January 3, 1993
“No doctrine of the Bible is as easy to prove as the doctrine of original sin.” When I read those words by Donald Grey Barnhouse, they seemed to leap off the page. That’s the doctrine that says that left to yourself, with no outside influence, whenever you have a choice, you’ll always choose to do wrong. G.K. Chesterton said it this way: “Whatever else may be said about man, this much is certainly true: He is not all that he could be.”
I’m sure I don’t need to spend a great deal of time debating that point. If you have any question about the sinfulness of the human race, I bid you to simply go anywhere in the world, pick up any newspaper you want, in any language you please, any issue you happen to find. Simply read the front page and you will be convinced.
Something has gone wrong with the human race. No one can successfully deny that fact. We are not all that we could be. And no matter how much we boast of our technological achievements, the sorry story of man’s inhumanity to man always grabs the front page.
—Michael Jordan’s Father Murdered
—New Gang Violence on Chicago’s West Side
—Blood Flows in Bosnia
—Congressman Accused of Extortion and Fraud
—Alderman Indicted in Kickback Scheme
And on and on it goes. The details change, the faces come and go, but the story is always the same. Something has gone wrong with the human race. Something evil lurks inside the heart of every person. No one is immune, no one is exempt, and no one is truly innocent.
Call it what you will—a twist, a taint, a bent to do wrong. Or as the hymn writer put it, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” Somehow, somewhere, somebody injected poison into the human bloodstream. That’s why, even when we know the right thing to do, we go ahead and choose to do wrong. Deliberately. Repeatedly. Defiantly.
The Man in the Mirror
There are many ways we might discuss this truth. We could discuss it in cosmic terms, or international terms, or national terms, or local terms, but I think it’s better to talk about it in personal terms. What do you see when you look at the man in the mirror?
One writer answered the question this way: “There is no man on earth who, if his secret thoughts were fully exposed, would not deserve hanging ten times in his lifetime.” My comment is, only ten times? For I know that when I look into the mirror what I see is a man who all too often knows what is right but chooses to do what is wrong. And I freely confess that sometimes impulses come into my mind which, were I to follow them, I know they would destroy me, my marriage, my family, my career and even my life. And yet I still think about them and I still sometimes want to do those things.
Who among us would say differently? You think about things—and sometimes want to do things–that you know would destroy you if you did them. And sometimes you want to do them anyway. And sometimes—if we are honest we must say this—you go ahead and do them.
What is it that makes us repeatedly do that which can only hurt us? It is the doctrine of original sin. We know what is right and yet we deliberately choose to do what is wrong. There is something in us that bends us toward evil.
What is it inside us that makes us want to do wrong? Where did it come from? Why are we all bent toward evil? Our text—Romans 5:12-14—offers us the Bible’s clearest answer to those questions. In these few words we come face to face with the awesome truths of original sin and total depravity.
In order to help us understand these crucial verses I want to ask and answer four questions regarding you and your sin:
Where does sin come from?
Why do I sin?
What happens when I sin?
What is the remedy for my sin?
I. Where Does Sin Come From?
I’m not asking that question in the ultimate or cosmic sense regarding the fall of Lucifer from heaven. This question has a more limited focus: “When did sin first enter this earth?” Paul offers a simple one-word answer: Adam. Sin entered the earth through Adam. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man.” That truth takes us back, back, back, all the way back to the earliest days of human history, back to a place called Eden. It takes us back to a paradise inhabited by just two people—Adam and Eve. In that primeval paradise, God created Adam to be the king over all creation. He was the potentate, the monarch, the ruler. He was the one who named the animals. He was the one who named Eve. Adam was the head of the first human family.
God said to Adam and Eve, “This paradise has been created for you. If you see any fruit you like, eat it. If you want to play with the animals, go ahead. Build a home and live where you like. Enjoy each other and enjoy paradise. I made it for you.” Then God said, “But there’s one thing you need to know. That tree over there—the one with the ripe red fruit—that’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Don’t touch that tree and don’t eat its fruit. If you do, you’ll die.”
You would think that Adam could be happy in paradise. But he’s not. He wants the one thing he can’t have. He wants the fruit from that forbidden tree.
