What is original sin?

When dealing with the doctrine of “original sin” it is important to understand what this doctrine does and does not mean. Simply put, it does mean that because of the sin of Adam and Eve (though, Biblically, the full weight of responsibility for this sin falls on Adam’s shoulders) sinful proclivities have entered into the hearts of men. As a popular Christian song puts it:

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;1

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

What the doctrine of original sin does not mean is that we are all borne owing the debt of sins Adam incurred. In order words,

We are not responsible for the sins of someone else.

One of my favorite verses showing how we do not pay for the sins of others, Deuteronomy 24:16:

“Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.”

This doesn’t mean we don’t suffer the effects of sinful choices of others. David’s son certainly did, as Exodus 20:5-6 and Deuteronomy 5:9 clearly state. This also doesn’t mean we don’t suffer from a proclivity towards sin (which is what we inherited from Adam).

It simply means God does not charge us a debt we did not incur which is why Jesus’s willing sacrifice on the cross is so full of grace because He freely chose (under no compulsion, though with great agony) to take on a debt He Himself did not incur.

“Original sin”, if understood in the sense that we are guilty of sin from birth logically leads to the untenable conclusion that all children go to hell (unless one holds to the unbiblical stretch known as covenantal theology) for sins they did not freely choose to commit.

Romans 3:23, which tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God“, is not a prescriptive phrase, that we will by necessity sin, but rather a descriptive phrase about what we all freely choose to do. Given long enough, after reaching the age of accountability, we will come to know the difference between good and evil and we will freely choose to sin of our own accord.

The fact is that we are actually borne innocent and freely choose to sin thereby breaking ourselves and disqualifying ourselves from participating in a relationship with a holy God.

We need a savior, not because of a bum deal we inherited but because we knowingly bought into the lie of sin.

UPDATE: Here is an excellent article on this subject over at 4truth.net.

  1. Unfortunately this actually came true in the life of the author. []
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3 Responses to What is original sin?

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  2. 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.

    Even those who did not sin were "dead". How do you explain that if we are not responsible for Adam's sin?

    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.

    The sin of Adam brought condemnation upon everyone. How do you explain that if we are not responsible for Adam's sin?

    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.

    *All* people were condemned for Adam's sin.

    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.

    The many were made sinners through the disobedience of one man.

    How does your view explain those verses?

    • You can suffer the effects of someone else's sin without being responsible for that sin. For example, if I drink and abuse my wife and kids they will certainly experience the effects of my sin, but it would be absurd to say they are responsible for it.

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