The term or phrase “original sin” is one that is heard a lot these days if you listen to the news. It is also a term that has begun to be taught much more in schools than it may have been when you were young. I had a very good history teacher in the tenth grade (1973-1974), who brought up this point to ensure we were aware of the term and were at least introduced to that part of history. She was one of the best history teachers I ever had and was great at highlighting a very broad picture of world history, regardless of what the text book had in it. She tried to make sure we had an “eyes wide open” view of things such as slavery and native American history. The term original sin, as it is referred to by most today, has to do with people from Africa being enslaved and transported by Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish, French, and British colonizers to the “New World”, beginning in South America in the 1500’s with that shameful and despicable practice advancing to the Caribbean and North America, lasting until the mid-1800’s.
Many today, especially our children, think about slavery when they hear the term “original sin” because that specific definition is what is taught now in many schools. It will be the only definition they will ever learn unless someone teaches them what the Bible says about original sin. The term theologically goes back much, much further and has been debated / taught for centuries. It has nothing at all to do with what is depicted in the media today. The term instead relates back to what we know was the first sin. It goes all the way back to Adam in the Garden of Eden. His was the original sin.
Some churches or denominations do not even teach what is called the doctrine of “original sin” by any name or description because they believe it has no bearing on us now. A new fad in churches is not to speak of doctrine at all because it is seen as divisive and not popular with the younger generations. Many churches may speak of “sins” in a morality context but do not speak of a sin nature. They may speak of a negative impact of your social surroundings upon your life but not about your inherent desire to do wrong. They may speak of mistakes in your life causing you to miss God’s potential for your life but they do not teach about sin. Taking that approach is very, very dangerous. We must understand what the Bible says about our inherent sin condition, our inborn fallen nature, in order to fully see the grace of God and to rightfully interpret Scripture. Without experiencing the grace of God, you are doomed to not only failure and disappointment in this world but an eternity of darkness and torment. The primary point of this week’s note is to get us to see what the Bible says about what occurred or was brought into the world by Adam’s disobedience, how that affects each of us, and then what was required to remedy the effects. This is foundational to help us further grasp the wonder of what occurred through Jesus Christ for God’s children.
The passage that is used by most to try and bring this complex point out of our Bible is Romans 5:12 – 19. The passage is shown below from the NIV.
12) Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned –
13) To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14) Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
15) But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, 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! 16) Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin; The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17) For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
18) Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19) For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
Many read this passage and get lost in it. One reason for that is because it is a complex subject that has been amazingly condensed considering all that it covers. Some say Paul is in essence condensing the Old and New Testaments into just a few verses and driving the key points home repeatedly within the passage.
Verse 12 calls out the original sin. Paul is telling us here that “sin” and “death” literally entered the “world” through one man. Sin did not just enter Adam. When he sinned, his sinful nature passed down to all the rest of mankind through him. Not only did sin enter into all mankind but death as well. Remember God created everything as outlined in Genesis 1 and 2 and He then declared it was all good. That good creation included Adam. Adam had to decide whether to be obedient to God or not. He, along with his wife, chose to eat of a tree by a particular name. The name of that tree was the tree of the “knowledge of good and evil”. Adam in essence had to decide whether to trust God as his knowledge source or look to some other source. Adam, very unfortunately, chose to look to something else for knowledge of good and evil instead of relying solely upon his relationship with his Father, God. So, what verse 12 tells us in a very straightforward way is:
1. Sin entered the world through one man, Adam.
2. Death entered the world as a result of the sin of the one man, Adam.
3. Death spread to the rest of mankind because all mankind was in essence “in Adam”.
Verse 13 and the first half of verse 14 reinforce what verse 12 tells us and explains to those at the time who were still staunch followers of the law of Moses, that the sin of Adam was in mankind even before the law of Moses. As such, all men died, even good men, before the law of Moses was ever given. Some considered mankind between Adam and Moses less guilty because no formal Mosaic or Jewish law had been written but nonetheless, death still came to all mankind as proof that the sin of Adam was passed down to all.
Verses 12 through the first part of verse 14 are hard for those of us in our western (American) culture to accept. Our culture is very individualistic. We make all of our own decisions. “There is no way I am guilty because of what someone else did, especially someone over 6,000 years ago. That is just not fair”, you may say and many do say. You may want to believe that but when it comes to this topic, the Bible is very clear. Sin and thus death came to all mankind through Adam.
Sin and death came through the “first Adam”. If all sin and death can reign through this first Adam, what does that mean if there were a second Adam, someone better? As the end of verse 14 tells us, Adam sets the stage for a better pattern of someone else who was to come later. This one to come later is the “last Adam”, Jesus Christ. Reading 1 Corinthians 15:45 & 47 you see the following – “So it is written, the first man Adam became a living being, the last Adam a life-giving spirit. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven”. Theologians refer to Christ as the last Adam or the second Adam based on this passage.
In verse 15, Paul calls Adam’s deed a “trespass”. A trespass is a conscious, deliberate act of disobedience. Later in verse 15, Paul tells us that something else though came to us through Jesus. What came? Paul tells us that through Christ, grace as well as the gift that comes by grace came and it came overflowing to many. A passage from 1 Corinthians 15:22 is worth quoting here. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive”. Paul is telling us in both places that Adam’s sin brought death but Christ brought life to all who are in Christ, all who would be God’s children.
