“We believe that Adam, made in the image of God, distorted that image and forfeited his original blessedness—for himself and all his progeny—by falling into sin through Satan’s temptation. As a result, all human beings are alienated from God.”
To this point in our study we’ve considered the nature and character of the God of our salvation; we’ve considered His awesome power to create ex nihilo, or out of nothing, and to reign supreme over all things; we’ve considered His design for humanity and the intrinsic goodness of creation before the fall. In biblical terms, we’ve basically been thinking about the story and theology of Genesis 1 and 2. Today we are going to take a slight turn and begin to consider the story and theology of Genesis 3.
God created Adam and Eve “in His own image” and “very good” (Genesis 1:26-27, 31). God then promised Adam that he would have eternal life if he obeyed all of God’s commands, but God also threatened Adam if he should fall into disobedience: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). What we have here is what our older brothers in the faith call the Covenant of Works. In short, Adam’s salvation (eternal life), both personally and for all of his offspring, was dependent upon his “perfect and personal obedience” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 7.2). But, if he should fall into sin and disobedience, he and all his offspring would fall under the curse of God, receiving the due penalty for violating God’s covenant: death (cf. Romans 6:23).
And for those of us who have read Genesis 3, we know that Adam does indeed fall into sin through Satan’s temptation. The serpent comes to Adam and Eve, and asks, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1), attempting to undermine God’s clear Word to them. Eve then misinterprets God’s clear Word by adding to God’s command (she adds “neither shall you touch it” [v. 3]) before Satan replies: “You will not surely die . . . you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (vv. 4-5). Even though he was made to be God’s covenant creature, Adam transgressed the law of God and sought to interpret reality as he sought fit. He desired to be like God in the sense that he would be ultimately free; no one would be his master or be able to dictate to him how he ought to live. In the end, he wanted to be able to do what was right in his own eyes, completely ignoring both his God and his own finitude.
We should pause for a moment to take in the gravity of what has happened as Adam and Even ate from the tree. These creatures who were made from the dirt, who were made to represent God and display His glory, who were promised life with God if they would but obey Him, violated God’s clear Word; they tried to make themselves like God; they rejected God and God’s blessings and purposes in the world, seeking only to display their own glory. And thus God comes to them, in the midst of their rebellion, and curses them. The ultimate penalty for their offense is death: “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (v. 19). Adam had violated God’s covenant and thus brought sin, alienation, condemnation, and death into the world, not just for himself, but for all people (cf. Romans 5:12-21).
From our first parents’ rebellion comes everything that is wrong in the world. All sin, suffering, death, and pain is a result of their fall into sin. Two of the most significant effects of this fall is that all of us are now sinners and are therefore alienated from God. Since Adam acted as our covenant representative, what he did counts for us. This means that when he fell into sin, we all fell (cf. Romans 5:12-21). That’s why David can say that he was “brought forth in iniquity” and conceived “in sin” (Psalm 51:5). And this is why Paul says that “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God . . . there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:10-11, 18).
So the fall (Genesis 3) has radical effects on all of our lives. We are made in the image of God, but that image is now distorted, twisted by sin and our natural hatred for God (cf. Romans 1:30). Though we are God’s covenant creatures, required to obey all of God’s commands precisely because He is our Creator, we are nevertheless fully deserving of God’s wrath because we have violated His covenant. We are alienated from God and “hostile” to Him (Romans 8:7). Paul goes so far as to say that we, in our fallen state, “cannot please God” (v. 8). By our fall we have made ourselves incapable of having eternal life with God (cf. WCF, 7.3) and are therefore doomed to eternal death. If we fail to take this reality seriously, if we fail to truly feel the weight of our radical sinfulness, we will never be able to see just how good the good news of the gospel really is.
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