By Mike Willis
That America is faced with a misunderstanding regarding the nature and consequences of sin is an understatement. Christians need to guard themselves against becoming a victim to society’s definition of sin lest sin be minimized in their eyes. What better source to learn a biblical doctrine of sin can be found than the opening chapters of Genesis?
The record of the beginning of sin is related in Genesis 2-3. Most of us can recite the story from memory. After God created Adam and Eve, He placed them in the Garden of Eden to dress and keep it (Gen. 2:15). He commanded them, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17). Sometime later, the devil appeared to Eve in the form of a serpent, deceived her and persuaded her to eat of the forbidden fruit. She persuaded Adam to eat of the fruit. God appeared to them in the Garden, pronounced the curses upon Adam and Eve, and excluded them from the Garden and access to the tree of life.
From this account in Genesis, we can learn many lessons. Please consider the following:
What Is Sin?
We can learn what sin is from the Genesis account. Society has lost any meaningful understanding of sin.(1) Some explain sin as being (1) a violation of society’s code of ethics, (2) a violation of one’s personal code of ethics, or (3) a violation of rules taught to him by his parents. However, sin is none of these. Sin is the violation of the word of God. John wrote, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 Jn. 3:4). (The violation of conscience is sin [Rom. 14:23; Jas. 4:17] because it violates God’s word which demands the maintaining of a pure conscience.)
As the first two created beings, Adam and Eve were not influenced by society to believe that eating a particular fruit was wrong. Their parents had not pounded these ideas into their heads. Rather, their disobedience was considered a sin simply because they violated what God said.
I cannot see anything wrong with eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It would seem that to eat that fruit would be no different from eating any other fruit, such as an apple or an orange. What made the eating of one right and the eating of the other wrong was that God said, “Thou shalt not. . . .” Sin is the violation of God’s law!
The Cause of Sin
Even as modern man has lost sight of the definition of sin, he has also lost sight of its causes. We are told that sin is caused by the following:
1. Environment. B.F. Skinner, renowned psychologist, wrote, “We shall not solve the problems of alcoholism and juvenile delinquency by increasing a sense of responsibility. It is the environment which is ‘responsible’ for the objectionable behavior, and it is the environment, not some attribute of the individual, which must be changed” (Beyond Freedom and Dignity, p. 122). This concept has influenced many social programs in our country. Billions of dollars of federal money have been poured into ghetto areas to change the environment in the hopes of helping mankind. A couple of decades later, these projects look as bad as they did before money was poured into them. Changing the environment did not change the sinners.
What was wrong with Adam and Eve’s environment which might have caused their sin? They lived in Paradise. Every physical, emotional, and social need was provided for by God. Yet, they sinned. Environment neither caused nor prevented their sin!
2. Education. Some think that sin is caused by a poor education. A man with a fifth grade education, who reads poorly, commits a crime in some ghetto section of the city. Court appointed attorneys have argued that his poor education contributed to his poverty and forced him to steal. If we could but educate these people, thus enabling them to earn a better living, they would not steal. Hence, those in prison can receive a college education at state expense, as a means of preventing recurrence of crime. Has this worked? The man who robbed a liquor store of $200 with a gun is now able to rob a bank of $200,000 with a computer!
Was a lack of education the cause of Adam and Eve’s sin? Did Adam and Eve sin against God because they did not know better? The biblical account demonstrates that both Adam and Eve were aware and understood God’s law. Eve repeated God’s law to Stan when he tempted her (Gen. 3:2). Hence, sin was not caused by a poor education.
3. Heredity. Others have argued that sin occurs because man inherited a sinful nature. The Westminster Confession of Faith states that man inherited a sinful nature from Adam and then adds, “From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions” (Chap. VI, No. 4). This does not explain Adam and Eve’s sin. They were children of God (Lk. 3:38). Did they inherit a corrupt nature from God? Even the Calvinists state that Adam and Eve did not have a corrupt nature. Hence, one is not a sinner because of inheritance.
What is the cause of sin? The cause of sin is man’s willful choice to disobey God. Man has been created with free will, the ability to choose to do good or evil. Sin occurs because and when man, of his own volition, chooses to violate and transgress one of God’s commandments.