You know the rest of the story. Placed in paradise, with everything good and only one tree forbidden, the Serpent tricked Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. She gave some to Adam and he ate too. But note the difference. Eve was deceived; Adam deliberately sinned. Eve was tricked; Adam ate the fruit knowing it was the wrong thing to do. He was not deceived in any way. He made a deliberate choice to do wrong. It was through that deliberate choice that “sin entered the world.” He made his choice with his head held high, as if to say, “God! I don’t need you. I know better than you do. I’m smarter than you are. I know what’s best for my life. I can do what I want when I want.”
If you had been there that day, all you would have seen was a man taking fruit from his wife and eating it. No lightning, no thunder, no bells, no scary music in the background. Yet from that one act of disobedience, awesome results flowed out across history.
Theologians have a word for this event. They call it “The Fall.” It means that when Adam ate the fruit he fell from a state of innocence into a state of guilt. He fell from grace to judgment. He fell from life to death. He fell from heaven to hell.
“By One Man Sin Entered the World”
There is no way to explain the world apart from the Fall. It is impossible to understand the world as it is today apart from the reality of Adam’s deliberate sin. Our world makes no sense otherwise.
How do you explain handing out condoms in the high school? “By one man sin entered the world.” How do you explain babies having babies? “By one man sin entered the world.” How do you explain racial hatred, blacks killing whites, whites killing blacks, Serbs killing Croats, Croats and Serbs killing Muslims? “By one man sin entered the world.” How do you explain 1000 murders in Chicago last year? “By one man sin entered the world.” How do you explain the fact that right now there is open warfare in 24 places around the world? “By one man sin entered the world.”
The hatred, the greed, the violence, the competition, the injustice, the fraud, the killing, the wanton bloodshed—where does it come from? What makes us hate one another? Why can’t we change human nature? The answer is simple: “By one man sin entered the world.”
Ponder these perceptive words by Dr. Barnhouse:
Men hate the doctrine of original sin and seek to deny its existence, but it still stands. They substitute the theory of ascent for the doctrine of descent, but the fall still confronts them. Even if they could sweep away the indestructible revelation of God, their very deeds expose man’s sinfulness. And if men deny the evidence of their senses, their own hearts proclaim kinship to death, which envelops all the race. Apart from the doctrine of the Fall, there is no explanation for the course of human history. If the first three chapters of Genesis were destroyed, the facts of history would demand that they be rewritten to account for all that has followed since the day when man turned away from God and lost the image in which he was created. Our text stands secure: By one man sin entered. (Romans, III, p. 29)
II. Why Do I Sin?
We turn from the theoretical and historical to the personal. We’re no longer talking about what Adam did long ago. We’re talking about you and your life this week. Why do you sin? Why do you repeatedly choose to do wrong?
There is an answer that lies on the surface, so simple that you may miss it. You sin because you have a sin nature. That is, you were born with an inner bent toward sin. Paul says it like this: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” Notice the last three words—”Because all sinned.” That’s in the past tense—”All sinned.” Not “All sin” (though that is true) or “All are sinners” (equally true). The tense is crucial for understanding Paul’s point. This is not a commentary upon the current activities of men and women as they continue to sin. No, Paul is pointing back to some event in the past when “all sinned.”
In order to make sense of this we need to add two words to the last phrase—”Because all sinned in Adam.” This verse is pushing you and me back to the Garden of Eden, back to that fateful moment when Adam ate the forbidden fruit. In some mysterious way, you were there and I was there. In some strange way, when Adam sinned, you sinned with him and so did I.
This is the doctrine of original sin in its plainest form. It means that when Adam sinned, you sinned. When Adam disobeyed, you disobeyed. When Adam fell, you fell. When he died, you died. To say it another way, although you and I were not historically there in the Garden, because we are descendents of Adam—in his family tree—we suffer the consequences of what he did.
You Were There
You may say, “How can that be? I wasn’t there in the Garden, how could I sin in Adam or with Adam or through Adam? How could I fall when Adam fell?” Well, theologians have a term for this principle. They call Adam the “Federal Head” of the human race. Does that help? No, probably not.
Let me explain it this way. When Adam was created, he stood as the divinely appointed representative for the whole human race. What happened to him happened to all of us because in God’s eyes he was appointed to act in the place of everyone who would later come after him.
