October 22, 2017
THE FALL AND THE NATURE OF SIN
Systematic Theology 2
(7 of 12 in a series on Man, Sin, and the Identity of Christ)
After weeks of looking at the creation of mankind, being created in God’s image, male and female, etc. we now move on to look at the nature of sin. In a real sense, we cannot be said to be properly discussing humanity without discussing sin because mankind is no longer “very good,” as the Lord first pronounced in Genesis 1:31. In fact, as the storyline of the Bible continues, things have changed so much from that early pronouncement that Paul can write in Romans 3:10-12, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Again, that’s quite a change from “And God saw everything that he had made and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31).
It is no mystery if we have read the Scripture, however, as to why this change from “very good” to “no one does good” has taken place. It is because of the catastrophic event recorded in Genesis 3, known as the Fall. This event altered the entire world, and moved the created order from being very good to becoming enemy-occupied territory—a place where sin and death reign. Therefore, this morning I would like to consider the nature of the Fall itself in Genesis 3, consider some of the ways temptation works, look at the effects of the Fall, and see why Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is the only remedy for our plight.
A Look at Genesis 3
To consider the nature of the temptation found in Genesis 3 as well as gain some insight on temptation in general, we should consider the details of the text. The text itself reads: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden”?’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.”’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Gen 3:1-6).
Now, let’s just make a few observations. First, the mere fact that this serpent is present means that some kind of rebellion among God’s creatures had taken place. That is, at this point in the Bible’s storyline, we should understand that some of God’s creatures among the angelic hosts have already rebelled so that the Scripture speaks of Satan (who is identified with the serpent in various texts – e.g., Revelation 12:9) and his angels (Matt 25:41). Therefore, Greg Beale has argued that Adam actually failed in his ruling task to keep and guard the garden the moment he allowed the serpent to enter the garden.
Second, the serpent comes in an attempt to undermine the words and authority of God. He starts by asking, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” But it’s not just a question, is it? First, he knows that God didn’t say that. God had merely told them not to eat of one tree. Second, by asking it in this manner (“Did God actually say . . .”) he’s already suggesting that this is unfair and unreasonable of God. I mean, imagine you’re watching your neighbor’s son out raking leaves, so you cross the road, strike up conversation, and ask him, “Did your dad really say you had to rake up all of these leaves?” By asking that question, you’re trying to suggest to your neighbor’s son that his dad is being unreasonable and unfair, simply by asking the question that way. That’s what Satan is doing.
But Eve corrects him, telling him that God merely forbade one tree. Now, she does seem to add that God commanded them not to touch it as well, but I’m not sure how much significance we’re to see in that addition. Either way, the serpent comes back with a direct challenge to what God said, saying in verse 4 that what God had said was untrue.
Now, a couple of different things should have happened at this point. Ideally, Adam should step in and tell the serpent that God has spoken and the issue need not be discussed. After all, Adam is later rebuked for listening to his wife (Gen 3:17 – perhaps instead of speaking to her and the serpent?). But even if Adam had failed, Eve should have said that God had spoken and rebuked the serpent on those grounds.
You see, as troubling as this should have been for Adam and Eve to hear someone challenging the truthfulness of God’s words, it was probably somewhat gratifying to them to hear the serpent talking this way. After all, the serpent is suggesting to Eve that she need not merely bow to the authority of God’s Word but has enough wisdom to decide for herself what is best.
Haven’t we all seen this in ourselves and in others? I’ve followed this lie numerous times in my own life, but because things are more easily seen in others, the most obvious example of buying into this thought that we are sufficient to judge what is right and best I’ve seen was from a lady leaving her husband after twenty-two years of marriage. When I challenged her, laying out for her the commands of God, she answered, “I just think God would want me to be happy, and this is what makes me happy.”
But that’s not her role as creature, is it? It’s not our role as God’s creatures to assume what God wants and make judgments for ourselves that are contrary to what God actually said. Rather, we should be like Jesus, who in the temptation with Satan (e.g., Luke 4), showed us the way forward by repeatedly answering, “It is written.” You see, Jesus wasn’t going to put himself in a position of making judgments on God’s Word as Satan was suggesting but merely submitting to the authority of God’s Word. Even when Satan himself quoted God’s Word and tried to apply it in a way that would contradict God’s commands, Jesus simply quoted another text showing that Satan’s application was itself against God’s commands.
This wasn’t Jesus showing us that there is a magical power in the mere quotation of Bible verses when we are tempted. He was reflecting his submission to the authority of God’s Word. That’s our answer in the face of temptation, to remind ourselves that we are not sufficient to judge what is best for us and must merely bow to the authority of God’s Word and his commands in our lives.
Therefore, when Adam and Eve choose to stand in judgment on the goodness of God’s commands for them, this is more than just disobeying God’s command, isn’t it? It’s the creature’s attempt to ascend to the place of the Creator, something that mankind has done throughout the ages in our sin.
Also note that Satan’s appeal was not only to flatter Eve but make her question God’s goodness and love for her. The serpent suggests that God is holding out on her. He tells her that God doesn’t want her to have this great ability to know good and evil.
And this is a reminder to us as well of one of the reasons we must constantly preach the gospel to ourselves. The gospel is the supreme manifestation of God’s love for us. In 1 John 4:9-10, John writes, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” And if we consistently remember that God loves us (which is anchored in the gospel), then we are in a position not to question the goodness of God’s commands for us, are we?
