Our Sin Indeed Affects Others and Other Good News . . .

A common misconception today is that our sin only affect ourselves. Some have even ran this notion to the extreme, denying that Adam’s sin affected mankind. Herman Bavinck has detailed the Pelagian error as follows, “There is no such thing as original sin. Adam’s trespass negatively affected his descendants only in that it left them a bad example, which, followed by others, made sin a power among humankind . . . sin is not a state but an act and always bears a personal stamp. It would be contrary to God’s justice to charge us with the sins of others.”

But God has determined to deal with man covenantally. There are two distinct covenants that mark God’s dealings with man. The first is the Covenant of Works or Life wherein “life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience” (WCF). The second is the Covenant of Grace “wherein He freely offered unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life, His Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe” (WCF).

In the first covenant, we receive guilt and corruption from the first Adam’s fall. In the second covenant, the saints receive life and salvation in and by the second Adam. The Bible speaks of more heads than just Adam and Christ. Ephesians 5:23 says that the husband is head of the wife. And two truths must be maintained. First, no “head” is a head like the two Adams. God arranged them as two distinct and unique representatives. And the second truth is that there are yet still other representatives. Representation is still a thing, albeit not identical to the representation of the first and second Adam.

Why is this “representation” important to maintain? Because we live not only to ourselves. Our sin on the one hand and our godliness on the other both impact the people around us and even the world. Many today neglect this truth, thinking that we each live on an island.

We see in 2 Samuel 13 that we most certainly to not all live on separate islands.

The Text – A Summary

We are now past David’s sin with Bathsheba. And God has delivered the word through the prophet to David, “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife” (2 Samuel 12:10). David’s sin would not only bring trouble upon himself. It would trouble his house. Chapter 13 speaks of Amnon who flamed with lust for the beautiful Tamar. Tamar was Absalom’s sister and both Absalom and Amnon were son’s of David. 

Amnon forced himself upon Tamar sexually, resulting in the loss of her virginity. Against Tamar’s wise and godly resistance, Amnon did this wicked thing. Afterward, Amnon hated Tamar with a hatred that exceeded the love with which he loved her and sent her away. Tamar tore her virgin garment of diverse colors, put ashes on her head, and went on crying. David heard about these things and was full of wrath (v. 21). Absalom observed Tamar’s condition and discovered that Amnon was the guilty man. He said nothing good or bad to Amnon for he was plotting his death. 

After two years, Absalom arranged for Amnon’s death and his servants executed the death sentence. A mistaken word came back to David that all his sons had been killed by Absalom. King David tore his garments. But then word came that only Amnon was dead. And Absalom, having killed Amnon the king’s son, fled. 

Sin’s Consequences

We are far too Pelagian today when it comes to sin. Many think that their sin merely affects themselves. But this chapter from 2 Samuel teaches otherwise. In the immediate wake of David’s sexual and murderous sin, we hear of sexual and murderous sin in his house. We are far more tied to one another than we modern individualists realize. 

Consider Herman Bavinck on this point. He writes, “In the first place, remember, humanity is not an aggregate of individuals but an organic unity, one race, one family. Angels, on the other hand, all stand sideby-side, independently of one another. They were all created at the same time and are not the products of procreation. Among them a divine judgment such as was pronounced upon all humanity in Adam would not have been possible: everyone stood or fell on his own. But that is not how it is among us. God created all of us from one man (Acts 17: 26); we are not a heap of souls piled on a piece of ground, but all blood relatives of one another, connected to one another by a host of ties, therefore conditioning one another and being conditioned by one another.”

Now again, mankind is tied to Adam in a way that we are tied to no other. He was the federal head of the Covenant of Works. But once we make that clarification, we must not proceed to the erroneous conclusion that Adam (or the Second Adam) is the only tie we have. As Bavinck says, we are “connected to one another by a host of ties.”

David, in the passage at hand, is not merely a father. He is also a king. And he is not just any king. He is king of Israel. He is the king of Israel with whom God made covenant. That puts him in a peculiar position. And while we are not Adam, and neither are we the King of Israel, we still find ourselves within representative relationships, connected to one another by a host of ties.

Achan’s sin, for example, cause trouble for Israel. The sin of the Ammorites was dealt with as a block, one Ammorite sin relating to all of the Ammorites and vice versa (Genesis 15:16). Then, there is the impact of the covenant people’s sin upon the world. The Apostle Paul says, “For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you” (Romans 2:24).

Imagine for a moment God saying to the American evangelical church: “Those secular woke blaspheme my name through you! Imagine the blameshiftting and the pharisaical dust throwing. Postulate how many of the covenant people would respond with “How could you think we’re in any way responsible?” We respond that way because we have bought into an isolationist view of sin. Don’t get me wrong, we fully admit that our individual sin does damage to others. If we slander someone, then we readily admit that it harmed another’s reputation. But, we negelct the fact that our sin works organically to seed the sin of others.

God teaches us plainly in the Ten Commandments themselves, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.” And we see this principle at work in David’s sin and the affect it had on his household. 

It is certainly true that the children shall not be put to death for the fathers (Deuteronomy 24:16). But that biblical truth is no argument against the one at hand, namely, our sin affects others, and particularly our sin if visited down upon our children in ways unbeknownst to us. 

Now, while this is tough news, in the first place it is good to know how the world works. I’ve been a pastor long enough to see a father’s anger passed down to a son and a mother’s anxieties handed down to a daughter. And, not only is it beneficial to know that our sin affects others (it is quite a deterrent to sin if we simply take this point by faith), there is a wonderful up side in the other direction. It is right there in Exodus 20.

God visits mercy to thousands of those that love him and keep his commandments. Note how lopsided this principle is. And it is lopsided because our God and Father is gracious and righteous. Sin is visited down, yes. But only to the third and fourth generation. Whatever impact our sin has on posterity. It is limited by God’s gracious hand. On the other hand, mercy is visited down to a thousand generations for them that love God and keep his commandments. Now that’s quite an inducement to love and obey our Father.  

He thunders mercy down our generations. You may have lots of questions in the wake of such an assertion. And as any student of the Bible knows, we have hosts of questions that will not be answered. The secret things belong to God and the things revealed belong to us (Deuteronomy 29:29).

So look at what is revealed. David’s sin troubled his house. Israel’s sin caused the Gentiles to blaspheme. God visits mercy upon those who love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations.

And, well, that’s a lot of generations.