“When the woman saw that the fruit was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6). In a way, everything that follows this verse in the Bible is an answer to q/a 8 of the Heidelberg Catechism.
The catechism has brought us systematically to the point where we must admit that we are sinners, and that our sin is our own fault. The catechism has shown us the summary of the Law, and our inability to live up to that which is expected of us. It has told us that we were created in God’s image, but that Adam and Eve rejected God and fell into sin.
The next logical question we would ask is: “How bad is it?” Even that the catechism has answered for us in q/a 5, telling us that we have a natural tendency to hate God and our neighbors. We ask: “Does that mean we are totally unable to do any good at all?” Again the response comes: “Yes, that’s right. Unless you are born again by the Spirit of God.”
The result of our being sinners is that we take sin lightly. We laugh or keep silent when God’s Name is being taken in vain; we joke about excessive drinking and sexual infidelity; we look the other way when people fail to worship God in His house. We need to struggle with the depth of our sin! Without a true knowledge of our own unfaithfulness and rebellion against God, we can never come to know how truly great and wonderful God’s grace is. Nor will we come to Him for the healing that we need.
In Ephesians 2:1, Paul tells us that we are “dead in our trespasses and sins.” We are dead as far as our relationship with God is concerned. When we fell, we fell hard! The fall affected our spirit, our intellect, and our body.
Our spirit died when the fellowship we had with God was broken. At one time the man and the woman could walk in the breeze of the afternoon in the Garden with God. Sin ended that. After he sinned, the very first thing that Adam did when he heard God was hide from Him. This alienation from God is the first result of the death that came upon our first parents after eating from the forbidden tree.
It is also the most dreadful of deaths, even more dreadful than physical death. Man’s highest destiny is to know God. We were created to be in a relationship with God. Our sin, however, blots out God’s face, making us want to hide from His holiness.
Not only have we lost communication with God, we have no right whatsoever to come before His throne anymore, nor can we call upon His holy Name. Our alienation is so total in effect that it is impossible for us to find our own way back to Him to rekindle any fellowship with Him.
Instead, what has to happen is that, just like in genesis 3, God must come to our rescue. We have separated ourselves from Him; now He must come to us. In the Garden, Adam and Eve hid from God and Jehovah came and sought them out offering them grace through the promise of a Messiah. In the very same way, Jehovah comes to us and offers us grace through His Son.
The second area the Fall affected is our intellect. Our intellect began to die when, already in the Garden, man began to make excuses. He started to rationalize his lying, cheating, stealing, and even murder.
One may argue that we are still intelligent, rational beings. After all, we can add and subtract, we can invent things, we can do all kinds of smart things. However, of all the knowledge we have, we can’t apply any of it to an understanding of God. Apart from the working of the Spirit of God in our lives we can have absolutely no understanding of spiritual things. I Corinthians 2:14 says: “Man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
Instead of searching for the true God, man settles for lesser gods. In the Bible and in third world countries people make gods out of gold and wood. In more “civilized” countries, we make gods out of power, alcohol, money, etc. We will even make gods of ourselves. The hard words of Romans 3 are: “There is no one righteous, not even one.”
Finally, the Fall affected our physical lives. No longer do we live forever in perfect harmony with our Creator. Our sin stained bodies give way to illness, disease, and decay. If you read through the genealogy of Seth’s children, they all end the same way: “And then he died.”
All in all, Lord’s Day 3 of the Heidelberg Catechism can be very depressing as it tells us about our perverse nature. Yet, even here the catechism comes with comfort. Question 8 asks: “But are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclines toward all evil?” Woefully, the answer is: “Yes.” But then comes the word: “Unless...”
What a powerful word “unless” is in this answer! The good news of the Gospel is that God comes to us while we are still in this horrible state of death. He provides what we need to be set free from our alienation, our lack of understanding, and our desire not to know Him. He even saves us from the horror of physical death.
The whole point of Lord’s Day 3; the whole point of the Sin and Misery section of the catechism, is to have us see our sin so that we might know our need for Christ who alone is able to provide us with life. His body was pierced, His blood was shed; He died our death so that we might become alive through Him.
Unless we are regenerated by the Spirit of God we shall remain forever dead in our trespasses and sins. In the righteous robes of Christ, we are able to stand once again in the presence of the holy God, once again to have fellowship with the One who created us in His image. The alienation is broken. With the spectacles of faith, we can understand things as they relate to God. Through the Spirit, we are even filled with a desire to come into the presence of God.
Rev. Wybren Oord is the pastor of the Covenant United Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan and editor of The Outlook.