SUNDAY STUDY: The Breadth and Depth of Sin, Part One

“The Breadth and Depth of SIN”  Excerpted from a sermon by John MacArthur

Genesis chapter 3 deals with a serpent in the Garden, and temptation, and forbidden fruit, and a woman who was deceived, and a man who followed her in violating God’s Word and God’s command. Then, talks about a curse and the price that was paid for that disobedience. [This is] familiar to most everybody, to one degree or another… However, Genesis 3 is an accurate historical record of what actually happened in the Garden. Most people who comment on Genesis 3 turn it into something other than a historical account of a real event. It is as the Word of God says it is.

This chapter may well be the most important chapter in the Bible. Certainly it is true that if you don’t understand this chapter you don’t understand the rest of the Bible. You cannot understand the solution to the problem unless you understand the problem. You can’t understand the cure unless you understand the diagnosis. You will never be able to understand God’s remedy for this world if you don’t understand the malady under which this world lives and functions. And I say, it may well be the most important chapter in the Bible because it explains everything about why things are the way they are, why we are the way we are, and what God is doing in history, and why He’s doing it in terms of salvation.

Genesis 3 explains the human dilemma. All the problems of the universe have their origin in the events of this historic account. Physical problems, spiritual problems, moral problems, social problems, economic problems, political problems, all the problems in the universe have their origin in the events of this historic account.

This chapter then is the foundation of any true and accurate world view. And without this foundation, every world view is utterly wrong. If you do not understand the origin of sin and its impact based on Genesis chapter 3, then your understanding of the world is wrong. Everything then is misunderstood. Everything is misevaluated. Everything is misread. Everything is misdiagnosed and hopelessly incurable.

If you go back to the end of chapter 1 it says, “And God saw all that He had made and He had made all that has ever been made so He saw the whole created universe and behold, it was very good.” When God completed the original creation, everything was very good.

When God completed His perfect creation it was very good because there was no disorder, there was no chaos, there was no conflict, there was no struggle, there was no pain, there was no discord, there was no disease, there was no decline, there was no death. Now, we all live our whole lives with all of that. Life is defined by disorder, chaos, conflict, struggle, pain, discord, disease, decline, and death.

We look at the physical world around us and we see it decaying and tending toward disorder and chaos, disintegration and death. That’s the law of entropy, the second law of thermodynamics: that matter continually tends to break down toward disorder. The physical world is breaking down. This [may be] frightening to people. And we watch in the national world, just the history of civilization, and we see the cycle of rise and fall, and rise and fall, and rise and fall. We look in the animal world and there is this incessant process of struggle and death. We look in the human world and every human relationship is a struggle.

Human life is a struggle. As soon as life is conceived in the womb, it begins to live and die at the same time. It begins to grow and decay at the same time. And in the spiritual and moral world, everyone finds it easier to do wrong. It’s much easier to do wrong. In fact, it’s really impossible to do righteous things. Even when you do right humanly, you generally do it to feel better about yourself which is an ill-conceived motive. It’s much easier to do evil than good. Hatred and crime and war, perversion, wickedness, those things just come with life.

We have to ask a question. If we come to the end of Genesis 1 and everything is very good, and we take a look at things, we have to ask the question: what’s wrong with this picture? What is wrong here? This is not the way it was at the beginning. Even going through chapter 2, you really have only an expansion of the created work of God on day six. Chapter 2 just expands on the creation of man and woman that’s mentioned from verse 24 down through the end of chapter 1. So, you could put verse 31 at the end of chapter 2. It was really at the same point in terms of God’s creation. God saw that everything that He had made, including man, including woman, including the Garden where He placed them all that’s described in chapter 2, and it was all very good.