But we can even go beyond that. You truly were there in the Garden because you were present in his loins. You were seminally present in Adam because he is the father of all humanity. All of us trace our lineage ultimately back to this one man. He and Eve are the progenitors—the founders—of the human race.
So when Adam sinned, he represented us and we were truly present in him because we are directly descended from him.
—When he was created, he represented us.
—When he cavorted in the Garden, he represented us.
—When he ate the fruit, he represented us.
—When he was cast out of the Garden, he represented us.
What happened to him, therefore, really and truly happened to us.
Let me say it another way. Adam was the driver of the bus of humanity. When he drove the bus over the cliff, we went down with him. He was at the controls when the airplane crashed. It doesn’t matter that we were back in the coach section watching a movie on the big screen. When he crashed, we all went up in flames.
This week Arthur Ashe died. His funeral took place just a couple of days ago. He was the first great black tennis player, a quiet man who blazed a trail of hope and justice. I happen to know that Arthur Ashe was a believer in Jesus Christ. You know how Arthur Ashe died? He contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion during heart surgery almost 10 years ago. It happened before they had all the good blood screening techniques that are in place today. Somehow some tainted blood was used during his surgery. He didn’t know it, the doctors didn’t know it, nobody intended for it to happen. But when that blood was pumped into Arthur Ashe, it contained the deadly AIDS virus. He got some bad blood. For five years he was okay, but in 1988 the doctors discovered that he was HIV-positive. Nothing could be done about it. Eventually the disease he contracted through tainted blood took his life.
Back in the Garden of Eden. When Adam fell, he tainted the human bloodstream. The virus of sin entered the human bloodstream, and as a result, every baby born into this world is tainted with the deadly sin virus. That’s what Romans 5:12 is telling us. Every person is born with a tendency to do wrong. We’re born with a sin nature.
It’s easy to see this with little children. If you have young children, there are many things you must teach them—how to talk, how to walk, how to tie their shoelaces, and so on. But there is one thing you never have to teach a child—how to do wrong. They are born knowing how to disobey.
If you don’t want to take my word for it, would you please consider the words of the Minnesota Crime Commission. This is the clearest statement on the doctrine of original sin I have ever read:
Every baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish and self-centered. He wants what he wants when he wants it—his bottle, his mother’s attention, his playmate’s toy, his uncle’s watch. Deny him these wants, and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness, which would be murderous, were he not so helpless. He is dirty. He has no morals, no knowledge, no skills. This means that all children, not just certain children, are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in the self-centered world of his infancy, given free reign to his impulsive actions to satisfy his wants, every child would grow up a criminal, a thief, a killer, a rapist. (Ray Stedman, From Guilt to Glory, I, p. 131)
The problem with many people is that they think God has some kind of divine voltmeter that registers Good, Neutral and Evil. Most people think that by nature the needle that measures their soul is somewhere right in the middle—Not too bad, not too good, mostly just neutral. They aren’t the best, but they aren’t the worst either.
But the Bible tells us that because of Adam’s sin you come into the world with the needle stuck firmly on “Evil.” And apart from the grace of God, that’s where the needle will stay as long as you live.
To say it another way, you’re not evil because you do evil. You do evil because you are evil. Your basic nature is corrupt and depraved. That’s your inheritance from Adam. You are born living on the Wild Side. You are born with a minus on your record. You turned the wrong way back in the Garden and all your life you’ve been going the wrong way.
To say it yet another way, there is no sin you would not commit, left to yourself, if the circumstances were right. Murder? Sure you would. Adultery? You’ve dreamed about it this week. Theft? If necessary. Lying? Why not? Extortion? Kidnapping? Child Abuse? Everything is possible for you. No sin is beyond the realm of possibility.
It started with Adam but it didn’t end there. It continues in your life and in mine. Adam was the first sinner but he wasn’t the last. We follow in the footsteps of our forefather because we share his tainted blood.
III. What Happens When I Sin?
That is, what is the ultimate result of my sin? Where does sin lead? The answer is simple: When I sin, I die. Every time I sin, I die a little bit more. We sin because we think it will bring us freedom and life but we end up with bondage and death. “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” First there was sin, then there was death. It is an inexorable law of the universe.
