Summary: Written and published Sept. 2015. It is important for anyone to understanding what mankind’s original state was as created by God and placed in the garden of Eden. It is equally important to understand Adam’s disobedience ruined that state by bringing in a condition of man under the dominion of sin. This change was irrecoverable. Yet most of contemporary Christian teaching about God’s freely offered redemption through the shed blood of Jesus Christ views the gospel as fixing and improving this fallen Adam state, even assuming the possibility of a return to man’s original condition. This is simply way off the mark as to the realities of our redemption and even should be considered a false gospel. Read this article and discover these important redemptive truths.
Adam was created by God out of the dust of the earth, God breathing into him the breath of life. He was made in the image of God, created in His likeness. God placed him in Eden, an earthly paradise He had made for man. Adam was to have dominion over the works of God’s hands (Gen. 1:28), and we see in the Genesis account that God brought all the animals to Adam for him to name (Gen. 2:19-20).
Adam was blessed with the full enjoyment of God’s countenance upon him. He was surrounded by every blessing and comfort. Happy and confiding in God, he had no need or reason to seek happiness in any other way. All of God’s creation was good, very good (Gen. 1:31). But even in this, God had a special place and blessing for man, placing him in the garden He planted Himself (Gen. 2:8). Adam knew thankfulness to God his Creator, though little is said of it in the narrative we are given in Genesis.
Little is told to us by the Spirit of God in the scripture account concerning man’s original created state. It is as if temporarily the Spirit draws this lovely picture for us to learn from, and then it fades and is gone. How long did man stay in Paradise? What did Adam do? Did he go anywhere? In the cool of the evenings, what kind of conversation did he have with God? Nobody can legitimately answer these questions without speculation and conjecture, and a fair amount of drawing from human thoughts. And this becomes the problem in many ways and in different teachings. We are not content or disciplined enough to hold ourselves to only that which is taught by the word of God. We go beyond God’s word or play loose with the scriptures, adding human ideas in order to have our systems of doctrine.
It will be good for us to first turn to the responsibility of man as he was created, and to have an understanding of this principle. Responsibility attaches to every creature who is placed in intelligent relationship with God their Creator. Wherever there is consciousness of such relationship, there is obligation to God in it. God looks for and expects the fruit of obedience to His will from the creature.
Which creatures in God’s creation have the consciousness of having a relationship with God? This would be only two – angels and mankind. Responsibility may be seen in a holy nature, and obedience delighted in – this is the condition of the elect angels preserved by God, so they have not left their first estate. As concerning man, responsibility is first seen in his original state of innocence – man’s created state in which he had no knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong.
This is where the question of man’s original state needs to be asked. We too easily assume that man was created holy and righteous, even some want to use the word perfect. However none of these words are used to describe man as created by God in any biblical account. Why would I question whether man was made holy and righteous? For the reason this cannot be found in scripture, nor can we even say it is reasonably implied. But further than this, the state of holiness and righteousness simply demands the possession of the knowledge of good and evil. This we are told in the narrative Adam did not have as originally created. He gained this knowledge through his disobedience. He gained this knowledge through sin.
As man was originally created, the knowledge of good and evil was not there. The enjoyment of a good conscience was not there in the exercises which keep it without offence; there could not be a bad conscience either. The peaceful natural enjoyment of goodness was there, and no thought of evil interrupted it. God could be thanked and praised, His gifts enjoyed. Evil, sin, sorrow, conflict, passions were unknown. It was a peaceful scene and a happy scene. Man’s occupation was in what gave natural pleasure, innocent pleasure. Adam and Eve were set to dress the garden and keep it, and all was pleasant there. Want for anything did not exist, nor was there any reason to suggest a need would eventually arise. Everything in God’s creation was very good by His own estimation.
This brings me to another point of distinction. God gave a command to man for them to obey, and this constituted a simple test of creature responsibility. This was never a test of man’s ability to recognize what was evil. If it was, then God’s test would have been unreasonable and contradictory in its nature. Man possessed no such ability, therefore such a response could not be tested. The point is this: the tree wasn’t evil and its fruit wasn’t evil. God created both trees – the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:9). As you know, God cannot be the author of evil, nor is He ever guilty of creating it. What was forbidden would not have been sin, had it not been forbidden. What this means is that the command given to man to not eat of the one tree was a simple matter of obedience – would Adam and Eve delight in obeying the will of their Creator? This only was the purpose of the command. Would there be willing subjection to God, namely, the ready acceptance of the divine will by a confiding soul? This was the one moral point in all God’s creation that bore a different character. But it was not a testing of whether man could recognize evil and avoid it. Rather, it was a matter of simple obedience to the will of a good and loving God.
