Everyone is aware that we live in a sinful world, though not all people recognize that sin is the culprit. Sin shows its effects in the moral evils we see in society, and sin results in “natural evil” in the afflictions and miseries of this life. In light of these unmistakable facts of life, unbelievers often deny that God exists, or that sin exists, or both. Yet even when they ask how a good God could allow evil in this world, they assume that good exists, an assumption that is the backdrop against which we understand sin in the first place. This question and related assumption will either drive us back to the good God, who is good and does good (Ps. 119:68) and who is the fountain of goodness, or it will drive us to deny both God and ultimately good and evil. Yet evil still troubles us, and neither the Christian nor the atheist is comfortable living in a world full of evil.
The Bible says that sin and the evil resulting from it came into the world through humanity—through Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1–7). It describes their alienation from God, which was death to their souls, and the effects of sin in this life (Gen. 3:8–23). It clearly reveals that sin deserves God’s wrath and curse (Gen. 6:5–8), making Noah’s flood an object lesson of the wrath to come (2 Peter 3:1–7). Ecclesiastes 7:29 says simply, “God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.” Adam fell from innocence, broke the covenant, and ruined mankind. Westminster Larger Catechism 21–23 summarizes this truth by stating the fact of the fall, its scope, and its effects. In this article, I will focus on the fact of the fall, leaving its effects for later essays. Understanding the fact of the fall is important because it shows us that our real need is not freedom from affliction, but reconciliation to God in Christ.
The Fall into Sin Is a Fact
Our first parents, being left to the freedom of their own will, through the temptation of Satan, transgressed the commandment of God in eating the forbidden fruit; and thereby fell from the estate of innocency wherein they were created. (WLC 21)
The Bible teaches that sin is our fault, not God’s. While God is in control of every detail of this evil world (Isa. 45:7), He can neither sin nor be tempted by sin (James 1:13). The Westminster Larger Catechism reminds us of three biblical truths about the fall: (1) Adam and Eve could and did fall; (2) this came through Satan tempting them; and (3) they destroyed themselves by it.
First, God left our first parents to the freedom of their own wills. Only God is unchangeable and unchanging (Mal. 3:6). All other things are changeable, including human beings. While we do not know how a good creature with a good heart could desire evil instead of good, we know that the good hearts of these good creatures did change to prefer evil. No one compelled them, not even God, to follow their own wills instead of His.
Second, Satan tempted them to trust themselves and his word over God and His Word. God told them that they would die (Gen. 2:16); Satan told them they would not die (Gen. 3:4). God had already made them like Himself in His own righteous image (Gen. 1:27); Satan told them that they would become like God through sin (Gen. 3:5). By rejecting God’s prohibition to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they put their faith in Satan’s word instead of God’s. They rejected God’s law and authority in the worst way possible by putting themselves in God’s place, trying to determine for themselves right from wrong. Mankind has done the same thing ever since, and the fountainhead of sin is not honoring God as God in our thinking (Rom. 1:28).
Third, Adam and Eve destroyed themselves by their sin. They lost their innocence (Eccl. 7:29), and they became sinful, corrupt, and liable to God’s curse (Eph. 2:1–3). In short, they died spiritually, they would die physically, and, apart from Christ, they would die eternally (1 Cor. 6:9–10). Do we not recognize the reality of the fall in all of the afflictions of this life and by the fact that so many people still think like Adam and Eve?
The Fall into Sin Is Extensive
The covenant being made with Adam as a public person, not for himself only, but for all his posterity, all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in that first transgression. (WLC 22)
Adam and Eve’s sin affected not only themselves. Romans 5 teaches that though “sin entered the world through one man, death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Adam is not only our ancestor, but our covenant head. This means that He represented us in the garden before God. In a similar way, when a head of state declares war, we say that the nation is at war. So, Adam waged war against God and brought us into the conflict. Adam sinned as a public person, and the effects of his sin were equally public. “Many died through the one man’s trespass” (Rom. 5:15). Lest we complain about this arrangement, we should remember that God chose a better representative for us than we could choose for ourselves. We may not like the outcome, but we cannot complain about God’s choice.