The Trouble & Trial of Fallen Sinners
The fall of man brought immediate consequences to Adam and Eve – troublesome consequences that have been passed down to us across thousands of years of sin and misery.
1. Bitter Corruption
Mankind’s fall was an atrocity, an act of high treason against the greatest, most loving, most beautiful, most honorable Being in the universe. Many would trivialize the sin of the Garden of Eden as if it were just a matter of eating the wrong piece of fruit. But the first sin was an evil of massive proportions that perverted men’s soul.
Consider the wickedness of Adam and Eve’s sin. They did not act in ignorance, but with willful intent broke God’s command. They knew that the tree of knowledge of good and evil was intended to test their love and obedience to God. They sinned in the face of God’s warning, calling God a liar and treating friendship with God as if it had no value. As the father of the entire human race, Adam plunged the billions to come after him into darkness and death. He brought death to his own offspring. The fall was the worst act of blasphemy and murder in human history, second only to the betrayal and slaughter of God’s incarnate Son.
In this one act, Adam broke both tables of the moral law, casting off his supreme and all-encompassing love for God, and love for his neighbor as for himself. Only self-love remained, and self-love reigned over all man’s life.
Adam would have done less harm to himself if he had gouged out his eyes and torn out his heart. It is impossible for us, as fallen people, to fully appreciate the glorious treasure that was lost in the soul of man and the horrible filth that rushed in to take its place. Before the fall, Genesis 1:26 tells us that man and woman were the image-bearers of God, living likenesses of Him. Genesis 1:31 says they were “very good.” After the fall, Genesis 6:5 tells us that God surveyed the world and, apart from Noah and his family, came to this conclusion about fallen man: “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Sin rushed immediately into the entire body and soul, filling even the innermost recesses of the heart.
Sin has so corrupted humanity that even little children are debased by its influence. Genesis 8:21 says that “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” David confessed in Psalm 51:5 that from the moment of his conception in the womb, he was “in sin.” Oh, the horror of our corruption! Fallen man is in sin and continues to sin, with every tick of the clock, sixty times a minute, 3,600 times an hour, over 2.5 million times every month – sin, sin, sin! The magnitude and bitterness of our spiritual corruption is overwhelming.
2. Bitter Shame
Genesis 2:25 tells us that before the fall,
They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.
This is a statement not just of intimacy, but of integrity. Adam and Eve lived in boldness and openness because they had nothing to hide. In a sense, they needed no clothing because they were clothed in righteousness. They were unashamed and free.
Immediately after the fall, Genesis 3:7 says,
And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
Satan had promised them knowledge, and when they sinned, “their eyes were opened.” But what a sad, defiling knowledge sin brought to them! It was a knowledge that robbed them of their innocence. God was not trying to keep them ignorant. He was protecting them from an experiential knowledge of sin that dulls and deadens your knowledge of everything that is good. Sin spoils your ability to appreciate life. It reduces your sensitivity to beauty and joy and brings hardness, bitterness, and shame into your soul. It robs you of the full appreciation of the beauty of God’s creation.
Defiled by sin, Adam and Eve suddenly felt exposed and ashamed of themselves. They wanted to hide.
Horatius Bonar said,
Unfallen man needed no covering, and asked for none; but fallen man, under the bitter consciousness of the unworthy and unseemly condition to which sin has reduced him, as unfit for God, or angels, or man to look upon, cries out for covering – covering such as will hide his shame even from the eye of God.1
They tried to cover themselves. How pitiful and futile were their fig leaf aprons! Those leaves would quickly wither and die, falling away and exposing their shame once again. When we’re ashamed of ourselves, we are prone, like Adam and Eve, to reach for the nearest thing to try to cover ourselves. We can do that in a variety of ways. Sometimes we do that by heaping up external works of religion while our hearts remain sinful and unchanged. Sometimes we try to hide in the crowd: “everyone’s doing it.” Sometimes we assume that time cancels sin. Some people joke about the sins of their youth that they’ve never had washed in the blood of Christ, and never stop to think that God is not a creature of time. He remembers all our sins as if they were committed today.