Then, as Adam and Eve eat of the fruit in verses 6-7, we find that they had been greatly deceived. Yes, there was a sense in which they now knew good and evil. The Lord acknowledges this in 3:22. But they knew it from within, if you will. They knew evil within themselves. Therefore, they felt ashamed, sought to cover themselves, and hid from God.
Then, as God calls to them, they simply start blaming each other. The woman blames the serpent, and the man blames the woman. Thus, the entire created order has gone askew. Instead of loving God, the man and woman hide from him. Instead of ruling over the creation, the serpent has ruled over the man and woman. Instead of helping the man, Eve has tempted him with sin. And instead of loving and nourishing his wife, Adam is blaming her. Moreover, the serpent is then cursed and promised his head will be crushed. The woman is told that childbearing will bring great pain, and she’ll long to rule over her husband. The man is going to work the ground no longer in joy and peace but by the sweat of his face. And they’ll die.
The Spread and Transmission of Sin
The long-term effects are then seen throughout the rest of the canon. Harmony in the created order has gone awry. Genesis 4 records one of Adam’s sons (Cain) killing the other (Abel). Already, in Adam’s immediate offspring there appears to be a corruption from sin. From there, Genesis 5 makes clear with the repeating refrain “and he died” that death has spread to all man. And if any questions remain as to the pervasiveness of Adam’s sin, Genesis 6 clears it all up as we read (just prior to the flood), “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). In Genesis 11 the Lord is forced to judge the rebellion of mankind by spreading them out and confusing their language. And the whole rest of the history of Israel in the Old Testament screams that mankind has a big problem with sin. Israel’s very best king, for example, committed murder and adultery while failing to rightly discipline his children, while the wisest man on the earth (Solomon) made a wreck of his life because of his rebellion.
And this problem of the corrupting nature of sin did not simply affect Old Testament characters. It affects all of us born of Adam. We inherit sin and guilt from Adam. This is called the doctrine of “original sin,” meaning the sin that is ours through Adam’s rebellion.
You see, Adam was our legal representative (or federal head), so that what he did counts for us. And because we were represented in him, his sin and guilt leads to the condemnation of all men under a reign of death so that we are polluted by sin and therefore carry out sinful acts ourselves. This is expressed most clearly in Romans 5:12-21, where Paul writes, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
I think the best way to summarize this text is to note that Adam, as our legal representative, sinned and therefore brought condemnation on all of mankind that manifests itself in a reign of death over the world.
Adam → disobeys → is condemned → condemnation evidenced in death
This reign of death is not mere poetic language. We’re actually born into the world under the dominion of sin and death. Just listen to the language Paul uses of those who have been justified in Christ in Romans 6 and see who we all are prior to being united with Christ. By saying that we are no longer “enslaved to sin” (Rom 6:6), that “death no longer has dominion over us” (6:9), that sin no longer has the power to make us “obey their passions” (6:12), and again repeating that we were slaves to sin (6:17, 20), Paul gives us a pretty clear picture of the dominion that death and sin has on all of those in Adam. Simply put, mankind is not born into a world in neutral. We’re born into the world under sin’s dominion, corrupted by sin, and under a condemnation manifested in death’s reign over us. Sin pervades our entire selves, and we are by nature objects of God’s wrath (Eph 2:3).
Therefore, the Bible answers for us man’s fundamental problem. It is sin. And it is rooted in the fall. If, then, we are to overcome this plight, we need one outside of ourselves (not polluted by sin) who is a fitting representative (another Adam) to come and deliver us. That is exactly what happens with God the Son, as he takes on flesh.
The Solution – Christ’s Life, Death, and Resurrection
When Christ comes, he comes as the second and last Adam (1 Cor 15:45-47). That is, he is coming as the representative for all “in him.” And unlike Adam, Jesus perfectly obeys as our legal representative. In fact, he obeys all the way to the point of death, which is why he can cry from the cross, “It is finished.” That is, he has obeyed to the point of death. Moreover, in dying, Jesus bears the condemnation that we deserved through our sin. But that’s not all. Paul tells us that if Christ is not raised, we’re still in our sins (1 Cor 15:17). So, what happens is that when God raises Christ from the dead, it is in this very act that he is declaring that his Son is righteous.
Now, remember that Adam’s condemnation was manifested in death. So, what is the sign that the world lies in condemnation – the reign of death. Therefore, what is the sign that God has declared his Son righteous – Christ living, overcoming death. Thus, when Jesus is raised, God is declaring his Son righteous, which is manifested in the reign of life over death. We can illustrate that below:
Christ → obeys → (bears condemnation) → is justified → justification evidenced in life
But this has repercussions for those in Christ as well. Since we were condemned in Adam simply by being born, so we are justified through faith as we are born again (made alive) in Christ. And if we are in Christ, we bear his justification. For those in Christ, there is no condemnation, for we have been justified – declared righteous. His obedience counts for us. And if that is the case, then our justification will be manifested by the reigning of life – both now and in eternity.
It is evidenced now in that death and sin no longer reign over us. Yes, we still sin, and we will continue to struggle with sin until Christ returns and we are finally delivered from Satan, sin, and death. But we are not enslaved to it like we were before we were made alive with Christ. And, we can live this life not fearing death, for ultimately death itself will have no lasting effect on us as we are raised and receive our glorified bodies.
Being justified by faith, we await the day when our justification will be manifested in a reign of life so glorious that the world itself will be delivered from the curse of sin, and we will reign with Christ forever. Therefore, let us apply this beautiful truth by not letting sin reign in our mortal bodies, realizing that we have been freed from its dominion through the glorious work of Christ. Amen.