THE FALL OF MAN, SIN AND ITS PUNISHMENT
1 God created Adam upright and perfect, and gave him a righteous law which secured life for him while he kept it, but threatened death if he broke it.
When God had finished creation he surveyed all he had done and pronounced it “very good”. As part of this “very good” creation man was upright and perfect. He had the law of God written on his heart so that he knew what was right, and being created without an inclination to sin, he had the power to do that right. As God’s creature he was obligated to do his Creator’s will; to live by that law written on his heart, to till the garden he had been given to live in, to cling to his wife who was bone of his bones. There was, however, one law which tested Adam’s obedience in a special way. The prohibition against eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not based on an innate sense of right and wrong, but on the bare command of God. Obedience to this command brought with it the promise of eating freely of the fruit of the tree of life, while disobedience brought with it the threat of death. This is the substance of what has been called the covenant of works. Based on the example of the second Adam, we conclude that the period of testing or probation would have been limited, and the reward of faithful obedience would have been confirmation in righteousness so that it would never again have been possible for him to fall into sin. Based on this same example given by Christ and by the results of the fall for his posterity, we also conclude that this righteousness would have extended to all who stood in Adam.
Yet Adam did not live long in this position of honour.1 Satan used the subtlety of the serpent to subdue Eve, she seduced Adam, and Adam (without any compulsion) willfully transgressed the law of their creation and the command given to them by eating the forbidden fruit.2 God was pleased to permit this act, according to his wise and holy counsel, as it was his purpose to direct it toward his own glory.3
2 Ge 3:1-7 , 2 Co 11:3 , 1 Ti 2:14
3 Ro 11:32-34 , 2 Sa 24:1 , 1 Ch 21:1 , 1 Ki 22:22-23 , Ac 2:23 , Ac 4:27-28
God gave man life, spiritual understanding and a perfect environment with everything he needed to enjoy and continue in life. Man could not place the blame for his fall into sin on anything God had done. Satan used the subtle serpent to draw Eve into a conversation that should have ended much sooner. He began by calling the fairness of God’s command into question (“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’”). He exaggerated in order to make God’s command seem as restrictive as possible. Though Eve corrected him, she proceeded to add her own distortion that indicates she bought into the serpent’s lie that God was overly restrictive (“you must not touch it, or you will die”). Finally, Satan pressed the accusation that God was intentionally keeping what was best for Adam and Eve from them. Rather than rise up in God’s defense, Eve took the ‘good’ Satan spoke of and offered it to Adam.
Knowing full well the simple and clear command given by God and the consequences attached to violating it, Adam wilfully chose to disobey God. According to Paul, Eve was deceived, but Adam was not (1 Tim 2:14). Some have wondered what would have happened if he had refused to eat the fruit when Eve offered it. This is pointless speculation though because he was with her throughout the temptation (Gen 3:16). Instead of defending God against Satan’s accusations and enlightening Eve so that she was not deceived, he allowed her to lead out in the conversation, and the results were disastrous.
As tragic as this sin and its consequences were, it came as no surprise to God who by his wise and holy counsel permitted it to happen, and directed its occurrence to bring glory to himself. Adam and Eve thought they were taking their destinies into their own hands, taking control from God who was denying them the very best in life. In reality, their actions accomplished exactly what God intended so that his glory as a merciful and gracious Lord could be manifested for all to see.
2 By this sin our first parents fell from their original righteousness and communion with God. We fell in them, for by it death came upon all;4 all became dead in sin and totally defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.5
5 Ge 2:17 , Eph 2:1 , Tit 1:15 , Ge 6:5 , Je 17:9 , Ro 3:10-18 , Eph 4:17-19 , Jn 5:40 , Ro 8:7
Because of this ‘original’ sin Adam and Eve lost their state of innocence. They exchanged a nature created in righteousness for one of unrighteousness. That they had by this one sin become thoroughly corrupt is evident by the whole host of sins that followed the first: lying, assigning blame to others, refusing to own up to their sin. Sin came between them and God so that the fellowship they had enjoyed, those quiet walks in the cool of the evening, were forfeited.