Through his disobedience, the knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong, now resides in the conscience of man. As fallen, man now has a two part conscience. The first part he possessed before the fall. This was his consciousness of his relationship with God and his responsibility in that relationship. Man was originally created in this relationship. Responsibility always issues forth from whatever is the present and existing relationship. Man knew he should gladly obey the will of his Creator. His conscience would have told him this. God could not have given Adam the one command to test his responsibility if Adam wasn’t conscious of his relationship to God and that he should obey. The second part of his conscience he possesses after the fall. Through disobedience man gained the knowledge of good and evil. Now, as fallen, every man’s conscience will impress upon him what is right and wrong. But having gained this knowledge through sin, every man now possesses a bad conscience.
God created man innocent, that is to say, having neither malice nor corruption nor lust, and without the discernment of good and evil—a discernment he had no need of, for he had only to enjoy with gratitude the good with which he was surrounded. This is to say that Adam was surrounded by God’s creation, which was all very good. God created no evil, nor was it possible for God to do so. How could discernment between good and evil function in man’s conscience if there was no evil in his environment? It is not just that the biblical account directly tells us that Adam and Eve did not possess this knowledge, this discernment, but that we can see that no need for such knowledge in man existed in God’s creation.
Innocence is the original state of man. It was not any form of holiness or righteousness; it also wasn’t perfection. Innocence precludes possession of the knowledge of good and evil. Holiness and righteousness demands the previous acquisition of this knowledge by man. God possesses the knowledge of good and evil according to His own nature. Therefore the scriptures declare God to be holy and righteous, even perfect in all He is and all He does. But we would never say that God is in a state of innocence. That would be nonsensical. However, before the fall, man was innocent.
When Adam sinned, innocence was lost. What is notable is that innocence has been lost forever. There can never be a return by man to his original state. By sin he gained that knowledge which he will never lose. Not as God has this knowledge, but man possesses it under the dominion of sin. After his disobedience, God kept man away from the tree of life. An immortal sinner would have been intolerable to God. Although this is not my topic, I feel compelled to add that redemption freely given to us in Christ Jesus doesn’t return man to his original state. Paradise on earth is lost. Innocence is lost as well.
Responsibility continues on for fallen man, his sin not changing anything other than his existing state. He remains a creature who is conscious of God as his Creator. Whether in innocence past or now as a sinner, man still has a continuing relationship with God, and therefore his responsibility is always to obey the will of his Creator. However, man has gone his own way, and has done so from the beginning. All men like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, everyone, to his own way (Isa. 53:6). Sin is man’s independence from God, it is his autonomy. Man does his own thing, goes his own way, and follows his own will. When man’s sin has ripened and is complete at the end of the age, we see in scripture this description of the Antichrist, the man of sin:
“Then the king shall do according to his own will: he shall exalt and magnify himself above every god, shall speak blasphemies against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the wrath has been accomplished; for what has been determined shall be done.”
Also there are consequences concerning responsibility that we see in the Genesis account. All failure in responsibility will be judged by God. Adam, Eve, and the serpent – all parties involved were judged (Gen. 3:14-24). Man as a sinner cannot escape this reality. What it amounts to now for fallen man is God looking at his works. All men will be judged by their works, for their works are their sins (Rev. 20:12-13).
Man’s failures in his responsibility is his forsaking the will of his Creator, and turning to do his own will. Ultimately, this is what Adam did. There is no doubt that certain things preceded his disobedience – first there was doubt of God’s goodness and disbelief of His words; then lust entered in. All this was aided by the temptation and lies (half-truths) of the serpent. But I won’t get too much in-depth with this except to say that Adam abandoned the will of God in preference to doing his own will. This is our best definition of what sin really is. The history of man under the dominion of sin is that he is constantly doing the same thing – forsaking the Creator’s will, and doing his own. But to this, in comparison, we have the stark contrast of the second Adam, Jesus Christ, the perfect Man. Have you ever noticed in the scripture accounts that Jesus never does His own will? (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; Luke 22:42) For every true believer He is the example to be followed (I John 2:6).
Is it as simple as this, that we can define all sin in this way? Yes, it is that simple, and we should always view sin as a matter of human will – fallen man rejects the will of God, and turns to do his own. This definition is solely based on the fact that man is a creature and God is his Creator, and a relationship exists between the two out of which flows man’s responsibility. It is creature responsibility that is violated by all sin. This was true concerning Lucifer and the angels that rebelled with him. It was true concerning Adam’s sin. It is also true concerning every sin committed by fallen man since Adam’s time.
