Sin has fallen on hard times. Not, of course, in the sense that we no longer sin. Rather, our society no longer stomachs naming certain attitudes and behaviors as “sins.” The word sounds too old fashion. Images come to mind of red-faced preachers wagging their fingers condescendingly at a demoralized audience. We don’t want to be associated with that.
But when we lose a grasp of what sin is, we lose the biblical understanding of who Christ is, and what the cross means. D.A. Carson ties the two together, as all faithful Christians must:
There can be no agreement as to what salvation is unless there is agreement as to that from which salvation rescues us. It is impossible to gain a deep grasp of what the cross achieves without plunging into a deep grasp of what sin is. (Fallen: A Theology of Sin, 22)
Shallow thoughts of sin lead to shallow thoughts of God and salvation. Ignorance to the depths of our sin leads to ignorance to the depths of the beauty of Jesus Christ.
Built upon insufficient views of sin, cheap views of Christ are on display all around us — each staking its messianic claims.
Life-Coach Jesus. When we see sin as a nonstarter and humans as inherently good, we move away from talk of death, judgment, and hell, and focus instead on a Christ who can help us towards our improbable goals and wildest dreams. He helps good people become great. He died so we can reach our full potential.
Housekeeper Jesus. When we see sin as inevitable, as “just being human,” as something ordinary and trivial, rather than lamentable, we mistake sin as mere slipups. We’re not perfect, we confess that much, but we’re not “evil.” Jesus, then, follows us around with a mop and bucket, tidying up after our little messes. He died to pay the cleaning fee.
Humanitarian Jesus. When we see sin as mainly between one man and another (and not one man before a holy God), we make good causes into ultimate ones. We fit Jesus neatly into our movement and usually define sin in terms of the haves and the have-nots. Jesus, then, is the one who came to right the very injustice we’re most passionate about.
Kumbaya Jesus. When we see sin as something much less serious than our suffering, we might only know Jesus as the bearer of good vibes. He hears our problems and stressors, teaches us about the birds and flowers, and leads us into green pastures, beside still waters. Because we all suffer in a fallen world, he doesn’t ever say or do anything that would hurt our feelings or cause psychological distress. He died to help us feel better, no matter what.
To prevent being beguiled by false and flimsy depictions of Christ, we need to understand what exactly sin is and how deep it goes. We need to become aware, not only of our own corruptions and sins — that amount to a heap that towers Mount Everest — we need to reacquaint ourselves with the skeleton in humanity’s closet: our original sin in Adam. So we leave the treetops of our own lives and our own times, and travel down to the sin at the root of our family tree.
His Sin and Ours
How many of us think nearly enough about how Adam’s sin effects ours — or how his sin prepares us to understand the glories of Christ? Our history with sin predates us. We were sent into slavery a long time ago. We all fell headlong in the opening chapters of Genesis. And Jesus, the true Christ, is promised in those same chapters.
How did Adam’s sin become ours? How is it that “one trespass led to condemnation for all mankind,” that “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Romans 5:18–19)?
Ponder that monumental battle between David and Goliath. The Philistine giant barked taunts at God’s people. Saul, Israel’s own king and giant, hid in his tent. David, the unknown shepherd boy, jealous for God’s glory, offers to fight. No sooner does Goliath mock him than David crushes his head and removes it (1 Samuel 17:51).
We can be so well acquainted with the story that perhaps we’ve never asked, Why were only those two fighting? Why one-on-one combat to decide the battle?
We Fell Like Goliath
When was the last time any nation settled a battle with another nation by sending out two individuals for combat? This is an example of an ancient practice where the best warrior, a “champion,” would fight the opposing champion to the death to decide the battle.
So Goliath, champion of the Philistines, yaps,
Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us. (1 Samuel 17:8–9)
David and Goliath met as representatives, as champions, as the best of each side, fighting for the fate of their people. If David was slain, Israel would have served the Philistines.
What happened, then, when Adam fell? Our champion met Satan on the battlefield, his wife standing beside him, and he was defeated. He should have crushed the head of serpent, but, with his offspring in the balance, he succumbed. Our representative, our warrior, refused to silence the lying tongue of the slithering snake, and sought his own glory instead of God’s. He took the fruit with his wife and ate.
Poisoned at the Root
As the champion of the human race, as the official representative of the covenant with our Creator, when Adam sided with God’s enemy, he fell, and his children inherited both his corruption and his guilt. In Adam, we are born unable to delightfully obey God, unable to live in love, unable to do good or escape his guilt. All sons and daughters of Adam are by nature children of wrath, sons of disobedience, and willing slaves of the one to whom our father fell: Satan (Ephesians 2:1–3).
In our father Adam, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10–12). Our hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9). We are born in sin (Psalm 51:5).
Our guilt does not just lie in our lusts, our pride, our lying tongues, our exchanging of God’s glory, but in Adam’s. Our champion bent the knee without drawing enemy blood, and because of that first delicious bite, we his children still taste the curse. We have ourselves, in our own unregenerate lives, affirmed our allegiances with the devil hour by hour and in countless ways. The tree of our race is poisoned at the root.
Tale of Two Battles
This brings us to him — not fairy-godmother, political activist, or housemaid Jesus — but Jesus Christ, the second Adam. The first Adam was a setup, a foil for the Champion who was to come and fight the same foes that took away Adam’s head (Romans 5:14).
Where sin came into the world through one man (Romans 5:12), forgiveness comes through another (Colossians 1:14). Adam’s trespass brought death to all who are his (Romans 5:15); Jesus’s victory brings eternal life to all who are his (Romans 5:17). Where Adam brought his children into condemnation and corruption, and offered them as slaves to Satan and sin, the second Adam liberates his brothers for his Father and brings them his full favor and divine help in holiness (Romans 5:16).
In a battle for the garden, the world was cursed. In a battle that raged in Gethsemane, and finished outside of the walls of Jerusalem, the redeemed of all time became blessed. Our first champion was vanquished by the world, the flesh, and the devil; our true Champion vanquished the world, the flesh, the devil — and death for his people. In Adam, we all were made slaves and enemies of God; in Christ, we are made sons and daughters of God, and in the ages to comes, kings and queens.
When we forget our family tree — when we forget we are born in sin, both guilty and corrupt in Adam, followers of the devil — we heal the wounds of each other lightly. We hand out caricatures of Christ. Our sense of need for Jesus fluctuates based on performance, and we are tempted, intellectually or functionally, with the horrible notion that we can earn God’s full acceptance by our good works. But this well is too deep; our sin, too ancient; our slavery, too final. We needed another warrior, another Adam: Jesus Christ who died and rose and reigns, and who soon will return again.