Everybody loves a good origin story. How many Batman movies have shown Bruce Wayne’s parents dying? One of the most successful Broadway musicals in years, Wicked, is based on a book of the same name. It’s all about Elphaba, the woman who would become the Wicked Witch of the West, and how she became the most hated woman in Oz.
Mankind has an origin story like none other. We were endowed with the ability to have eternal life through obedience. If our first parents had rejected sin and never eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we would not suffer the effects of sin today. We have since lost that moral liberty. It can only be restored by grace through faith.
The Confession states that “Although God created man upright and perfect, and gave him a righteous law, which had been unto life had he kept it, and threatened death upon the breach thereof, yet he did not long abide in this honour.” The truth is we do not know how long mankind stayed in their state of innocence. But in the course of Scripture, it was one measly chapter.
This introduces us to Baptist Covenant Theology. God always works with his people through a covenant. The prophet Hosea speaks of Israel breaking the covenant like Adam did, implying that Adam lived in relationship to God through a covenant (Hosea 6:7). The apostle Paul made a similar connection in Romans 5. If death entered the world because of Adam’s sin, then life entered because of Christ’s righteousness (Romans 5:17). We are either under Adam’s covenant or Christ’s.
In his most famous passage on the resurrection, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (vv. 21-22).
The covenants help us understand how we might be guilty because of another man’s sin. The Confession says, “Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and we in them whereby death came upon all: all becoming dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.”
Romans 5 speaks of Adam’s sin following down to us, but Romans 3 also speaks of the sin that we have committed ourselves. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). If Adam’s sin was not enough to condemn us, then our own sin would surely do the trick.
The Confession speaks of Adam and Eve as “the root, and by God's appointment, standing in the room and stead of all mankind, the guilt of the sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation”. The covenantal theme is difficult to ignore. We both inherit the sin of our first parents, and we commit our own sins. If we are all in a covenant together, it makes sense. And yet, the gospel sets us free from bondage to sin and death, which the Confession acknowledges when it says, “unless the Lord Jesus set them free.”
Hebrews 2:14-15 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
Are we bound to a life of sin? Are we able to choose righteousness on our own? Can we change?
The Confession states clearly that unless the Spirit intervenes and applies the blood of Christ to our souls, we are bound to live in sin. “From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.”
This again is the distinction between creaturely liberty and moral liberty. Creaturely liberty is choosing left or right, black or white, hard or soft. Moral liberty is choosing between righteousness or sinfulness. In the fall, we lost our moral liberty when our first parents chose to have the knowledge of good and evil by their own means.
Colossians 1:21-23 says it best. “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”
Paul says who we were, and now who we are. We were once as far from God as is possible. And when we were in that state of separation, he did everything that was necessary for reconciliation.
But what of the regenerate? Do we not continue to sin? How are those two things to be reconciled?
“The corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and the first motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.”
The truest believer has yet sins he will commit. Our nature is defeated though not yet gone. Through the atoning blood of Christ, we are forgiven for those sins. Paul acknowledges the remaining influence of sin in several places. In Galatians 5:17 he writes, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
In perhaps the clearest and most worshipful passage on the sin that remains in the believer, Paul writes in Romans 7, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (vv.21-25).
Next week, we’ll take a closer look at the notion of God’s covenant.