We begin our study of God’s sovereign grace in salvation with the biblical teaching regarding the effect of the fall upon man and the doctrine of original sin. This teaching is crucial for understanding the doctrine of salvation because one’s understanding of the effects of the fall upon mankind will largely determine one’s view of salvation. In other words, a person’s view of man’s state resulting from Adam’s sin is foundational to that person’s concept of how man appropriates salvation. Obviously, a person who views man as spiritually dead and unable to do anything that meets with God’s approval will view salvation differently than a person who believes that man is sick and weakened but is still able to cooperate with God in the salvation process.
What Happened When Adam Sinned?
The Bible teaches that Adam was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26) with true knowledge, righteousness and holiness (Gen. 1:31; Ecc. 7:29; Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24). Adam’s nature was intrinsically good and he had the spiritual and ethical ability to perfectly obey anything that God required of him. After God created Adam He made a covenant or verbal agreement with him. God promised Adam that if he rendered a perfect and personal obedience to God he would never die. (This promise is clearly implied by Gen. 2:17; Gal. 3:10; Rom. 5:12-20; 10:5.) If Adam at any time violated God’s law by eating the fruit from the forbidden tree he would certainly die (Gen. 2:17). Genesis chapter 3 records Adam’s failure to obey God. Adam sinned in eating the forbidden fruit (Rom. 5:12ff); fell from his original righteousness; lost his communion with God; was cast out of paradise; and “became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 6:2; see Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:10ff; Tit. 1:15; etc).
The Bible teaches that Adam’s sin not only had very negative spiritual consequences for himself, but also for the whole human race (i.e. everyone descending from Adam by ordinary generation). The teaching that mankind is guilty of sin in Adam and corrupted in nature because of Adam’s sin is commonly referred to as original sin. This teaching is part of the faith of every branch of Christendom. The disagreements on this teaching are over the nature and extent of man’s corruption (this will be considered below).