Our desire is to help parents and teens talk about serious questions young people have about God, the Bible and Christianity.
[The teenage questioner introduced this in the category of “Things that, from the human perspective, seem to suggest evil of God.”]
Being Born Into Sin
“In what way is this concept misinterpreted by one who says that God punishes people for things they have no control over? Again free will and sovereignty come up.”
Another great question! Let’s first look at sin, then the consequences of being born into sin.
We’ve seen that the biblical definition of sin, in both the Hebrew and Greek languages, is ‘missing the mark, doing wrong.’ The question then becomes what’s the ‘mark’? And what’s ‘wrong’?
God, the Necessary Being, determined the ‘mark.’ He decided what’s right and what’s wrong. We see that from the beginning of His relationship with the human ‘contingent being.’
God took the man He created and “put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” Tending (working, serving) and keeping (watching, preserving, caring, guarding, protecting) was the first assignment God gave to the man. Remember that God’s intention for humans was to have dominion over the earth and everything that lived in it. He started that process by putting the man in charge of working and preserving the Garden. The Garden included lots of plants and trees. “God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2:8-15)
Then God said something very interesting to the man –
“And the Lord commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day the you eat of it you shall surely die.”Genesis 2:16-17
It appears from the way we read Genesis 2:15-17 that God’s warning to Adam was part of the job description. God put the man into the Garden to work and preserve it and told him that part of the reward of working the Garden was eating freely from ‘every tree of the garden’ except for one, ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.’ God made it clear to the man that eating from that particular tree would lead to his death.
In verse 9 we saw a description of the trees in the Garden. God made every tree grow that was pleasant to the sight and good for food. The earth currently has more than 60,000 species of trees. We don’t know if the Garden had that many different types of trees, but it does say that it had every tree “that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.”
Two of the trees mentioned specifically in Genesis 2 are the ‘tree of life’ and ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.’
We know that life came from God. Genesis 1 makes that clear.
“Then God said, ‘Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures … So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves … Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind’; and it was so.”Genesis 1
God created herbs and trees to feed His living beings –
“And God said, ‘See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food.”Genesis 1:29-30
The tree of life seems to have been a special ‘reward’ or ‘prized’ tree. God didn’t tell Adam he shouldn’t eat from the tree of life, just that he shouldn’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We know Adam didn’t eat from the tree of life because God placed angels and a flaming sword at the east of the Garden of Eden to guard ‘the way to the tree of life.’
“Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’—therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.”Genesis 3:22-24
We also know that the tree of life now resides in Heaven, bearing twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree will be for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22).
Adam and Eve did not eat from the tree of life, but they did eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What’s that all about? Did that tree have some kind of magic juice that would poison anyone who ate it? I don’t think so. The knowledge of good and evil was much deeper than just the contents of a particular fruit.
Even as God created life, He also created knowledge. The Hebrew word for ‘knowledge’ comes from a root word for ‘to know.’ God claims to know everything. Since God is eternal and has no beginning or ending, the same would be said about what He knows. God’s knowledge is eternal. He knows all things from eternity. No knowledge is withheld from Him.
God has revealed Himself to us through His Word. We know something of His essence and substance from what He has revealed to us. We know that He is immaterial and incorporeal. We know that He is invisible. We know that He is alive. We know that He is personal (three persons in one being). We know that He is self-existent. We know that He is immense. We know that He is eternal. Those are all part of who He is. As He identified Himself to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” (Exodus 3:14)
So, what kind of God is God? We turn from essence and substance to His attributes. That’s similar to knowing a person. I know that you are a young man (essence and substance), but kind of young man are you (attributes)? We can ask the same about God.
There are two types of attributes when we come to God: non- moral and moral. Non-moral doesn’t have anything to do with ‘morality.’ It has to do with the necessary predicates of God’s essence that do not involve moral qualities. Those include His omnipresence (everywhere present at the same time), omniscience (all knowledge), omnipotence (all power), and immutability (unchanging).
God’s moral attributes are those necessary predicates of His essence that do involve moral qualities. Those include His holiness, righteousness and justice, goodness, and truth. God is holy in every way. He is righteous and just in every way. God is good in every way. He is the ‘ideal’ person. God’s goodness includes his love, grace and mercy. God’s truth means that everything He does is true and everything He says is true. God does not lie.
What we see in the Garden is the serpent (Satan) attacking every aspect of God’s ideal personage. Satan attacked God’s holiness, His righteousness, His justice, His goodness and His truth.
So, back to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
We know that God is good, so what is evil? If God knows all things from eternity and is eternally good, then what is evil? Did God know about evil from eternity? Yes, He did.
Evil is the opposite of good. Augustine argued that evil is the absence of good, but I think it’s more than that. God told Adam that good existed and that evil existed. They existed in a tree God called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The knowledge of good and the knowledge of evil both existed when God introduced Adam to tending and keeping the Garden.
Evil is not doing good. What was good in the Garden? Doing what God said. God told Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Good was doing what God said. Evil was disobeying what God said. God gave Adam a moral choice – obey or disobey. Both choices were before Adam at the same time. Adam didn’t stumble into eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He chose to eat from the tree. Choosing to disobey God was Adam’s sin – missing the mark God had set for him.