There is only one way to cover the shame of our sins, and that is by the divinely ordained “covering for sin”: the forgiveness granted through the blood of Jesus Christ. We must be clothed in the righteousness of Christ through faith.
Paul wrote in Romans 4:6-7,
Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
3. Bitter Alienation
After Adam and Eve fell into sin, the Lord God came seeking them. Prior to this, Adam and the Lord had talked together like close friends. But now the way that Adam reacts shows that sin has opened a profound gulf between God and man.
Genesis 3:8 says,
And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.
Fear had replaced friendship; secrets replace communion. Why were they afraid? Their consciences accused them. They felt the painful guilt of their sins and feared that God would punish them as He had threatened.
Remarkably, God did not come in burning fire, but came asking questions. It seems that God, in His abundant mercy, gave Adam an opportunity to confess his sin. But instead of accepting the opportunity, Adam responded with accusation and blame.
Genesis 3:12 says,
And the man said, The woman whom thou gravest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.
Adam blamed Eve for his sin, saying to God, “She gave me of the tree.” What a contrast in their relationship between Genesis 2 and Genesis 3! Adam had sung for joy when the woman was created. With delight he said, “Finally! This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. This creature is not like the other animals; this is astonishing. This is the helper I need. Praise be to God!” But sin erects an immediate, massive wall between them. Remember that God had warned them that disobedience brought death. Therefore, when Adam blamed Eve for their fall, he was saying, “Kill her, not me.” This man, once the noble prince of the world, has been reduced to a coward who blames others for his sin, even if it may cost his wife her very life.
Worse yet, Adam blamed God, saying, “The woman whom thou gravest to be with me.” How deeply Satan’s lies had taken root in his heart! Adam believed that God was neither truly good nor just; His gifts were only bait in a trap. Truly, Adam had become a fool. He had ruined his own life, but his heart raged against the Lord (Prov. 19:3).
Guilt and sin had separated man from his Creator.
Isaiah 59:2 says,
But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
This alienation resulted in man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. When we lost communion with God, we lost the title to eternal life in Paradise (Gen. 3:23-24). The holy angels became our enemies, and we were shut out of God’s heavenly presence and all the delights and pleasures that come with living close to God (Gen. 2:8-14; Ps. 16:11).
4. Bitter Death
The Lord God had warned Adam in Genesis 2:17 that “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Sometimes people struggle with those words because Adam and Eve did not physically die the day they ate the forbidden fruit. Or did they? The text presses us to consider that the death in view here is more than the death of the body. God’s words of judgment – literally, “Dying thou shalt die” – contain a multiplicity of deaths.
First, man fell into spiritual death. Paul summed up the human condition in Ephesians 2:1, when he said that until God made us alive in Christ, we “were dead in trespasses and sins.” We have already seen that man had been alienated from God, who is our life. Ephesians 4:18 describes our fallen estate:
Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.
Spiritual death is both the consequence of sin, and the condition for further sin. Romans 8:6-7 teach us that “to be carnally minded is death ... because the carnal mind is enmity against God,” hatred against the Lord. Long before we are dead on the outside, we are already dead on the inside.
Second, man was sentenced to physical death. We will have more to say about physical death in a moment.
Third, man was destined for eternal death, the most bitter death of all. Revelation 21:8 says, “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” How terrifying to suffer the wrath of God without mixture of the least drop of mercy forever and ever, without rest day or night (Rev. 14:10-11)! Truly, God said, “Dying thou shalt die.” We are fools not to listen to God’s warning.
The Trial of Fallen Sinners
Though fallen man would be thrust out of the Garden of Eden, this would not take place until God first came as a holy Judge to confront the sinners and condemn them. Though sinners just want God to leave them alone, the Judge of all the earth is able to summon lawbreakers to trial before His judgment seat.
1. Confrontation with God
Fallen man cannot hide from God. He comes asking questions, reminding us of His commandments, unmasking our sins, and declaring His righteous judgments. He came to Adam, Eve, and Satan in the garden, and He will come to us on the Day of Judgment.