What Are The Consequences Of Sin?
God told the consequences of sin when He said . for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). That physical death is not intended should be apparent from the fact that Adam and Eve did not die in the day that they ate of the fruit.(2) The death which was intended by the original statement did occur in the day that they ate of the fruit; it was spiritual death. H.C. Leupold wrote:
In this instance the expression beyom, “in the day,” is to be taken very literally and not in the sense “at the time,” a meaning that would not fit here. For the thought actually to be expressed is the instantaneous occurrence of the penalty threatened, which is also again expressed in part by the imperfect with absolute infinitive, “dying thou shalt die””certainly die.” This at once raises the question, “Why was this penalty not carried out as threatened?” We answer: “It was, if the biblical concept of dying is kept in mind, as it unfolds itself ever more clearly from age to age.” Dying is separation from God. That separation occurred the very moment when man by his disobedience broke the bond of love. If physical death ultimately closes the experience, that is not the more serious aspect of the whole affair (p. 128).
That spiritual death is intended by the statement in Genesis 2:17 is confirmed by Paul’s discussion in Romans 5:12-21. Hence, the consequences of sin is death (Rom. 6:23)-separation from God.
The text in Genesis is relevant to some of the modem discussions regarding what happens when a Christian sins. Consider these circumstances: (1) Adam and Eve were children of God by creation (Lk. 3:38) and in spiritual communion with God; (2) The one act of disobedience brought spiritual death; (3) The same consequence for sin came upon Eve, who sinned through the devil deceiving her (1 Tim. 2:14), as came upon Adam who sinned high-handedly.
Some become alarmed when someone intimates that “one sin separates a person from God.” God said, “. . . for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” The Lord said that the punishment for sin is “death.” What is “death”? The primary meaning of the word death is “separation.”(3) “. . .For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (i.e., be separated from God).”
When would this separation occur? Is separation from God so ambiguous that one cannot tell when it occurs? Apparently not! God said, “. . . in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (i.e. be separated from God).” If someone quibbles that a person is not separated from God the instant that he sins, surely he will not quibble with the language of the Scripture” in the day.”(4) If it is more acceptable to use this word than “instant,” I am willing to start using it. “In the day that a Christian sins he will surely die.”
We must be careful not to become influenced by the thoughts of our day which minimize the seriousness of sin. Sin is an act of transgression of God’s law. It was so serious that only the death of God in the flesh could atone for it. It occurs when man of his own volition chooses to disobey God. Its consequence is separation from God, spiritual death.
The grace of God has provided a means by which sinful man can be reconciled to God. Jesus gave His precious blood on Calvary in order that forgiveness of sins could be provided for man, while yet maintaining the justice of God. In order to have an adequate appreciation for the the gift of God’s grace, we must understand the seriousness of the problem of sin.
1. Julian Huxley wrote, “Sin and the sense of sin will always be with us, to torture and weigh down; but, as I have said elsewhere in this book, the religion of the future will try to prevent man’s being afflicted with the sense of sin, rather than encourage it and then attempt to cure it” (Religion Without Revelation, p. 146). The success of the movement to do away with sin cannot be denied. Things which were formerly considered sinful are now considered a sickness.
2. The attempts to limit the death to physical death have resulted in a number of interpretations of Genesis 2:17, including the following: (a) “The threat was not fulfilled ” (John Skinner, International Critical Commentary, p. 67); (b) man began to die (became mortal) when he ate of the fruit (Keil and Delitzsch, p. 105; Thomas Whitelow, Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 1, p. 46).
3. The word “death” is used in a number of senses in the Scriptures but in each of them, the idea of separation prevails. When a person dies physically, his spirit is separated from his body; when a person dies to sin (Rom. 6:2), he separates himself from sin; when a person enters hell, the second death, he is eternally separated from God. Hence, the meaning of “death” must be understood as “to be separated from God.”
4. The Hebrew construction is such that it means “the day of” or “the time of” (see Brown, Driver, and Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 400). H.C. Leupold used “instantaneous occurrence” and “the very moment” to describe when sin separates from God (op. cit.).
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 23, pp. 706, 728-729
December 6, 1984