What is sin? Where did it come from? How does the sin of Adam and Eve affect us? Are infants guilty before they commit actual sins?
During the past week my family and I considered these questions in our family Bible reading time, guided by Wayne Grudem’s discussion of them in Chapter 24, “Sin” of his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994).
What is sin?
Sin is the breaking of the law of God. However ultimately it isn’t against God’s law but against God Himself. Thus David says after his committing adultery with Bathsheba and arranging for the murder of her husband, “Against you [God], you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4). Moreover it includes not only performing acts but also having attitudes that displease God, this being shown by the Ten Commandments’ including “You shall not covet…anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 2:17; ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV) among its prohibitions. Grudem views “sin” as including failure to conform to God’s law in moral nature as well as failure to conform to it in acts and attitudes, but I can’t find any Bible passages that designate “sinner” someone who hasn’t committed actual sins and so I disgree with Grudem’s view.
Various other suggestions have been made as to the essence of sin. Millard J. Erickson considers two of them, selfishness and sensuality, and concludes that a better alternative is that the essence of sin is putting anything ahead of God (Erickson, pages 529-30; see Bibliography below). His view is supported by the first of the Ten Commandments being “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) and by Jesus’ saying that the most important of the commandments is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).
Despite God’s having created Adam and Eve “in his own image” and viewing them as “very good” (Genesis 1:27, 31), the Bible describes mankind as universally sinful:
– “There is no one who does not sin” (1 Kings 8:46; Solomon is praying at the dedication of the Temple).
– “there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3; quoted in Romans 3:12).
– “No one living is righteous before you” (Psalm 142:3).
– “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
– “We all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2).
– “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
Where did sin come from?
Isaiah 14:12-15 and other Biblical passages suggest that sometime before the fall of humans Satan led a rebellion of angels against God, bringing sin into the universe. Later, as described in Genesis 3:1-7, he tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God and they did so, bringing sin into the world. Thus sin resulted from choices freely made by angels and humans. Being sovereign God could have prevented both angels and humans from sinning but, for reasons known only to Him, He allowed sin to enter the universe and the world despite His personal hatred of it.
Genesis 3:8-24 identifies several consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin on them:
– They were ashamed of being naked and tried to clothe themselves (Genesis 3:7; compare 2:25).
– They tried to hide from God (Genesis 3:8), realizing that their relationship with Him had changed.
– Eve would have pain in the bearing of children and would be ruled over by Adam (Genesis 3:16).
– Adam would experience hardship in working the ground for food and his body would die (Genesis 3:17-21).
– They were expelled from the Garden of Eden (3:22-24).
How does the sin of Adam and Eve affect us?
According to Grudem, we inherit the sin of Adam in two ways, our being counted guilty because of it and our having a corrupted nature because of it. This inherited sin is commonly designated “original sin,” but Grudem calls it “inherited sin” and its two aspects “inherited guilt” and “inherited corruption.”
Grudem claims that “all sinned” in Romans 5:12, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned,” refers to our sinning in Adam rather than to our committing actual sins. He argues that all members of the human race were represented by Adam when he was tested in the Garden of Eden and so God counted us as well as Adam as guilty when he sinned. Others argue that the whole human race was actually in Adam rather than that it was just represented by him; again God would view us as well as Adam guilty when he sinned. Still others don’t agree that we are counted guilty because of Adam’s sin, their thinking that it would be unfair of God and not believing that Romans 5:12-21 teaches it. Augustus Hopkins Strong provides a table of the main theories (Strong, page 628; see Bibliography below).
However all agree that we do inherit a sinful disposition from Adam. This is clearly affirmed in Psalms 51:5, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” And anyone who has raised children knows from experience that we are born with a tendency to sin. This doesn’t mean that we are totally depraved. By God’s “common grace” (I’ll have a post on “common grace” later), people do much that is good. But according to Romans 8:8, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God,” they can’t do anything on their own that will satisfy God.
Are infants guilty before they commit actual sins?
Grudem devotes over two pages to a consideration of this question. His answer is that infants are guilty before they commit actual sins but that God normally saves the children of believers before they are old enough to understand and believe the Gospel. He affirms that they are guilty (1) because he believes that everyone sinned in Adam and (2) because he believes that everyone is born with a sinful nature and that having a sinful nature makes a person a sinner. He affirms that God saves at least some children, on the basis of such passages as Psalm 22:10, “On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God,” and 1 Corinthians 7:14, “The unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.”
However, I don’t believe that everyone sinned in Adam (see “How does the sin of Adam and Eve affect us?”) and, although I recognize that everyone is born with a sinful nature, I don’t believe that having a sinful nature makes a person a sinner (see “What is sin?”). Thus I don’t believe that infants are guilty before they commit actual sins. I view God’s attitude towards infants and children to be the same as that expressed by Jesus in this familiar incident: “Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.'” (Luke 18:15-16).
All my Bible dictionaries/encyclopedias and systematic theology textbooks have comprehensive articles/chapters on sin, the topic of this and next Tuesday’s posts. These are the articles/chapters cited from them in the posts:
– Berkhof, Louis. “Man in the State of Sin.” Systematic Theology. Fourth edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939. Pages 219-261.
– Erickson, Millard J. “Sin.” Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013. Pages 511-599.
– Strong, Augustus Strong. “Sin, or Man’s State of Apostasy.” Systematic Theology. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1907. Pages 533-664.