The Christian teaching that most irritates some people, is the doctrine of human depravity. Yet this teaching is fundamental to an understanding of the biblical view of man’s plight and the great salvation God provided for him through Jesus Christ. While the question, “What think ye of Christ—whose son is he?” may be the central question; another question, “What think ye of man—in what shape is he?” is more fundamental.
In Genesis one we read six times that God saw what He had created, and that “it was good.” And then we read (in verse 31) that God saw “all that he had made, and it was very good.” This phrase involves the idea of perfection. There was nothing out of order. There was no suffering, no struggling, no death. When the Lord looked upon his creation (from the biggest star to the tiniest blade of grass), it brought joy to His heart. God was satisfied with what He had made.
The first man and the first woman (Adam and Eve) lived In a beautiful Garden; they shared a beautiful life. They were innocent and perfect creatures that were created by a perfect God. Adam and Eve were the finest couple you can imagine. There was no taint of sin whatsoever. But then something happened.
The children’s poem says, “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.” You and I are living in a Humpty Dumpty civilization. Our world has had a great Fall. Man today is in a pitiful condition. He has a bias and a tendency to do wrong; his heart is deceitful above all things; he’s tortured by disease and threatened by death. The Bible does not teach that man began at the bottom (as a savage), and is slowly but surely climbing upwards; rather, the Bible declares that man began at the top and fell to the bottom. He has had a great Fall.
The biblical record of the Fall of Adam and Eve is the only adequate, reasonable explanation for the present condition of the human race. It accounts for the presence of evil in a world that was made by a perfect Creator. It explains the tendencies toward evil even in the nature of little children. It is true that the account in Genesis 3 does not fill in every detail, and that some things may seem puzzling, but the major truth is altogether clear.
1. The Introduction of Sin 3:1-6
When God created Adam and Eve, He placed them in the Garden, and instructed them to dress it and keep it. Genesis 2:16 says, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” When the Creator said to Adam and Eve, “in the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die”—He gave a very simple command, but it was enough to test their obedience to God. God subjected Adam and Eve to one clear, simple test of obedience. They were not to eat of a certain tree in the Garden, and they failed.
Adam and Eve knew the command God had given, but they decided that God was wrong, and that the serpent was right. They made a wilful, deliberate decision to defy God’s authority. They refused to permit God to decide what was good and what was evil; instead, they tried to determine that themselves.
The Bible says the “serpent” was the instrument of this temptation. Regardless of what the serpent (described here) was like, the New Testament makes it clear that Satan was the real tempter. Revelation 12:9 says, “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the devil, who deceived the whole world.” It was the devil that deceived the world. Satan had been banished from heaven because of his rebellion against God. Jesus says He saw him fall like lightning. And then, using the body of a serpent, the devil approached Eve in the Garden, and enticed her to disobey God’s command. He assured Eve that she would not die if she ate of the forbidden fruit, but that she would gain knowledge, the knowledge of good and evil. The woman believed Satan rather than God, and she partook of the fruit, and offered some to Adam.
Someone says, “But why did God allow man to be tempted? Why didn’t God create Adam so that he just couldn’t have done wrong?” God could have created Adam without the capacity for sinning, but then Adam would not have had free will. He would have been a mere machine. God was not anxious to have His creatures love Him and obey Him because they were forced to love him (or because there was no other alternative)—He wanted them to act as they did, because they wanted to. When God created man, He gave him free will, the potential for evil as well as for good and the power to choose whichever he wished. Adam and Eve chose evil. They deliberately decided to defy God’s word.
2. The Consequences of Sin 3:7-24
This one simple act of transgression against God had far-reaching consequences. The results of Adam’s sin center around two words—”judgment” and “grace.”
Look first at “judgment.” God brought punishment because of Adam’s sin. Genesis 3:7-13 describe the shame and fear and the estrangement from God, that Adam and Eve experienced as soon as they had sinned. God asked three questions (recorded in verses 9, 11, 13), not to gain information, but to compel confession—and Adam confessed his sin. In verse 12, he said, “I did eat.” But he tried to evade responsibility for his actions and so he blamed his wife. He even insinuated that God was partly responsible. He said, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”
Genesis 3:14-19 describe the penalties God pronounced upon the individual parties that were involved in the Fall. There was first of all, a judgment upon the serpent. Verse 14 says, “Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.” The serpent may not have been crawling upon his belly when he approached Eve in the Garden, but now he was to crawl in the dust. And furthermore, some day the seed of the woman would bruise his head.
