Basics of the Reformed Faith: The Fall of Adam
August 5, 2011
Most Americans operate on the sincere but completely misguided assumption that deep down inside people are basically good. When we compare ourselves to others, we might be able to measure up pretty well. Sure, there are some who we might begrudgingly admit are better people than we are, but we still do pretty well in most of our self-comparison tests against others.
The problem with assuming that people are basically good is that it completely ignores the fact that ours is a fallen race, under the just condemnation from God, awaiting the sentence of death and eternal punishment. The reality is that God is not going to compare me to someone else, who is a fallen sinner like I am. Instead, God will measure me against the standard of his law, which is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12). And when God measures me using the standard of his law, it will soon become clear that like everyone else descended from Adam, I cannot meet God’s standard of perfection. I am a sinner. I am under the sentence of death. How did this happen?
This immediately raises the question of fairness. Is it fair for God to judge me against a standard I cannot possibly meet? The answer would be “no,” if we were to look at this question in a vacuum without any biblical context. The Bible teaches that Adam was not only the first human (from whom all humans are biologically descended), but that Adam was created holy and without sin. Adam was placed in Eden under the covenant of works with its condition, “do this (not eat from the forbidden tree) and live,” or “eat from the tree and die.” Adam chose the latter, bringing down the covenant curse of death upon the entire human race. People often agree with Ben Franklin’s famous adage that the only two things in life which are inevitable are death and taxes, both of which I might add, stem from human sin. Yet, the fact remains, death is not natural to the human race. Death is the consequence of the fall of Adam.
When Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God immediately pronounced the covenant curse upon him. “And to Adam [God] said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Work became toil. Fruitful fields were filled with weeds and thistles. Child-bearing became labor. And even worse, Adam now faced the sentence of death. And so do we.
Because Adam acted for us and in our place (by serving as our representative in Eden), we are as guilty before God for Adam’s act of rebellion as if we had been in Eden, personally rebelling against God as did our first father. The guilt of Adam’s sin was imputed or reckoned to us (Romans 5:12, 18-19). Not only did the fall of Adam render us guilty before God, we have all inherited a sinful nature from Adam, and it is from that sinful nature that our own particular acts of sin spring (Romans 7:5). We sin because we want to sin. In fact, we like to sin. This is a far cry from the notion that we are all basically good people who occasionally sin. Rather we are sinful people, whose sinful propensities are restrained by the grace of a merciful God.
The Bible teaches that we are sinful by nature and by choice, and that we are not now, and never have been, innocent before God (Psalm 51:5; 58:3). As Paul recounts in Ephesians 2:1-3, we are dead in sin and by nature children of wrath. In Ephesians 4:17-19, Paul speaks of the effects of Adam’s fall upon us in the following terms. “You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” The consequences of Adam’s fall are grave. Our thinking is futile, we are darkened in our understanding, we are alienated from God, and we seek to gratify our sinful nature rather than seek to please God.
And all of this stems from Adam’s act of rebellion in Eden. As the Puritans so aptly put it, “in Adam’s fall, sinned we all.” Because Adam sinned, we are born with a sinful nature, already under the sentence of death, and unable to do anything to save ourselves.
This is the consequence of Adam’s fall.