Just for Catholics

OUR FALL

We have failed to give God, our Maker, the glory he deserves. We owe him our life – our very existence and every breath we take - and therefore we ought to obey him gladly and give him thanks for his goodness. His commandments inform us what is good and evil; conscience also bears witness to God’s moral standards. Our basic duty is to love God with all our heart, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. But ever since the beginning, humanity has rebelled against the Creator and Lord.

Original Sin

In the beginning, when the Lord created our first parents, Adam and Eve, God placed them in the Garden of Eden and blessed them. Their happiness depended on their continuance in obedience. ‘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 shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’’ (Gen 2:16, 17). Perfect obedience would lead to life and communion with God; disobedience would bring separation and death.

Adam chose to be disobedient and ate the forbidden fruit. He broke God’s command and became guilty. He had been created righteous; now he became a sinner. The consequences of Adam’s sin are far-reaching. Adam’s sin brought a curse upon creation over which he was appointed ruler.

Moreover Adam’s sin is accounted as the sin of the human race of which he was the head and representative, as the Scripture teaches: ‘Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.’ The reality of death in the entire world is the proof that all sinned in Adam. Whether young or old, we are all subject to death, proving that sin has infected the whole human race. ‘By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners’ (Rom 5:12, 18, 19).

Even before we are old enough to choose sin, we were already sinners by nature. We do not become sinners when we commit our first sin. We are sinners from the very moment of conception because we inherit Adam’s fallen sinful nature. ‘Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me’ (Psalm 51:5). It is only a matter of time before an infant grows up to express his sinful disposition (in disobedience to parents, selfishness, lying, etc). The tree is known by its fruit; our sinful choices show that we are sinners by nature.

There is enough beauty and joy in the world attesting to God’s original perfect creation, and to his continual providential care, but there is also enough misery to remind us that all is not as it should be. The gravity of sin is painfully evident as we observe and experience the consequences of the fall: disorder, decay, discord, war, disease, misery, tears, suffering and death (Gen 3:16-19). By Adam’s fall, humanity lost communion with God. Conscious of their sin and shame, Adam and Eve hid from the presence of the Lord because they were afraid (Gen 3:8-10, 24). To this day, we, their children, still run away from God, and unless the grace of God draws us back to him, we will all perish.

Depravity and Inability

The popular idea that we are all basically good is completely false. With the single exception of our Lord Jesus Christ (Heb 4:15), all the people of the world are naturally sinners. Whether Jews or Gentiles, ‘they are all under sin’ (Rom 3:9; cf. 1 Kings 8:46; Ps 143:2; Rom 3:9-12; 1 John 1:8). From Eden, sin has spread to the whole human race.

We are all sinners by nature, but we ask further, to what extent are we sinful? We cannot trust ourselves to come up with an honest and accurate diagnosis of our spiritual condition. The Bible says that left to ourselves our heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jer 17:9). Pride will never admit how terribly sinful we really are. We would rather deceive ourselves and call ‘good’ what God declares to be wicked.

We tend to downplay our sins as mere ‘mistakes’ and ‘weaknesses’, while pointing to our good deeds as evidence of our goodness. However, the Lord knows us through and through and he is not impressed even by our so-called ‘good’ deeds. Once Jesus said, ‘You being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children’ (Matt 7:11). We are perfectly capable of performing things that are good in themselves, but we do so for our convenience and selfish motives, rather than the love of God. Such works do not clear us from Jesus’ verdict; he still declares that we are evil.

Every aspect of our being is poisoned by sin. God’s charge against us is threefold (Rom 3:10, 11):

  1. There is none righteous, no, not one.
  2. There is none who understands.
  3. There is none who seeks after God.

First, there is none righteous. We do not obey his law as we should. ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God’ (Rom 8:7, 8). As sinners, our minds are set against God. We do not gladly submit to his authority, and indeed, we cannot. It is impossible to obey God in our own strength. We do not have the natural ability to please God.

But, it may be argued, since God gave us his law, isn’t that evidence enough that we can obey? No, definitely not! The commandment shows our duty and what is right in God’s eyes. God’s law does not imply man’s ability to obey. The natural man is unable to do what he is duty-bound to do -- not because God created man evil but because man sinned and deprived himself of his original ability. God cannot lower his standards simply because we cannot reach up to the perfections of his Law. God’s Law reflects his purity and holiness, not our spiritual paralysis.

Secondly, there is none who understands. That does not mean that we are totally devoid of all knowledge. We can be very intelligent and bright in many ways, but we are ignorant where it really matters. ‘The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Cor 2:14). The gospel makes no sense to the unbeliever. He dismisses the glorious message of salvation as ‘foolishness’. ‘The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing’ (1 Cor 1:18).

Finally, the Bible says that there is none who seeks after God – that is, after the true and living God. We are religious by nature, and everyone seeks to worship something or someone. However, because of the pollution of sin, we are repelled by the majesty and glory of God. ‘For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed’ (John 3:20). There are no natural ‘God-seekers’. Unless God takes the initiative, seeks the lost and draws them to his Son, no one will ever find him. Jesus said it plainly: ‘No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him’ (John 6:44). The problem is universal for ‘no one’ can come; we are all paralysed by sin. We do not have the ability in us to repent and believe in Christ.

All that can be summed up by two words, depravity and inability. We are depraved – morally corrupt and evil -- and therefore we lack the natural ability or power to convert ourselves or please God.

The biblical analysis of our spiritual condition is deeply humiliating; it deflates our inflated ego, and exposes our utter helplessness. We are left to the mercy of God. We cannot help ourselves. God alone can give us a new heart so that we can understand the gospel, willingly come to Christ for salvation and live in obedience to him.

© Dr Joseph Mizzi. 2008. Permission is given to reproduce and distribute this article in any format provided that the wording is not altered and that no fee is charged. Please include the following statement on distributed copies: Copyright Dr Joseph Mizzi. Website: www.justforcatholics.org. Used by permission.