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New City Catechism 16.1

This week we begin with Question 16 of the New City Catechism, found in Part 1 (questions 1-20), which focuses on God, creation and the fall, and the law.

Question 16: What is sin?

Answer: Sin is rejecting or ignoring God in the world he created, rebelling against him by living without reference to him, not being or doing what he requires in his law—resulting in our death and the disintegration of all creation.

Do fish know that they are in water? They probably don’t. With water all around them all the time, it’s probably something that they don’t particularly notice, just as we don’t notice the air that we breathe most of the time. For us who are in Adam, sin is similar to water for a fish. It’s the environment in which we live our lives apart from Christ.

We have a tendency to think of sins as isolated incidents, or particular actions that we take. Sins are mistakes that occur every so often in an otherwise sinless life. But Scripture presents a different picture. As the catechism notes, sin is not only about particular things we do. It is also about the condition of our hearts, which affects more than anything what we don’t do.

If God’s law demands that we love God with all our heart, soul, and strength (Deut. 6:4-5), then we must define sin primarily as a failure to obey that command fully at all times. Viewed from that perspective, sin is not just particular acts. It is a whole direction of life. It’s not just things we do. It is a power in this world that holds us under its dominion. This is why Scripture can speak of us being “under sin” (Rom. 3:9).

Suggested passage for family or personal reading: Romans 7:7-25. How does Paul speak of sin in this passage? What does that teach you about the nature of sin in your life?

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