Overcoming Sin, Misery and Death
. . . the woman, whom thou gavest me, gave me the fruit and I ate of it. (Genesis 3:12)
You cannot live one moment of one day without experiencing the effects of Adam’s fall into sin. It adversely affects everything. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the civil unrest in Iran, genocide, racism, tsunamis, earthquakes, marital difficulties, wayward children, unruly neighbours, negative work environments, disease, death, and more are the result of Adam’s sin. When Eve gave the fruit to Adam, we are told that she was deceived (2 Cor. 11:3, <iGen. 3:13), but Adam knew exactly what he was doing. He willfully disobeyed God’s explicit command (Gen. 2:15-17, 3:9-12). When Yahweh Elohim came to meet with them in the garden, in their shame and guilt Adam and Eve hid themselves from him – as though anyone could actually hide from him. God asked Adam a series of rhetorical questions (‘Where are you?’ . . . ‘Who told you that you were naked?’ . . . ‘Have you eaten from the tree?’) to drive home his sin. His question to Eve is filled with pathos, ‘How could you do such a thing?’ In other words – in light of the perfection and purity of their environment, how could they sin against such grace and beneficence! A close reading of the text reveals a profound and poisoning effect of Adam’s sin upon his relationship with Eve, and consequently upon his posterity. The trust and openness they previously enjoyed is destroyed. In its place has come mistrust, projection of guilt, and estrangement from God. In fact both Adam and Eve give a not-so-veiled condemnation of God, blaming him for their troubles, saying that he is the one who gave Eve to Adam, and he is the one who created the serpent who deceived the woman.
All sin, misery, and death are traced back to Adam’s fall into sin. Contrary to what so many have said – Adam’s fall is not a myth, fable, or legend. It is an actual, historical event. Jesus referred to an actual Adam and Eve (Matt. 19:4), as did Paul (Rom. 5:12ff, 1 Cor. 15:22, 1 Tim. 2:13-14), and Luke (Luke 3:39). If they were not real people then Jesus, Paul, and Luke would be lying and this would discredit their entire testimony. When I say that Adam’s fall brought sin, misery, and death into the world I have several things in mind. First is what theologians call ‘original sin’. This is often denied today, but without this doctrine we have need of only a small saviour. Without original sin man is merely sick, in need of improvement, perhaps being helped by a ‘life coach’, as Michael Scott Horton puts it in Christless Christianity.1 All people, even my beautiful grandchildren, are born sinners who need the regenerating work of the Spirit, who in themselves are corrupt, selfish, idolatrous, and capable of untold evil. And then there is the problem of actual sin. Paul David Tripp, in his Brokendown House,2 lists three biblical words that capture the nature of actual sin – transgression, iniquity, and sin.
Transgression is crossing over the line, stepping outside the circle of what God commands. To disobey, ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ is to transgress. Iniquity is much more severe and pervasive. Iniquity is the presence of indwelling sin that is perverse and heinous. Your joy of being in the presence of God in corporate worship, quickly followed by lascivious thoughts of a woman you see walking down the street as you walk out of church, is a vivid reminder of iniquity. You are far more perverse in your flesh and indwelling sin than you can possibly imagine. And sin is manifested in utter weakness to do the very things you know you ought to do. Paul in Romans 7:19 makes clear what all of us have battled, ‘For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.’ This original and actual sin leads, not only to sin and misery, but ultimately to death. We all instinctively fear it. Hebrews 2:14-15 says that Christ rendered powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil, who through fear of death, held us in bondage all our days.
There are two parallel and antithetical truths you must constantly keep before your eyes – on the one hand, you are utterly corrupt, licentious, perverse, and weak in your flesh; but on the other hand, you are in Christ Jesus, you have a new heart that loves Christ and hates sin, and the Father will never let you go, promising to sanctify you and glorify you on that great day. The fall into sin has rendered you, your family, your church, your community, your friends, and your world as broken, dysfunctional. This is not what God intended. God is dissatisfied with the state of the world and He is working ultimately to correct all the wrongs, sin, and injustices in it. The most moral of you reading this, those of you from the best, most well-adjusted families, are still dysfunctional. Every one of you reading this has secrets, sins, and failures for which you are terribly ashamed and guilty, things you have been battling for many years. These are due to Adam’s fall into sin imputed to you, coming to light in actual sins you commit.
It is imperative that you keep the car on the road – not falling into the ditch of hopelessness and despair about the grievous nature of your sin, but also not falling into the ditch on the other side of the road, feeling self-righteous because you don’t have the same dysfunctions as others. You must see your sin more clearly, never explaining it away, never projecting it to others; while also looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith. You must ever keep before you the glorious fact that the Last Adam has conquered sin, Satan, and death. You have died to sin and you are alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:5-11). While indwelling sin is a reality, at the same time Paul proclaims that the rule, dominion, and reign of sin are utterly broken. You are not a slave to it any longer. Christ Jesus came for this purpose – to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). Your tendency to abdicate your manly responsibilities, to usurp your husband’s leadership, to listen to the devil’s lies, to find truth outside of Scripture, your innate desire to move toward transgression, iniquity, and sin, and your never-ending quest to cover your shame and guilt in man-made ways – all brought upon you by the devil – has been defeated. You don’t have to listen to him. Paul tells us that Christ has conquered our enemies, and the last enemy he will conquer is death (1 Cor. 15:26).
But you may be saying, ‘That’s nice theology but I still sin daily. I am still so dysfunctional. Tell me something hopeful and practical.’ Here it is – Christ will one day bring the consummation of the ages. He will make all things new (Rev. 21:1-4). He will make a new heaven and a new earth. You, like me, are so tired of your sin. You want to see it completely erased, but it remains until that great day. You must, therefore, listen for eternity. See your sin – yes, by all means. But also see the glory of God in Christ, the One interceding for you, making you more holy. But finally, see with the eyes of hope that those who overcome will eat from the tree of life in the paradise of God (Rev. 2:8). They will not be hurt by the second death (Rev. 2:11). They will eat some of the hidden Manna, feeding forever on the glorified Christ (Rev. 2:17). They will receive the morning star, having what they have longed for, the Lord Jesus himself (Rev. 2:28). They will be clothed in white garments and their names will not be erased from the book of life (Rev. 3:5). They will be a pillar in the temple of God and will never go out from it again (Rev. 3:12). And they will sit down with Jesus on his throne as he overcame and sat down with his Father on his throne (Rev. 3:21). So, be realistic and hopeful at the same time.
- Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church.
- Tripp, Brokendown House: Living Productively in a World Gone Bad.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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