A Good Start Stained
(February, 2003 POL)

Topic: Original Sin
Text: Romans 5:9

They had it all.

Adam and Eve had such a good start in life.

They were created “in the image of God” or at the highest level of God’s created order — the only creatures designed for intimacy or holy communion with God (read the whole story inGenesis 1Genesis 2:1-24Genesis 3).

They complemented each other. Though Adam was the first to admit it, Eve probably joined the refrain, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

They were in charge of the whole deal. God said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every thing that moves on the earth.” Everything was just about perfect.

Of course, our fairer gender often suggest our Lord did make man first; only to conclude, “I can do better than that!”

Then there is the not so Biblical tale of God telling Adam to go, be fruitful, and multiply; only to witness the young man return with puzzled look on his face and inquire, “what’s a headache?”

Regardless, it was a good start. Everything was just about perfect. But you know what happened. God said Adam and Eve could use, manage, and enjoy everything around them except for one thing: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Some things are just too big for mere mortals to handle. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represented the extremes of complete knowledge — omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. In other words, it represented the exclusive prerogative of the divine.

Hence, the Hebrew in this text is the strongest prohibition possible: “You must not, absolutely must not” eat from the tree or “you shall surely die.”

Simply, reaching for divinity to be like God is not a human prerogative or part of the plan. But anyone with little kids knows how that goes.

When children are told they can hang out with anyone but or go anywhere but or do anything but, those buts become the targets of greatest curiosity, affection, desire, and determination.

Children get it from their parents who got it from their parents who got it from their parents going all the way back to the garden.

We’re the Adamsons — the daughters and sons of Adam and Eve. This butology — making those everyone and everywhere and everything buts the targets of greatest curiosity, affection, desire, and determination — is in our genes.

They had everything — a home in paradise, sinlessness, the tree of life or immortality, intimacy with God, and control over the whole scene — but they weren’t like God. They weren’t divine.

Satan will always tempt us to pursue our buts. Satan did. They did. And we’ve been doing it ever since.

Traditionally, we call it original, the first, sin. And there’s been nothing original about sin ever since. It’s what we, the Adamsons, seem to do so well with just the slightest encouragement.

Indeed, sin comes to us naturally. It’s in our genes. We’re the Adamsons — the daughters and sons of Adam and Eve. And as everyone knows, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Essentially, the story of Adam and Eve is about a good start stained by buts: “Hut I want to do whatever I want to do whenever and wherever with whomever I want regardless of what God thinks!” Though it’s so obvious, the traditional doctrine of original sin troubles many people.

Succinctly, it is the label given to our inherited instinct from Adam and Eve to believe and behave in ways that offend and insult God’s holiness. It is the subordination of God’s sovereignty to self-interest. It is a revision of the created order: “So man created God in man’s own image, in the image of man, man created God.”

I like how Donald G. Bloesch explained it in Essentials of Evangelical Theology (1978): “Original sin is not a biological taint but a spiritual contagion which is nevertheless, in some inexplicable way, passed on through biological generation.” It’s in our genes!

It goes back to the garden when God told Adam and Eve what He expected (“Stay away from that tree!”) and they did what they wanted to do (“But I wanna do it!”). That was the original sin.

A. Elwood Sanner of Northwest Nazarene College wrote for the Beacon Dictionary of Theology (1983) so neatly, “Original sin in the exact sense is man’s first transgression of God’s law. In a more general sense, original sin is often defined as ‘the universal and hereditary sinfulness of man since the fall of Adam’ . . . Original sin has also been described as ‘the human self corrupted, diseased, fevered, or warped — a condition brought about by alienation from God.” That’s pretty heavy stuff.

But if you think that was tough, listen to John Calvin: “We are so entirely controlled by the power of sin, that the whole mind, the whole heart, and all our actions are under its influence” (Romans, circa 1539).

And if you think that was tough, fasten your pew belts and try swallowing this conclusion from The Scots Confession of 1560: “By this transgression, generally known as original sin, the
image of God was utterly defaced in man, and he and his children became by nature hostile to God, slaves to Satan, and servants to sin.”

Some refer to our slavery to sin as the “total depravity” of humanity: “Man is totally unable to save himself on account of the Fall . . . being a total fall . . . The whole personality of man has been affected by the Fall, and sin extends to the whole of the faculties — the will, the understanding, the affections and all else” (W.J. Seaton, The Five Points of Calvinism, 1970).

Martin Luther King, Jr. explained it so well in a sermon called “The Drum Major Instinct” which was preached at Atlanta, Georgia’s Ebenezer Baptist Church on 4 February 1968: “And there is, deep down within all of us, an instinct. It’s a kind of drum major instinct — a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first . . . And you know, we begin early to ask life to put us first. Our first cry as a baby was a bid for attention. And all through childhood the drum major impulse or instinct is a major obsession. Children ask life to grant them first place. They are a little bundle of ego . . . Now in adult life, we still have it, and we really never get by it.”

Clearly, selfishness is at the core of the problem. Original or not, sin is self-determination and self-actualization and self-fulfillment and selfishness without regard to anyone including God.

Though it may trouble us to think about it, we know it’s in us. It’s in our genes. We have an instinct, impulse, propensity, or whatever you want to call it to put our buts in front of everyone and everything else.

So how do we overcome this original sin or butology or continuing identification as the Adamsons?

If you ask our Confirmation Class, they’ll answer, “Jesus!” We’ve emphasized the answer to every question of life and eternity being Jesus. Think about it. Pray about it. It’s true. Jesus is the answer.

Anyway, we could sum up the Gospel this way: “I’m not O.K. You’re not O.K. But God says, ‘That’s O.K.'”

