One of the questions that often is asked is, why didn’t Adam and Eve fall over dead instantly after eating the fruit? After all, God said that, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). The Serpent said that they would not die. Yet, we read in Genesis 3 that they eat the forbidden fruit and live to tell about it. In fact, they lived for quite a long time. What gives?
Adam and Eve did die at the very moment they ate of the tree. First, they immediately began the physical process of death. If I were to put poison in your food, or if you were exposed to deadly levels of radiation, you would die, but it might not happen immediately. You can eat something fatal and yet the fatality might take time to occur. The process of death has begun, even though it is not yet complete.
Also, they are exiled from the Tree of Life. We read this at the end of the chapter in verses 22-24. Being cast out of the Garden and away from the tree of life was a death sentence. [A side point—through Christ, we are invited back to eat of the tree of life, cf. Revelation 2:7, 22:2]
Secondly, while they began the process of physical death, their spiritual death was instantaneous. Immediately, they are filled with guilt and shame. They begin to cover up. Immediately, they are alienated from God, who is their life, trying to hide from him in the Garden. Immediately, they reveal the corrupt nature of their now dead hearts as they try to blame others for their own sin. They are put in a position where they are not completely unable to make things right with God. They are now completely hopeless.
Just as Ephesians says that those without Christ are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-5), Adam and Eve were now spiritually dead, even though they were still walking in the Garden.
As soon as they eat of the tree, the Serpent is exposed as a liar. He said the tree would give them freedom. He said that they would not die. Yet, by eating of the tree, they lost their freedom. They fell into bondage to sin, guilt, shame, and death. They lost their lives as they were exiled from the Garden. Instead of making their lives better, as the Serpent implied, sin has now brought them chaos, death, and cursing.
Whenever we follow Adam and Eve’s pattern of excuse-making and blame-shifting for our sin, we show that we, too, have been held captive by sin and death.
One final thought that I was unable to include in Sunday’s sermon. Another point that Genesis 3 should make clear to all of us is this: even at our best, we cannot fulfill the law’s demands. We desperately need a Savior. The Fall of Adam and Eve shows us that even if you had no sinful nature, even if you had never tasted evil, even if nothing bad had happened to you your entire life, even if you lived in an ideal environment, even if you had the ideal spouse, even if you had no needs at all, you still wouldn’t be able to keep the law’s demands. You would still need a Savior. If Adam couldn’t do it, then you can’t either. Therefore, we cannot save ourselves by our moral performance. We must abandon all efforts at self-justification and all attempts to prove ourselves worthy and throw ourselves completely on the mercy of Christ.