Then there was judgment upon the woman. Read Genesis 3:16. The woman had been appointed as man’s helpmeet, but now her husband was to be her master, conception would be multiplied, and childbearing would involve anguish and pain.
There was also judgment upon the man. Listen, as God speaks to Adam in verse 19: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground.” The man had always been expected to work, but now he would be forced to toil by the sweat of his brow, and to struggle against thorns and thistles. Adam’s pleasant work in the Garden, now became toil.
There was finally a curse upon the earth itself. The latter part of Genesis 3:17 says, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake.” On every continent of earth, one can find great stretches of waste land. There are vast areas of desert land even in America. And then there are typhoons and tornadoes; blizzards and volcanoes; terrible deserts and savage beasts. There is a corruption in all nature. All things (living and non-living) tend to wear out, to run down, and to get old. Paul says in Romans 8, that the whole creation is travailing in pain, waiting for the deliverance that will come when Jesus returns.
These have been the immediate consequences of Adam’s sin, but beside these judgments which came upon the serpent and the man and the woman—we must remember that Adam’s disobedience involves every one of us. According to the Bible, when Adam sinned, even unborn generations were brought under the curse. Adam was the human father of all men. He was our representative, and when Adam sinned, we became involved in his transgression. Paul makes it clear in Romans 5:12, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world (and death by sin), so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” When Adam sinned, sin entered the entire human race. And as a result, the entire human race is spiritually dead. Ephesians 2:1 says, “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sin.” Not only that, the entire human race is under the grip of sin. Galatians 3:22 says, “But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin.” One can find many kinds of people as he travels about, but he’ll never find any who have never sinned, because there are none. Men are not only guilty of personal acts of sin, but we have within us a fallen sin-nature. Furthermore, as a result of Adam’s Fall, the entire human race is under condemnation. John 3:36 says, “He that believeth not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Man, in his natural state, is under the wrath of God. He is under the power of Satan. He is depraved and hopeless and lost. One of the tragic consequences of Adam’s sin, is the fact that the entire human race became depraved and corrupt.
Now this doesn’t mean that man is in a state where he does nothing good at all. Occasionally he does some good deeds. We find traces of the divine image, but it is always marred. Neither does depravity mean that every sinner lives as wickedly as he possibly can, and that unsaved people can’t perform deeds of kindness, but it does mean that corruption has entered every faculty of his being.
Even a newborn baby is selfish. Imagine a little baby (waking in the middle of the night), and saying to himself, “I’m hungry, but mama’s had a hard day, so I won’t disturb her; I’ll stick it out until morning.” If the baby gets awake, and he’s hungry, he’s going to cry, because he wants what he wants when he wants it. All we are saying is that human nature is selfish from the very beginning. This is not to say that babies are lost. Babies are born with a sinful nature that needs cleansing; however, they are not born with a sinful guilt that needs forgiveness.
Most people have some nice qualities, but underneath the surface, each one of us has the potential for evil. In one moment, a man can do a noble deed, and in the next moment, he becomes a beast. The Fall of man explains why the human heart has a bent toward sinning. The New England Primer says it right, when it says, “In Adam’s Fall, we sinned all.” Every one of us (in his natural state), is a sinful, selfish, fallen creature—who stands in need of a complete transformation. This isn’t the popular view of human nature, but it’s the biblical view.
We like to cherish the idea that while we are not perfect, at least we are good at heart. That is simply not true! You say, “But must the church spend time bringing to the world this awful message of man’s Fall?” Isn’t the church supposed to talk about nice things? Isn’t it supposed to make people feel good? Isn’t the church supposed to bring the Good News of salvation?” And that is it exactly. People who don’t believe the account of man’s Fall, can never fully appreciate God’s great mercy, and His plan of salvation. If a man doesn’t believe that he is a sinful creature, then he can see no need for a Saviour.
