WELCOME TO THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

 

THE GOD OF JESUS: PART ELEVEN

 The Doctrine of Original Sin

 

       The Christian doctrine of original sin teaches all humans are born in a state of sin as a result of Adam and Eve committing sin in the Garden of Eden by eating of the forbidden fruit.  Humans are seen as having the sin of Adam passed on to them through procreation.  It is believed we humans are born with an intrinsically sinful nature which predisposes us to sin. This doctrine is largely based on the teaching of fifth century Catholic theologian Augustine who taught that the whole human race existed in Adam and when Adam sinned we all sinned.  

The Scriptural doctrine of salvation teaches Jesus was the sinless sacrifice who atoned for the sins of humanity.  Most Protestant and Catholic Christians believe Jesus was sinless because He was God in the flesh.  Yet we know from Scripture Jesus was born of a human mother. According to the doctrine of original sin, Jesus should have inherited Adam's sin by virtue of his human birth if indeed the whole human race exists in Adam and inherits Adam’s sin by virtue of being born a human.  This would make Jesus a sinner by birth and negate His being a sinless sacrifice for human sin.

       In centuries past, Catholic theologians were so bothered by this that they created the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception which teaches Mary was born without sin.  Catholic theologians believed the humanity of Jesus would have been stained by the sin of Adam if Mary had not been born sinless.  This was seen as problematic for Jesus being a sinless sacrifice.  Therefore, it was concluded Jesus was sinless from birth not only because He was God in the flesh but also because His mother was sinless from birth. “Problem solved.”

       Another solution offered as to the perceived problem of Jesus inheriting Adamic sin is based on the belief a newborn inherits Adamic sin only through the human male.  This understanding is based on Paul saying we all die in Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22).  Since Jesus did not have a human father, it is believed Adamic sin was not passed on to Jesus and He was born sinless even though Mary had Adamic sin.

       In another attempt to harmonize the human birth of Christ with the doctrine of original sin, some have conjectured that God facilitated the conception and birth of Jesus to the point where Mary's only involvement was that of being a surrogate mother to the Christ child.  No ovum of Mary was involved in the begettal of Jesus.  There was no genetic biological connection to Mary.  Mary simply provided the environment for the development and subsequent birth of Jesus.  It is believed God facilitated the entire birth process of Jesus through supernatural means. This is seen as eliminating the perceived problem of Jesus inheriting Adamic sin. 

       The problem with these perspectives is that they eliminate any significance to the Scriptural references to Christ being a son of Adam, Abraham and David.  As already discussed, Paul clearly states Jesus was a descendant (from the seed of) of David.  This strongly indicates a human reproductive involvement in the conception of Jesus (Acts 13:22-23, Romans 1:1-3, 2 Timothy 2:8).   The Scriptures show Jesus being of the seed of David and a descendant of Abraham and Adam as the genealogies in Matthew and Luke clearly show.      

      Most Christians conclude that, because “Jesus is God,” He could not have inherited Adamic sin.  It’s concluded that Jesus’ Divine conception negated His being born in Adam.  Jesus is seen as the second Adam.  As the second Adam, Jesus is seen as being born without sin and not having the capacity to sin while the first Adam is seen as being created without sin yet having the capacity to sin which he proceeded to do and in so doing it is believed the whole human race is condemned to death. 

      To resolve the issue of Jesus’ sinless birth, we must scripturally examine the doctrine of original sin.  Are humans born sinners or do humans become sinners?  Does human nature equate with sinful nature?  Did the whole human race exist in Adam and when Adam sinned we all sinned as taught by Augustine?  Or, do we become sinners by choosing to behave contrary to the will of God as did Adam and Eve.  Nowhere do the Scriptures teach the human race existed in Adam and when Adam sinned we all sinned.  What the Scriptures teach is that we humans have all sinned on our own and are condemned to death not for Adam's sin but for our own sin.

       Romans 3:23a:  For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

       Romans 5:12: Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned. 

       1 Corinthians 15:22: For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.     

       Paul clearly shows Adam and Eve introduced sin into the world and with it death.  He shows this death has come to all men because all have sinned.  There is nothing in what Paul wrote that says we die because we inherit Adam’s sin.  Paul says we die because, like Adam, we all sin.  To die in Adam is to experience the same death consequence for sin that Adam experienced.  We don’t experience death for Adam’s sin; we experience death for our sin.

