Monday, February 18, 2008

How Did We Inherit Adam's Sinfulness?

by Phil Johnson

ow did we get in this state? Scripture lays the blame at Adam's feet. Roman's 5:12 says, "Through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned." Sin entered the world through Adam, then passed to all men. Adam's sin brought spiritual death—total depravity—upon the entire race. First Corinthians 15:22 says, "In Adam all die."

Remember, we are sinners before we ever commit one overt act of sin. We are born with the taint of sin. In fact, it is appropriate to say, as David did, that we are sinful from the moment of our conception (Ps. 51:5). Theologians refer to this as "original sin."

So how did Adam's guilt get passed on to you and me? That question gets complex, and there are several different theological opinions that have been proposed to explain it. If you want to delve into the question deeply, I recommend John Murray's book, The Imputation of Adam's Sin or Martyn Lloyd-Jones's sermons or commentary on Romans 5. One of these days, we'll take up the subject of original sin here on the blog.

In this series, however, it's not really necessary to go into great detail on the question of how sin was transmitted to us from Adam. It's enough to affirm the fact that Adam's sin condemned us. Without delving deeply into all the mysteries that surround this question, let's simply declare what God's Word has to say on the matter: "By the transgression of the one the many died" (Rom. 5:15). "The judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation" (v. 16). "By the transgression of the one, death reigned" (v. 17). "Through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men" (v. 18). "Through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners" (v. 19).

Five verses in a row all state in different ways that Adam's sin corrupted the entire race. Adam, as the representative head of the human race, plunged us all into sin. Yet we cannot stand aside and point the finger of blame at him in an attempt to excuse ourselves. We inherit his guilt as well as his sinfulness. We are as blameworthy as Adam. The question of how his guilt was passed on to us is not as important as the reality that it happened. No fact in all of philosophy or religion is attested to with so much empirical evidence. All Adam's offspring—with one significant, divine Exception—all Adam's offspring have been sinners. We are born morally corrupt.

I do want to call your attention to a couple of corollaries to this doctrine. First, it suggests Adam was a historical person. Those who want to treat the early chapters of Genesis as symbolism or myth destroy the doctrine of original sin. If Adam was not a historical individual, none of this makes sense. There's no reasonable explanation for how our race became sinful, unless the account of the fall in Genesis 3 is literally true. So the sinfulness of all humanity bears witness to the truth of Scripture's account of the fall.

Second, those who deny that human nature is sinful are guilty of willful ignorance. The universality of human sinfulness is irrefutable. It is self-evident. Everyone we know is sinful. There's no evidence whatsoever for the myth that people are basically and fundamentally good.
Original sin is not a minor blemish on the human soul. It corrupts every aspect of our character. Listen to these words from Romans 3, where Paul summarized the doctrine of universal depravity. These verses come after two chapters of argument showing that pagans, moral Gentiles, and even religious Jews are all hopeless sinners. In Romans 3:9-18, Paul sums up and makes the point so that no one can miss it:
We have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin [he had been proving that charge for two chapters]; as it is written, [and here he quotes a series of Old Testament verses] "There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one." "Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving," "The poison of asps is under their lips"; "Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness"; "Their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace have they not known." "There is no fear of God before their eyes."
That's exactly where we began this series, isn't it? Unbelievers are incapable of loving, fearing, trusting, or obeying God. They may fool themselves into thinking otherwise, but that only proves the wicked deceitfulness of a sin-sick heart.

That leaves us with one more question on his topic, which we'll consider next time.

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