February 26, 2023
Genesis 2:15-17 and 3:1-7, Romans 5:12-19
One of the major emphases in the season of Lent is sin. Both texts today deal with the subject of sin and especially as it relates to Adam and Eve. Romans, of course, relates Adam, the original “son of God,” to Christ, the Second Adam, the true “Son of God.”
I think we find here answers to two questions: First, what is sin? And second, why is it a problem for us that we need a Savior?
We begin in Genesis, the “original sin story.” Many people are unable to get into Genesis chapters 1-11 without talking about the million dollar question: Is all of this real and historical or is it symbolic and “mythological.” That is a fascinating question, and something that we can talk about at length in some other setting. But the key is that it doesn’t change the meaning of the story, at all. So we’re going to skip that question for today.
God creates human beings. He puts them in the Garden of Eden. He tells them to tend the Garden. And he gives them just one little restriction: Don’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
God creates human beings with free will. We can choose things. We can choose life or death, obedience or rebellion. But choices carry consequences, and the consequence of rebellion is death. Sin separates us from God, the giver of life. When we sin, we “die spiritually.” Spiritual death leads to physical death.
Chapter three introduces us to Satan, the Tempter, the first to rebel against God, who comes to Adam and Eve in the guise of the serpent. In ancient Near East thought, serpents were frequently associated with two things, both of which figure prominently in the story. First, they were associated with death, since some of them are venomous. And second, they were associated with wisdom, because of their unblinking eyes. That’s just because they don’t have eyelids, but why let biology get in the way of mythology.
Satan tempts Eve in two ways. First, he casts doubt on God’s word: “Did God really say…” And second, he casts doubt on God’s goodness: “God is holding out on you.” These two things continue to be the root of much of temptation.
“If you eat it, you will become like God.” In ancient Near East thought in general, being “like the gods” was associated with immortality. But Adam and Eve already have immortality. So in Scripture, being like God is associated with having wisdom.
Eve finds the forbidden fruit attractive. Don’t we all? And she thinks it will make her wise, so she eats it and gives it to Adam, who was with her. There is no free pass for Adam. He was there. He was silent. He went along with the plan. But, of course, instead of finding wisdom, they find shame. The result of sin and disobedience is shame.
What is sin? Is sin just doing bad stuff? Well, yes, but that’s a rather childish explanation of it. Sin is rebellion. It’s an act of insurrection. It is casting God off the throne and enthroning ourselves in his place. It is choosing the nature of “good and evil” for ourselves instead of finding them in obedience to God.
Romans 5 brings up Adam again and compares him to Jesus Christ. Now, Hebrew tradition always had a habit of “fleshing out” the stories of Scripture. The Bible doesn’t tell us a whole lot about Adam, but over the centuries, Hebrew tradition added more and more. In Hebrew tradition, Adam was a giant, a man of enormous stature. And he was glorious to look at. But when he sinned, he shrank down to the size of a normal man and lost his glorious luster. Sin makes us “smaller” and “lesser.” The entrance of sin into the world, the Fall, we call it, undid the glory of God’s creation. Life and glory were replaced with death and hardship.
“Sin entered the human race through Adam, and his sin brought death to all, for all sinned.” Maybe more than any other passage, this verse speaks to the idea of “original sin.” Original sin is the idea that sin is an inherent tendency in all human beings to rebel against God. Adam’s sin was not just a “bad example,” it lodged sin in the human heart. Sin is a rebellious spirit deep inside us. I think we could all acknowledge that there is a rebellious spirit in us. When the sign says “Keep off the grass,” we all want to put a foot on it, right?
One of the things it’s important for us to understand here is that in Hebrew thought, there was more emphasis on corporate identity than individuality. We think in individual terms more. But the Hebrew people declared of themselves, “We are the children of Abraham.” Identity was found in group identity. And Paul’s response is, “No, we are children of Adam, rebellious as he was.”
Even before the Law was given, sin and death reigned. Paul addresses this in Romans chapter 1. We rebel against the innate sense of goodness within us. We know what we should do, even without a “law,” but we rebel against it. I was listening to the radio one morning, and one of the hosts was describing the previous day’s trick-or-treating. As it was winding down, less and less kids were coming to the door. So he put the bowl of candy on a table and went inside for a few minutes. When he came back out, the bowl was empty. He looked on the “video doorbell” app. Two kids came up to the porch. There was no sign saying, “Take only one,” but they both took just one. They backed up a few steps, looked around, saw the street was empty, then quickly emptied the whole bowl into their bags. That’s Romans 1. That’s original sin. We know what we should do, but we don’t.
Paul creates a contrast here between Adam and Christ. Both are a “son of God.” But while Adam used his freedom to rebel, Christ was obedient. Adam’s sin led to death for all. But Christ’s obedience brings God’s gift of salvation to many, for he, though he was without sin, suffered and died like a sinner in accordance with God’s will. As the prophet Isaiah foretold: “He was unjustly condemned. He had done no wrong. Yet his life was made an offering for sin. He will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.” Christ secures salvation for all who would receive God’s gift.
Why is sin a problem for which we need a Savior? Because we each become our own Adam. We each follow in his pattern. We each rebel and put ourselves on the throne. And so death rules over us. We can’t just decide to stop sinning. It’s rooted in our nature as children of Adam. We must receive God’s gift of righteousness in Christ to live triumphantly over sin and death.
We are children of Adam by birth. We must become children of God by faith in Christ. We don’t need more willpower. We need a new leader, a new King to follow. We need one who triumphed over sin and death and who can empower us to do the same.