       Adam and Eve were not created sinners.  They became sinners when they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which they were commanded by God not to do. They choose to behave contrary to the will of God.  It’s apparent they were born with a natural desire to be wise and successful.  It wasn’t their desire to be wise and successful that was sin.  It was their sinful expression of that desire.  Their mistake was they choose to express their natural desire in a way contrary to God’s expressed will.   

       Genesis 3:6: When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom (Hebrew: sakal, {to be wise, successful, prosper}), she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

       Because Paul told the Corinthians that all die in Adam and all are made alive in Christ, it is often concluded the sin of Adam is imputed to us and causes our death and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us and causes us life.  Paul, however, qualified his statement about all dying in Adam when he told the Romans that death came to all men because, like Adam, all men have sinned.  While Scripture teaches that God credits righteousness to man through faith in God’s resurrection of Jesus (Romans 4:24), Scripture does not teach this crediting of righteousness is to atone for imputed Adamic sin.  Scripture shows death has come to all men because all men have sinned.  Adam introduced death by sinning.  Death has come upon all men because all men sin and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).  Therefore, all men need righteousness imputed to them to facilitate reconciliation with God and experience God's glory.

       We don’t die because Adam and Eve make an unrighteous choice.  We die because we make unrighteous choices.  Adam and Eve simply started the process.  Dying because of ones own sins is clearly established in the Scriptures.  

       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.

       Ezekiel 18:4: For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son--both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die.

       The entire eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel is devoted to pointing out that people die because of their own sins and not because of the sins of others.  Ezekiel clearly points out that guilt is not shared.  Some may point to what David wrote in Psalm 51 as evidence for humans being born sinners.

       Psalm 51:5: Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

       It is believed this statement by David shows we humans are sinners at conception.  It is believed we inherit Adam's sin through the process of procreation.  Having a nature that is capable of sinning is seen as having a nature that is already guilty of having sinned before any sinful behavior is consciously committed.  As Augustine taught, the sin of Adam is seen as imputed to us.  Is this what David's statement in Psalm 51 is teaching us? 

       David is expressing his distraught over His sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah.  He is not saying he was already a sinner when he was conceived and this is why he committed these horrendous sins.  David is not blaming his sin on being born a sinner.  David was bewailing his failure to express control over the human passions he was born with and resist the temptation that was presented to him.  He was deeply repentant and horrified at the great sin he had committed against God and man.  He was extremely distraught, over his failure to make righteous choices.  He was very distressed over not exercising God's Spirit but instead sinfully expressing the desires of the flesh.  It is in this context we must read his Psalm.

       David uses figurative language in asking for God's mercy and forgiveness for what he had done.  In verse 7 David writes, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”  In verse 8 David says “let the bones you have crushed rejoice.”  We would not conclude from these expressions that God literally cleanses us with the herb hyssop or that God literally crushed the bones of David. These are figurative expressions.  In like manner, David saying he was sinful from the time he was conceived is a figurative expression of his exasperation over what he had done.

       As was the case with David, we sin when we surrender to temptation and allow our human passions to be expressed in ways contrary to God's will.  Apostle James explains the process involved in committing sin.    

The Birth of Sin:

       James 1:13-15: When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone. Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

       James explains that sin occurs when we allow evil desires to tempt us to behave contrary to God’s will.  All humans are born with a nature made up of a variety of human passions and desires.  Those passions and desires are not evil in and of themselves.  They become evil passions and desires when expressed in ways contrary to God’s will.  Adam and Eve had a God created in-born human desire to have knowledge, be successful and become wise.  Such created human attributes are certainly not evil in and of themselves.  They become evil when they are expressed contrary to the will of God.  Adam and Eve choose to gain knowledge and become wise by disobeying God’s command to not eat the fruit of the one tree.  All humans have expressed human desires in ways contrary to God’s will except for the man Christ Jesus.   

       It is our sinful behavior for which we are condemned to eternal death, not inherited sin over which we have absolutely no control.  To be born a sinner is to conclude we are born condemned to eternal death before we have consciously committed sin.  We are in essence condemned not for our sin but for somebody else’s sin.  We are dead on arrival not because of what we do but because of what somebody else did.  Adam is seen as changing the human nature God originally created as good into an intrinsically sinful nature predisposed to committing sin.  This altered nature is seen as being passed down to all of Adam’s progeny. 

       Scripture shows that by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve came to know good and evil (Genesis 3:22).  While it is clear their eating of the tree was an act of disobedience to God and considered sin (Romans 5:14), their coming to know good and evil did not predispose them to choosing evil over good nor does it predispose their progeny to choose evil over good.  To conclude we are born with a sinful nature that predisposes us to commit sin is totally incompatible with the many Scriptural admonitions to choose righteousness.

       Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4).  Sin is defined as missing the mark.  Sin results from behaving in a manner contrary to the will of God.  From the beginning God established parameters of behavior for His human creation and instructed us to choose behavior defined by those parameters.  When God gave Israel the law He instructed them to choose obedience and experience life as opposed to choosing disobedience and dying (Deuteronomy 30:19).  How could God instruct Israel to choose righteousness over unrighteousness if they were inherently unable to do so because of being born with intrinsically sinful nature which predisposed them to disobedience?

       God repeatedly instructed Israel to love Him and obey Him with their whole heart.  How could they do this if they were born with an evil heart?  In Deuteronomy 5:29, God is recorded as saying, “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” (KJV).  God is not here reflecting on having created man with a heart that is predisposed to disobeying Him or a heart that became that way because of what Adam did.  God is expressing the desire that Israel have a heart that would be obedient to His will.  God is expressing His desire that His chosen people would make righteous choices so all would go well with them.  God could not have expressed such a desire if the heart of man is inherently evil making it virtually impossible for man to obey Him in any consistent way.

       Prior to the time of Israel, God destroyed His human creation by a great flood when it became apparent they would not choose to live righteously.  Were these humans destroyed because they couldn't obey God or because they choose not to obey God?  From Genesis to Revelation we are admonished to choose righteousness over unrighteousness.  A primary focus of Scripture is to repent and turn from sin.  The orthodox teaching is that because of what Adam did we are born with a sinful nature that predisposes us to sin.  Theologian John Calvin taught that humans are born utterly depraved.  If this is true, there is serious tension between what humans are instructed to do and what we are actually able to do.   It is akin to me loaning my car to someone and instructing them not to crash it and then rigging it so that it crashes.  

       God has not rigged our human nature to crash.  The sin of Adam did not rig our human nature to crash.  Beginning with Adam and Eve, God has allowed humans to make either righteous or unrighteous choices and live by the consequences. 

Why Does Man Sin?

       Why does mankind sin?  Is it because we are born sinners and have a built in predisposition to sin or is it because God created us with certain attributes and allows us to choose how those attributes are expressed?  Adam and Eve sinned by expressing certain of their God given human attributes contrary to God’s will.  God allowed them to exercise the free will with which they were created.  You may ask why they chose to sin.  The same could be asked of the angels that sinned.  Scripture indicates that a number of angels sinned (2 Peter 2:4).  Were these angels predisposed to sin?  Were they created with a sinful nature?  Why did other angels not sin?  I submit that both angels and humans were created with basic passions and desires and the power of choice to express such passions and desires either righteously or unrighteously.  God has created within his cognitive Beings the ability to reason and make choices.         

       What caused Adam and Eve to sin?  Scripture says Eve was deceived and became a sinner (1 Timothy 2:14).  Sin often results from believing a lie and acting on such belief.  To be deceived is to believe a lie.  When believing a lie leads to behavior contrary to God’s will, we sin.  The serpent lied in telling Eve that eating of the tree would not lead to death.  Eve chose to believe the serpents lie and eat of the tree.  There always are reasons why we believe something.  Eve choice was based on her desire to become wise (Genesis 3:6).  She persuaded Adam to eat of the forbidden tree as well.  Scripture says Adam was not deceived (1 Timothy 2:14).  It’s recorded in Genesis 3:17 that because Adam listened to his wife he was being punished.  Adam may not have been deceived by the serpent but he apparently was persuaded by Eve that eating of the forbidden fruit was OK.

       All indications are that Adam and Eve sinned because they used the reasoning capacity they were created with to choose between obeying God or believing the serpent.  They apparently came to believe God was holding something back from them when told by the serpent they could be like God in knowing good and evil if they eat of the tree.  They now saw the tree as the pathway to becoming wise like God.  They were not predisposed to believe the serpent but simply exercised their God given attributes of reason and made the choice to believe the serpent.

