All people sin. There is not a righteous person on the earth (1Kgs 8.46). The only one that ever existed in the history of human beings who did not sin is Jesus of Nazareth. That might not sound appealing to you. You may even want to say that I am exaggerating the truth a bit, but according to the Holy Triune God of the Bible that is the reality of how things truly are, and to take any other position regarding it is to call God a liar.
All are sinners and the evidence is that we all die. We are not sinners because we sin; rather we sin because we are sinners. Sinners is a noun, nouns describe a person, place or thing. Sinning (to commit sin) on the other hand is a verb; verbs describe the activity of the subject in question. There are stative verbs, verbs that identity a state of being, but when the Bible describes humanity as sinners, and then attributes to our good works as dirty menstruation rags fit to be cast out as they bear the fruit of death (Isa 64.6), the point being blatantly made is that our state of being is that of a sinner—it is who we are as fallen creatures—and the result of our state of being is that we sin. Death is the wages of sin, because sin can only produce death. Living in sin is living in death; because that is the only possible outcome since as sinners we are separated from the Lord of Life.
This is the direct result of Adam’s transgression in the garden. This is what he purchased (gave to) all his offspring. Again, this point is stressed in Scripture (cf. Rom 5.12-21; 1Cor 15.21-22). What happened in the garden is that Adam apostatized from the covenant that God had established with man when he created him (them). Through Adam the human race (his offspring) became covenant-breaker’s—i.e. apostate’s.
Death as Biblically Defined…
If you are not a part of the True Vine, you wither and die. There are those who will argue that true death did not occur in the Garden of Eden. They take a naturalistic view of death as the true definition of death, but the Bible does not describe death in that fashion. Death is also referred to as separation. Being separated from something like the body, righteousness/sin, or ultimately God.
For example, we are told that when we die our spirit returns to the One who created it (Eccl 12.7). The spirit within this earthen vessel returns to its Maker for judgment (Heb 9.27). The physical body returns to dust; to the very earth it was taken from (Gen 3.19b). **The reason we return to dust (body’s die being separated from the spirit that sustains them) is because human beings in Adam have been separated from the life of God.
And yet, we are also told that there will come a time when all human beings’ lives will be weighed in the balance (not just temporally, but eternally). The scales will either be tipped in our favor or against it. The determining factor is whether (or not) we reside in Jesus the Christ (Rev 2.11; 20.6). For those who do not their inheritance is eternal death—i.e. separation from the goodness of God for all eternity; the lake of fire. The lake of fire (final judgment of the unrepentant not found in Christ) is rightly called the 2nd death or lasting/final death (Rev 20.14; 21.8).
The in-between that I have not discussed is another instance of death. In Romans 6 Paul effectively argues that those who are in Christ have died in Him and have been raised to new life. What the Scriptures refer to as a heart transplant (spiritual) in other places where the heart of stone is removed, and then replaced with a heart of flesh (Jer 32.39; Ezek 11.19-20; 36.26; Heb 8.10; 10.16-17). This the Holy Spirit does for many, but not all. When this transaction takes place, Paul says we have just witnessed the death of sin in the life of believers. We are no longer slaves to that former dominion, but are now transferred to slaves of righteousness. As I noted earlier this does not mean that we no longer sin, but our desires because of a new disposition gained by a new heart (spiritual bent) have effectively been changed. We have died to sin, to live in righteousness. This circumcision of the heart as it is also called is true death according to the Bible, but it is not naturalistic.
Seeing the Relational Connection…
Why is that important? Do you not see the connection? Are you purposefully closing your eyes so that you cannot see it and then can willfully deny it? It should be obvious…
The reason that should strike a cord in our minds is because the exact opposite occurred in Genesis 3. You say that Adam (and Eve) did not truly die, but God says that they did. “For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2.17). Some make a big deal about the fact that the words here repeat death in Hebrew so that it literally reads, “a death thou shalt die; or, dying you shalt die,”1 but the point is merely being emphatically stressed that death will result the very day this tree’s fruit is eaten. From the moment of Adam’s transgression (note the stress is on Adam in the Bible because he was the representative head of his wife and his children through him)—his apostacy—he died. He was separated from the life of God, his spiritual tie that originally bound him to the Lord was severed and this is evidenced by him and his wife’s behavior immediately after the deed was finalized.
Therefore, through Adam we have all become covenant-breakers. In a very real sense, we have been born in this world as apostates of the original covenant that God established with our forefather. We did not ask for this status, but we did inherit it.
Some may decry the unfairness of God’s judgment in this. “How can I be held accountable for Adam’s sin?” The answer is “You’re not. You are held accountable for your sin.” But then you say, “Yes, but doesn’t the Bible teach we are all condemned in Adam (cf. Rom 5.16, 18)?” The answer is “Yes, it does. However, the condemnation is judgment already past. The result or consequence being that in Adam we all die because we are all separated from the life of God. The resulting bent in the human heart is now in opposition to God. Thus, a new birth is necessary to have communion/fellowship/life with God (cf. John 3).
Proper Perspectives for Hard Lessons…
Why trudge on well beaten paths? Because, if we are going to understand properly the commands by God that seem to some cruel beyond measure in the O.T. we need the proper lens through which to view them. When individuals read or hear about the accounts of the Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the devastation of Egypt and Canaan, or one that really baffles the minds of some which I shall revel later, then our assumptions/presuppositions needs to be checked at the door.
Human beings are not described as good, but evil. We are not described as free, but slaves. We are not described as seeing, but blind. We are not described as living, but dead. Nor are we described as innocent, but guilty. Human beings are not neutral towards God, but it is written that they hate him. Therefore, with those precursors in place, I am hoping that you are prepared to properly digest what comes next…
Not everything that God’s commands are for the good of all people, but only for those who love Him (Rom 8.28). God does not always command that which is beneficial towards humanity, but is always beneficial to Him so that He alone receives the Glory owed to Him….:
“To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Rom 16.27; ESV).
Adam Clarke, Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible (published 1810-1826), Gen 2.17. Clarke was an Arminian minister/theologian that was an expert in multiple ancient languages. I chose him primarily to show that this is an orthodox understanding of this text. Despite the claim often said that this is just the Calvinistic understanding. For Clarke also states in his notes that this declaration of God is not limited to physical dying, but spiritual death: “Thou shalt not only die spiritually, by losing the life of God, but from the moment though shalt become mortal and shalt continue in a dying state till thou die…Other meanings have been given of this passage, but they are in general either fanciful or incorrect.”