For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
At some point during my Daily Vacation Bible School Days, I had to memorize this whole verse. I guess that happened as the teachers supposed that we little children were capable of learning longer passages by memory. The marvelous thing about the whole verse is that there is a perfect balance between the inescapable problem for humanity and the providential solution of that problem.
As a boy I only understood death in terms of dead animals, not in terms of dead people. Likewise, those who were my instructors could never completely explain how it is that sin brings about death, especially since so many innocent children die in their infancy. Had any or all of these babes been guilty of some heinous crime by which they had offended God? I could not imagine any such a thing and so I waited for further light and knowledge on the subject. What I did not know at the time was that there were two ways by which a person might die. Not until I perceived that distinction did I really come to appreciate what it was that the Son of God did for me and for humanity in general.
So long as Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, obedient to the instructions given by God, there was no death on the earth in any of its present forms. When our first parents partook of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, a transformation took place which is almost impossible to comprehend, both in its scope and manner. Although I may not be able to articulate precisely the mechanics, the physics, or the chemistry involve, yet I do know that the Fall was substantial, a change so radical that man cannot fully appreciate what once was nor what has become of the earth as a result. The most accurate description, although a bit esoteric for some people, is to say that when the earth was created it was a Terrestrial Kingdom, one in which there was no disease, injury or death. No living thing could die so long as that state remained the same. The liability of that glorious state was, however, that there was no reproduction. Had Adam and Eve never partaken of the fruit, they would still be in the Garden, all things as they were in the day they were created, and we would not exist upon this earth. With the Fall, the earth became a Telestial world, the lone and dreary place that we experience every day. Those who would quibble about the present beauty of the earth and the loving fellowship of good men know little or nothing about what is possible while in the presence of the Father and the Son, as was the case with Adam and Eve before they partook of the forbidden fruit.
St. Augustine, a religious scholar who lived in the fifth century, concluded for reasons of his own, that the scriptural account of the Fall of our first parents was metaphorical, a symbolic story that veiled the real cause of humanity's dire circumstances. He suggested that the Fall came about as the result of gross immorality on the part of our first parents, although he never explains how a husband and wife in the Garden of Eden could be immoral. I do not believe a word of it. I believe that Adam and Eve partook of a fruit that introduced the possibility of physical death into their systems and, genetically speaking, passed that susceptibility on to their posterity. Every man, woman, and child who has every lived on this planet is a descendant of Adam and Eve and for that reason cannot, by any means whatsoever, escape that final mortal act on their own. Therefore, I can quote Paul the Apostle without any hesitation: “In Adam all men die” (1 Cor.1:22). Together with that which Adam and Eve brought upon all of us as their posterity, there was also their personal culpability for having personally transgressed the commandments of God. Adam and Eve suffered a spiritual separation from God for their disobedience, which is usually referred to as a spiritual death. They were cast out of the Garden and the earth fell from the presence of God. While we suffer physical death, the natural consequences of having partaken of the fruit, because of their disobedience, we are not directly affected nor do we suffer in any way for their personal sins. We have plenty of our own without being saddled with theirs. We may point to corollaries in our own lives, where our personal sins physically injure those around us without doing them excessive spiritual damage.
In the ministry of Jesus Christ we may more clearly perceive the distinction that is so often veiled by the philosophies of men. In the paragraph above I quoted from Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians. The context becomes extremely important if we are to understand the difference between physical and spiritual death.
“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:19-22).
To what does this refer? In what way has Jesus Christ affected our lives? Is this in reference to our personal sins?
Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, or what would be more germane here, the Tree of Death in opposition to the Tree of Life. Men are born, they live out their short time in mortality, and for no fault of their own, they fall back into the dust of the earth from which they came. None of us has ever been to the Garden of Eden. None of us has ever partaken of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, introducing physical death into our bodies. We die because Adam partook and there is no justice in that. Therefore, in the economy of God, physical death is an injustice dealt to the posterity of Adam and Eve that must be corrected. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the promise that every man, woman, and child who has ever breathed a breath upon this planet will one day come forth from the dust of the earth, just as Jesus did. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive”. Nothing could be simpler than that!
But what of Adam’s personal responsibility in the Fall of the earth? Adam is now assured of resurrection, but has he satisfied the law of Justice for that which brought the world to ruin? And if he did, when and how did he do it? Does resurrection suggest remission of sin? If all men are going to be resurrected from the dead, does that automatically imply that their sins are forgiven them? Clearly this is not the case or there would be no need for resurrected men to appear before the judgment bar of Christ and be judged according to their deeds done in the flesh; there would be no need to distinguish between those who are to dwell with God in Heaven and those who will dwell elsewhere. While there is universal redemption from physical death, there is no universal unqualified redemption from personal sin.
While the distinction may seem subtle, there is a difference between the power of the resurrection vested in the Lord Jesus Christ and the power of the atoning sacrifice for sin. Every law of God is fixed and immovable, absolutely founded in truth. One may obey those laws, one may attempt to ignore them, or one may choose to rebelliously break them, but no man may change the consequences for any of these actions. Obedience invariably brings blessings; disobedience brings punishment. Is it possible for any accountable adult to pursue his course upon the earth without committing sin? Yes, but only one has done so.
In another place in Paul’s epistle to the Romans, the Apostle testifies “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), another one of my Bible School scriptures. I am not a sinner because Adam was a sinner; I am a sinner because I have committed sins. If I am to receive forgiveness for my sins, I must do it in the same fashion that every man has received forgiveness. I must adhere to the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I must first look to him in whom I may have any hope of salvation; the Lord Jesus Christ who is the singular example of complete obedience to the will of God. I must understand what he is like and then try to be like him. That is what it means to be a disciple. I must sincerely repent of my evil doings, everything that I have ever done that is contrary to the will of God. That may take some time as I learn what the mind and will of God is. I must confess my personal transgressions and rebellions to God and forsake them. I must enter into any and every divine covenant that is placed before me, determined to live in accordance with the truth throughout the rest of my mortal life and in so doing, be prepared to live according to the truth forever.
If I do all of these things, what happens next? Well, the truth is that the most important part has already taken place. During the time that Jesus suffered in the garden of Gethsemane, throughout the remainder of the dreadful night that was his last mortal one on earth, all the while that he was displayed outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem, crucified with the two malefactors, Jesus suffered the punishments for sin, serving as a proxy for all those who would come unto him. The entire spiritual debt of redeemed humanity was satisfied at the point when he said “It is finished”. While the resurrection was a free gift of God to all men who would be born into the earth, the atoning sacrifice of the Lamb of God provided all men with an opportunity to be free from the spiritual death that each had brought upon himself through disobedience. Both are gifts, for no one would have these blessings without the sufferance of the Father and the Son. Thus, through the resurrection we obtain immortality and through the atonement we may acquire eternal life. We are free to choose.