There isn’t need for a more sophisticated definition to be conjured up out of our scholarly intellects. Allow me to show you, concerning this subject, where our pretentious scholarly thoughts usually take us. Man’s tendency is to think more highly of himself than he ought. Teachers and theologians are not immune to this error of reasoning. When we speak of man’s original created state it always seems we do a bit of exalting of man’s true original position. We do not want to speak much of man being a creature because this is perceived as base and lowly. We teach that man was created as a person, in the image and likeness of God, as if this makes him something different from being one of God’s creatures. We set up in error what we somehow define as two uniquely different states – man as a creature, but man also as a person – and then call this a great mystery that man is both at the same time. This is not sound thinking, but purposeful misguidance.
Man created in the image and likeness of God is a description of man’s created position – as a creature. It describes the level of his state in the order of God’s creation. It doesn’t describe something that is uniquely different from man being a creature. It describes man as a creature, as created, and where he fits in the hierarchy of creation – higher than the animals, but lower than the angels. And how close do the angels, that which is highest on the order of God’s first creation, approximate God and His divinity? They don’t. There will always exist an infinite transcendence between what is creature and what is the Creator – infinite and immeasurable. Man created in the image and likeness of God didn’t make him anything other than a creature, and still placed him lower than the angels, and always maintained a limitless difference between what he was and what God was.
Man loves to exalt himself as to what he thinks about himself and what he really is. It was Adam’s sin, lusting to be as God. It is the leaven of humanism, where man makes himself the center of all things. And it is an insidiously penetrating and saturating error of thinking that can be traced throughout the history of man. We saw it in the garden; we saw it at Babel; it is found in Judaism, man’s God-given religion of the earth and flesh; also it is found in the Judaized and Arminianized errors of Christendom and Christianity (Matt. 13:33), or in the character of the Babylonian harlot now sitting on the beast and keeping it, for the present time, under her influence (Rev. 17); we see it’s full ripening and final result in fallen man by the Roman beast and the Antichrist at the end of the age (Rev. 13). There is a great need today to be aware of how this leaven seeps into so much of what we teach. It spreads and saturates almost unperceptively and contagiously, even among good teachers. This humanistic leaven enters into our teachings and explanations – we forget or discard the truth of God’s sovereign grace and choice, and how absolutely vital it is when we know our depravity, in order to teach our humanistic-centered thoughts and reasonings. Unfortunately this leaven has seeped into all our theological systems.
There is a difference between man’s fall and Satan’s sin. The devil abode not in the truth, for there was no truth in him. However man was tempted into the knowledge of good and evil. The destruction of Adam’s confidence in God, as we have said, allowed in lust and the choice of the human will. It was dreadful that Adam came to doubt the goodness of God in the midst of blessing, and trust the only one who called it into question. All was really over then, for man was away from God, had ceased to believe what He said, had ceased to believe God as good.
But will and lust brought in this transgression at once, when the heart was away from God, and trusted itself and Satan—this has been the history of the human heart in all men ever since the garden. Man had departed from God, sin had come in, transgression, and (by the fall) conscience, or the knowledge of good and evil. Up to this time, righteousness and holiness were unknown to man; they require the knowledge of good and evil. But this was how the original relationship of man with God had closed – innocence was lost. Yet his responsibility could not disappear, for he was a creature, and God his Creator. The change in man’s state centers in upon what he gained – he had himself the knowledge of good and evil, or, we might say, of right and wrong. His responsibility had taken the form of conscience, although a bad one and under the dominion of sin. His relationship to God forsaken indeed, but still known to him, so far as conscience makes us know Him as a Judge.
It has been reasoned by some that Adam had the knowledge of good and that when he disobeyed he acquired the knowledge of evil. Others say that Adam originally had the knowledge of both good and evil in some mysterious form, and that his disobedience made this knowledge practical to his experience. To say these different things is to misunderstand the force of the expression in the biblical account. Through Adam’s disobedience, mankind acquired the knowledge of the distinction of good and evil in his conscience. Now, after the fall, he had the ability to judge concerning that which is good and that which is evil. But Adam had no such ability before he sinned. His eating of the forbidden fruit was only evil because it was forbidden to be eaten; it was not evil in itself. God has taken care that, in a state of sin, conscience should accompany man.
