This is admittedly a tough passage to completely fathom, though I get the general gist. The most difficult part, I suppose, is our relationship to sin. The big questions we need to ask is, “Are we sinners because we sin, or do we sin because we are sinners? Are we condemned to death because we do acts of sin, or are we condemned to death because of the sin that is in us by nature?”
From what Paul says, it seems to be the latter for both questions. He says in verse 12,
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.
Part of this is clear cut. According to Paul, sin entered the world through Adam when he sinned in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). And through his sin, death came into the world. He died. Eve died. And everyone that followed after him died. The ratio of death to humans is still one to one.
The latter part is not so clear. It says death came to all because all sinned. On the face of it, it seems that this is saying that people die because of the sins that they have committed. I think this is in part true, but not fully true. We who have lived for some time will be held accountable for any sin that we have committed, and by right, we should be punished for it. We should die.
But what about the child, for example, who dies in infancy, or for that matter is stillborn. Which of God’s laws have they broken? They don’t even have consciences or any concept of good or evil. Did they die because of their sin? Paul addresses this somewhat in verse 2.
For before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come. (13-14)
Paul’s saying here that between the time of Adam and Moses, there were no laws sent from God telling people what was good and evil. There was not even a command, as God had given to Adam. As a result, sin, in terms of committing a sinful act, was not taken into account by God. Yet people still died during that time. Why?
Because Adam’s sin is in us all. What was Adam’s sin? An attitude of rebellion toward God. An attitude of “my way.” And this attitude is ingrained in each person from the time that they are born. It is the inborn trait of every human.
So in verse 12, when it says “death came to all because all have sinned,” it’s referring to the fact that because Adam sinned, we all became sinners. Not because we have committed a sinful act, but because through the nature we have received from Adam (and we are all his offspring), we have all been born sinners. It is as if his sin has infected us all, as a virus infects a body.
How can this be? I really don’t know. Nevertheless, history tells us this is true. There is not one person in the history of the world who you can say was utterly good except for Jesus. Everyone else has sinned. They didn’t become sinners because they sinned. They sinned because they are sinners. That’s what sinners by nature do. And because we’re all sinners, we are condemned to death.
Well, that’s pretty depressing. I hate to stop here, but this is getting long. But needless to say, there is good news, and we’ll see it in tomorrow’s blog.