Confrontation with God is inevitable, first, because He is the Lord. Though the serpent and the woman had chosen to think of Him only as “God” but not as “LORD,” nevertheless Genesis 3:8-14 tell us five times, that God came to them as “the LORD God.” He is the covenant Lord, the God who faithfully keeps His covenant Word in both love and judgment (Deut. 7:9-10). God made a covenant with all mankind in Adam (Gen. 2:16-17), and mankind broke that covenant (Hos. 6:7, margin). Sooner or later, all men must face the great “I AM” and hear His sovereign verdict on their words and deeds in this life. He is a covenant-keeping Lord, and He will come at the appointed time.
Second, confrontation with God is inevitable because He is God. How stupid it was to sin against the God of Genesis 1! He is the only God, already existing in the beginning. All things were made by Him. He is the all-powerful God who has only to speak and stars and oceans and mountains obey His voice. All things are under His mastery. He is the all-knowing God who sees everything that He has made. All things are under His watchful eye.
Third, confrontation with God is also inevitable because He is good. Genesis 1 tells us repeatedly that God does good things. He blesses His creatures. He is not an evil God, nor does He delight in sin. Genesis 2 tells us that He is a God of law, who expresses His will in commandments and warnings, and always acts consistently with His Word. It also reveals that He is a God of love. How could God simply walk away from those whom He created in His image and positioned to be His sons and daughters? He comes crying out to His lost and perishing creations, “Where art thou? What is this that thou hast done?” Though they do not want to hear from Him, He wants to hear from them. As always, God is taking the initiative; God is exercising sovereign grace. He confronts Adam and Eve for the sake of His justice and His mercy.
2. Condemnation from God
In Genesis 3:14-19, the Lord the Judge declares His verdict and sentence over the three offenders. His words echo down through the ages, bearing dire consequences for all generations to follow.
He begins with the serpent in verse 14, “Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed.” Up until now, God had spoken only blessings (Gen. 1:22, 28; 2:3); but now the same voice that called the sun and the moon into existence pronounces an almighty curse upon the serpent. Eating dust is a metaphor used elsewhere in the Bible for the humiliation and defeat of an enemy (Ps. 72:9; Isa. 49:23; Mic. 7:17). The noble angel that once was a heavenly prince would have his face rubbed in the dirt by the total victory of Christ and His people.
Romans 16:20 says,
And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
Next, the Lord God declares His sentence upon Eve. Her sins bring great sorrow to the two areas of life that would have been the source of her greatest fulfillment: marriage and motherhood. Bearing children will no longer be pure delight, but difficult, painful, and dangerous for mother and child. Relating to her husband will not be a partnership of total cooperation and intimacy, but a power struggle. The parallel between Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 in the Hebrew text implies that the woman will now desire to conquer and master her husband, but he will continue to exercise authority over her. God created man and woman with equal dignity in His image (Gen. 1:27), but gave them different roles. He created Adam first, speaking the covenant to him alone, and then the woman as a helper suitable for him, and then allowing Adam to name his wife (Gen. 2; 1 Tim. 2:13). In Paradise, the husband’s authority and the wife’s submission were freely given and gladly received, but sin has turned the best and closest of human relationships into the battle of the sexes.
After the fall, the Lord God had first questioned the man and pronounced man’s punishment last. Called to work the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:26; 2:15), man’s labors would now become a desperate struggle to survive. God’s noblest creation would die, rot, and return to dust from which he was formed (Gen. 2:7). God made man to rule as king in the earth, and as a consequence of man’s sin, his dominion would fall under God’s curse: “cursed is the ground for thy sake” (Gen. 3:17). All creation groans under sin (Rom. 8:22). Tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes are the voice of God declaring man’s alienation from creation and the Creator.
However, though the Lord God cursed the serpent and the ground, He did not curse the man or the woman. To be sure, if people do not repent but persevere in Satan’s ways, they will fall under the curse; Cain is a case in point (Gen. 4:11). But God did not curse Adam and Eve, because in His patience and mercy He had better plans for them. In the blackest hour of despair, God raises a red and white banner of hope in the blood of a coming Redeemer.