A short general comparison of the two Adams would be helpful. The first Adam was disobedient to God, bringing in all the sin and misery of the human race; the second Adam was obedient to God, even unto death, and brought in all the grace and blessing of God. The first man exalted himself, attempting by robbery to be equal to God, while the second man was God, but did not consider it something to be grasped on to, and humbled Himself, taking on the form of a servant and the likeness of a man (Phil. 2:5-8). The first Adam distrusted God, thinking that He was hiding or holding something from him, and he ate of the fruit in order to get into this new place, to exalt himself. But the result in consequence of his actions was that he was humbled and abased by sin and the fall, and the human race along with him. But Jesus, the second Adam, willingly abased Himself, and the result is that He is exalted. It is not just that He took on flesh – this certainly was humiliation for a member of the Godhead. But He abases Himself – He made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant. Then there is this further step – He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. The second Adam was victorious over Satan, when the first man submitted to him. Jesus became the head of the new creation of God, as Adam was the head of the old. The first man dishonored God; the second Man glorified Him. Almost in every way Jesus was the opposite from the first Adam, particularly in method and results.
Earlier in this writing I defined in bold type the principle of responsibility. If not for the opposite principle of sovereign grace, responsibility would be the most important biblical principle in scripture to understand. If you would learn to see and recognize this principle, especially as it has consequences for man, then you would have the key for explaining theologically the entire Old Testament. If you add a biblical understanding of the two Adams, and the entrance in, by the cross, of God’s work through sovereign grace, you then may easily explain all of Scripture.
Allow me to review the important points of this article. Adam was not created holy or righteous; rather, he was created innocent; he did not know good and evil—hence he could not be either holy or righteous. Adam was not called on to conform himself to any standard, but to be what he was—innocent. He was not to leave his first estate. To this end his obedience was tested by a command from God. This commandment did not refer to good or evil in itself – the tree wasn’t evil and neither was the fruit. It was a test of simple obedience, and only that. Had the prohibition not been there, there would have been no harm in his eating of the tree. It was not life connected to obedience of the law, as has been said by some. This is fatal error. Instead, it was death coming in as a consequence of disobedience. “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” He ate; and estrangement from God and exclusion by God was the just and necessary consequence. After that, man was by nature, by birth, a child of wrath. Now, how is peace to be restored, and needed righteousness attained? This is the question. How is he to be reconciled to God? The way back was barred—a return to innocence impossible. As for man innocent, that relationship with God was for us wholly and irrevocably gone. The knowledge of good and evil had come in and taken its place, and this, marred by sin.
Paradise was lost for good. Innocence was lost forever. We can never go back to what was before the fall. The original created state of man cannot be restored. Yet it is this erroneous thought and assumption that continues to plague doctrinal systems with explanations of how God restored, reconciled, and redeemed the Adam man. This is a great error, and leads to a false understanding of our redemption in Christ Jesus. The truth of the gospel is that God, after testing in many different ways mankind’s responsibility, condemned to death the Adam man (Rom. 8:3, Matt. 21:19, John 12:31). God never put him back together or made him whole again, instead saying, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.“ Instead, God’s solution and provision is the last Adam. In Christ we are the new creation of God — an entirely new life and existence, and one completely apart from the first creation and Adam, its federal head. God has placed the believer “in Christ.” In Him we are born of God. This is a new position where all things are new and all things are of God (II Cor. 5:17-21). The Christian becoming the new creation of God in Christ Jesus only can come about after the old man, the Adam man, was crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6), and we are raised from the dead with Christ, where He becomes our life in resurrection (Rom. 6:4-5, 11, Gal. 2:20, 1 John 5:11-12).
The questions are really these: What is salvation? What is justification? What is it to be made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus? How was the believer delivered from sin? Is it by making good the old state of man before God, as alive and responsible in this world? Or is it transferring him into a new state, of which the second Adam is the pattern and perfection as risen from the dead? I affirm that, according to scripture, it is the latter case and not the former. I believe man is wholly condemned and set aside on the ground of his old responsibilities. The first Adam has no more place before God. God is not looking for fruit from the old tree. I contend the believer is accepted in Christ risen and ascended, and there only, in the heavens with Christ, he has his place before God; that salvation is not making good the defect and completing the status of the first Adam, but the total setting aside of this, and an introduction into the last Adam—the Second man; and that, in the accepted place, there is no mingling of the two. There may be conflict and struggle with the flesh down here in this world and age, but there is no acceptance of both the first and the last man in our justification. What is good and accepted is a new creation; as for the first Adam, God glorified Himself as to it in His own way of righteousness and grace (by condemning His own Son on the cross). But if in flesh, in Adam, we cannot please God; and it is not by finding a way of improvement to our condition, but by our being taken out of that condition, out of the flesh altogether, and now in Spirit in Christ: we are dead, and our life is hid with Christ in God.