Let’s just get this on the table right now: this teaching is going to sound pretty depressing at first. And it’s going to sound depressing because a lot of people would like to believe that human beings are by nature good. Many others like to think that people have the choice of doing good things or bad things from the moment they’re born. Sadly, neither of those is true. And yet thankfully, realizing neither of those is true is one of the best things someone can do. God wants us to realize that we humans are by nature sinful, and he tells us why in his Word.
It all started way back in the beginning of the world. After God had created everything else in the world and beyond, he last of all made man and woman, the crown of his creation. When he was finished he “saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). ”Good” in God’s eyes equals perfect. When God was done creating everything, he saw that it was all perfect, and this means there was no evil.
“Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men.”
That included the two people God had created, Adam and Eve. He had created them in his “image” and “likeness” (Genesis 1:27; 5:1), in his holiness—perfect and without sin. Out of love, God told them not do something or they would “surely die” (Genesis 2:17). They had the right to choose good instead of evil, but they chose to disobey him—they chose to do evil. Because they did this, sin entered the world and infected it in a way that we can’t truly understand because we don’t know what it’s like to live without sin. And we don’t know what it’s like because after Adam sinned “he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image” (Genesis 5:3). Christians call this original sin. With one sin Adam and Eve fell from holiness, caused all of creation to be plagued by sin, and passed their new sinful nature on to their children, who passed it on to their children, and so on, and so on.
Sin Brought Death
God makes this obvious by telling us what happened next. Talking about Adam and his descendants God says, “And then he died…and then he died…and then he died…and then he died…” (Genesis 5:5-31). The words of his original warning had come true. Sin didn’t just bring pain, sadness, and hate into the world. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Sin also brought death, just as God had warned Adam and Eve. As the apostle Paul explains, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men” (Romans 5:12).
However, sin didn’t just bring physical death. It brought spiritual death as well. Spiritual death is the separation of our souls from the will of God. The prophet Isaiah tells us, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God” (Isaiah 59:2—an iniquity is an evil act, or a sin). The apostle Paul says we are “dead” in our sins (Ephesians 2:1-5). Since we are born with original sin and separate from our good and holy God we aren’t able to carry out his good and holy will—we aren’t able to choose good instead of evil. Paul explains, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Romans 7:18).
God’s Law Shows Us Our Sin
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
1 John 1:8-9
How do we know what’s good and what isn’t? God has written the requirements of his law on our hearts, and our consciences try to get our attention if we’re not following God’s law. God’s law is what he expects from us, and what he expects is that we are holy (Leviticus 19:2; Deuteronomy 27:26). Our conscience is that little voice inside our heads that tells us when we’re breaking God’s law and not living up to that holy requirement. The way to keep our consciences sharp is through the Bible, where God has written down his law for us to read and learn from. He first gave his written law to a man named Moses, who was the leader of the Israelites around 1446 BC. The law is summed up as: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Leviticus 19:18; Luke 10:27; Galatians 5:14). The basis of the law is quite simple: love.
However, we aren’t able to show love without God’s help because it’s simply and sadly not possible. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). God tells us that sin has enslaved us and controlled us to the point where we have made ourselves his “enemies,” our minds are “hostile” towards him, and we are “blind” to the truth of his love for us (Colossians 1:21; Romans 8:7; 2 Corinthians 4:4, respectively). We are slaves to sin from the moment we come into this world. As King David said, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). And because of our sin we are “by nature objects of wrath” and deserve “condemnation” for breaking God’s law (Ephesians 2:3; Romans 5:18, respectively). Condemnation refers to God judging us as deserving of going to hell.
Given New Life through Christ
That’s about as depressing as it gets. And yet, even though we can find no hope in ourselves, we still have hope: the love God gives us, which is shown by Jesus’ paying for our sins. Even though we were dead in our sinful flesh as we entered the world, God makes us alive by the power of the Holy Spirit through the promise of forgiveness in Christ. As Jesus says, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6). We can be free from our slavery to sin because God loved us so much that he sent his Son to die for us and the Holy Spirit to give us faith and new spiritual life.
“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Now that God has paid for our sins through Jesus, he wants us to repent of our sins. Repentance is asking for forgiveness from our sins and turning away from our sinful ways. The apostle Peter declared, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19). He also wrote, “[The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God wants us to confess our sins because he wants us to have everlasting life with him. As he said through the prophet Ezekiel, “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:32). God has done so much for us simply because he loves us, and now he wants us to repent and live a life of love.
As we live a life of love and repentance we try to remove from our lives the evil things we do every day. Every single moment of every single day we have to battle our sinful nature, but the Holy Spirit is there to help us live sanctified lives, lives of holiness dedicated to God. By living sanctified lives we are reflecting God’s righteousness, his good and holy ways. As Paul instructs us, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:5-10).
So yes, it’s depressing to hear that we lost the “image of God” when Adam sinned and we now have to struggle with our sinful nature. But God has given us a solid hope through Jesus Christ. “For if, by the [sin] of the one man (Adam), death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17). “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Through the Holy Spirit we are now able to repent of our unrighteousness, fight our sinful nature, and live a life of faith for God.