The Concept of Original Sin: Why It Is So Deadly
by Colin Standish
THE concept of
original sin did not come from the writings of the apostles, nor from the Old
Testament prophets, nor from the words of Christ Himself. We see little
development of the teaching of original sin before the end of the fourth century
a.d. The concept of original sin was popularized by Augustine, Bishop of Hippo,
a.d. 354-431. This concept held that we not only inherit the weakness and nature
of fallen Adam, and the natural tendency and inevitable inclination to follow
his pathway of sin, but that we are also personally condemned and are personally
guilty for Adam's sin--in addition to our own sins.
Louis Berkof identifies Augustine as the originator of the concept of
original sin: "The early Church Fathers contained nothing very definite
about original sin. . . . It is especially in Augustine that the doctrine of
original sin comes to fuller development. According to him, the nature of man,
both physical and moral, is totally corrupted by Adam's sin, so that he cannot
do otherwise than sin. This inherited corruption of original sin is a moral
punishment for the sin of Adam." Systematic Theology, 244-245.
The concept of original sin has gone so far, that Justo L. Gonzalez wrote,
"Natural man has true freedom to choose between several alternatives,
although, given his condition as a sinner subject to concupiscence, and as a
member of this 'mass of damnation,' all the alternatives open to him are sin.
The option not to sin does not exist." A History of Christian Thought,
vol. 2, 44.
Dr. Peter de Rosa, a Jesuit professor, has recorded that, "In this,
Gregory [Pope Gregory VI] took St. Paul literally: 'In Adam all have sinned.'
This means from the first moment of a person's existence there is guilt. This is
not a personal taint, but a taint of nature and so unavoidable. The nature
derives from the parents. From the beginning the baby's soul is polluted by this
original, this inherited sin. Gregory was not blind to the problems this raised.
For example, parents were cleansed from original sin in baptism. How could they
hand on original sin to their babies? He answers: Though holy themselves, they
handed on corrupt nature by sex, desire galvanized by lust. Babies are born as
the damned fruit of the lust of their redeemed parents. From the first, they are
the offspring of Gehenna or Hell; they are justly children of wrath because they
are sinners. If they die unbaptized, they are condemned to everlasting torments
for the guilt of their birth alone. Existence is itself a state of sin; to be
born is to be qualified for eternal punishment." Vicars of Christ,
There is no question that when Adam sinned, death passed upon all men.
"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Romans
3:23. When Adam and Eve sinned, their unfallen nature was changed to a fallen
nature in which death was inscribed on every cell of their bodies. That fallen
nature has been inherited by all their descendants, so that outside of the
sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the resurrection of the faithful dead, and the
transformation that will take place at the Second Coming of Jesus, all humanity
is destined to eternal oblivion. It is this sinful nature that is transformed
into sinless nature at the return of Jesus. "For this corruptible must put
on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this
corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on
immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is
swallowed up in victory." 1 Corinthians 15:53-54.
We hear popular speakers and writers in Adventism declare, "We sin
because we are sinners; we are not sinners because we sin." That is the
increasingly prevailing belief of many proclaimers of the gospel today in our
Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The concept of original sin declares that we are born with inner sin, for
which we are responsible. At a recent Annual Council, a prominent Adventist
writer and seminary professor had the devotional talks. In his opening
presentation, he began with these words, "Eating cheese is not SIN."
After a pause he continued, "Neither is eating rattlesnakes nor rats
SIN." Further he indicated that even gross sin such as murder and theft was
not SIN. This was demonstrated by displaying in large capital letters the word
S-I-N. Then the speaker indicated that acts like murder and theft were sins
(small letters), but that the great problem was SIN. One wonders how we can
escape 1 John 3:4, "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the
law: for sin is the transgression of the law." The text does not
say, "sins are the transgression of the law," it says "sin is the
transgression of the law." (All emphasis supplied unless otherwise noted.)
Why would Satan have us believe the concept of original sin? The final result
of propagating the concept of original sin is to declare that it is impossible
to have a victorious Christian experience. Augustine, unable to control his
sexual lust, initially declared that the original sin was the sex drive, though
he did broaden it later. While it is likely that most Adventists would adamantly
declare that they do not believe in original sin as put forward by Augustine,
the concept of inner SIN indeed is perilously close to it when they emphasize
that it is that which condemns us, rather than the act of sin itself.
The scripture is plain that our sins which are revealed to us are responsible
for our guilt. "Then it shall be, because he hath sinned, and is
guilty." Leviticus 6:4. "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and
yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit
adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou
kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law." James 2:10-11.
It must be emphasized that the issue of original sin results in one
conclusion--that because of original sin, it is impossible for us to have
victory over sin in this life. Therefore, we will continue to sin until Jesus
comes. The concept of original sin has contributed greatly to the heresy of the
sin-and-live theology. Paul, recognizing that we can only keep the commandments
of God by the faith of Jesus, declared, "And he that doubteth is damned if
he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin."
