Theme: The Fall Into Sin
Leading Question: What happened to God’s beautiful new world – to plants, to animals, and to human beings — when our parents disobeyed God’s command? Why?
The Bible does not tell us how or how quickly the world was transformed from its perfect condition to the one that we now see all around us. What we can say is that the gulf between the perfect creation of Genesis 1-2 and the fallen world of Genesis 3 is wide and deep. But even the world of Genesis 3 would appear to be several steps removed from our present understanding of the results of sin. In its most extreme form, some Christians see the sin of Adam and Eve as leading to the taint of “original sin” in all human beings, and “original sin” is interpreted as an inherited taint, even inherited guilt. In Roman Catholic understanding, a baby who dies without being baptized cannot be saved because the taint of original sin has not been washed away.
Adventists would be numbered among those Protestants who agree that we are tainted because of the sin in the garden and that we are lost as a result of that sin. But we would not go so far as to say that we are guilty for the sin of Adam and Eve. What does Scripture actually say?
1. The Results of Sin.
A. The sentence in the Garden: Genesis 3. What does Genesis 3 actually say about the results of sin? Note the catalogue in 3:17-19. What is included? What is not included that would be part of the (later) Christian understanding?
Note: The list in Genesis speaks of physical woes and sorrows and notes that death is the result of sin. But there is nothing about a moral taint, inherited guilt, or even an all-encompassing sentence of death as a result of sin. Those concepts would come later.
B. The testimony of the Psalmist: Psalm 51. To what extent does Psalm 51 reflect the Christian understanding of sin?
Note: The author of Psalm 51 knows about the taint of sin: “I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me” (51:5, NRSV). But the psalmist makes no link with the sin in the garden and he lives in expectation of a clean heart and a right spirit (51:10)
C. The testimony of Paul: Romans 3 and Romans 5. What connection does Paul make between the first sin and our sin? What does he teach that is not taught in Genesis 3?
Note: Especially in Romans 5, Paul develops the concept of man’s lostness in Adam. Indeed, he draws a parallel between the one sinful act of Adam and the one righteous act of Jesus Christ. It is through the act of Jesus Christ that humans can look forward to salvation and life eternal.
2. God’s Reaction to Sin. Ephesians 5:6 speaks of the “wrath of God” that falls on those who are disobedient. To what extent does one glimpse “wrath” in the narrative of Genesis 3?
Note: Classic substitutionary theology sees an absolute separation between a holy God and sinful humans, a gulf that can only be bridged by a sacrificial death. God provided that sacrifice by taking human flesh and dying on the cross, thus bridging the gulf that sinners sense between themselves and a holy God. But the gulf seems to be from the human perspective more than the from the divine. Micah 6:6-8 reveals the psychology of sin, as the believer wonders if even the giving of a first-born child could bridge the gulf between God and humans. The conclusion to that passage is revealing: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, NRSV). Though no sacrifice is stated there as being “required,” it is still true that only when God provided the once-for-all sacrifice in Christ Jesus, was that psychology of sin brought to an end: We cannot pay the price for our sin. Only God can do that.
3. God’s Forgiveness. In Scripture, what strings are attached to God’s offer of forgiveness?
Note: The most powerful argument for God’s forgiveness comes through Jesus’ death on our behalf: Acts 5:12 notes that both repentance and forgiveness are gifts of God through Jesus. But quite apart from any legal understanding of forgiveness, throughout Scripture God is always eager to offer the gift of forgiveness to his children. The Old Testament promise of the new covenant declares that God will write his law on our hearts – that is his work, not ours. The result? “I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34).