Original sin: We were born this way.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 May 2021
ORIGINAL SIN ə'rɪd.ʒən.əl 'sɪn noun. Innate tendency of humans to sin, inherited from the first humans as a result of their first sin.

Initially God made the universe, including humans, and declared it very good. Ge 1.31 That goodness was undone by sin: Our first ancestors, our representatives in paradise, Adam and Eve, were ordered to not eat from this one particular tree… and did anyway. Humanity got banished from paradise, and now suffers from toil, painful childbirth, and death.

So instead of being born “very good,” like God originally made humanity, every human is now born with a significant birth defect: We’re not innately good. We’re innately selfish. We come out of our mothers’ wombs screaming for what we want: Milk, a clean diaper, to be held, or we’re otherwise uncomfortable and can’t express ourselves any other way. As soon as we gain the ability to say “No!” and slap other people, and lie and steal to get what we want, we do that too. Our worlds revolve around us now. And some of us never, ever grow out of that; ask anyone who works in customer service or government.

It’s called original sin because we humans originated with it: We were born this way. It was passed down from our ancestors; passed all the way down from Adam and Eve. Our slant towards sin is built-in.

The very idea offends a lot of people, who hate the idea we’re innately sinful. They think it’s kinda sick: “What, are you saying a little innocent baby, who never did anything good or bad, was born a depraved sinner?”

Well I’m not. I’m only saying every little innocent baby was born with a self-preservation instinct. We can agree on that one, can’t we? So of course they’re gonna be selfish: They’re trying to live! Problem is, in the pursuit of looking out for number one, everybody else becomes number two—and we’ll shove ’em aside, and not love our neighbors as ourselves. So, y’know, sin. We’re “born sinners” in the sense that sin’s just gonna come naturally go us humans.

Caring for others—like a “maternal instinct,” although way too many mothers have no such thing—is learned behavior. We have to be raised by parents who train us in that; we have to train our own kids in that, and man does that feel like an uphill battle with some kids. Those folks who think humans are inherently good: They learned it right away, and learned it so early and thoroughly they think it’s natural. Nah.

I do admit plenty of Christians claim original sin means we’re born with sins somehow already staining our souls. How’d we commit ’em? I dunno. They have a few theories, supposedly based on bible; I think they’re misquoting bible to promote a rubbish theory.

Other Christians describe original sin in far less sympathetic terms. There’s all sorts of dark Christian imagery out there about being born as filthy, sinful animals, thrashing about in our own muck until God intervenes and saves us. Usually it’s written by people who really want to beat themselves up about their old pre-Christian lifestyles… or really wanna condemn pagans, or condemn any Christians whom they feel aren’t living up to their Jesus’s high standards. You know, graceless people.

And most of ’em make original sin sound like it’s our fault—as if we can help being born with a bent towards sin, thrust into a whole planet with a bent towards sin. It’s like blaming a kid for his birth defects. But y’know, some people do actually do that.

John 9.1-2 KJV
1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?

As if it was ever the blind man’s fault he was born blind. But this just goes to show you how karma-based thinking works: Bad things can’t simply happen to good people, because that’d mean the universe is meaningless and unfair. So somehow, in some way, they’ve gotta deserve what’s happening to them. Maybe something they did in a previous life, as Hindus and Buddhists presume. But the reality is the universe naturally leans towards chaos, as any scientist can tell you. And sometimes bad things do happen to good people.

But, BUT, God is good. And if everybody in the world is plagued with an innate sin problem, God has a solution made freely available to all: He’ll put his Holy Spirit inside us to conquer our original sin. You wanna be freed from a sin-enslaved nature in this sin-plagued world? You got it: Turn to God, and be given a new nature which doesn’t lean towards sin. Learn to follow that nature instead of the built-in one. Let the Spirit free you from sin!

Original sin as a cop-out.

