In Genesis 2:17 God warned Adam and Eve that if they disobeyed God, they would surely die.
Naturally the devil raised doubt in their mind about that, and they were successfully enticed to eat the forbidden fruit by the ultimate temptation, “you will be like God and know what God knows”. From that time on the human race was sentenced to death in three forms: 1. Spiritual death-separation from God, 2. Physical death-aging and eventual separation of the soul from the body, 3. The second and eternal death-hell
The term “original sin” has been used to refer to Adam’s original sin, but also to refer to the state of man in all subsequent generations. The universality of sin in all people is a convincing argument that Adam’s sin affected us all. Since the fall, there has never been a perfect man except Christ. The Bible is clear on this, the empirical evidence proves it, and it is my personal experience as well. In all my Bible studies over the years I have asked the question, “Anybody here perfect?” I have never received a yes answer and never expect to. We send out missionaries believing that people universally need redemption, which can only be found in Christ. This universality of sin is presupposed by Paul in 2 Cor. 5:19, “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”
The Original Sin Debate
Around 400 A.D., a couple of church heavyweights squared off on this issue. Pelagius denied the doctrine of original sin and said Adam’s sin only affected Adam. He went on to say that infants at birth are perfect, without sin (he never met my kids). Pelagius held the view that the nature of man is indestructively good. His reasoning was that God created man with a free will and gave man commands to keep. Therefore man has the free will capacity to obey those commands, and yes, Pelagius’ view of himself was that he perfectly obeyed them. Augustine, on the other hand, said man was a “mess of sin”. Left on our own, without God’s grace, man can no more do God’s will than “an empty glass can fill itself”. Do we make choices? Yes. Do we have a free will? Yes, but only within the confines of our lost state of depraved nature. Without God’s grace we are unable to refrain from sinning. Put another way, Augustine said “we are free only to sin”. Numerous church councils were called to decide the issues between Augustine and Pelagius, which resulted in Pelagius being condemned as a heretic by the church.
21st Century View
Today there are three views of our relationship to Adam’s sin:
- Pelagian—we have no connection to Adam. Adam just set a bad example that the rest of us follow
- Infection- Adam’s sin infected us so that we are predisposed to sin, inclined to sin.
- Inclusion-we were with Adam, we sinned with Adam. He was the federal head of the human race and his sin was transmitted to all his descendants.
The Key Biblical Passage
The key passage in the historical debate over original sin is Romans 5:12-21. In this passage Paul’s argument is that death was a result of the original sin of Adam. Death is universal to the human race, therefore Adam’s sin affected all of us. No truth is more self evident and easy to prove. Adam is like Christ only in the sense that what one man did affected the whole human race. From then on a person was not a sinner by committing sins, but rather commits sins because he is by nature a sinner.
Two Great Acts in History
This passage in Romans 5 lays out for us that there were two great acts in history-the act of Adam and the act of Jesus. Adam was the representative of the human race and all are accounted sinful based on his act of disobedience. Our union with Adam accounts for all our trouble and death. The disobedient act of Adam is contrasted with the obedient act of Christ. Because of Christ’s act on the cross we are justified. His one great act resulted in our spiritual life. Christ’s obedience resulted in righteousness for us who believe. By Adam’s act the entire race were made sinners, but by Christ’s act we were declared righteous. Paul wrote it well in Rom.5:15, “if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ abound to the many”. The phrase “much more” and the word “abound” make it clear that in this comparison the act of Christ TRUMPS the act of Adam. The effect of Adam’s sin was death and separation from God, but the act of Jesus has overcome the effects of Adam’s disobedience. The quality of Christ’s atoning work far outweighs and overcomes the penalty of Adam’s act.
The conclusion is reached in Rom.5:21 that “Grace Reigns”. Therefore, receive God’s grace, let it overcome the effects of sin, and rest assured in the work of Christ.
Study Questions: Romans 5 – Original Sin
Romans Lesson 5 Podcast: