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Before Jesus Christ came to earth to proclaim the gospel message, each and every individual that had ever existed, or would ever exist was under the curse of eternal death that was inherited from the first humans as a result of their poor judgment and rebellion against God. Death was to be the cessation of our existence; never again would we experience the pleasures of life, such as the fragrance of a flower, the feel of the sun and wind on our face; never again would we see a beautiful sunset or hear the voice of a loved one. We were destined to return to the basic physical elements from which we are composed.
THE GARDEN EXPERIENCE
"And the Lord God planted a garden toward the east in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And the Lord made to grow out of the ground every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; and the tree of life in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil" (Gen.2:8-9 Para.).
After all had been created the Creator God planted a garden for the benefit of Adam and Eve. Here was a place of great beauty with plenty of food and a perfect climate. Everything was designed for Adam and Eve's maximum comfort and enjoyment. In the middle of the garden were two magnificent trees that were the focal point of the entire garden. Held within the fruit of these trees was the future destiny of the human race.
"And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man saying, Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you may not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die" (Gen.2:15-17 Para.).
Note that they were only forbidden to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but they could eat freely of the tree of life.
Why were Adam and Eve forbidden to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and have the knowledge that its fruit would impart?
Genesis 3:1-7 Paraphrased
"Now the serpent (Satan) was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, Is it true that God has said, you shall not eat from every tree of the garden?" (v1).
Satan, the master of deception, questioned Eve to see if she understood what the Creator had said regarding the trees of the garden.
"And the woman said to the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; But the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, You shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it, lest you die;" (vs.2-3).
Notice that Eve knew that God had not only forbidden them to eat the fruit of this particular tree but also he had forbidden them to touch it. The Creator had made it very clear to Adam and Eve that this particular tree was something very dangerous to their well being. In fact, it was so dangerous that even to touch it would bring death.
"And the serpent said to the woman, You shall not surely die: For God does know that in the day you eat of the fruit, your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as God, knowing good and evil" (vs.4-5).
Here, we find Satan telling Eve a lie in order to deceive her. Then, he tells her the absolute truth about the knowledge that could be gained from eating the fruit of the tree. Satan told the truth about the tree bringing knowledge and he suggested that the Creator was trying to keep something that was very desirable from her and Adam.
"And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, [note: the Hebrew word for wise is "sakal" which can also be translated ais "insight" or "comprehension"] she took of the fruit and ate it and also gave some to her husband and he also ate it" (v6).
Adam and Eve now had the knowledge of good and evil.
"And both their eyes were opened, and they knew that they were naked. . ." (v7).
This single act of poor judgment and rebellion against God brought about a progression of events that was irreversible and would have an adverse impact upon all humanity. The eating of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil by Adam and Eve brought an irrevocable death penalty upon all their descendants.
DEATH THROUGH SIN
Paul explains that because of Adam's violation of God's instructions, a death penalty through the law was imposed upon all humanity:
"Even as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, so also death passed to all men, inasmuch as all sinned; for sin was not in the world until the law, and sin is not charged where there is no law. Therefore, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even on those who had not sinned in the likeness of Adam's transgression,. . ." (Rom.5:12-14 Para.). For more details see our study paper "Understanding Genesis 3".
Above, we see two very important facts stated by the apostle Paul. First, he says that Adam violated the law of God and brought the death penalty upon all of mankind. Second, he says that where no law exists, there can be no violation of law nor associated penalty for law breaking.
With these two facts in mind it should be obvious that the eating of the forbidden fruit transferred the understanding of the laws of God and the penalties for transgressing them to Adam and Eve.
UNDER THE DOMINION OF THE LAW
Because of Adam's disobedience, humanity is now under the dominion of God's law, and because this law is perfect, it demands perfect obedience. If perfect obedience is not maintained, the law requires the death of the violator.
The writers of the Bible clearly record that the end result of the violation of the law is the execution of the violator. The prophet Ezekiel and the apostles John and Paul reveal what constitutes the violation of the law, and what the penalty for its violation is to be:
"Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sins, it shall die" (Ezk.18:4;20 KJV).
"Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law" (1.Jn.3:4 KJV).
"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom.6:23 KJV).