       Some believe it was God’s will that all of mankind sin so He could have mercy on all through the Christ event.  It is believed Adam and Eve were programmed to sin and the serpent was deliberately placed in the garden by God to facilitate God’s will to have Adam and Eve sin.  In this respect, the serpent was simply acting as God’s servant in carrying out God’s will to deceive Eve.  Adam and Eve were simply carrying out God’s will that they eat of the tree and thus sin.  Neither Adam, Eve nor the serpent had the power of free will or choice to behave differently from the way they did.  It is believed freewill had no bearing on Eve’s eating of the forbidden fruit because her belief in what the serpent  told her determined her behavior and she could not have behaved in any other way.  Her behavior was determined by her belief in the serpent’s lie.  She could not have chosen to do something different because her belief was that the serpent was telling the truth and that belief dictated her behavior.  There was no freewill because she couldn’t choose contrary to her belief.  It is supposed that believing the serpent's lie removed Eve’s ability to have control over her behavior and, therefore, freewill had no bearing on what she did.       

       It must be understood, however, that while Eve’s belief that the serpent was telling the truth determined her behavior, she still was responsible for the choice of behavior she made and she was held accountable for that choice by God.  Eve chose to believe the serpent.  She could have chosen to believe God.  Eve’s choice to believe the serpent resulted in her eating of the forbidden tree.  Eve’s sin was that she made the wrong choice.  Sin results from the wrong choice. 

       While it is true that God is sovereign over all things and whatever He wills is carried out, it is evident from the account of Adam and Eve’s sin that what God willed is that they not eat of the tree and if they did they would sin and suffer specific consequences.  God did not will that they eat of the tree.  This should be evident by how God reacted when thy behaved contrary to His instruction.  Adam and Eve were both punished for their disobedience and even the serpent was cursed for its lying behavior.  God said to the serpent, "because you have done this, "Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:14).  God said to Adam, Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, `You must not eat of it,' "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17).      

          If God willed the sinning behavior of these three participants in what is commonly referred to as the “fall,” it appears rather strange that He punishes them for the very behavior He willed upon them.  It is clear God held these three participants accountable for their behavior which presupposes their behavior was the result of the exercise of free will.  Adam and Eve had the ability to make righteous choices but chose not to. The very language God used in informing the serpent and Adam as to the consequences of their sin tells us their punishment was because of what they chose to do and not because of what God willed that they do.  It was not God's will that Adam and Eve sin.  It was God's will they have the ability to choose whether or not to sin, the same ability to choose all humans have.

       Throughout Scripture it can be seen that God holds humans accountable for their behavior.  If God foreordained that we sin, how can He justly hold us accountable for sin?  Scripture teaches we are held accountable for sin because we have the God given power of choice to sin or not sin.   

        Are the descendants of Adam and Eve predisposed to sin because of what Adam and Eve did?  Does the whole human race exist in Adam and when Adam sinned we all sinned?  Jeremiah wrote that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9 [KJV]).  Jesus said that from within men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly (Mark 7:21-22).  Paul often spoke of the sinful nature of man (Romans 7:5, 18, 25, Ephesians 2:3).  In Galatians chapter 5, Paul provides a list of behaviors that he classifies as acts of the sinful nature. 

       Are these human evils the result of us being born with a sinful nature that has these evils resident within such nature or do these evils result from expressing inborn human passions and desires in an evil way?  Is the heart inherently deceitful and is our nature intrinsically sinful by virtue of being born a human?  Or, is a deceitful heart and sinful nature the result of the choices we make?  Jesus spoke of man having both good and evil in his heart. 

       Luke 6:45: The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

       This teaching from the lips of Christ provides important insight into the human makeup.  Humans were created with the ability to express both good and evil.  Simple observation will reveal this to be the case.  This ability involves the attribute of choice. God created Adam and Eve with the ability to choose good and evil, obedience or disobedience.  Their sin was not in desiring wisdom and knowledge.  They were created with such desire.  There sin was in expressing that desire contrary to God’s command. Their eating of the forbidden fruit opened their eyes to the reality of evil in contrast to the reality of good.  They came to understand what evil is and that there is a price to be paid for evil behavior.

       When Jeremiah said the heart is deceitful and wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), he quotes God in the very next verse as saying: "I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve" (Jeremiah 17:10 [NIV]).  For God to search and examine an inherently evil heart and mind would be superfluous.  The implication here is that God examines the choices we make and the behavior that derives from those choices and responds to us accordingly.  This is the approach found throughout Scripture.  Humans are rewarded for righteousness and punished for sin.  This presupposes the ability to choose between good and evil and not that we are inherently good or evil.

