Fallen sons and daughters of Adam are unable to obey God perfectly, as we read throughout Scripture (Gen. 6:5; Eph. 2:1–3). But this leads us to ask, along with the sixth question of the Heidelberg Catechism, whether human beings have always lacked the capability to obey the Lord as He desires. “Did God create people so wicked and perverse?” the catechism asks. Biblically speaking, the answer is “no.”
To discover the original state of humanity, we need to go back to the beginning of history and the biblical account of our creation. Today’s passage, one of the most important texts in the entire Bible on anthropology (the doctrine of man), explains that human beings were made in the image of the Lord and, with the rest of creation, were initially regarded as “very good” by the Creator Himself (Gen. 1:26–27, 31). Theologians have been debating what it means to be made in God’s image for centuries, but at the very least it must mean that men and women have a greater capacity to reflect and reveal God than other created beings. Simply put, we are more like God than anything else in the physical creation.
The famous Reformed theologian Francis Turretin, in the fifth topic, tenth question of his Institutes of Elenctic Theology, says that bearing the image of God consists “in nature (as to the spirituality and immortality of the soul),” “original righteousness,” and “in the dominion and immortality of the whole man.” All of these conclusions have biblical warrant. God is spirit, and human beings possess what can be called either a spirit or a soul (John 4:24; see Matt. 10:28; Luke 23:46). Our Creator can never do evil, and human beings were “very good” when first created, never having sinned until Adam fell (James 1:13; see Gen. 1:31). Moreover, human beings were given dominion over the earth in imitation of the One who is sovereign over all (Gen. 1:26; see Ps. 97:1).
So although the fallen descendants of Adam come into the world with a depraved nature incapable of obeying the Lord, God did not create our first parents as sinners. Instead, Adam and all those in him lost the ability to please our Creator when they believed the Serpent’s lie (Gen. 3). Today, human beings remain images of God, but we are marred images that do not, on our own, fulfill our original vocation.