also extracted another simple question that could be coupled with the above: “What is your purpose for living?” I’ll leave you to chew on both of these thoughts in the context of those things you already know to be true of each of God’s children, and in the light of this week’s catechism question. But one final consideration—for the follower of Christ, sanctification is moving towards that which refines, while at the same time moving away from that which pollutes. Our purpose for living is revealed in the choices we make each day. May our faithful heavenly Father grant us the blessing of unstopped ears and open, obedient hearts in the pursuit of our chief end and purpose—God’s glory and our enjoyment of him.
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WSC Q14. What is sin?
A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God [a].
            [a] Lev. 5:17; Jam. 4:17; I John 3:4; Rom. 2:23
Question #14 asks what sin is, and answers that it is disobeying or not conforming to God’s law in any way.
Comments and considerations:
I begin each of these weekly considerations with a paraphrase of the catechism. In some places the wording of the original is archaic, and restating the question and answer a little differently is an attempt to make it more easily understood. The case could be made that manmade documents can always be improved, though perhaps I am somewhat presumptuous, thinking that I can improve upon the collective genius displayed in our treasured confessions! Today however, I see no reason to attempt an improvement: sin isany want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God. We can certainly expand upon this definition, but it is an excellent starting point. The only word that we might need to study more deeply is “want,” since we don’t often use it as it is found in this context.
Older dictionaries define “want” as “to be without; to be destitute of, or deficient in; not to have; to lack; as, to want knowledge; to want judgment; to want learning; to want food and clothing.” So we see it defined as lackinga basic necessity to the degree of being deficient, even destitute. Our fathers wanted us to know that our lack of conformity unto the law of God is a desperate situation, not just an anomaly or an inconvenient truth. We can think of a myriad of Scripture texts that make this point vividly clear.
It is important to note that there are two facets of our calling in Christ that are implied here; God calls us untoconformity to his law and away fromthe path of transgression of his law. We will see this further developed as we study sanctification later on—“the work of God’s free grace, whereby we … are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness” (Q35).  Sanctification, like the rest of the Christian life, is a dynamic understood as a continuous process of movement away from sin, and movement forward and unto our God in Christ (Rom. 8:29; Phil. 3:14).
There is another, more familiar definition of “want,” that is, “to feel need of; to wish or long for; to desire; to crave.” This definition doesn’t fit the context of Q14, but it does mesh with what the catechism question is teaching. We are sinners; we have a very real need, and the knowledge of this ought to cause us to long for an answer to that need. How did Augustine put it? “Our hearts were made for God, and they are restless until we rest in him”(I paraphrase once again). The Scriptures put it this way:
“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the LORD, “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land” (Is. 1:18-19).
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. ….if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1John 1:1-4, 7-9).
This is the Good News found in Christ alone.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.    Read 1 John 3:4. What does this verse say about sin? According to this catechism answer, what are the two ways we break God’s law? How might we restate the words used here?
2.    If we were to only break one of God’s laws, what does James 2:10-11 say is our relation to all the law?
3.    Doing what God has commanded not to do is sin. But can we sin when we think or plan to sin, without actually carrying the sin out? Read Matt. 5:21-21.
4.    We may think that we are obedient to God when we do not break any specific law. However, what does James 4:17 say regarding knowing what is right and doing it?
5.    When we properly understand this question and answer, we understand that there are two ways we can sin—by omission and commission. Can you explain the difference?
Harmony of the Standards:WSC Q# 14 and WLC Q# 24 
WSC Q14. What is sin?
A.  Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God[a].
[a] Lev. 5:17; James 4:17; I John 3:4; Romans 2:23
WLS Q24. What is sin?
A.  Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, any law of God, given as a rule to the reasonable creature[a].
[a] 1John 3:4; Gal. 3:10, 12; Romans 3:23; James 4:17
Questions for further study:
What do we see that differs from the same question being asked in the two questions

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