What is the connection between sin and death?
One of the sharper differences between the secular humanist worldview and the Christian worldview is the belief in the inherent goodness of humankind. In Romans 5:12, Scriptures affirms that sin is actually passed on and that the evidence of sin is that we all die (Romans 5:12). However, in the account of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, it’s not obvious that death followed their disobedience. Death is present by virtue of God clothing them with animal skins but the immediate effect upon Adam and Eve is being expelled from the garden, not instant death (Genesis 3:1-24).
“Sin is crouching at the door”
When we turn to Genesis 4:1-16, the situation changes dramatically. Here the effects of sin are devastating and the sin/death connection is very clear. Within a few verses, the first-born of Adam, Cain murders his younger brother Abel (“brother” comes up seven times) in cold blood (Genesis 4:8). Verse 7 sets a chilling context with the first time we encounter the word “sin” in the Bible: “sin is crouching at the door, its desire is contrary to you, but you [emphatic] must rule over it.” In this account of temptation (see James 1:13-15) unlike Genesis 3, nobody needs any prodding from Satan. Cain falls for it all by himself. The very next verse (8) shows how Cain gives in to hatred against his brother and murders him. With an echo of Genesis 3:9, God asks Cain the “where?” question too (Genesis 4:9), which is answered with a solid dose of self-justification: “I don’t know;” “am I my brother’s keeper?” So for our first parents, the consequences of their disobedience comes to them in the harshest way. They lost their first two children. For Adam and Eve, the connection between sin and death was all too painfully real and it was passed on to their first-born Cain, all the way down to us. We may not have physically committed the sin of murder, but whenever we entertain ill-will (or prejudice or racism) toward others, it might as well be murder (Matthew 5:21-26). Sadly, wars of “brothers against brothers” is also a recurrent, and particularly vicious, reality.
So when Paul picks up the story of the origins of sin in Romans 5:12-21, our own shortcomings (denial, self-justification, prejudice) offer ample data to confirm that disobedience form instinctive patterns, whereas obedience is counter-intuitive to our nature. We also know all too well the inevitability of death. We, on all continents, in all cultures, ethnicities and races carry that “DNA of Adam/disobedience/death.” But, as we’ve seen before, Paul has to tell the bad news first in order to tell us the good news. Adam’s DNA as the first human and our representative carries a DNA of disobedience and death. So when Jesus comes and dies on the cross for our sins, He breaks through this DNA of death and gives us the DNA of life. By His obedience, we are restored in the same way that by Adam’s disobedience we became sinners (Romans 5:19). As one friend shared with me this past week, we have undergone a spiritual “transfection” from a DNA of desire-disobedience-death to a DNA of desire-obedience-life. We go from a worldly desire to a desire for God. From death to “death to self” and life in Jesus (Romans 6:3; Romans 6:6). Just as we have representatives in our form of government in the US, by faith we vote the incumbent out of office (the first Adam) and we bring in a new representative Jesus, the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45).
What does this mean?
Paul re-maps our DNA and separates humankind into two races. It’s not Jews versus the Nations (or any race/ethnic group we can think of). Instead, there are only two real races left: Those who are in Adam, bearing the DNA of disobedience and death, and those who are in Christ, bearing the DNA of obedience and life. It is by faith (something argued at length in the previous chapters of Romans) that one can ‘transfect’ from one DNA to another. This piece of Paul’s argument is absolutely essential in the racially charged context of Rome where factions don’t interact with each other, depending on one’s race/ethnicity. This element is equally vital in our day of racial strife in the US and, in every society on earth since the first murder of a brother in Genesis 4. So Paul outlines for us a central tenet of the Gospel, that the human race is ultimately divided into two groups: either in Adam/disobedience/death or in Christ/obedience/life. The question becomes: What DNA do you belong to? By faith in Jesus we transfect and become part of the race that will live forever. And this new family comes from every corner of the earth! This is why the Gospel is the real good news in our day. Only Jesus can bring reconciliation between enemies and races, by faith in Him. This is our prayer and our mission. To proclaim and live out this message of reconciliation through peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.