Nevertheless, God is just. If we sin through ignorance, it is not accounted
to us as sin, "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth
it not, to him it is sin." James 4:17. "And the times of this ignorance
God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: because he
hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by
that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in
that he hath raised him from the dead." Acts 17:30-31.
Jesus Himself fully endorsed such a concept. "Jesus said unto them, If
ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin
remaineth." John 9:41. "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they
had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin." John 15:22.
It is important to notice that both James and Jesus use the singular word
"sin." If all humanity were guilty of the sin of Adam, then Jesus
could never have uttered these words, for surely all would be guilty of sin
irrespective of their ignorance. We must be thankful that we serve a
compassionate God who will not hold us responsible for our genuine ignorance.
"Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the
way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity." Hebrews 5:2.
However, if that ignorance has been the result of deliberate negligence of the
principles of God, then we cannot expect the mercy of God. "How shall we
escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken
by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him." Hebrews
All members of the human race have wandered away from God and are therefore
lost until they accept the provisions of salvation. We would all be lost had not
God, through Christ, intervened in our behalf. "All we like sheep have gone
astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him
the iniquity of us all." Isaiah 53:6. "As it is written, There is none
righteous, no, not one." Romans 3:10. "But we are all as an unclean
thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a
leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." Isaiah 64:6.
These texts in no wise confirm the concept of original sin; they simply
recognize cause and effect of our own participation in sin.
Because we are born with sinful natures, we are destined to rebel against
God, choose the way of Satan, and accumulate our own life of sin, requiring the
saving grace of Christ to redeem us from the punishment we so justly deserve.
All human beings are born with a sinful human nature--a nature that is attracted
to sin. Even when converted and surrendered to Christ, we still possess this
nature, but through the power of Christ, it is subdued and we live in the power
of His Spirit. "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that
the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For
he that is dead is freed from sin." Romans 6:6-7. "There is therefore
now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the
flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus
hath made me free from the law of sin and death." Romans 8:l-2.
When Christ returns to take His saints to His kingdom, their natures will be
transformed into sinless natures. "For this corruptible must put on
incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible
shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality,
then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up
in victory." 1 Corinthians 15:53-54.
It is not the nature that we have that will determine our eternal destiny.
Eternal destiny is determined by the acceptance of Christ, His substitutionary
sacrifice, and high priestly ministry for us. As we confess, repent, and forsake
our sins, Christ forgives, and as we lay hold on His power, we gain victory over
the temptations of Satan. This requires a daily resubmission of our lives to
God. When, during the first moments of our waking time, we rededicate our lives
to Christ and pray to the Lord to fully take our lives and work out His
salvation in them, His power will be with us during the day and provide an
abiding strength to resist every Satanic deception and temptation. "Submit
yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."
Contrast the situation of the wicked and the righteous in terms of the carnal
mind and the spiritual mind. While both the wicked and the righteous continue to
have a sinful nature, those with the carnal mind are slaves to that nature, and
cannot in that state, gain victory over sin. Indeed, they do not have the desire
to do so. Those with the spiritual mind have daily surrendered their minds and
their wills to Jesus Christ, and they have gained the victory over sin. While we
retain the carnal mind, we cannot obtain victory. That is why the man of Romans
7 had such a failed experience. "For we know that the law is spiritual: but
I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would,
that do I not; but what I hate, that do I." Romans 7:14-15.
In the same passage of scripture, Paul clarifies the destiny of those who
retain the carnal mind on the one hand, and those who have allowed Christ to
develop within them a spiritual mind on the other. "For to be carnally
minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the
carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God,
neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But
ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God
dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life
because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the
dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken
your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. Therefore, brethren, we
are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the
flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the
body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the
sons of God." Romans 8:6-14.
No texts destroy more quickly the original sin concept than those which
declare that not one will be lost for someone else's sin. When Moses expressed
his willingness to be blotted out of the book of life if it could save the
children of Israel, God's answer was explicit. "And Moses returned unto the
Lord, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods
of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray
thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. And the Lord said unto Moses,
Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book." Exodus
The prophet Ezekiel brought forth exactly the same principle. "The soul
that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father,
neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the
righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon
him." Ezekiel 18:20.
The human race indeed suffers many consequences because of Adam's sin, but no
one will be punished in the lake of fire merely because of Adam's sin.
Punishment will come only to those who refuse to cease from personal rebellion
against God. Each person is responsible for his own sin. He neither bears the
guilt of another, nor does another bear his guilt, except it be Christ who bore
the guilt of the world upon Calvary. To teach otherwise is to diminish man's own
guilt, and to absolve man from the fullness of the power of the gospel to seek
God's complete restoration of moral strength.
Our personal guilt and our helplessness to do anything about it thrusts us
upon Jesus, the all-sufficient Savior, who alone bore our sins upon the cross so
that our sins might be absolved, and that we might be partakers of the divine
nature having escaped the corruption of the world through lust. Is it any wonder
that the redeemed saints sing the mighty anthem, "Worthy, worthy is the
Lamb that was slain!"
Note: This article has been modified from a chapter in the book, The
Evangelical Dilemma, entitled, "The Dilemma of the Concept of Original
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