But we look at the world today and it’s not very good. Evolutionists really amuse me. They are clueless about this, because they’re living under the self-deception that man is getting better, that he’s improving. The idea of evolution is that man starts from simplicity and mutates upward into complexity. That he starts from a very low and minimalistic level of intelligence and mutates upward to a greater intelligence. That he starts at a base level morally and he moves up to a higher and higher level morally. But the fact of just life itself, the truth about man is a refutation of evolution. Because the fact of the matter is: man isn’t getting better; he’s getting worse. He’s accumulating iniquities at a rapid rate, and with technological advances he is accumulating wretchedness faster than ever.

Man did not begin at the bottom of the moral ladder and slowly, by psychological evolution, rise higher. That’s just not true. In fact, if you study human history basically there hasn’t been really any change. Men are morally no better than they were in the past, and I suppose in some ways no worse than they were in the past. You can trace the patterns of wretchedness through all of human history. But the advancements that have come technologically, and by science through the centuries, have only enabled man to escalate and exacerbate his corruption.

What has gone wrong? What happened here? This isn’t the way it was in the original creation. The downward plunge doesn’t seem to be able to be stopped. It’s like man has fallen from heaven without a parachute, and he’s plunging at break neck speed toward hell with nothing to stop him. And his life is basically defined by wickedness and evil in every aspect, every relationship.

What happened is recorded for us in Genesis 3. “Now the serpent was craftier than any beast of the field in which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said you shall not eat from any tree of the garden?’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat. But from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden God has said you shall not eat from it, or touch it lest you die.’ Now the serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely shall not die.’” You know, what’s death? No such thing existed. “‘For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you’ll be like God, knowing good and evil.’ 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 desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate. And she gave also to her husband with her and he ate. Then, the eyes of both of them were opened and they knew that they were naked, and they sowed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.”

That’s how the third chapter opens. By the way, you might be interested to know the word “sin” doesn’t appear in the third chapter. But this is where it entered into our world. This was it. When Adam and Eve, tempted by the serpent in the garden, disobeyed God, everything went from being very good to being very bad.

In Romans chapter 5 and verse 12, the Bible says, “Therefore just as through one man,” that’s Adam, “sin entered into the world and death through sin and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” There is the New Testament commentary on the event. Through one man, Adam, sin entered into the world and death through sin, the ultimate measure of decay. And so, death spread to all men because all sinned. When Adam sinned, we were all there. We were in his loins. We were his progeny. We have all come from Adam and Eve, and so we inherit what theologians call original sin. When Adam sinned, we all went down because we’ve all come from Adam.

At the end of chapter 2, you’ll notice that the man and his wife were naked and not ashamed. There wasn’t anything to be ashamed about because there was no sin. There were no evil thoughts. Nothing to be ashamed about. But you come to the end of the record I just read to you, in verse 7, the eyes of both of them were opened and they knew they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

All of a sudden, there was shame. Why? For the first time in their existence, they had wicked thoughts. Never had a wicked thought before. Apparently, it had something to do with their sexuality. All of a sudden there was shame where there was no shame. This is the great indicator from their viewpoint that they had sinned. And the indicator from God’s viewpoint comes when He says in verse 16 to the woman, “I’ll multiply your pain in childbirth. In pain, you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, he shall rule over you.” Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, you’ve eaten from the tree which I have commanded you saying you shall not eat from it, cursed is the ground because of you. In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall grow for you. You shall eat the plants of the field by the sweat of your face. You shall eat bread till you return to the ground because from it you were taken, for you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

When God curses them, it’s quite interesting. Those curses really are physical. There is a curse on the woman’s pain in childbearing and on her conflict in her marriage. There is a curse on Adam in the fact that he no longer is going to be able to just pluck the wonders of Eden. He’s going to have to cultivate the ground, he’s going to have to fight the thorns and thistles, he’s going to have to sweat to bring forth his bread, and he’s going to ultimately die. But those things really don’t say anything about the moral change that took place. It becomes very apparent real quick. First of all, Adam and Eve felt shame and shame is a function of guilt, and guilt is a function of sin, and somehow they had thoughts of wickedness and were so embarrassed by those that they sewed together some leaves to cover themselves. They brought forth two sons in chapter 4; one of them murdered the other one. And the rest, of course, is history.

