How Does Adam’s Sin Impact Work?

(Note: This article was published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog and the Coram Deo blog.)

Is it possible that one person’s huge mistake could have a negative impact on the entire human race?

On my drive in to work several months ago, I had the chance to reflect on the effects of Adam’s sin.  It took me by surprise when I realized some of the implications of this doctrine on my everyday work.

I have written two articles on how the Fall has negatively affected our work.  (Click here and here.)  I wrote another article on how to respond to the Fall.  In summary, here is what I have shared:

  • Work will yield “thorns and thistles”, meaning that it will be painful, frustrating, and stressful; more difficult and time-consuming than necessary (Gen. 3:16-19)
  • It will be unpredictable, unproductive, fruitless, sweaty, full of interpersonal conflicts, set in challenging environments, and marked by futility (Eccl. 1:2-9)
  • This is the new normal until the Lord Jesus Christ returns to set us and the creation free from this bondage (see Rom. 8:19-22)

Let me try to unpack what Scripture teaches us about Adam’s sin, especially from the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Romans, and then discuss how this affects both Christians and non-Christians at work.

Adam’s sin brought sin and death to all

In context, the Apostle Paul had already made a strong case for the sinfulness of both Jew and Gentile in Rom. 3:9-18.  He supports his view that no one is righteous by quoting the OT many times.  (In vv. 10-12, he quotes Ps. 14:1-3 and 53:1-3, and alludes to Eccl. 7:20.  In v. 13, he quotes Ps. 5:9 and 140:3.  In v. 14, he quotes Ps. 10:7.  In vv. 15-17, he quotes Isa. 59:7-8.  In v. 18, he quotes Ps. 36:1.)

Paul explains in great detail in Rom. 5:12-19 that sin entered the world through Adam.  Adam’s sin brought death and condemnation to every one of us.  We all die, which is a direct consequence of our own sin that separates us from God.  Through Adam’s disobedience, we were all made sinners.

Douglas Moo, in The NIV Application Commentary on Romans writes, “To explain the universality of sin, we must assume at least that Adam’s sin has predisposed every person to sin.”

Frank Matera, in his commentary on Romans, enlightens us further:

Paul does not try to explain how the effects of Adam’s transgression were transmitted to his descendants, but there is no doubt that he sees a connection between the trespass of Adam, whom Paul views as a historical individual, and the sins of his descendants. . . It is apparent from what Paul says in 5:18-19 that Adam’s transgression affected his progeny, bringing judgment upon them and constituting them as sinners in God’s sight. 

To me, Paul seems to imply that we inherited Adam’s natural tendency to sin (Rom. 5:19).  You recall that Adam was made in God’s image (see Gen. 1:26-28).  We read later that Adam’s son was made in Adam’s image (Gen. 5:3) as well as God’s image.  This preponderance to rebel against God is genetic. 

What are the impacts to workers?

Adam’s sin has enslaved every co-worker, supervisor, employee, or customer in our place of business.  Christians are not exempt.  Even though I might sin less, I am by no means sinless.  (See 1 John 1:8.)

Every day, I see how my sins and the sins of others make it more difficult than necessary at work.  We all get impatient when things don’t go our way.  We all struggle with submitting to authority.  We are driven by selfishness far too often.  We all would rather be somewhere else, other than at work. 

The Theology of Work Bible Commentary gives us an excellent description of the Fall on our work.  They state, “Work can be boring, degrading, humiliating, exhausting, and heartless.  We can be underpaid, endangered, and discriminated against.  We can be pressured to violate our consciences and God’s principles.  We can be fired, laid off, made redundant, downsized, terminated, unemployed or underemployed for long periods. . . We can suffer even in good jobs.” 

I see a logical progression here that I ask you to consider that flows out of these biblical principles:

  1. Adam’s sin brought thorns and thistles into his own work environment and ours
  2. Adam’s sin brought our sinfulness
  3. Our sins brought more thorns and thistles into our own work environments

The first two are certain.  They cannot be adjusted.  The only variable is the third one.  We can’t keep our non-believing coworkers from sinning.  Only Jesus can do that.  However, if Christians can modify the frequency and severity of our own sins in the workplace, perhaps work might not be so hard.

For example, things always take longer than you think they will.  That is due to Adam’s sin.  However, if I or a coworker don’t pay attention to detail, and a slide presentation has to be redone, that is due to our sin, not Adam’s sin.  My coworkers and I add unnecessary pain and frustration to our own work.

Does our faith in Christ offer any hope?

Unfortunately, Christ’s death does not change the nature of work.  It will still yield thorns and thistles for us. The good news, however, is that it does change the worker, which means that our contributions to the mess can be minimized.

In Eph. 2:1-10, Paul contrasts our old life “in Adam” (as an ordinary human being) with our new life “in Christ” (as a believer). There are radical changes that immediately take place at the moment of salvation when God transfers a believer from the domain of death/darkness to life/light.  There is not only an irreversible change in status (i.e., being declared righteous in God’s sight), but there is also an enduring change in capabilities for all who are in Christ (i.e., we can grow in holiness and become like Jesus).

Matera confirms my thoughts.  He writes, “There is something radically amiss in the human situation that can be remedied only when people are transferred from the realm of Adam to the realm of Christ.  So long as they remain ‘in Adam’, they are infected by and subject to the power of his sin.  Only when they are ‘in Christ’ are they free from the power of sin, which introduced death into the world.”

Genuine Jesus-followers have not only received forgiveness/atonement through the blood of Christ, once for all (Heb. 10:10) for all sins (past, present, and future), but have also been given several supernatural resources at conversion.  We become new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  We are able to fight spiritual  battles (Eph. 6:10-17) and overcome our fleshly tendency to sin (Rom. 8:9-11).

In Christ, the penalty of sin has been removed (see Rom. 3).  The power of sin has also been removed (see Rom. 8).  However, we will have to deal with the presence of sin in our lives until Christ returns. Christians will always struggle with our own flesh or sin nature.  However, we have some advantages that nonbelievers do not have.

The Holy Spirit indwells and empowers every believer (1 Cor. 3:16).  He teaches and reminds us of Jesus’ words (John 14:26) so that we can experience changed hearts and minds (Rom. 12:2).  His truth will set us free (John 8:32).  We actually become more Christ-like through the sanctification process (Phil 1:6).  He also causes the fruit of the Spirit to grow (see Gal. 5:22-23).

What I am trying to emphasize here is that even though Adam’s sin brought a curse on work which still impacts the work of believers and non-believers alike, the sin that we bring to the table which directly contributes to the thorns and thistles we experience in the workplace is something that we can overcome, to a degree, by our reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit to make us more holy at work.

Where do we go from here?

I trust that this reflection on Adam’s sin will cause you to see the effects of sin in at work more clearly.  I pray that it leads to a desire to minimize your own sin which will increase your experience of God’s presence at work, so that you can participate in God’s work to redeem those who are enslaved to sin.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty and now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He has written 160 articles on faith and work topics on this blog since 2015. More than 70 articles have been posted or published 150 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

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