An understanding of the moral fall of man and it consequences is essential in understanding many other important biblical truths. We cannot understand or accept the concept of original sin, referring to the initial sin of Adam, apart from a literal (objective) understanding of the Genesis account of man’s direct creation by God. Those who hold to an evolutionary view of man’s origin almost invariably deny the fall. Apart from an understanding and acceptance of original sin, it is impossible to understand both man’s historic and current dilemma—spiritual, intellectual, and physical. Also, apart from an understanding of the fall we have no basis for understanding and appreciating the work of Christ on the cross (cf. Rom. 5:12-21). Our entire concept of the message of the Bible, and hence Christianity, rests on our view of the fall of man, and that view rests on the validity of the account of man’s creation.
Although Satan tempted Eve, his real target was Adam, and Adam’s race. Satan struck at Eve because he knew he could leverage Adam’s relationship with Eve against his relationship with God. Satan deceived Eve by casting doubt upon God’s goodness, suggesting that God was withholding something desirable from her (Gen. 3:4-5). Satan’s deception also involved a direct contradiction of God’s word to Adam and Eve (v.4). Satan attributed evil motives to God, suggesting that God told Adam and Eve to leave the tree alone because he did not want them to discover they could be like him (v.5). He made deceptive promises to Eve, telling her that if she ate of the fruit she would be like God (v.5). Satan’s tactic as seen in this temptation has been repeated countless times down through history. He attacks where we are weakest. His method is simple but effective: He pits one affection against another, entices us to disbelieve God’s goodness, incites us to actions that contradict God’s clear commands, and holds out deceptive promises about the outcome of our actions.
The Consequences of Man’s Fall
In surveying the consequences of the fall, we need to distinguish between different kinds of consequences. Immediate consequences happen instantly, remote consequences follow in time. Some consequences are natural (i.e., cause and effect), others are the result of divine judgment (imposed). Adam and Eve’s sin involved all of these kinds of consequences.
Immediate Consequences of the Fall of Man
Adam and Eve immediately sensed that something had changed. Whereas previously they had no self-consciousness, they now felt vulnerable, exposed, naked, corrupt, and ashamed (Gen. 3:7). Of course there was nothing wrong with their nakedness; they were naked before. The problem now was that in their fallen state they experienced alienation, both from God and from one another (vv.8-10). For the first time they experienced a fear and dread of God and repulsion to his holiness. They didn’t want to be in his presence. This was evidence of their spiritual death, for at the very moment of their sin, the indwelling presence of God was withdrawn. Their fellowship (the life giving union that existed) was instantly terminated. There arose within Adam and Eve a self-serving and self-preserving instinct. They began to pass blame for their actions (vv.12-13). Before their sin Adam and Eve had experienced a deep unity at every level (spirit, soul, body), now they were left with only a psycho-physical unity. The flame of their relationship withered to merely a smoldering ember of what it had been. The relationship between the man and woman would now be strained and burdensome as a result of the fall (v.16). Any worldview that minimizes the distinct and complementary nature of men and women denies the truths taught in the account of man’s creation and fall. (Note the connection between modern feminism and homosexuality: If woman is not a distinct, uniquely designed complementary mate to man, then male/male, or female/female relationships differ little from male/female relationships.) In addition, the environment was cursed and became hostile to man’s survival; the serpent was cursed, perhaps as a symbolic remembrance of the fall; and finally, Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden forever (vv.23-24).
In regard to man’s spiritual condition the fall rendered Adam and Eve completely unable to redeem themselves, or even to assist God in their redemption; this condition is called “total depravity.” Total depravity does not mean that a fallen man is as bad as he or she could possibly be, it simply means that sin has affected every part of his being (spirit, soul, and body). A depraved person will naturally recoil from God just as Adam and Eve did after their sin. Therefore fallen men in their natural state do not seek God; God must seek them (Rom. 3:9-18).
Remote Consequences of the Fall
Adam and Eve began the long process of physical degeneration and death. While it took many centuries for Adam to die, we may assume that the effects of physical degeneration were soon noticeable. There were additional physical complications for Eve and women after her; reproduction would be burdensome (v. 16). Since in Adam the entire human race fell (Rom. 5:12-21), every descendant by natural conception would be born in sin, already spiritually separated from God (i.e., spiritually dead). This is usually referred to as the problem of “original sin.” While the fall of the human race was immediate, its full effect would only be seen in the course of time.
Questions Concerning the Fall of Man
The fall of man raises several important questions that need to be addressed.
First, how could the impulse to sin arise within a sinless being?
In the post-fall world, we sin because we have a sin nature that is inclined toward sin. To put it another way, we have a tendency, or propensity to sin, just like a ball under the influence of gravity has a tendency to roll downhill. Of course Adam had no sin nature, and thus no propensity to sin; so, how can we explain his action. If he had no inclination to sin, what moved him in that direction? The answer is in the nature of choice, or what we call “free will.” All sin is first committed in the heart before it is acted out. Since Adam was created with a free will (the ability to freely make moral choices), he had within him the God-given ability to move in either moral direction. Today, man no longer exercises a completely free will. He has a will, and he does exercise a degree of free choice, but because of his fallen nature his choices have become limited to those choices that are consistent with his sin nature. For example, prior to the fall Adam could have chosen to do a truly righteous act, but the natural, unregenerate person is incapable of producing righteousness (Rom. 8:5‑8). A righteous deed is motivated from a heart that sincerely desires to please God above all else. Even redeemed people can perform righteous deeds only by the enabling of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9-10).
Second, how could a good God permit man to be tempted?
It is because God is good that he designed man with the ability to choose, and allowed him to experience a real-life choice. Remember, God did not tempt Adam and Eve to sin (Jam. 1:13); he created them with the ability to make moral choices. So why did God deliberately place a tree in the Garden and command them not to eat from it? Wasn’t God placing a stumbling block in their path? The answer is that in order for Adam and Eve to be truly free to choose to obey God and become righteous, they had to be free to reject him and become sinful. If God had created Adam and Eve with the ability to choose, but had provided no practical way for them to express their choice, they still would not have been able to choose. In that case their actions would have been determined by the lack of an alternative. God provided a choice for Adam and Eve, and warned them of the consequences of disobedience. God knew before he created Adam and Eve that they would fall, but their choice was nonetheless free.
Third, how could so great a penalty be attached to so small a sin?
The problem here is in the assumption made in the question, that is, that sin is finite. If we consider that every sin is committed against an infinitely holy God, then every sin is an infinite offense and merits eternal consequences. In understanding the nature of sin, we must always seek to understand it against the backdrop of God’s holiness. We cannot minimize sin without also minimizing God’s holiness.
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(Adapted in 2017 from Major Bible Doctrines, by Sam A. Smith. Click or tap for the print edition, [404 pages] or the e-book edition [356 pages-abridged], illustrated.)