It is universally recognised that “nobody’s perfect.” Bad things happen to good people. Innocent people—including infants—die. Every culture in history has had to wrestle with why. What is the source of imperfection, death, and misery in the human race?
From a humanistic standpoint, it really is all about random chance. Evolutionary biologist Suzanne Sadedin has suggested that, while genes can repair and even immortalise themselves, things often happen outside of the genes’ control that kill people. The odds of a human being surviving decreases the older the person gets. The older you get, she says, the more chance there is that “the universe” will kill you. From an evolutionary perspective, this means that human genes have to weigh up their options: Do they invest in sustaining the life of an older person or in replicating themselves in the lives of a younger person? Random effects sometimes kill off younger people, but younger people have a greater chance of survival than older people, so genes choose to invest where there is greater chance. Dr. Sadedin writes,
So from a gene’s-eye view, every investment in your survival is a potential trade-off with the creation and survival of your potential descendants. And, rather obviously, the more likely you are to die randomly, the less it makes sense for your genes to invest in the survival side of the equation…. As life goes on, your genes effectively stop caring what happens to you. After a certain point, it’s so unlikely that you’re still alive that your genes can safely assume you’ll already be dead.
If all of this sounds rather strange, remember that it is only because humanistic biologists are trying to craft an explanation of life and death without reference to a creator. The Confession takes a different, because a more biblical, approach. It traces the problem back to Adam and Eve.
Adam and Eve wilfully and freely broke God’s commandment (Genesis 3:1–19; Romans 5:14). By so doing they lost their original righteousness and communion with God (Genesis 3:10–11, 22–24).
Since Adam was appointed to stand in the place of all mankind, each of his descendants inherits the guilt of his sin (Romans 5:12–19), to which is added guilt for sins personally committed (Romans 3:10–20). Furthermore, all people inherit a corrupt nature from their original ancestors, Adam and Eve. Thus, all people are by nature subject to God’s wrath, to death, and to temporal and eternal misery unless the Lord Jesus sets them free. The corrupt nature inclines them away from all good and is the cause of all sin actually committed (Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:10–19; Ephesians 2:1–3). Apart from the regenerating work of the Spirit, man is dead in sin and therefore unable to turn himself towards God, or to exercise saving faith in Jesus Christ (Matthew 11:27; 16:17; Romans 8:7; 1 John 5:1). (Sola 5 Confession 3.3–3.4)
We affirm that “Adam and Eve wilfully and freely broke God’s commandment.” The record of the fall in Genesis 3:1–19 highlights their original sin. Our “sinning [is] not like the transgression of Adam” (Romans 5:14) because Adam’s sin was truly wilful and free. We are born in bondage to sin; they were not. While we are individual moral agents, our sin nature drives us to unrighteousness. Adam and Eve did not have this sin nature, and so they were truly free to choose good or evil. Devastatingly, they chose evil.
Some have complained that God was unreasonable in the way in which he punished Adam and Eve. After all, they only ate some fruit. Was it really fair for him to drive them from the garden, condemn them to death, and bar them from the tree of life? But if we are tempted to feel that this was unfair, let us remember that they had absolute liberty to eat anything they wanted—with a single restriction. They were also clearly warned up front of the consequences of disobedience. God would have been less than God to not exact the proper, forewarned punishment for their disobedience.
God warned Adam and Eve that they would die if they disobeyed him (Genesis 2:15–17). The Confession states that they “lost their original righteousness and communion with God when they sinned.” Why did they not die, but merely “lose their original righteousness and communion with God”? John Sailhamer says that the language used in warning of death is language of a death sentence. While they did not drop dead the very day they sinned, they came under an irreversible, divine death sentence. The sentence was executed much later, but it was sealed the day they ate. The death they suffered was the resultof losing communion with God. God is the source of all life, and those separated from the source of life cannot live indefinitely without being swallowed by death.
The historical record of Adam and Eve’s fall is one thing; the theological implications of that fall are quite another. Those implications relate directly to us, as the Confession shows.
“Since Adam was appointed to stand in the place of all mankind, each of his descendants inherits the guilt of his sin.” Romans 5:12–19 proves this assertion. It shows that sin entered the world through Adam’s sin but that death spread to all humankind because we all sinned in Adam. His sin was sufficient to condemn the entire human race, because he stood as humanity’s federal head.
To Adam’s original sin “is added guilt for sins personally committed.” Through Adam’s sin, we inherit a sin nature. We commit sin because we are sinners by nature. Ultimately, while eternal life is forfeited because of Adam’s sin, final judgement will be based not on Adam’s sin, but on our own sins (2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:11–12).
The Confession makes a sobering claim: “Furthermore, all people inherit a corrupt nature from their original ancestors, Adam and Eve. Thus, all people are by nature subject to God’s wrath, to death, and to temporal and eternal misery unless the Lord Jesus sets them free.” It is because of sin that we are “subject to God’s wrath, to death, and to temporal and eternal misery,” and we will incur these things “unless the Lord Jesus sets us free.” Here is an important, and often misunderstood, point: We face wrath, not because we reject the gospel, but because of our sin. The gospel is the means of salvation from wrath, but we incur wrath because we are sinners. No one will face eternal punishment because they rejected the gospel, but because of their sin.
The sin nature we inherited from Adam has sobering consequences: “The corrupt nature inclines them away from all good and is the cause of all sin actually committed.” David recognised that he was born with a sinful nature (Psalm 51:5), and so are we. This sinful nature renders us dead to any ability to please God and therefore places us under divine wrath (Ephesians 2:1–3). Its practical outworking means that we generally choose to follow our sinful nature rather than doing what is pleasing to God (Romans 3:10–19).
What does this mean about our ability (particularly as unbelievers) to do good? We must define what we mean by “good.” Unbelievers can certainly do good in the sense of humanitarian good. They can be kind to animals and care for the environment. But if we define “good” as the ability to please God, an unbeliever cannot do that. Unbelievers will never do anything consciously for the glory of God, and therefore, regardless of how unselfishly they act, they cannot please God with their works.
The most serious consequence of the fallen nature is not the effect it has on others or on the environment, but the effect that it has on the individual’s relationship with God. “Apart from the regenerating work of the Spirit, man is dead in sin and therefore unable to turn himself towards God, or to exercise saving faith in Jesus Christ.” Thankfully, all is not lost. While no one can (or even desires to) come to the Father of his own will (Romans 8:7), the Father is intent on drawing some to himself (Matthew 11:27; cf. 16:17). The Father has taken the initiative to launch a rescue plan for doomed humanity. We can be sure that there will be some who will be born of God (1 John 5:1) because God has purposed that to happen.
Some have complained that it is unjust for God to punish eternally those who never had any exposure to the gospel. We must remember, as we saw above, that eternal punishment is not the result of rejecting the gospel, but the result of sin. God has intervened to save some who were otherwise destined for eternal punishment. Those whom God doesn’t draw to himself were destined for, and deserve, eternal punishment for their sin. It is perfectly consistent with God’s character to punish them accordingly.
But, of course, God’s has taken initiative in providing a way of salvation, and the very fact that he took this initiative should encourage our evangelism, because we know that God has purposed to save people. The way he will do so is through the preaching of the gospel. Since he will save those whom he has purposed to save, we can confidently preach the gospel, knowing that, as often as we are rejected, God will ultimately use our witness to save those whom he intends to save.