The Fall occurred at some point between the sixth day of creation when everything was very good, and when Adam and Eve gave birth to Cain because Cain was born a sinner. The Fall had to occur before that; we don’t know when. We don’t know how long they enjoyed Eden in its glory. But once they fell, they were changed, they were altered, and they passed on fallenness and sin to every human being that ever lived because they’ve all come from Adam and Eve. When Adam sinned, he brought death on himself and everybody else. And we’re all born to die. We all inherit what I like to call the death force. The moment a baby is conceived it starts to grow and die at the same time. And we battle all through life to keep the death force from being triumphant for as long as we can.
We not only inherit death; we inherit sin because we were all there in Adam. That’s original sin. There’s another aspect to it, imputed sin. In our time if you don’t understand that, you cannot explain the human dilemma. You can’t explain that not only did this affect man’s moral life and therefore every area of relationship, but it affected the ground, it affected the material universe, the physical universe. And Romans 8 says the whole creation groans under this curse. The reason there is disintegration, death, and all of that in the entire universe goes right back to Genesis chapter 3.

The evolutionist, the psychological evolutionist, sociological evolutionist has a big problem because if man is getting more and more capable, if he’s getting more and more noble, if he’s mutating upward, and he has now reached a place where basically good, and actually getting better, why is it that society is not changing? Why is he morally worse? Well, evolutionary psychologists say there must be something wrong with his environment. And it all boils down to: I’m not bad, but you’re bad, and you make me bad. So, in this evolutionary process, some of us are going up and others, I guess, are going down. Fairly selective approach.

Psychologists reject sin because they want to exalt man, and they want to eliminate God. So, because they reject sin, they have no explanation for why man is the way he is. They misdiagnose him totally, so they offer really no help. And what do we do? We try to come up with harsher penalties, the, what is it, the three-strike law: three felonies in a row and you go to jail and they throw the key away. We bring back the death penalty. But nothing can end the reign of terror; nothing can end the reign of corruption. You can’t do it, because the issue is sin. The issue is: we’ve all inherited a corrupted nature.

Karl Menninger of the Menninger Clinic wrote this, “In all of the laments and reproaches made by our seers and prophets, one misses any mention of sin, a word which used to be a veritable watchword of prophets. It was a word once in everybody’s mind, now rarely if ever heard. Does that mean that no sin is involved in all our troubles? Is no one any longer guilty of anything? Guilty, perhaps, of a sin that could be repented, and repaired, and atoned for? Is it only that someone may be stupid, or sick, or criminal, or recovering, or asleep? Wrong things are being done,” he writes, “we know. Tares are being sowed in the wheat field at night. Is no one responsible? Is no one answerable for these acts? Anxiety and depression we all acknowledge and even vague guilt feelings, but has no one committed any sins? Where indeed did sin go, what became of it?” That’s in the book he wrote called “Whatever Became of Sin?”

And, of course, there’s just no interest in the public forum in talking about sin today… To say that people are all born with an evil bent, that they are all born with a desire to violate the law of God and to dethrone God and replace them with themselves, to say they are incapable of doing anything good, to say they are rotten to the very core, that everything about them, everything they think, everything they say and everything they do is only evil continually, to say their heart is deceitful and desperately wicked; frankly, folks, that is just not acceptable in the public forum.

Our culture has really declared war not only on sin, because they don’t want anything defined as sin. Everything is just a lifestyle choice; nothing is a sin. So, our culture has declared war on sin and consequently declared war on guilt. The very idea of guilt is considered medieval, obsolete, and certainly unhealthful.

When people feel guilty nowadays, it’s because they ate too many French fries. Those are the guilty pleasures. You don’t want to feel bad about anything. What a serious issue this is because you cut off people from the possibility of repentance… A woman who abused and brutally killed her own infant was acquitted of all charges because she had PMS. And you all remember the San Francisco city supervisor who was murdered. And when the person went on trial, it was the famous Twinkie Defense, the fact that he was not responsible for what he did. He was acting irrationally because he ate too many Hostess Twinkies. And the famous Twinkie Defense was born.

