Original sin refers to the biblical fact that every person born of human parents inherits a sin nature which, in essence, is a built-in law of failure that makes it impossible for a person to please or serve God. Sometimes original sin is referred to as "total depravity," which does not mean that a person is as bad as he can be, but rather a person is as bad off as he can be. In other words, a person's inherited sin nature separates him from God and results in his being under God's judgment, rather than in good standing with God.
The parents of the human race – Adam and Eve – did not start off in this state. Rather, they were created without a sin nature and in the image of God Himself: "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:26-27).
However, once humanity's parents sinned, their nature was corrupted with sin (cf. Gen. 3). And when Adam and Eve had children, their offspring bore the corrupted image of the now-corrupted parents: "When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth" (Genesis 5:3, emphasis added). And this process has continued right up to the present.
Of this fact, David says in the Psalms, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psalm 51:5). And Paul says in the New Testament, "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" (Romans 5:12).
Nevertheless, it should be noted that non-Christian faiths like secular humanism disagree with the concept of original sin, even going so far to assert that there is not any evil inherent in humanity. For example, psychologist Abraham Maslow states, "As far as I know we just don't have any intrinsic instincts for evil." Agreeing with Maslow is psychologist Carl Rogers, who claims, "I do not find that…evil is inherent in human nature."
These assertions, however, fail to explain the sinful and evil acts of humanity down through history. As theologian R. C. Sproul astutely observes, "If each one of us is born without a sinful nature, how do we account for the universality of sin? If four billion people were born with no inclination to sin, with no corruption to their nature, we would reasonably expect that at least some of them would refrain from falling. . . . But if everybody does it, without exception, then we begin to wonder why." Professor Reinhold Niebuhr goes so far as to say, "The doctrine of original sin is the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith."
Jesus acknowledged the sinful nature in man consistently throughout His ministry. For example, part of His famous Sermon on the Mount contains these words: "Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:9–11, emphasis added).
The evil that Jesus speaks of manifests itself in many different ways and results in being cut off from God, a fact that Paul speaks about: "Now the works of the flesh [sin] are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:19-21).
The unfortunate truth is that original sin results in the spiritual death of every person born of natural parents. Paul, writing to the Christians in Ephesus, says this of their former life: "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world" (Ephesians 2:1–2). The "dead" that Paul refers to is not a state of physical death, but of spiritual death. Every person is spiritually blind and deaf where the things of God are concerned and "no one seeks for God" (Romans 3:11).
This spiritual blindness results in the things of God being rejected by those contaminated by sin: "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Although the state of every person makes them, indeed, as bad off as they can be, the good news is that God seeks after those who do not seek for Him: "Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, 'I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me'" (Romans 10:20). Through Christ's death and resurrection, the curse of original sin is overcome in those who receive Christ: "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. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men" (Romans 5:17–18).
So, while original sin is indeed spiritually deadly for every person, Christ's work on the cross defeats it. Or, as John Calvin says, "For certainly, Christ is much more powerful to save than Adam was to ruin."
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