While the New Testament speaks to us about Adam’s position as covenant head, when we read Genesis 1–3 with this in mind, we see it is already evident. The Lord orders the provisions and prohibition in the covenant of life to Adam before Eve’s creation. When Adam and Eve fall into sin, Adam is the first to be called to account. He is the one who, as covenant head, receives the word that enacts the covenant curse of death: “You shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (3:19). Being both the first father of all humanity and also the covenant head of all humanity, Adam enacted a universal scope of consequence with his sin: “All mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression” (Westminster Shorter Catechism 16). This is why everyone since Adam, except our Lord Jesus Christ, has been conceived and born in sin (Ps. 51:5). This is why “none is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). We sinned in Adam; his sin as our covenant head is imputed to us. As his descendants, we are born into the subsequent fallen state of nature.
But the scope of consequence goes beyond a universally fallen humanity. John Murray notes:
Sin originates in the spirit and resides in the spirit . . . but it drastically affects the physical and non-spiritual. Its relationships are cosmic. “Cursed is the ground for [your] sake . . . thorns and thistles . . . the creation was subjected to vanity . . . the whole creation groans.”
Disorder, suffering, and death pressed into the fabric of the entire cosmos under the weight of the curse.
When we understand these realities, we begin to better understand ourselves and the world around us. Why do suffering and death afflict creation? Why do we desire the things we do? Why do people around us do what they do the way that they do? It is because we are fallen in Adam in the state of nature, separated from life and communion with God, and under His curse. It is because we freely and, apart from grace, only will to “exchange the truth about God for a lie” and worship and serve “the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!” (Rom. 1:25). These effects of sin on the human race are described by the theological terms total depravity and total inability. Apart from being brought into the state of grace by God, all mankind “are by nature children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage to it . . . and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit they are neither able nor willing to return to God” (Canons of Dort 3/4.3).