Under the Sentence of Death
Many believe that regardless of their behavior during this present existence, they will somehow escape eternal punishment—death by fire. However, the Bible says that all humanity is under the death sentence because of the violation of God's law, and all will be put to death by fire unless their sins are forgiven and the death sentence is removed:
"Do you not know that the unjust ones will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be led astray, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor abusers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous ones, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor plunderers shall inherit the Kingdom of God" (1.Cor.6:9-10 Para.). See also Ezk.33:11; Rom.1:28-32; Jms.5:19-20; 2.Pet.2:1-22.
The law of God requires perfect obedience, and no one except Jesus Christ has ever kept the law perfectly. Therefore, all people are under a death sentence, and we will all be executed for the violation of the law of God and will cease to exist for all eternity unless God the Father intervenes on our behalf.
Romans 3:10-20 KJV
"As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes" (vs.10-18). See also Isa.59:1-2; 64:6-7; 1.Jn.1:8-10.
Here, Paul speaks of the natural condition of people prior to having their sins forgiven and being made sinless by God the Father through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
"Now we know that what things soever the law says, it says to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (v19).
The law of God is very specific as to what the law is, and what constitutes obedience and disobedience to its precepts and principles. Because of the strict and eternal standards of the law, everyone has violated it and stands guilty before God—we all deserve to die for our violation of God's law.
Paul goes on to say that no one can be justified in God's sight by keeping the deeds of the law, since everyone has fallen short and has violated the law sometime during their life. After the law has been violated, no amount of obedience to the law can erase the penalty of past violations:
"Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (v20).
People's attempts to be justified or declared righteous before God by their own efforts have failed. Therefore, all are doomed to death, unless there is another method by which individuals can be made righteous before God:
"For the wages of sin is death. . ." (Rom.6:23 KJV).
WHAT IS SIN?
In past centuries there has been much debate and confusion as to what sin is and is not. Notice how sin is defined in the Bible:
"Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law" (1.Jn.3:4 KJV).
"All unrighteousness is sin" (1.Jn.5:17 Para.).
"Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Blessed is the one not condemning himself in what he approves. But the one doubting, if he eats, he has been condemned, because it is not of faith—and all that is not of faith is sin" (Rom.14:22-23 Para.)
"Therefore, to anyone knowing to do good, and not doing it, it is sin to him" (Jms.4:17 Para.).
Sin is the violation of the physical and spiritual law of God,—sin is lawlessness. Sin is any deviation from God's righteous laws, precepts, and principles that define how people should live and worship God. It is this deviation from the law of God for which each person is guilty.
THE STANDARD FOR PERFECTION
Because the law is perfect no individual has ever been able to live up to its standard of perfection, with the single exception of Christ who lived a perfect, sinless life:
"Therefore, by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom.3:20 Para.).
After Adam's transgression that resulted in all people coming under the dominion of the law, all people also came under the penalty for its violation.
The law reveals the standard of behavior with which all must comply, and its perfect system of justice demands the execution of all law–breakers. The law only determines guilt or innocence; it does not have the ability to restore harmony between God and humanity. Because no one except Jesus Christ has ever been able to accomplish the perfection of the law, all others are found guilty of its violation.
Prior to eating of the forbidden tree, Adam and Eve could have eaten of the tree of life and lived forever. However, they decided to rebel against their Creator; therefore, they and all their descendants lost access to the tree of life and were doomed to die for all eternity.
"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;" (Rom.3:23 KJV).
It does not matter whether or not a person believes or disbelieves the biblical record concerning the human condition in regard to sin and its eternal consequences, because the word of God does not depend upon human validation.
The law of God is perfect. Its precepts, principles, and value judgments are empirical. As sure as the sun rises and sets, the only way anyone will escape its death sentence is to become righteous (i.e., sinless), and no one can become sinless through one's own efforts because each person is already in a condition of sinfulness.
The good news that Jesus Christ brought tells us how to become righteous (i.e., sinless), how to escape eternal death, and how to gain access to the tree of life that gives eternal life through Jesus Christ: "But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom.6:23 KJV).
HOPE FOR THE HOPELESS
In his infinite love and mercy, God has provided a way for us to escape our death sentence if we will only heed what he has to say in the Bible. In this book, he reveals not only how to become righteous and how to avoid eternal death but also how to gain access to the tree of life and live forever.
Where is this information located in the Bible? It is located in the gospel message that God the Father's Son, Jesus Christ, brought to earth over 1,900 years ago.