The Positive Purity of the Original State of Man

We can know something of the original state of man in his innocence by the descriptions given in the New Testament of the restoration of the image of God in man. For example Colossians 3:10 says that Christians have “put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” What is this knowledge that is after the image of the creator? Probably it includes that mentioned in Ephesians 4:13 – “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Since this knowledge in redemption is the result of increasing holiness, we may conclude that an immediate knowledge of the Son of God constituted an element of the joy, holiness, and happiness of the Eden’s Garden.

We learn more about this knowledge in Colossians 1:9 where Paul prays “that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” The knowledge of the Garden was a knowledge of God’s will through the law written on the heart that would result, through continued obedience, in an increased knowledge of God.

More light is shed on this condition by 2 Corinthians 4:6. Paul, in fact, used a creation model when he pictures the restoration of fallen man in these terms: “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Again we see that the knowledge spoken of is mediated through the Son of God, the second person of the blessed Trinity. This knowledge is said to be of the “glory of God.” Through the Son of God, we are transformed by an increasing sense of God’s glory- “We all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). This transformation of redemption is a picture of the progress in holiness that Adam would have made through obedience in the unfallen state. It repristinates the kind of increase of knowledge and understanding that would have characterized Adam in his state of holiness. This was both cognitive and “sensible,” that is, experienced internally in the affections and understanding, and would have led to multiplication of joy through expanding righteousness and confirmed holiness. 

Ephesians 4:22-24 points to a renewal “in the spirit of your minds,” and a putting on of a new self, “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness,” again employing the themes of creation and the divine image. This indicates that in the original state, both holiness and righteousness characterized Adam, and thus all mankind. The First London Confession asserted that God “created man after his own Image and likeness, filling him with all perfection of all naturall excellency and uprightnesse, free from all sinne.” It would have been impossible for Adam to have been morally neutral, for then no moral action could have existed, because no motivation would have given rise to any of his acts of obedience. Without motivation (arising from several influences on the understanding) actions have no moral texture—they simply are accidents.

The question becomes, at this point, how did Eve and then Adam sin if they were holy and happy in their state of innocence and were increasing in the knowledge of God and his glory through a direct fellowship with the Son of God? The New Hampshire Confession says that this act was a “voluntary transgression;” The Second London Confession says that they “without any compulsion did willfully transgress the Law of their Creation;” the First London states, that they “being seduced did wittingly and willingly fall into disobedience and transgression of the Commandment of their great Creator.” The Baptist Faith and Message states, “By his free choice man sinned against God.” The points are important to maintain, and are in a sense self-evident; All moral actions are voluntary. The question that I want to investigate in subsequent articles is “What does the Bible indicate was the dynamic of evoking this voluntary response?” since Adam and Eve did not have, in the instance of this transgression, corrupt hearts. Looking at this could help us in raising our consciousness as to how we are to be engaged in the high calling to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Tom J. Nettles

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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