       It should be evident from a review of human history that while much evil behavior has occurred and continues to occur, humans have also produced a great deal of good.  As Christ said, "a good man brings forth good things out of the good stored up in him," or as the KJV renders it, “out of the good treasure of his heart.”  Many humans live the Law of Love and express their humanity within the parameters established by God.  Only one person has done this perfectly throughout His life, the man Jesus.  In a parable, Jesus speaks of how the word of God can fall on good soil characterized by a noble and good heart. 

       Luke 8:15: The seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

       The human heart is not inherently good or evil.  The heart can develop good or evil proclivities based on how we express our human passions and desires.  Adam and Eve introduced sin into the world by behaving contrary to God’s will.  The descendants of Adam and Eve have continued to make sinful choices to one extent or another.  Much of our sinful expression of human nature results from being born into a world where sinful behavior has prevailed since creation.  We all have been conditioned by this culture of sin and we all participate in it to one degree or another. 

       Being conditioned by the culture of sin we are born into does not equate with having an inherited predisposition to sin.  It is evident from the Scriptures and simple observation that we have the power of choice over our behavior.  We don’t sin because we have an inborn proclivity to sin.  We are not born defiled as is commonly taught.  We become defiled when we make sinful choices.  Jesus taught that it is evil thoughts of the heart that generates sin and leads to defilement of the man and not that man is inherently defiled.  We become defiled by choosing to express our God created human passions contrary to righteousness.

       Mark 7:21-23: For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man (KJV).

       As is apparently true with the angels, we sin because we have God given ability to reason and make decisions as to how we express our God given attributes.  Human nature is not sinful in and of itself.   If we express our human nature sinfully it becomes a sinful nature.  If we express our human nature righteously it becomes a Godly nature.  It’s how we express human nature that determines whether it is sinful or righteous.  Apostle Paul makes this evident.        

       Romans 8:5-8: Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.  The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.        

       Paul associates sinful nature with what goes on in the mind.  It is in the mind where behavioral choices are made.  God wants us to have thoughts that are expressed in righteous behavior and Paul associates such thinking with having the mind of God.  Sinful thoughts are hostile (against) to God and can’t be subject to God.   God wants us to pursue righteous thoughts which result in righteous behavior.  Jesus had the mind of God from birth.  Therefore, Jesus never expressed a sin nature.  As already stated, Jesus was not a robot.  He was able to choose between good and evil.  Having the ability to choose either to obey or disobey God is foundational to the makeup of humans and even angels.  As already discussed, indication is that a third of the angels sinned.  There is no indication they sinned because they were born win a sin nature.  They apparently sinned because they choose to express the passions they were created with in a manner contrary to God’s will.  As is true of His human creation, God created angels with free will.

       It is apparent we humans were created with certain passions and desires and the power to choose how those passions and desires are expressed.  Human passions and desires are not sinful in and of themselves.  They become sinful when expressed contrary to what God intends.  For example, sexual passion is not sinful in and of itself.  It becomes sinful when expressed as fornication, adultery and other forms of prohibited sexual conduct.  Anger is not sinful in and of itself.  When expressed as rage or when it leads to hatred, it becomes sinful.  Desiring to have something someone else has is not sinful but if it leads to envy, greed or theft, it becomes sinful behavior (See Galatians 5:20-21).

       When Paul wrote in Galatians 5:24 that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires,” he was not teaching that in Christ we lose our human passions and desires.  He was teaching that in Christ our human passions and desires are no longer sinfully expressed.  Our human passions and desires are now expressed in righteous behavior pleasing to God.

       Jesus had the same human passions and desires we all have but never made choices that resulted in those passions and desires being expressed in behavior contrary to God’s will.  He was totally orientated to obeying His Father God.  No other human has ever been born with the level of power Jesus was given to submit to the will of God.  Jesus had the appropriate level of power to consistently resist temptation to sin.  This is why Jesus was able to be tempted in every way we are and yet without sin. 

       We humans are not sinners because we inherit Adamic sin.  We humans are sinners because, like Adam, we yield to temptation which leads to sin.  Paul wrote to the Roman and Corinthian Christians that sin entered the world through Adam and like Adam we all sin and because we all sin we all die.  We die because of our sin, not Adam's sin.  Adam was not created a sinner and we are not born sinners.  We are born with the ability to make choices.  Our choices determine whether our behavior is sinful or righteous.  Apostle James wrote, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins” (James 4:17).  This statement by James is a witness to our ability to choose how we behave.  All humans, except for one, have make sinful choices and have consequently been condemned to death since the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Jesus never sinned because of the powerful presence of God's Spirit He had from birth which gave Him the ability to resist sin throughout His life.

PART TWELVE