Verse 16 tells us that Adam’s sin brought with it condemnation. He then goes on to tell us that Christ’s gift brought justification. (Romans 4 and the first half of Romans 5 dealt even more with justification). Look back to verse 15 and you see that this gift came by “grace”, that wonderful, wonderful word.
Verse 17 then tells us that the result of Adam’s sin was “death reigning”. What is it that Christ brings? Through that one, this last Adam, comes the abundant provision of - you guessed it – grace and not just grace but the gift of a righteous reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ. Through Adam we received bondage. Through Christ, we are made reigning heirs in this new kingdom of Christ that He ushered in during his time on earth. We reign “in life”; that means now. He is not just talking about life after we die and go to be with Christ. He is saying our “new life” begins now, our “born-again life” begins when we are changed by the Spirit of Christ.
Paul reiterates in verse 18 and 19 what he told us previously but here stresses the point of obedience to the Father. He states that Adam brought condemnation through disobedience to the Father but Christ’s righteous act of obedience to the Father brought justification and life to all those who would follow Him. Adam had been told he would enjoy blessing if he simply obeyed God but yet he chose to disobey. The last or second Adam knew that He would face agony and death if He did obey. What did He do? He resolutely, steadfastly, obeyed the Father even knowing what it would cost Him. Why is that important? It is important because just as Adam’s disobedience was passed down to or inherited by us, so is Christ’s righteousness or obedience now “imputed” to us, if we are in Christ. The word “imputed” is an old English accounting term used several times in the King James Version of the Bible. It means “credited to your account”. We all inherited a nature from Adam that was predisposed to sin but the righteousness of Christ was credited to us by Christ’s obedience.
You may still be wrestling with this reality of original sin taught to us via Scripture and how it passed down through Adam. Let me offer a few more notes that may help further reinforce this point.
None of us need anyone to teach us how to sin. If you do not believe that, have some children. You do not have to train a child to lie or cheat. At birth, they are automatically wired to do wrong. King David knew this declaring in Psalm 51:5 that he was sinful at birth, even from the time of conception in his mother’s womb. So is every one of us. The Psalmist in Psalm 14:1-3 and then Paul in Romans 3:9 - 12 tells us that “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one”. (Important side note: In a nutshell, there is our Biblical description of “free will”. Our American culture describes free will much differently but here David and Paul tell us what our free will really is pre-Christ in our lives. This is another reason understanding original sin is so important. The Bible tells us here what all mankind chooses with their free will apart from Christ. You are incapable of doing good and seeking God unless acted upon by some outside force; a force that completely changes you, regenerates you, and makes your spirit born-again or reborn. That is a lesson for another day and one which is full of the true grace of God and the true gospel as Paul called it. It is also a lesson best covered in a F2F session or sessions. Back to this lesson.) We do not need anyone to teach us how to do wrong but we definitely do need someone to teach us how to do right. We need a parent to teach us – our heavenly Father. That ultimate Parent sends His Spirit to live in you to guide you and teach you. Our earthly parents and teachers and other Christians around us help and should help as we walk in relationship with each other. They cannot take the place of our heavenly Father though. His teaching and guidance are the best you will ever receive and is what your changed spirit craves. It is the only thing that will satisfy a born-again child of God.
There is another point some people struggle with around this reality of original sin. They may ask “if Adam’s sin passed down to all mankind, then didn’t it pass to Jesus as well since he was a man?” This is where the significance of the virgin birth really comes to light. You must recognize that Jesus did not have an earthly father for conception. The perfect sacrifice, the one totally without sin, could not come through “a man”. The perfect, sinless sacrifice, Jesus, was born of a virgin, conceived by God’s Spirit Himself. Sin came through Adam, the first sinner. Sin, like it or not men, comes through the male.
I pray this week’s note helped you in several ways:
First, I pray that it helped clarify for you what the term original sin has meant for centuries and recognize it still means that today. Others may describe other things about our nation and slavery and you need to understand those as well but please do not be ignorant of what the Bible says about the first sin and the results of that sin. It is critical to properly understanding the miracle of grace. As we learned in Jonah, “salvation comes from the Lord”. The sin nature in you will never on its own seek God and “decide to accept Christ”. Only God can make that happen in you. You owe 100% of your salvation to Him. You own no part of it. You were not smarter or more sensitive to God than those who are not Christians. He does it. This part of His creation belongs totally to Him. He deserves all the glory. Relabeling original sin is a cunning way for Satan to further remove the truth about our sin nature from our churches which in turn will then hinder or even hide the true grace of God from our view. Why would Satan want to hide this true grace? Because as we have taught before from Romans 1:16, this true grace filled gospel is “the power of God that brings salvation”.
Second, I pray you see more of what Christ has done for you. Sin, death, condemnation and bondage came through Adam to all humans. Through Jesus Christ though, came overflowing and super-abundant grace, righteousness and life to those that the Father has sent to His Son.
And third, I pray you see that as parents, it is important for us to teach and pass down to our children and to others we are charged with teaching whether that be in a Bible study, in public, private or home school, or in any other capacity, the truths of God’s Word. Through His Word our heavenly Father can reveal truth and life. We need to look to Him as the source of our knowledge of good and evil, of right and wrong. We should not look to ourselves, our own intellect, our own morality, our own success, or our society through a popular “social gospel”. We need to look to the greatest Father of them all – our heavenly Father and the life He offered us when He reconciled Himself to His children in Christ on the cross.