If the Creator was wise and good, how do you account for the brilliant mess in which we find the world today? How do you explain the fact that in the last fifty years after so many generations of civilization and learning and progress there have been three of the most terrible wars in history? Why is it that in this so-called enlightened age, with all the advantages of modern science and the healing arts, man is still the most miserable and frustrated of all God’s creatures?

The Book of Genesis gives the only feasible answer to such questions. The story of sin in the Garden of Eden throws light on the present condition of the world. And before we can deal realistically, either by legislation or by evangelism, with any of our basic problems, we must learn the meaning of this ancient record. A philosophy of law or a doctrine of evangelism that is based on any other assumption than those revealed in this narrative is shallow, because it has not faced honestly the nature of man, of sin, and of salvation.

Therefore, in order that we may deal helpfully with man’s predicament and with our own personal condition, let us examine the Genesis account of the fall of man.

The Nature Of Sin

The story of Adam’s fall reveals, first, something about the nature of sin. The Tempter, or Evil One, is likened to a serpent—a striking symbol. Sin, like a snake, moves quietly and stealthily. It strikes without warning, and in its bite is poison. In the narrative the Devil came to Eve and said, “Don’t listen to God. Do what you want. Don’t let anybody, not even God, tell you what’s right and wrong. Make your own rules. Write your own ticket. Swallow this and you’ll be like God.” What Satan did was to incite Eve to rebel against God’s government.

Thus the story reveals that sin at its core is a rejection of God’s authority. It declares that sin is not just ignorance or immaturity but a repudiation of the Creator’s right to command. Sin is rebellion against the way in which the world and man were created.

In the Genesis account God wanted Adam to do one thing, but Adam did another. Man did what he chose to do, not what God created him to do. And this is still the nature of sin today: to go our own way and to disregard God’s way. You and I still want to be god. We reject any authority above and outside ourselves. And Satan is still subtly inciting us to this rebellion against the Creator. The old snake still whispers, “Do what you want to do. You’re free. Make your own rules. The Ten Commandments were for another age. The Sermon on the Mount was never meant to be taken literally.” The Tempter still insists, “Why do you have sex drives if they were not meant to be gratified? Go on and indulge them. Then you’ll be uninhibited like God. You’ll be free from frustration and fear.” The irrational permissiveness of our society regarding sex morality reveals that many are still falling for Satan’s lie.

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The story of Adam’s fall reveals also that basically all sin is selfishness. The Devil said to Eve, “Look at it. Isn’t it pretty? Do you want it? Take it. It’ll be good for you, will make you wise.” And we read, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate” (Gen. 3:7, RSV).

The story reveals further that it is the nature of sin to excuse itself, to encourage the sinner to justify what he has done. When God confronted Adam with his sin, Adam replied with a shrug. “The woman thou gavest me, she did it.” He said, “Oh yes, I ate the fruit, but it wasn’t my fault. It was hers or yours, but not mine.” And Eve whined, “It was the serpent’s fault, not mine.” It is the nature of sin to lay the blame upon someone else.

Today it goes like this: “The whole crowd was doing it. I was just the one who got caught, that’s all.” Or like this: “Sure, I did it, but I’m not responsible. I grew up in the wrong neighborhood. My parents didn’t love me. I never had a chance.” Or like this: “Yes, there was another woman, but don’t blame me. My wife drove me to it. She doesn’t understand me.” The hardest thing for proud man to say is “I have sinned.” It is the nature of sin to excuse itself.

The story reveals also that sin never quite delivers what it promises but leads inevitably to judgment. The serpent promised Adam and Eve knowledge, and they got it. Only it wasn’t the knowledge that led to happiness and freedom. It was the knowledge of their own nakedness, and it led to bondage and shame and to banishment from the Garden. For we read that Adam and Eve had to meet and reckon with God as he came walking in the cool of the day and calling them by name.

This is still God’s world, and he still walks in it. Foolish men may babble about “man come of age, not needing God any longer,” but there is Someone in this universe bigger than any man or nation. And soon or late we have to meet and reckon with him as he paces with easy strides in the cool of the day. Through the heat and hurry of the day we, like Adam and Eve, often forget and ignore God. But the evening comes unfailingly when the busy rush of life is over, and God comes walking and calling each by name.

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Now the judgment on Adam’s sin was banishment from the Garden, for that is the nature of sin. It causes us to lose the joys and blessings of God. God put man into a paradise on earth, and as long as man obeyed God, he was happy. He was in harmony with the divine order of things. But when he sinned, he intruded an alien will into the world and thus spoiled the whole lovely picture. Man’s will opposed to God’s will created discord and ushered in frustration and anxiety. The world in which we now live with all its brutality and misery and fear is not the world God would have had us inhabit. Adam lost paradise, not for himself alone but for all his posterity. For when the children of Adam were born after Adam’s sin, they were born outside Eden.

