So what is the benefit of spending any time meditating on Adam’s situation in the Garden and his subsequent sin? Behind all the details we see the fingerprint of our all wise, all gracious God. For just when the devil thought he had caused the irreparable ruin of our race, God’s master plan was already set in motion. You see Paul embeds a mysterious phrase in the midst of his meditation on Adam, whom he says was “a type of the one to come” (5:14).
“In Adam’s fall, we sinned all” (The New-England Primer: A Reprint of the Earliest Known Edition, with Many Facsimiles and Reproductions, and an Historical Introduction, ed. Paul Leicester Ford [NY: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1899], 14). This famous line of Benjamin’s Harris’ 1690 New England Primerexpresses the basic Christian belief that Adam’s sin had dreadful consequences for the rest of us. We need to meditate upon this regularly. I know it is not popular, I know it is not good for your self-esteem, and I know it doesn’t make you feel comfortable, but we must do it. Why? We need to do this because Scripture makes frequent mention of sin. We need to do this because it humbles our pride and exalts the grace of God. We need to do this because it actually benefits our souls by making us open vessels for the Lord to work within us.
In dealing with sin, we reach a transition point in the Westminster Larger Catechism. Questions and answers 1–20 explained the nature of and works of God in creation and providence. In questions and answers 21–29 it focuses on the nature of human sin.
The first point we learn about in questions and answers 21–23 is Adam’s sin. We read in Genesis 3:1–7 the root cause of Adam’s sin lay in the wrong exercise of his own free will (Q&A 21). We read the means of Adam’s sin in the crafty instigation and temptation of Satan (3:1–4; Q&A 21). We read the nature of Adam’s sin as a transgressing of the commandment of God in eating the forbidden fruit (3:5–6 cf. 2:17; Q&A 21). It’s this last point that Paul especially dwells upon in Romans 5:12–21. There he gives us an inspired theological reflection upon the events of Genesis 3. Notice that Paul speaks of the nature of Adam’s sin as being threefold.
First, the reality of Adam’s sin was disobedience. Paul speaks of Adam’s sin being a “trespass” (5:15, 16, 17, 18). When we read the word “trespass” we may think of a fence that says, “No Trespassing.” This means you are not permitted to go beyond this boundary. What’s important to know is that if you do, it is not an innocent overstepping; it is a conscious decision. As Paul describes Adam’s trespass, it is “disobedience” (v. 19).
Second, the response of God to Adam’s sin was condemnation. Paul says that God judged Adam after his trespass (5:16). What did this judgment mean? It meant condemnation—the execution of the threat God had made earlier (5:16, 18).