The temptation and Fall of our first parents led to the universal sinfulness of all humanity. It accounts for all the crime and ugliness and filth we see about us today. As a result of the curse, life is filled with irritations and disappointments. It’s the story of broken homes and hungry children and neglected old people. Bitterness and wrath are in the hearts of men. Envy and hatred are found among nations. Strife and gossip are seen even in the church. But thank God that this story of sin and of shame is not the final chapter in God’s revelation. It’s true that “by one man (Adam) sin entered the world, and death by sin” – but it’s also true that “by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men for the justification of life.” While God was still pronouncing the curse (because of Adam’s sin), He also promised a Saviour. Three times in the third chapter of Genesis, we have a reference to the plan of redemption. In verse 15, redemption is promised. In verse 21, redemption is typified. In verse 22, redemption is made possible.
Verse 15 says, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” God is speaking to the devil, and says the time will come when “the seed of a woman” will bruise his head. And to “bruise the head” is fatal. Way back in Genesis 3:15 God told of the time when Jesus (the seed of the woman) would overthrow Satan, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and bruise his head. And even though the devil seems to be doing his worst as the age moves on, one of these days the seed of the woman is going to crush him. Satan’s doom will surely come.
Verse 21 says, “Unto Adam also, and to his wife, did the Lord God make coats of skin, and clothed them. When God called Adam and said, “Where art thou?”—Adam said, “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself.” Now actually, Adam was not physically naked. He had an apron of fig leaves, but the covering he had made with his own hands didn’t satisfy his own conscience. And so somewhere in the Garden, God slew an innocent animal, and from that harmless creature, he made a coat to cover up the shame and nakedness of the man and his wife. This act of God (in slaying an animal to provide a covering for Adam’s nakedness) was an object-lesson picturing the death of Jesus on the Cross to provide a covering for our sins. And so, at the very dawn of human history, fallen man learned that sin cannot be made right, without the shedding of blood.
Verse 22(b) says, “And now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life and live forever; therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden.” If Adam and Eve would have partaken of the Tree of Life, they would have had to live forever in their sinful state. It would be a dreadful thing, to have to live in these frail bodies (subject to the ills of life) forever. And so God in His mercy, barred Adam and Eve from the Tree of Life, and drove them out of the Garden, so that they might not become immortal as sinners.
3. The Progress of Sin 4:1-25
Chapter three tells how sin got its start in the human family; chapter four tells about its progress and growth. Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. One was a tiller of the ground; the other was a keeper of sheep. But these two boys not only worked, they also worshiped. Verse 3 says that Cain “brought of the fruit of the ground.” Cain was a religious man. He believed that God should be worshiped, but he was too cultured and refined to slay an animal. Verse 4 says that Abel brought an animal sacrifice as a sin-offering to God. By faith he believed the object-lesson that God had given Adam and Eve—that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission.” And God “had respect unto Abel and his offering; but unto Cain and his offering, he had not respect.”
Cain’s offering is a picture of those who hope to gain salvation by their own works, and who speak of salvation through the blood of Christ as “a religion of the butcher shops.” The Bible pronounces a solemn doom upon those who have gone in “the way of Cain,” and who turn their backs upon the blood of the Cross.
After the Fall of Adam and Eve, man’s very nature was bent toward evil and wickedness became more and more widespread. First there was rebellion (Cain refused to bring an animal sacrifice). And then there was murder (Cain took the life of his brother Abel). And then Cain founded a city (where the arts and music and all that pleased the flesh) began to flourish. One evil followed another on down through man’s history.
Is man basically good—or is he basically selfish, self-centered, and sinful? The Bible says that Adam’s sin corrupted man’s nature, and leavened the whole lump of mankind. Something happened in the Garden of Eden that blighted the whole human race. As a result, there is much more bad than good in us. We always go wrong if left to ourselves. It’s easier to do wrong than it is to do right, and it’s easier to drift downward than it is to struggle upward. Every man is by nature sinful. He is without hope (except that God sent His Son to be punished in man’s place.) The great message of the New Testament is that Jesus Christ made right what Adam made wrong.
Seneca, an influential man who lived in the Apostle Paul’s day, said one time, after observing all the corruption about him: “What we need, is a hand let down in order to lift us up.” We thank God today that a hand has been let down. When Jesus was born on that first Christmas day, the Babe in the manger was God’s answer to sin. And now, “Whosoever believeth in him, shall not perish but shall have everlasting life.” If you are one who has never done it, won’t you confess your wretched state, and flee to the Lord Jesus Christ for righteousness and peace?