Notice the three things he says about sin and death in these verses:
1. Death comes through sin 12
2. Death comes to all men 12
3. Death reigned from Adam to Moses 14
Notice that verse 14 says that death reigned from Adam to Moses. What does that mean? It means that even before God gave the Ten Commandments, men sinned and they died because of their sin. You can see it clearly in Genesis 5—the first great genealogy in the Bible. It gives us the generations from Adam to Moses, each one ending in the same refrain “And he died.”
Adam lived … and he died.
Seth lived … and he died.
Enosh lived … and he died.
Kenan lived … and he died.
And so on across the generations, the only exception being Enoch who was taken directly into heaven without seeing death. But all the rest lived hundreds of years and then they died. The point being, men died because they were sinners even without the Ten Commandments. Romans 5:14 says they sinned even though they never broke a specific command. Sin was in the world before the law. The presence of death before Sinai proves that fact. Death reigned in the earliest generations of world history.
But death still reigns today. Just open any newspaper and look at the obituary section. This week I studied the obituary listings in the Chicago Sun-Times. I found name after name after name—and never a name repeated. Arlen … Canavan … Doohan … Hill … Knowles … Lane … Lyons … Mahone … Masco … Pelzer … Sheridan … Shubert … Small … Videka … Witzel … Yuris.
Every day a brand-new list, names never repeated. Why? Because death reigns in Chicago.
But death also reigns for you and for me. If there is one thing about which we may be perfectly certain it is this: You are going to die someday. We say nothing is as certain as death and taxes, but death is far more certain.
How certain is the fact of your death? So certain that there is an entire industry built about the expectation of your death. It’s called the life insurance industry. The only reason you buy life insurance is because someday you are going to die. If you lived forever, you’d never need life insurance. But you buy life insurance precisely because you know the fact of your death, you just don’t know the time of your death. You pay the money, but in order to get the insurance benefit, you have to die. If you live and don’t die, you’ve spent the money and you lose. But when you die, someone else gets the money. You lose either way.
Don’t miss the point: Life insurance is based on one great theological truth: Death reigns.
When you die, the coroner will fill out a death certificate for you. There’s a space on that certificate that says “Cause of Death.” If we understand the Bible, the answer is always the same: “Sin.” Not sickness, not cancer, not an accident, not old age. Those are merely symptoms of the one great cause of death: Sin.
IV. What is the Remedy for my Sin?
That leaves us with only one question: What is the remedy for my sin? The answer is simple. You need the gift of God. Look at verse 15: “But the gift is not like the trespass.” And in verse 16: “Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin.” Five times in verses 15-17 Paul mentions “the gift.” What “gift” is he talking about? Fortunately, we don’t have to wonder about that because when we keep reading, we discover that Paul gives four definitions of this gift.
1. The gift of God 5:16
2. The gift of grace 5:17
3. The gift of righteousness 5:18
4. The gift of eternal life 6:23
But it’s even simpler than that. Romans 5:15 says that this gift “came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ.” Did you get that? It comes through “the one man, Jesus Christ.” God’s gift of eternal life comes to you through the one man, Jesus Christ.
What Will You Do With God’s Gift?
How do you get that gift? If it’s a gift, it must be free. If it’s not free, then it’s not really a gift. Suppose your boss were to come to you on payday and say, “I’ve got your paycheck in my hand. I’m going to give it to you as a gift from me to you.” You’d say, “Gift, nothing! I earned that paycheck.” And you’d be right. A gift is only a gift if it is truly free.
Since it’s a gift, you can only do one of two things with it. You can accept it or reject it. That’s all. You don’t have any other options. You say, “But I want to think about it.” Fine, but thinking about it is the same thing as rejecting it.
So the whole message comes down to one simple question: Have you ever accepted God’s free gift of salvation that comes through the one man, Jesus Christ? Have you ever reached out the empty hands of faith and said, “Yes, Lord Jesus, I open my heart to you and ask you to forgive me of all my sins.” Have you ever done that?
If you go to hell after reading this message, don’t blame Adam. It’s not his fault. If you go to hell after reading these words, don’t blame anyone else. If you end up in hell, blame yourself. It will be your fault for not accepting God’s free gift. He gave it so you would accept it.
That means your destiny is now in your own hands. What will you do with the gift of God?