The following Questions and Commentary have been extracted from Thomas Watson’s (1620-1686) classic work, A Body of Divinity, with some added personal considerations for further reflection.
Question. What is sin?
Answer. Sin is any want of conformity to the Law of God, or transgression of it. “Sin is a transgression of the law” (1Jo 3:4).
Commentary. Of sin in general: (1) Sin is a violation or transgression. The Latin word, transgredior, to transgress, signifies to go beyond one’s bounds. The moral law is to keep us within the bounds of duty. Sin is going beyond our bounds. (2) Sin is evil. It is a defiling thing. Sin is not only a defection, but a pollution. It is to the soul as rust is to g old, as a stain to beauty. It makes the soul red with guilt, and black with filth (note Isa 30:22; 1Ki 8:38; Zec 3:3). (3) Sin is grieving God’s Spirit. “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph 4:30). (4) Sin is a disease. “The whole head is sick” (Isa 1:5). Some are sick with pride, others with lust, others with envy. Thomas Watson
The Bible teaches that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). “As it is written, there is none righteous, no not one” (Rom 3:10; Psa 14:1-3). As a result of sin, each person has received the penalty of sin, which is physical death in time and spiritual death in eternity. “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23; cp. Rev 20:6). That is the bad news. The “good news,” the gospel, is that there is hope. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Joh 3:16). Paul teaches that “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). So there is a way of salvation. It has been graciously provided in the Person and work of Jesus Christ at Calvary. Individuals can be saved from the power and the pollution of sin. Those who are guilty can yet be declared righteous in the eyes of the Law. Individuals can still be justified in the sight of God by faith.
Question. What is justifying faith?
Answer. True justifying faith consists in three things:
(1) Self-renunciation. Faith is going out of one’s self, being taken off from our own merits, and seeing we have no righteousness of our own. “Not having mine own righteousness” (Phi 3:9).
(2) Reliance. The soul casts itself upon Jesus Christ; faith rests on Christ’s person. Faith believes the promise; but that which faith rests upon in the promise is the Person of Christ: therefore, the spouse is said to “lean upon her Beloved” (Song 8:5). Faith is described to be “believing on the name of the Son of God” (1Jo 3:23), that is, on His person. Faith rests on Christ’s person, “as he was crucified.” It glories in the cross of Christ (Gal 6:14).
(3) Appropriation, or applying Christ to ourselves. A medicine, though it be ever so effectual, if not applied, will do no good; though the plaster be made of Christ’s own blood, it will not heal unless applied by faith; the blood of God, without faith in God, will not save. This applying of Christ is called receiving Him (Joh 1:12). The hand receiving the gold, enriches; so the hand of faith, receiving Christ’s golden merits with salvation, enriches us.
At this point, it is possible for a conscientious seeking sinner to despair upon hearing the gospel. If justifying faith involves self-renunciation, reliance upon the person of Christ, and the appropriation of Christ, there is concern—for the honest heart realizes that it has no innate ability to perform this spiritual good work. What can be done?
Question. How is faith wrought [produced]?
Answer. By the blessed Spirit; who is called the “Spirit of grace,” because He is the spring of all grace (Zec 12:10). Faith is the chief work which the Spirit of God works in a man’s heart. In making the world God did but speak a word, but in working faith He puts forth His arm (Luk 1:51). The Spirit’s working faith is called the “exceeding greatness” of God’s power (Eph 1:19). What a power was put forth in raising Christ from the grave, when such a tombstone lay upon Him as “the sins of all the world”—yet He was raised up by the Spirit! The same power is put forth by the Spirit of God in working faith. The Spirit irradiates the mind, and subdues the will. The will is like a garrison that holds out against God; the Spirit with sweet violence conquers, or rather changes it, making the sinner willing to have Christ upon any terms—to be ruled by Him as well as saved by Him.
While many talk about the free will of man, the Bible teaches about the freed will of man. The natural man is born with his will enslaved to sin. He is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1). The will of the natural man is enslaved to “the lusts of the flesh” (Eph 2:3). Jesus Christ must come and set the captive free in a sovereign way (Mat 1:21; Luk 4:18), so that it can be said for all eternity that the soul is born again (Joh 23:3), “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Joh 1:13). While some may boast of free will, the heart of the redeemed glories in the free grace of a free gospel of our great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ (2Pe 1:1), who has freed the wicked heart from the power and pollution of sin.
It is imperative that each person examine themselves to see if they are within the sphere of true saving faith (2Co 13:5). It is possible to be religious, but not regenerated. It is possible to be baptized, without ever having truly believed on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation and the forgiveness of sin (Act 16:31; cp. Act 8:35-38). It is possible for a person to grow up in the Church without being converted (Joh 3:10). Therefore, “give diligence to make your calling and election sure” (2Pe 1:10). If you have never made your own calling and election sure, why not do that right now?
“The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; [so] that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Rom 10:8-10).
If God grants you faith to believe and converts you, please write to Redeeming Grace Ministries and share what God has done in this hour of grace (Luk 15:10). And “the Lord shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there” (Psa 87:6).