In the film The Ultimate Gift, a spoiled grandson receives a bizarre inheritance from his estranged grandfather. Instead of a fat check to help him continue his self-destructive life, he receives twelve mysterious gifts that lead to an “ultimate gift.” Initially disgusted, he plays along and winds up having his life altered forever.
In another film, King Ralph, a sleazy American lounge singer unwittingly inherits the British throne after a freak accident kills the king. After being stifled in palace etiquette, he escapes. The person in charge desperately asks the staff, “If you’ve just been made the king of England, where would you go?” The next scene features “King Ralph” ordering fast food at a Burger King.
Maybe an eccentric relative once bequeathed you something strange you weren’t quite sure what to do with. Or perhaps an elderly relative left you part of an estate and suddenly you had wealth. Some may be tempted to think they have never inherited anything—and never will.
While not everybody has a financial inheritance, all of us have a hereditary one. Growing up, most of us have endured people deciding whose features we have: “she has her mother’s eyes” or “her father’s nose.” That’s a compliment if we have attractive parents. On the other hand, you’d no doubt be offended if someone were to say that “you have your mother’s gut.”
These comparisons can also be difficult when we have a strained relationship with our parents, especially when it isn’t as much our physical resemblance as it is our personalities. We can inherit tempers, intelligence, work ethics, energy levels . . . the list goes on.
Every person’s inheritance
But as many genetic variations of our parents as we receive, there is one characteristic every human being has from humanity’s first parents—and after numerous millennia, we still cannot shake it.
Genesis 3 records the tragic fall of Adam and Eve. God had placed them in perfect paradise, but they disobeyed the one command God had given them. They thought they could equal God, that they knew more than He did, and that their desires were more important than His. Because of their disobedience, they brought a curse upon themselves and this world. The last line of this sad chapter says that after God “drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24).
Banished from Paradise and cut off from eternal life, our first parents now lived in a world full of sin. Not only was life harder outside the beautiful Garden, but something shifted in their nature when they broke their relationship with God through disobedience—and we have all inherited that nature.
The clearest evidence of this can be seen in Adam and Eve’s first children, Cain and Abel. For the first time, jealousy and fighting broke out on planet Earth. You are no doubt familiar with the tragic story: Cain “attacked his brother Abel and killed him” (Genesis 4:8). In an ideal world, people would look out for each other. Now this thing called “sin” that is rooted in selfishness began to corrupt humanity’s sense of right and wrong. And the Bible is laden with accounts and texts demonstrating the fact.
Within a few hundred years after Creation, the human race had turned so completely wicked that God had had enough. “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5).
People not only committed evil deeds; they thought evil thoughts. God resolved to destroy every human being except one man named Noah, along with his family. These people were doing their best to follow God in a wicked world. God showed Noah grace and saved him and his family. But after the wicked were destroyed, even God’s people continually fell into selfishness and sin.
King David lamented, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). This vile force of sin embedded within us is as natural to us as breathing.
Think about it: do you have to teach children to misbehave? Some may argue that it’s simply a lack of knowledge that makes people sin, but the default setting in our brains is selfishness, and even when we do acquire knowledge, we find more complex ways of destroying each other. Think drug abuse, sex trafficking, cheating on your taxes or your spouse, inventing nuclear weapons, and thinking thoughts you wouldn’t share with anyone else.
Even when people are polite and courteous, it’s not necessarily because they want to be. It’s what society demands, and they go along with it in order to make a good impression. We may wait in a buffet line for the mother and three children to go first, but if manners didn’t matter, we would have pushed our way ahead of them. We may keep the laws of the land, but it’s only because we don’t want to go to jail.
Protestant theologian John Calvin attests to our natural tendency to sin when he says, “When viewing our miserable condition since Adam’s fall, all confidence and boasting are overthrown, we blush for shame, and feel truly humble.” Paul Althus, commenting on Martin Luther’s theology, states that man “still sins when he does what is right.” This means that our motives are so bent that even when our behavior is correct, we sometimes perform it for selfish reasons.
Luther himself said we have “inherited sin . . . because we have not committed it but bring it from our parents.” Finally, the New Testament sums up the issue when it says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
This genetic defect inherited from our ancestors guarantees not only our temporal but more importantly our eternal destruction (Romans 6:23). The only way we can avoid this inheritance is to be somehow reborn into a different family. Thankfully, we are offered that chance!
“For if the many died by the trespass of the one man [Adam], how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” (Romans 5:15). Jesus paid the penalty humanity accrued by its sin, thereby making a way for our redemption. Not only that, He promises that “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
We can be re-created by coming to Jesus, confessing our sins, and asking Him to make us new. And when we make that decision to follow Jesus, our inheritance of sin and death changes into the one described by Matthew where, at the Second Coming, “the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world’ ” (Matthew 25:34).