The heading of your question is about being ‘born into sin.’ Adam was not ‘born into sin.’ In fact, Adam was not ‘born.’ He was created by God. The same for Eve. She was not ‘born.’ She was created. The first human birth was Cain. He was ‘born into sin.’ So, what does that mean?
We learn in the Old Testament that people are born into sin. After the Flood, God said “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (Genesis 8:21). The Hebrew word for ‘youth’ means early life, childhood.
When Nathan the prophet confronted King David about his sin, David cried out to God for mercy. As he cried out to God, David said “Behold I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5)
We learn in the New Testament that sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, “and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). The Apostle Paul explained that the offense of Adam resulted in condemnation and that “by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one.” The law, Paul wrote, “entered that the offense might abound.” That’s the bad news.
The good news is that God’s grace superabounded to many through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus Christ. “For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:15-17) That goes back to what we saw earlier that Jesus came to ‘destroy’ the works of the devil. Sin began with the devil and he brought it to humanity through deception. Satan knew about good and evil because he had disobeyed God. He knew that disobedience brought about evil and evil brought about God’s condemnation and judgment. Satan had experienced God’s condemnation and judgment and wanted to bring down humans in the same way.
However, God had an eternal plan that Satan probably did not know about and that was what God revealed to him in the Garden about the Seed of the woman destroying the seed of the serpent.
“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous”Romans 5:19
There it is – obedience. Good is obedience to God. Evil is disobedience to God. Adam and Eve and every human who lived after them have disobeyed God. Beginning with Cain, humans were born into sin. The only person who did not sin is Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God.
You asked – “In what way is this concept misinterpreted by one who says that God punishes people for things they have no control over? Again free will and sovereignty come up.”
Condemnation and judgment came into existence by sin. Adam made a choice and plunged the human race into sin and the need for reconciliation. God quickly made a way for humans to be reconciled. We see that in the offerings Cain and Abel brought to God and how God prompted Cain to “do well” and “be accepted.” Cain had free will. He could have chosen to cool down and not let sin control him. In fact, God told Cain that he “should rule over it.”
God could have brought the human race to a screeching halt as soon as Adam and Eve disobeyed Him, but that wasn’t the plan. The eternal plan was for Jesus to suffer and sacrifice His life on the Cross and destroy the works of the devil. Everything we see in the Old and New Testaments were about Jesus coming to die for humans and destroy the works of the devil. That was God’s plan.
When we look at the first days of humanity we see a warning from God about two things: sin and death.
- Sin – “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat”
- Death – “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
God introduced sin and death in the same brief warning. Sin (disobedience to God) would lead to death (separation from God).
We often think of death as physical, but it’s really much bigger than that. Adam, Eve, their children and every person born since Cain and Abel have experienced spiritual and physical death. The Apostle Paul called it “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). People who are alive physically are dead spiritually and will eventually die physically. That’s what God meant when He told Adam “you shall surely die.”
Adam brought death into the world when he sinned. We saw that earlier in Romans 5:12. Romans is one of the best New Testament writings to understand sin and death. I highly recommend it and have been writing an online commentary on Romans for almost eight years. The most recent commentary was from Romans 5:15-17. You can look at it here if you’re interested.
“But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.”Romans 5:15-17
Adam’s offense (disobedience to God’s command) led to the death of many. The judgment of God came from Adam’s offense and resulted in condemnation. Death reigns by Adam’s offense (sin). Sin and death are connected. What saves us is the “grace of God and the gift of by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ.” That gift “abounded to many” those who receive it “will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.”
As Paul wrote later in Romans, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2) Notice how sin and death are a ‘law.’ They are connected as one law – ‘the law of sin and death.’
Paul wrote to the Corinthians that “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57) Here we see that sin is the sting of death and gets its strength in the law.
Paul wrote in Romans 5:20 that “the law entered that the offense might abound.” The sin of Adam was terrible and impacted the human race deeply, but things got even worse when God introduced His Law through Moses. Why did God do that? So that Adam’s sin (offense) might abound.
“But where sin abounded, grace abounded, much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Paul wrote the Galatians about the purpose of the law –
“It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.”Galatians 3:19
That takes us back to Genesis 3:15 and what God told the serpent about the Seed of the woman destroying the seed of the serpent – “till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made.” Jesus is the promised Seed, which is the heart of God’s eternal plan. When we understand God’s introduction of the Seed to the serpent in the Garden, then we understand what John meant when he wrote that “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.”
God’s plan combines His sovereignty with our free will. We have a choice. That’s what we see in the Gospel. Jesus began His earthly ministry by preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)
God continually offered salvation to people through the Old Testament. He gave people choices. Jesus continually offered salvation to people through the New Testament. He gave people choices. The apostles of Christ offered salvation to people. They gave people choices. God is sovereign and He gives people choices.
We invite you to download a free eBook about God and Evil. Please use it in any way God leads.
The Next Question
In the next part of our special series, Tough Questions From Christian Teens, we will address the question –
How Has God Been Here Forever?
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.