This Minister’s Workshop is the last in the series of pages contributed for a number of years by Dr. Andrew W. Blackwood, Dr. Paul S. Rees, and, more recently, Dr. Charles W. Koller, who took Dr. Blackwood’s assignment on his retirement. In behalf of the many ministers who have been challenged and helped by the work of these eminent homileticians, CHRISTIANITY TODAY expresses its deep appreciation.

An entirely new series, also expressly for ministers, will carry on the Minister’s Workshop. Announcement of this feature will appear in a future issue.

The Nature Of Man

Thus the story not only reveals much about the nature of sin but also tells something about the nature of man. It declares that man, as we know him, is a fallen creature who is in a state of rebellion against God. It teaches that man, created for fellowship with God, refused to walk in the way God intended. Having chosen his own way, he is thereby out of harmony with God and God’s divine order. Adam’s sin brought dire results not only upon himself but also upon all the sons of Adam by natural generation. He willed to his posterity not only an evil example but his own twisted, rebellious nature. Thus you and I today are sinful, selfish, fallen creatures who stand in need of complete transformation.

This is not the popular view of human nature. Proud man does not like to admit that his very soul has been corrupted and that he is constitutionally selfish, rebellious, and egotistical. You and I cherish the illusion that we are basically moral—uneducated and immature, perhaps, but good at heart. Yet it is more realistic to acknowledge that all men are selfish, rebellious, and egotistical, for by this alone can we account for the chaos of our world. Only from a corrupt nature could such savage deeds proceed as our generation has seen. In the last twenty-five years we have seen millions of Jews murdered in Nazi concentration camps. We have seen Communist brainwashings from which some men never recovered mentally or physically. We have seen Medgar Evers shot down on his own doorstep, a Columbia University professor beaten to death by teen-age gangs, a young woman stabbed in the streets of our largest city while thirty-eight neighbors turned deaf ears to her cries for help. We have seen massive public indifference to injustice, discrimination, and brutality. But many still refuse to admit that man is a fallen creature whose very nature is corrupted.

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And this corruption is not merely a surface stain which can be washed off with a little education and culture. It is not something that the making of a few laws or the relaxing of a few old commandments will eradicate. Nor is it something that children learn from their environment; they are born with it. Children are the most selfish human beings because they are the most natural. Even a new-born baby is selfish. Imagine a baby waking in the middle of the night and saying to himself, “Now I’m hungry, but Mama had a hard day, so I’ll not disturb her. I’ll stick it out until morning.” No, if the baby wakes and he is hungry, he cries. He says in effect, “I am all that matters, and I want food.” You protest, “But that’s just the baby’s nature. He’s only following his instincts of self-preservation.” I reply, “That’s just what I’m saying: it is human nature to be selfish.”

The Nature Of Salvation

This truth about man has implications in the area of eternal salvation. The whole process of saving fallen man is not simply persuading him to desist from actual sins. It is not merely moral education. The process of salvation, as the Bible sees it, is the process of rooting out man’s innate tendency to sin, his selfishness, his rebellion, and of transforming his whole nature. In the process of salvation a man becomes God-centered instead of self-centered. As long as I am the center, discord and frustration inevitably follow, for I am at odds with everyone else, since each of them wants to be the center too. But, as I make God the center, then I am in right relationship with all others for whom God is the center. There is paradise for me, for I am in harmony with the divine order of things.

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God did not abandon Adam when Adam sinned. Man received the results of his sin but God did not forsake him. Indeed, the rest of the Bible from this chapter to the last of the Book of Revelation is the record of God’s effort to bring man back into fellowship with himself and to restore man to paradise. God’s goal in the work of man’s redemption is to get man back into step with God and God’s divine order of things, to transform man’s selfish, rebellious nature, and to conform him to the divine image. This comes about only through what the Bible calls repentance.

This is the nature of biblical salvation. And this God accomplishes in Jesus Christ of Nazareth. In his Son God has revealed his own nature. And he gives that righteous nature to all who repent, believe him, and walk with the living Christ. In Christ men are restored to fellowship with the Creator and live once more in peace with him. Thus the paradise which was lost in Adam is restored in Christ through God’s saving activity and man’s radical repentance.

This is the nature of the salvation that we preach. This is the nature of the man to whom we preach it. And this is the nature of the sin that blocks man from that salvation. Until we realize this, we can never deal helpfully with man’s predicament. For any efforts based on different assumptions about salvation, man, and sin are doomed to ultimate disappointment.

But before we can deal with man’s predicament we must deal with our own personal condition. Before we can help to transform the world, our own sinful selves must be changed. Therefore, we are all called to confess our selfishness and rebellion, to recognize that this is our nature and the character of our sin. God’s Word invites each of us to take Jesus Christ as Saviour from this rebellion, to make him our constant companion, and to heed the voice of his Spirit within our hearts.

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