Identity, Part Three – Man, the Sinner

This past summer brought another installment of the Olympic Games – a quadrennial reminder that human beings are capable of amazing feats. Lightning-fast (pardon the pun) Usain Bolt won his ninth gold medal. Swimmer Michael Phelps brought his career medal count to 28, making him the most-decorated Olympian of all time. A teenage gymnast named Simone Biles captured her fourth Olympic gold. Athletes obliterated world records. We could go on.

Closer to home, reach in your pocket and pull out your cell phone. Want to know the weather in Seville? Or who won the Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee in 2010? Ask your … phone? Absolutely. All thanks to human technological innovation.

Yes, people can do astounding things.

But if you're honest, you'll have to admit that people also can do unloving, unkind, unholy things. Even you and I.

Take, for example, love: have you ever said something hurtful or unkind to (or about) someone? Years later, the person confronted you with how damaging your words really were.

Or, perhaps, you selfishly used up all the hot water in your shower when you knew you had guests who'd be showering after you? 

Everyone does, says and thinks things that are unholy – regardless of how loving he or she claims to be. Why is this? Is it due to a lack of education or basic needs? That can't be correct: people with plenty of letters after their names (Ph.D., M.D., etc.) and with plenty of money in their bank accounts do plenty of unholy things. Is the solution found inside yourself – if only I tried harder? This can't be, either. Funny how there are so many self-help books out there – and plenty of repeat purchasers of self-help books.

Why do you do unholy (sinful) things? The answer goes back to the Garden of Eden.

What Happened in Eden Didn't Stay in Eden

In our last installment, we observed that God created our father Adam to live before Him in righteousness and holiness (to live an obedient, sin-free life), with knowledge of himself and of God, and with rulership over the creation. God gave Adam something to do in the Garden of Eden: to dress and to keep it (in other words, to tend to it like a place of worship). 

He also commanded Adam not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; Adam instead was to learn about good and evil from God. This was God's grave promise: if Adam disobeyed God and played like he was the lawgiver, God would punish Adam with spiritual and, eventually, with physical death.

So when Adam didn't protect his wife Eve from the devil's wiles, and when they took and ate the fruit God had forbidden, their eyes were opened, and they knew that they were naked (Genesis 3:7). This verse doesn't mean that they suddenly realized they had no clothes on and that they were exposed to the public. There was no “public” – other than God!

Their nakedness and shame was spiritual. They now knew good and evil – but in an experiential, hurtful, destructive way. They knew God saw them, but now, for the first time, they sensed their wrong-ness and His coming judgment.

“Too bad for them,” you might be thinking to yourself. “But that was then, and this is now. I'm on my own.”

Actually, St. Paul says the opposite: you can't begin to understand your true identity until you know who your father Adam was – and how his actions have impacted you. Writing to the Roman Christians (Romans 5:12-21), Paul says that sin came through one man to all of us: Adam's disobedience to God, which brought the covenantal punishment of spiritual death on himself, also comes to you and me as his children. 

Writing to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:21-22), the same apostle says the same thing: death came through one disobedient man to all men and women after him.

In America, you and I don't represent ourselves in Congress. We elect men and women to represent us, and their votes impact you and me – even if we vehemently disagree with them. Similarly, in God's plan, Adam wasn't just representing himself.

Adam acted for all of us. And his lethal choice has brought death to all of us, even thousands of years later.

So How Much Did It Cost?

When Adam rebelled against God, his action brought corruption on all of us as human beings. Adam lost his right standing with God, as well as the holiness (sinlessness) with which God had endowed him in the beginning – back when things were good. Adam retained some knowledge of God's character, word and will; but his thinking became warped by sin. And his dominion over creation? That, too, was impacted severely: the ground would bear thorns and thistles, not perfect vegetation, from that point on.

Sadly, because Adam lost his original righteousness and holiness, he couldn't enjoy the same communion with God in Eden … unless God did something about it. More on that next time.

Thankfully, Adam's sin did not remove the image of God from man. Later in Genesis, in 9:6, the Lord prohibits murder even after the fall into sin, because all people still retain something of the image of God in us. That's why your life still has value, no matter your income, background, family, occupation or educational status. You still have a sense of right and wrong. You still have a mind that's capable of towering achievements (again, the “smartphone”).

Yet naturally, you wander from God, apart from God, and try to fill His place in your life with stuff that simply isn't the same as Him. Eventually, you'll face death – and the wrath of a holy God.

King David puts it best in Psalm 51. He wrote that song after a long season in a dangerous place away from God. He had committed heinous sins: conspiring to have one of his most-loyal soldiers murdered because he committed adultery with that solider's wife. He had been in denial about the wretchedness of his sin. Eventually, though, God used a prophet named Nathan to bring David to repentance for his sin against the Lord.

In that psalm, David confessed, “I was shapen in iniquity (perverse character), and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). David is saying, “I sin because I'm a sinner, and I'm a sinner because I'm a descendant of Adam.”

Just like you and me.

Any Good News Here?

No and yes.

No, there's no good news if the story stops here. If God hadn't stepped in, there would be no hope for you and me. 

And if you don't come to terms with your own sin as a child of Adam, then God's intervention in His Son Jesus cannot apply to you. You'll be entombed in the same death as the first Adam.

But yes, there is hope – because centuries later, God sent another Adam.

Questions or comments?