God commanded Adam and Eve to obey Him perfectly in filling the earth and ruling over it in righteousness, and He commands the same of all people today (Gen. 1:28; 9:1). Originally, human beings were able to fulfill this calling, for we were “very good” at the beginning (1:31). Today, however, no fallen descendant of Adam comes into this world with the ability or desire to meet the Lord’s requirement. Nevertheless, God remains just to demand of us that which we cannot render—flawless conformity to His standards—because it is not His fault that we are incapable of serving Him. In Adam, we all chose to give up that ability to please Him, to make ourselves incapable of loving Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Rom. 5:12–21).
Our unique, federal relationship to Adam our representative allows God justly to require of us what He required of our first parents before the fall. This relationship is the means by which the Lord imputes Adam’s sin and guilt to our account, which Paul explains in Romans 5:12–21. Our familial relationship to Adam accounts for humanity’s moral corruption. Question and answer 9 of the Heidelberg Catechism, based on passages such as Genesis 3, explains that Adam and Eve “robbed themselves and all their descendants of [the] gifts” of moral ability and original goodness. Consequently, as we see illustrated in today’s passage, everyone who descends from Adam by way of natural generation alone is wholly corrupt (Ps. 14:3). No one does any good in an ultimate sense, for even the best deeds of fallen humanity are not motivated by a desire to glorify the Creator. Like Cain, many people give perfunctory attention to that which is good, even in matters of religion, but their hearts do not desire to please God (Gen. 4:1–7). This is the fundamental state of all human beings apart from Jesus Christ our Savior.
Adam’s sin resulted in the imputation of guilt to his descendants, but it also disabled humanity in its capacity to serve God. This brought with it all manner of deficiencies—intellectual, moral, spiritual, and physical (Gen. 3:16–19; Rom. 1:18–32)—that were passed on from Adam and Eve to our parents and from our parents to us, as the Westminster Confession of Faith states (6.3). We pass this corruption on to our own children, which is one reason why we must pray for their salvation and give them the gospel if we want them to be redeemed.