“Am I evil? Yes I am. Am I evil? I am man.”
Sometimes when the rest of the world is silent, the rock stars cry out. The song “Am I evil?” was originally written by the band Diamond Head, though some readers might be more familiar with the later version from Metallica. There’s something to those lyrics, you know. To be man—that is, to be human—is to be evil.
Much as we’d like to insist that we’re born innocent, we’re all born bad. Forget the “better angels of our human nature;” we’re just plain selfish.
Christian theology calls this “original sin,” a condition we’ve all inherited from our great, great, great-grandfather, Adam, who bit the fruit and wiped his chin clean—but could never quite erase the stain on his soul. Or ours, for that matter.
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. (Romans 5:12-14)
This seems outrageous. After all, why should I be punished for Adam’s crime? It seems unfair until I recall—like Paul points out—that “all sinned.” The law, Paul observes, served as a measuring stick for human morality: the law served to “diagnose” our sinful state—though it was not enough to cure it.
Chuck Klosterman recently published an entire book about villains, finding these darker characters much more relatable than the usual heroes. Klosterman—who himself was inspired by Metallica’s song—writes that even when he tries to be good, he can’t possibly claim that his intentions are void of self-centeredness:
“If [a stranger] were suddenly in trouble and I had the ability to help, I absolutely would — but I suspect my motive for doing so might not be related to them. I think it would be the result of all the social obligations I’ve been ingrained to accept, or perhaps to protect my own self-identity, or maybe because I’d feel like a coward if I didn’t help a damaged person in public (or maybe because others might see me actively ignoring a person in need). …This realization makes me feel shame . . . yet not so ashamed that I suddenly (and authentically) care about random people on the street. I feel worse about myself, but I feel no differently about them.” (Chuck Klosterman, I Wear the Black Hat)
So as much as we’d like to think ourselves noble, or free from the kinds of religious insecurities foisted upon us by our upbringing, every single one of us is irredeemably selfish—at least so long as we seek redemption by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.
Herein lies one of Christianity’s most beautiful and most misunderstood truths: if I am condemned in Adam, that means I did nothing to directly deserve my condemnation. But if I am condemned for what someone else did, can I be saved by what someone else did?
The answer to that question is foundational to the good news of the gospel. Paul writes:
15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:15-21)
Jesus is the true and better Adam. His obedience through the cross reverses the stain we’ve worn since the days of Adam, and restores us to righteous standing in Him.
The gospel literally turns the world upside down. Writing on this reversal, pastor and author Tim Keller writes:
“In the Garden, Adam was told, ‘Obey me about the tree—do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or you will die.’… God said to Jesus, ‘Obey me about the tree’—only this time the tree was a cross—‘and you will die’ And Jesus did…What he has enjoyed from all eternity, he has come to offer to you. And sometimes, when you’re in the deepest part of the battle, when you’re tempted and hurt and weak, you’ll hear in the depths of your being the same words Jesus heard: ‘This is my beloved child—you are my beloved child, whom I love; with you I’m well pleased.’ (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, p. 12-13)
In Adam we find only death. In Christ we find endless life.
Am I evil? Yes I am. But in Christ I am declared a saint.