Pieper, Francis. Christian Dogmatics: Volume 1. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1968.
c. Actual Sin
Chapter 1, “Definition of Actual Sini”
Actual sin is that which is done by people. It is not that which we inherited but that which is committed, either by doing sins or by failing to do what God commands.
Chapter 2, “The Causes of Actual Sin”
There are causes for sin both within man and outside of man. In general, the cause of our sin is our fallen nature. This most often works in us by ignorance and unbelief or through our strong and unbalanced emotions. We also engage in sin through our habits. Among the external causes of sin we find the devil, who normally operates through temptation but occasionally physical causes as well. Other people and their words and deeds can provoke us to sin as well. God is not the cause of sin.
Chapter 3, “The Scripture Doctrine of Offense”
In the Bible we find that when we are provoked to offense we are offensive to God. This offense before God can come about when we are caused to doubt God’s Word. Because our actions can bring offense we restrict our liberty in Christ when it does not hinder the Gospel to do so.
Chapter 4, “The Scripture Doctrine of Temptation”
We can be tempted either to evil or to good. Temptation to good comes from God. Temptation to evil may come through the devil or other people. Pieper also classes as temptation the hardships which come from God to make us depend on him. We are warned in Scripture to cast our hope and trust on God so as to avoid falling into sin.
Chapter 5, “Classification of Actual Sins”
The Bible does, in fact, identify different types of sins. For example, we find both voluntary and involuntary sins. Again this distinction could be confusing. Voluntary sins are those we commit willingly. Sometimes our will is in the background and our sin is committed rashly or in ignorance. That would be identified as an involuntary sin.
Sometimes sins are divided into different categories based on our understanding. For instance, we may have an erring conscience and sin by denying or by disobeying that conscience. The erring conscience needs correction and the sin needs forgiveness.
We find also that we may sin against God, against our neighbor, or against ourselves. All sins are against God. Some influence others as well.
Though all sin is deserving of death and hell, the Scripture depicts some sins as worse than others.. Entering into sin willfully is a very serious matter, as it involves active rejection of God’s known will.
Some divide sins into those of thought, word, and deed. This may imply a difference in seriousness but not always.
Many have classified sins into “mortal” and “venial” categories. Mortal sins result in the death of the sinner. Venial sins are those which, though they merit death, are able to be forgiven. They do not kill faith. The definition of a mortal sin is a matter of considerable debate. Pieper does not go into it at this point.
Pieper does warn against entering into other people’s sins by approving and affirming them. We never want to encourage sin. Some sins are pictured in the Bible as crying out to heaven. All sin is serious, but again, there is some sin which calls to God for justice.
Finally, Pieper discusses the sin against the Holy Spirit, known as the unforgivable sin. In this, the person claims that the work of the Holy Spirit is actually the work of the devil, thus saying that God’s work of forgiveness is from God’s enemy. It is very hard to identify this sin. Under all of Pieper’s discussion is the care that when man is repentant God is forgiving. We will not find someone repenting of a sin that God does not forgive.
This brings us to the end of Volume 1. Pieper’s work is thorough and he is generally fair toward those he speaks against. He does possibly spend more time and energy refuting particular individual theologians who are influential in his time than I would like. I would prefer that he spent the time dealing with the position and did not deal with the individual theologian in such detail.
A word is in order about the date. Pieper wrote in German and the text as we have it is in translation. The German, published by Concordia Publishing House, was originally copyrighted 1917-1924. It is now in public domain. The English translation was published by Concordia in 1950-1953. Concordia Publishing House currently lists the item as a 1968 publication. Amazon lists electronic editions as 2003 and 2011. Maybe someone can explain the 1968 date, but I am unable to do so.