10/07/2010 07:44:00 pm

Original Sin

Posted by Tom French |

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Last month Andreana wrote a piece on her blog about how the doctrine of original sin makes people feel terrible about themselves. Then last week I was talking to one of my friends who told me they felt pretty much the same way. They didn’t like that there is this central belief within Christianity that you are basically evil. It’s bad for self-esteem and locks people into seeing themselves only as terrible people, incapable of good.

So I’ve been thinking about this for a while and had some thoughts. What follows is kinda the extended edition of a comment I left on Andreana’s blog.

I guess firstly any discussion of original sin needs a definition, so I’ll tell you what I know. Original sin is the doctrine that through the actions of Adam all humanity have inherited a sinful nature. In conservative evangelical thought, this means that humanity, as descendants of Adam, are born under judgement for Adam’s sin and with a built in predisposition for sin.

Probably the main reason why I believe in original sin is because I think it's biblical.

Obviously the biblical texts are open to interpretation, and need to be understood in the context of the literature, but as far as original sin goes I think there is biblical evidence for it, particularly in Romans 5:12-19. I am unclear as to what extent all people are guilty in Adam or how that works, I am sure that all of us have inherited our sinful nature, and are unable to live righteous lives without the direct intervention of God.

Perhaps the other lesser reason I am inclined to believe in original sin is that I see it in humanity. Kids aren’t taught to sin, they seem to have it built in. No one teaches a kid to snatch, punch, bite, kick, yet they all seem to figure it out for themselves. And if you watch kids interact, they are pretty horrid creatures. Sure they’re cute and precious, and funny, and fun. But they’re also mean, and selfish, and childish. If an adult behaved like a child we wouldn’t say “Oh how innocent they are” we’d say “Oh how horrible they are.” I think we learn civility because we learn that our deviant ways don’t get us what we want.

So I think I’m happy to see humanity as essentially sinful, both from what I read in the Bible and what I see in the world. I’m not saying that humanity is entirely sinful, or that babies, kids or adults are incapable of good, or love, just that I think that all people have a predisposition towards sin. I think sinfulness is built in since the fall, it’s not learned.

Obviously this isn’t a particularly cheery doctrine. I understand if a person accepts this on its own it certainly doesn’t give a person cause to feel excited about being a human or hopeful that they will be able to achieve anything more than evil, or hope that they will be able to move beyond their sin. However if they accept it, it should drive them to Christ. And if it drives them to Christ and they are willing to accept Christ’s work for them on the cross, then they no longer need to worry about their sinfulness, because in Christ they have been given all the righteousness of Christ. They are sinless before God. And they have the Holy Spirit living in them who enables them to live good, loving, godly lives, every day becoming more like Jesus.

The book of Romans seems to be a meditation on this idea. After spending many chapters thinking about the plight of humanity and the grace of God, Paul writes his famous segment in chapter 7 lamenting his inability to live the way he wants to and get rid of his sinful life. He climaxes the chapter with the cry “I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:23-24). It’s certainly a feeling that knowing that you are unable to escape sin’s effects or influence would bring about in you.

But Paul doesn’t stop there. He knows that this feeling shouldn’t drive him to despair, but to Jesus. He goes on to say this: “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do... God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.” (Romans 7:25-8:3)

Paul is saying that his need to sin forces him to turn to Jesus. Only because of Jesus’ death, in our place, for our sins, do we get saved. And what a glorious rescue it is. If there was not original sin, if we did not have an awareness of our own love of evil, would we really feel like we needed Jesus?

Original sin may not make us feel good, but it makes the love of God all the more sweeter, because we know that in that is everything we need, and the only thing we can hope in.

So if I was to sum up my thoughts I’d say this, the issue with original sin making people feel crappy is not that it goes too far, but that it doesn’t go far enough. The gospel focused Christian should not let their friend wallow in their own guilt, but they should point them to the fact they are in fact guiltless. Our sinfulness is not an end point for how we understand ourselves, it’s a starting point; Jesus is the end point.

If you believe in original sin, you should also believe that through faith a person becomes a new creation in Jesus, and so all the effects of the fall are taken care of, either now, or at the resurrection. Anyone who teaches original sin without teaching redemption through Christ teaches an unbiblical message. And anyone who encourages guilt instead of encouraging people to turn to Jesus for forgiveness and new life, forgets that the gospel is not about the sin of humanity but the glory of God.

And those are my thoughts on original sin.

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