Eternally stated, Jesus saves us from the damning consequences of original sin. Paul explained in Romans 5: “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us . . . We have been justified by His blood. Just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all (Adam), so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all (Jesus).”

That’s why the church has always been more excited about Jesus than any of its doctrines. The answer is Jesus! And in the end, being Christians will be eternally more consequential than being the Adamsons.

John Jasper was born a slave on 4 July 1812 on the Peachy Plantation on the James River in Fluvanna County, Virginia. The 24th child, he was born two months after his hard-drinking father died. Before his conversion, he went through four wives and drank excessively. This was all before reaching his 27th birthday!

Obviously, I wouldn’t be mentioning John Jasper unless God’s redemptive purpose had claimed him. The good news is he was born again. He was working as a tobacco stemmer — taking the stems out of the tobacco leaves before they were shipped — in 1839 when he crossed his own Damascus Road:

“I was down in Capitol Square in Richmond All of a sudden God’s arrow of conviction went into my heart and brought me low I thought I was going to die right then, and when I supposed it was my last breath, I flung up a cry, “Oh, Jesus, have mercy on me ” Before I knowed it a light broke my heart , I was light as a feather. I felt like I would just knock the roof off with my shouts . . . Oh, that happy day!

“For more than forty years I’ve been telling the story. My step is getting rather slow, my voice breaks down, and sometimes I am awful tired, but still I’m telling it. My lips shall proclaim the dying love of the Lamb with my last expiring breath.”

John Jasper went on to distinguish himself as one of the greatest preachers in American history. After his emancipation, he started a church in Richmond, Virginia which attracted thousands of people every Sunday. His appeal crossed color and cultural lines.

And I have never heard nor read a better sermon on overcoming original sin through faith in Jesus than John Jasper’s “Where Sin Come From?” Here are some excerpts:

“And you want to know where sin come from . . . The Bible say that Eve was over there in the garden of Eden one day and that she was there by herself. The Lord made Eve, ’cause it weren’t good for Adam to be alone, and it looks from this case that it was not quite safe for Eve to be left at home by herself. But Adam weren’t with her. Doan know where he was . . . He better been at home tendin’ to his family . . .

“While Eve was saunterin’ and roamin’ aroun’ in the beautiful garden, the ole serpent, dyked up to kill, come gallivantin’ down the road and he catched sight of Eve. Now you mus’ know that ole serpent was the trickies’ and the arties’ of all the beas’ of the field . . . And what he do but go struttin’ up to Eve in a mighty friendly way, scrapin’ and bowin’ like a food dead in love . . .

“‘How you do?’ He tries to be polite, and puts on his sweetes’ airs. Oh, that was an awful moment in the life of Eve and in the history of this poor lost world of ours. In that moment the poison eat through her flesh, struck in her blood, and went to her heart . . .

“‘Nice garden you got there,’ he say in er admirin’ way . ‘Can you eat all the apples you got over there?’

‘No, indeed,’ says Eve, ‘we can’t eat ’em all We got more’n we can ‘stroy save our lives’.

“‘Oh, I didn’t mean that . . . My point is, is you ‘lowed to eat ’em all ?'”

“‘What you ask me that question for?’ Eve asked. ‘The Lord He tell us we mus’ not eat them apples; they poison us, and the day we eat ’em we got to die’. . .

“‘Did the Lord God tell you that? Doan tell nobody, but I want to tell you that it ain’t so. Doan you believe it. Doan let Him fool you! He know that’s the bes’ fruit in all the garden — the fruit of the Knowledge and the Distinction, and that when you eats it you will know as much as He do. You reckon He wants you to know as much as He do? Na-a-w; that’s why He say what He do say. You go get ’em. They’s the choicest fruit in the garden, and when you eats ’em you will be equal to God’

“Alas, alas! Poor deluded and foolish Eve! It was the moment of her everlastin’ downfall . . . That deadly day she broke ‘way from the God that made her and partook of the fruit that brought sin and ruin and hell into the world . . .

“After a while, Adam come walkin’ up the garden and Eve she runs out to meet him. When he come near she hold up her apple in her hand and tell him it is good to eat . . . First deceived herself, she turn roun’ and deceives Adam. That’s the way; we gets wrong, and then we pulls other folks down with us . . .

“But where was the wrong? . . . It was in Eve’s believin’ the devil and not believin’ God. It was doin’ what the devil said and not doin’ what God said.

“And you come here and ask me where sin come from? You see now, doan you? It come out of the pit of hell where it was hatched ‘mong the angels that was flung out of heaven ’cause they disobeyed God . . . It was brought by that ole serpent, the father of lies, and he bring it that he might fool the woman, and in that way set up on the earth the works of the devil It come from the ole serpent at first, but it’s here now, right in poor Jasper’s heart and in your heart; wherever there is a man or a woman in this dark world in tears there is sin — sin that insults God, tears down His law, and brings woes to everybody.

“But this is enough. I just took time to tell you where sin come from. But my tongue can’t refuse to stop to tell you that the blood of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world is greater than sin and mightier than hell. It can wash away our stains, make us whiter than the drivin’ snow, dress us in redemption robes, bring us with shouts and hallelujahs back to that fellowship with our Father, that can never be broken long as eternity rolls!”

Or as Paul reminded the faithful of all generations, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (see Romans 8:31).

We are related to Adam and Eve through our parents and through their parents and through their parents and so on right back to the garden. And the bad news is we act like the Adamsons much too often; obeying God in all things at all times except when our buts get in the way.

But the good news is God’s grace through faith in Jesus provides the spiritual detergent to remove that stain from our souls.

Yes, the good start was stained.

Thanks be to God through Jesus by Spirit that we’re saved anyway. And there are no buts about Him.

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