Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
How We Inherit Adam’s Sin
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. Psalm 51:5NKJ
Question 26 of the Larger Catechism asks, “How is original sin conveyed from our first parents unto their posterity?” It gives the answer, “Original sin is conveyed from our first parents unto their posterity by natural generation, so as all that proceed from them in that way are conceived and born in sin.” Last week we looked at what a sinful nature is. Today we examine how sin was imputed to us.
Previously, we noticed from Scripture that when Adam fell the whole human race fell into a condition of sin and misery, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Rom. 5:19a). The Bible records the event of the fall and affirms the consequent condition of sinfulness imputed to all men (Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15). Further, we know from 6,000 years of painful experience that all men are born sinners and that no one ever needed to teach their child how to be bad and say “No!” or “Mine!” But on the contrary, we must labor with our children and struggle with them in order to teach them to be courteous and good and to say “Yes, Mommy,” and “Please” and “Thank you.” We could ask, “How did our children get to be this way?” The answer is, “The same way that we became sinners: by being children of Adam and Eve.”
In the sovereignty of God, Adam was chosen to represent the entire human race in a covenant of works, which consisted in a test of obedience to God. The test consisted in a single command not to eat from one tree out of an entire garden of trees. If Adam would have passed the test, he would have been established in righteousness forever. He, Eve, and all of their children would then live forever without sin, corruption, or curse. In that case our first parents’ original righteousness would be conveyed to their posterity by natural generation, so that all proceeding from them would be conceived and born in righteousness. Nothing could be plainer according to God’s strict justice. But Adam sinned and fell, and so according to that same strict justice, Adam’s sin must be imputed to all of his descendants; that is, to everyone he represented; or as the Catechism puts it to all their posterity by natural generation.
“Natural generation” simply means a natural (as opposed to a supernatural) generating of a new human being. Sin is the antithesis of righteousness. Therefore, a sinner cannot give birth to anything but a sinner. Thus, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one!” (Job 14:4). Our sinful natures are conveyed to our children naturally. Because we are sinners, our children must be sinners. Even as they inherit our genetic code and DNA, so our children receive our human, fallen nature. According to God’s creation order (in making the human race descend from one man), and according to His covenant of works (in which the whole race stood or fell in one man), it is impossible that it could be any other way.
However, the answer to today’s question also limits the imputation of Adam’s sin to those who proceed from him by “natural generation.” Here the Catechism is seeking to protect the truth of Scripture that all mankind, except Jesus Christ, are conceived in sin. In order to save man, God, in His amazing grace sent His own eternal Son into the human race as a second Adam (1 Cor. 15:45-49). Thus, Jesus came not as one more in the line of fallen Adam, but as a second representative of now, fallen man. To faithfully represent His people, Jesus needed to be one of them; and so His pre-existent divine nature was joined to a created human nature at its conception in the womb of His mother Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. In order to pass the test we failed, Jesus could not begin as a sinner; and so He was not tainted with original sin. But as our representative His human nature was the true offspring of Adam through His mother. He was kept from original sin by the will of God and the action of the Holy Spirit in His conception. This was done through a new covenant between the Father and the Son. By the will of the Father, the Son agreed to come and be one of us in order to save us, the Holy Spirit agreeing to accomplish the sinless incarnation in the womb of a fallen human woman. So that with respect to Jesus only, “in sin His mother did NOT conceive Him.” Praise be to God!