A. Original Sin Defined
Society is in a mess. Evil abounds. It’s manifestation ranges from cases of small time swindlers cheating gullible investors in Ponzi schemes to big corporations exploiting helpless workers. Evil is magnified when terrorists massacre defenseless villagers and the authorities abuse the law to punish innocent citizens. The list goes on.
The Christian doctrine of Original Sin explains that evil entered human society during the Fall when Adam and Eve sinned and disobeyed God’s command at the Garden of Eden. The result is that every descendant of Adam has become morally corrupt and stands guilty before God. We are powerless to rehabilitate ourselves. Only God can rescue us from this moral quagmire.
The scope of the doctrine of Original Sin includes : 1) the guilt of the first sin in Adam, (2) the corruption of human nature resulting from the first sin, and (3) actual transgressions or sinful actions which result from corruption of human nature.
The doctrine of original sin has caused great offense to unbelievers. Progressive thinkers dismiss the doctrine as a symptom of an unduly morbid mind. Liberal theologians transform the doctrine into innocuous psychological principles to make it acceptable to the skeptics in the secular world. However, G.K. Chesterton argued that the abandonment of the doctrine is unwarranted. He famously noted that the doctrine of original sin is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.
Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient maters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin – a fact as practical of potatoes…Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. [From G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908)]
B. Aspects of the Fall of Adam
1. Humanity was created good
The term “Fall” points to a deviation from an original condition of goodness. “God saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Gen.1:31) This verse clearly refutes any suggestion that God created Adam was created as a flawed sinner. On the contrary, God made Adam good and everything was good.
2. Adam’s sin is the fountainhead of human sin and death. (Rom. 5:12-19)
a) Universality of sin
Verse 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.”
Verse 5:19a “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners.”
Paul is identifying the source of the abject human condition described at the conclusion of the first three chapters of the Book of Romans, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23)
Undoubtedly, Paul is contrasting Adam and Christ, but he is also affirming that sin became universal as a consequence of Adam’s sin. Adam and his one sin is the fountainhead of all sins.
b) Universality of death
Verse 15a “And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation.”
Verse 5:17a “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man.”
Verse 5:18a “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men.”
Everyone who is in Adam is subject to condemnation and death. The universality of death is both tragic and spiritually incongruous when this uniquely religious paragon of animals with a supreme intellect capable of plumbing the great mysteries of the universe has to go the way of the grasshopper, just when he reaches his highest potential after three scores and ten years.
3. Original sin results in guilt and pollution
The consequence of Adam’s sin includes both guilt and pollution. The guilt of Adam’s sin is imputed (reckoned) to us. Because he sinned as our representative, we are guilty in him. This is evident from the fact that Adam’s immediate descendants also died even though they did not commit actual transgressions of the Law of Moses, since the Law was given later in Sinai. (Rom. 5:13-14) [Part 2 will present the exegetical evidence and the logic of Paul’s argument]
4. Human Freedom freedom has been polluted or corrupted by sin
Adam exercised his freedom of choice when he sinned. Satan had no power to compel him to sin. Adam chose freely to do evil. Before the Fall, Adam was “able not to sin.” After the Fall, Adam and his descendants are “not able not to sin.” That is to say, having inherited Adam’s pollution, we now have a compulsive disposition toward sin. (1 King 8:46; Job 14:4; Psa. 51:5; 143:2; Ecc.9:3; Isa.53:6; Jer. 17:9; Rom.3:9-23; Eph.2:1-3; 1 John 1:8)
Human nature has become totally or pervasively depraved. Being totally deprave does not mean that every man is as bad as he possibly can be, but that sin has invaded and corrupted every part of his nature and renders him unable to do any spiritual good. Fallen man is incapable of acting in any way that is against his corrupt nature (Matt. 7:18; John 6:44, 65; 15:4-5; Rom. 6:16; 7:18, 23-24; 8:7, 8; I Cor. 2:14; Eph. 2:1-3; 4:18). Apart from divine regeneration, the corruption of human nature is irreversible. There is no means known to man by which he can overcome the sinful bias of his nature by his own effort. The Pelagians in the early church and some modern Arminians deny the doctrine of total depravity of human nature.
5. All individuals are responsible for the actual sins which they freely commit
Ezek. 18:20 “The soul who sins shall die…The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”
Rom 3:12 “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
Romans 2:6 “God will render to each one according to his works.”
We are all “in Adam” when he sinned. His one sin brought condemnation to all of us. Paul is unequivocal in affirming that sin originated in Adam, but Adam’s sin is not an excuse for the actual sins committed by us. Having inherited Adam’s fallen nature and sinful propensity, we now choose to sin by our own free will. The one “Original Sin” in Adam became manifold sins in us. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism explains:
Q. 15. What was the sin by which our first parents fell from the state in which they were created?
The sin by which our first parents fell from the state in which they were created, was their eating the fruit that God had forbidden.
Q. 18. What is the sinfulness of that state into which man fell?
The sinfulness of the state into which man fell includes the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the lack of the righteousness which he had at first, and the corruption of every part of his nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual sins which flow from it.
C. God’s Solution to Original Sin
The good news is that sin, whether Original or actual is not the last word in God’s scheme of salvation. Adam’s sin brought death to many. But the grace of Christ brought eternal life. Adam brought condemnation, but Christ made sinners righteous before God. The phrase “all the more” emphasizes that the act of Christ is more powerful than the act of Adam. “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom. 5:20-21) For Paul, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”
Romans chapters 6-8 elaborate on how God’s triumphs over sin through Christ. The point is not that we are licensed by God’s grace to continue sinning. We must no minimize the serious of sin in the light of God’s holiness. Paul’s is simply emphasizing that we are no longer slaves to sin. God’s grace is magnified in its triumph in delivering us from the slavery of sin.