We have so much of that in our society. Similar tactics, passing blame away from us. And when children are disobedient, they say they’re hyperactive or they have attention deficit syndrome, or whatever other syndrome they could invent so they could sell people the drugs they want to sell them. And when somebody commits moral sin, they say they’re addicted to sex, and then they’re recovering sex addicts. And we have to remember, like AA, you’ll never really recover… It’s just an addiction. Everything wrong with mankind is described as some kind of an illness. That’s just the way the world chooses to avoid the issue.

So, we alone, I think, as Christians who understand the Bible and believe the Bible, we get it. We’ve got all these people trying: all the politicians, and all the moralists, and all the educators, and all the university people, and all the sociologists and everybody trying to fix society, and it can’t ever be done by these people because they don’t ever deal with the reality of what is in the heart. All humanity, all humanity, nobody escapes, has a vile, rebellious, corrupt nature. The thought-life is corrupt, the emotions are corrupt, the will is corrupt, and the behavior is corrupt. And Genesis 3 is crucial to understanding that.

By the way, there are some things that are not in Genesis 3. The word “sin” is not there. And the word “Satan” is not there. But the rest of the Scripture makes it very clear. There’s not even any statement there as to the fact that the sins of Adam were passed down. It’s very apparent because immediately in the next chapter you have conflict and murder among the two sons of Adam and Eve. But we have to understand the rest of Scripture to interpret Genesis 3.

Interestingly enough, Judaism, as such, has always rejected the existence of sinful depravity in man inherited from Adam. They reject that. Basically, they believe that what Adam did, Adam did, and he did it because he chose to do it. And Cain and Abel, they did what they did because they chose to do it. And that’s how it is, there’s no depravity that passes down. There’s no imputation of guilt to us because of the sin of Adam by God. That was just an isolated situation in his case, and we have the choice to do right or to do wrong. And that’s how they maintain salvation by righteousness because they don’t have a doctrine of depravity. They don’t have a doctrine of original sin. They understand Adam’s sin as affecting Adam, and the rest of us all have the same choices, either to obey God or disobey God, that Adam and Eve had, and we don’t inherit anything from them. That is not what the Scripture teaches.

Isidore Epstein says, “Judaism denies the existence of original sin. True, the idea that the sin of Adam had brought death on all mankind is not unknown in Jewish teaching, but the reference is invariably to physical death and is not to be confused with the spiritual death from which in Christian doctrine none can be saved except through faith in the risen Savior.” Isn’t that interesting? They understand the message of Christianity, and they want to cut it off at the front end. They want to deny original sin so that they can deny that men are in a condition which requires Jesus Christ to be their Savior. And the quote closes, “Man can therefore achieve his own redemption by his own penitence.” He doesn’t need a Savior. You get rid of the Savior and you get rid of original sin. Everybody makes his own choice, and if you have to make a bad choice, just tell God you’re sorry, and make more good choices than bad choices and your good choices will outweigh your bad choices and you’ll get in to heaven.

Cassuto, a Jewish commentator says, “The central theme of Genesis 3 does not aim to give a philosophical explanation of the origin of evil in the world.” End quote. So, what he’s saying is typical of the Jewish commentators: this has nothing to do with the origin of evil in the world. This is one man and one woman, they made a choice and everybody else is in the same situation.
But they’re wrong. Scripture clearly indicates this is where evil began. And it is the New Testament that is most definitive. And again, you have to know that verse, Romans 5:12, that’s the key verse. When Adam sinned, everybody sinned in Adam. And when Adam received the penalty of death, we were all then sentenced to die.
Christian Scientists tell us that sin is an illusion. It’s not. The liberals tell us that sin is merely finiteness; to be human is to err. And the dualistic philosophers tell us that sin is the flesh as opposed to the spirit, which is pure. Now, those are all wrong.

Next Sunday, Part Two of the Sin Study