Their sin and its effect was not limited in its influence to them. All their offspring, all mankind, was implicated in their sin. Because of their sin we are all born into sin, and this affects us spiritually, morally and even physically. This is what is meant by total depravity. This doctrine does not teach that men are as bad as they can be, but that they are corrupt in every part of their constitution, and that all they do is tainted by sin. It is not simply that man apart from grace does not want to do good, he cannot do good for his will and spirit are corrupt. He can do nothing good for he can do nothing out of love for God that pleases him. There is a notion that has been around for thousands of years that man is basically good and needs only a better education or environment, or a better understanding of his own worth (rather than unworthiness). Such a view of man completely misses the devastating results of Adam’s sin on mankind, and thus fails to grasp its awfulness in the sight of a holy God. Robert Schuller says, “The most serious sin is the one that causes me to say, ‘I am unworthy. I may have no claim to divine sonship if you examine me at my worst.’ For once one believes he is an ‘unworthy sinner’ it is doubtful if he can really honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Jesus Christ.” Further, he says, “I don’t think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality, and hence counterproductive to the evangelistic enterprise, than the unchristian, uncouth strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition.” Others may be deluded, but the Christian ought to realize that a better environment or greater self-esteem is not going to make a better people. It would be hard to do better than Eden for an environment and hard to have a higher view of ones’ self than the highest of God’s creation.
3 By God’s appointment, they were the root, standing in the place of the whole human race. The guilt of this sin was imputed to, and their corrupted nature passed on to all their posterity by ordinary birth. Their descendants are therefore conceived in sin, and are by nature children of wrath, the servants of sin, the subjects of death and all other miseries—spiritual, temporal, and eternal—unless the Lord Jesus sets them free.6
Despite all its great diversity, every member of the human race can point back to Adam and Eve, God’s special creations, as their origin. There are two ways in which we are bound to them so that their actions in disobeying God have a direct impact on us. First, they are the root out of which we have sprung. Our confession does not attempt to define how this natural relationship is involved in the transmission of their first sin, but only notes in the context of the original sin that we are descended from them. Attempts have been made to explain how the guilt of their sin was transmitted through our natural union with them (e.g. that sharing in one human nature we actually sinned in Adam), but none are satisfactory.
On the basis of the analogy between the first and last Adam found in Romans 5:12-21, Adam’s sin has generally been seen as ours because he served as our representative so that when they sinned, their guilt became ours. Just as Christ’s righteousness is counted as ours because he is our representative, so Adam’s sin is counted as ours because he is our representative. The result of this reckoning is that all men have from birth a sinful nature. Just by virtue of being born into the human family we are sinners subject to God’s anger and to his judgment against sin which is death. Because we are born in sin we are exposed to physical, spiritual and eternal misery unless we are redeemed by Jesus Christ. While this may sound unfair to some, we should remember that we could have been born into a paradise characterized by righteousness and joy if they had been faithful to God. They were given the best of environments, the most straightforward of expectations and all the incentives, positive and negative, to encourage them to righteousness. If we had our choice for ourselves and all our posterity for eternal joy, would we rather leave them all to their own chances in a wide variety of circumstances or chose one representative under ideal conditions to weather the test? And if allowing one man’s life determine our guilt before God sounds unfair, then so too must allowing one Man’s life determine our righteousness through his life and death on the cross. Besides this, we can see how the other option works out in the case of the angels. They had no representative, but were each responsible for their own sin. With their one act of rebellion their fate was forever sealed so that there was no chance of redemption through one who would stand in their stead. When they stop to think about it, few would choose this alternative.
4 All actual transgressions proceed from this original corruption.7 By it we are completely incapacitated and disabled, antagonistic to all good and entirely biased towards evil.8
We are born sinners, and the actual sins we commit are merely the fruit of that nature we are born with. Because we are born with this corrupt nature we will, left to our own devices, always choose what is sinful. Some of the ‘good’ he does is nothing more than self-serving action intended to promote his own goals. Whatever he does that is truly good is the result of the moderating influences of God’s grace through the restraints of government and the ‘salt and light’ effect of the church on society as a whole. Some people have a list of evil deeds they count as sins and as long as they stay clear of them they do not believe they are sinners. Scripture teaches us that it is not this or that particular sin that makes us a sinner, but that we are by nature sinners who will sin and therefore stand in need of God’s forgiveness.
5 During this life, this corruption of nature remains in those who are regenerated.9 Although it is pardoned and put to death through Christ, yet both this corrupt nature and all its actions are truly and actually sin.10
Even when we are given new life, the old corrupt nature remains with us. Through Christ we are forgiven and our sinful desires are being put to death, but we nevertheless remain sinners whose sins require the grace of God for cleansing. “The teaching of this final paragraph is an important safeguard against two errors: perfectionism and pharisaism” (Waldron, 104). We are in the process of being renewed (Col 3:10) and transformed into the likeness of our Lord (2 Cor 3:18), but we have not reached the goal yet. So long as we live in this body of death (Rom 7:24), we will struggle with sin. Because we struggle with sin we are less prone to the error of pharisaism. The legalist satisfies himself with conformity to a series of external rules and regulations and thus never confronts the depth of his sinfulness. Recognizing that sin’s corruption is rooted in our very nature, we are driven every day to seek God’s strength and forgiveness.