Like I said, the original sin idea offends people. I’ve heard Christians point to the bit in Genesis where God declared his creation very good—

Genesis 1.31 KJV
And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

—and insist we’re still very good. We don’t have any “sin nature”; we have free will! We can choose whether to sin or not… so stop sinning! Choose not to sin. Stop blaming your sins on your “original sin.” There is no such thing.

’Cause yeah, there are plenty of Christians who lazily blame our sins on our nature: “I can’t help it; I was born this way.” Plenty of us refuse to take responsibility for our own evil behavior. And if your excuse for being a cheater, liar, thief, murderer (or if you really wanna get controversial with conservative Christians, for being gay), is always “I was born this way”—well, that’s gonna get really old, really fast. Especially when it’s obvious you’re not even trying to resist temptation: You gave up long ago, and are counting on grace to give you a free pass.

This is where Pelagius came in. He was a fourth-century monk whose job was to disciple new believers, and of course his newbies would try to use the “I was born a sinner” cop-out on him. He wasn’t having it. There is no original sin, he insisted. Be good!

Probably most of the Christians in the world believe the same as Pelagius. (We call ’em Pelagians, of course.) After all, there are plenty of good pagans in the world, who don’t have the Holy Spirit in ’em, and if they can be good, why can’t we Christians of all people be good? I mean, it is a fair question.

But like I said earlier, goodness is a learned behavior. Good pagans had good parents, and learned to be good and kind and benevolent. (As pagans define these traits, of course; Christian definitions will differ.) Even so, even the very best of us suffers from human depravity: We’re gonna be good because we covet goodness—for selfish reasons. We want to think of ourselves as good. We want others to think of us as good. Our whole shtick is goodness. And if we ever stumble into evil, we’ll do our darnedest to compensate for it with good karma… or justify that evil to ourselves and others.

The reality is sin’s everywhere. It’s impossible to truly defeat it without God’s help.

Look, I definitely understand where Pelagius was coming from. I likewise get tired of people trying to use the excuse, “It’s not me, it’s my environment,” or “She can’t help it; it’s how she was raised,” or “He doesn’t know any better,” or “That’s just the culture.” People need to own up to our own sins. But this isn’t actually what original sin is about. Original sin is not an excuse for sin, and being predisposed towards sin doesn’t let anyone off the hook for our bad choices. It’s only an explanation for why everybody sins so damned much. We’re defective. We need God to fix us, and save us from ourselves.

Pelagianism has a lot of ramifications. Most are related to salvation.

  • If humans aren’t inherently sinful, the sin problem isn’t anywhere near as big as all that.
  • If children are born innocent, it’s okay to let ’em roam free without any parental guidance or instruction: Let them do as comes natural! They’ll turn out all right.
  • If people are basically good and decent, we don’t need any governance. Let’s get rid of all the sheriffs, repeal all the county codes, and let people do as they please on their own property. Even if it bugs the neighbors; they can do as they please on their property too. Oh, and just in case my neighbors try to fight me, I’d better stockpile guns.
  • If the world isn’t sin-damaged, but just as good as God originally made it, then nature shouldn’t be chaotic and destructive. So whenever we see bad stuff happen to good people… well, it’s probably their own fault.

In the end, Pelagians avoid responsibility about as much as they claim for those who believe in original sin. If not more. Which stands to reason: We’re all equally plagued by sin.

“Original sin’s not in the bible!”

The words “original sin” aren’t in the bible—same as the word “trinity” isn’t in there either. And just as there are morons who insist God must not be a trinity ’cause the word’s not in the bible, there are morons who insist there’s no original sin ’cause the term’s not in the bible either.

Christianity got the term from St. Augustine of Hippo, who wrote a few books which objected to Pelagius’s teachings. He’s the guy who popularized the term peccatum originale/“original sin.” As a result, people accuse him of inventing the idea. Nope; Irenaeus of Lyons wrote about it in the 100s. And Augustine got it from bible, not Irenaeus.

Romans 5.12-14 KJV
12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: 13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.
1 Corinthians 15.22 KJV
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Sin entered the world through one person. (Well, both people, but Paul was trying to show some parallels between Adam and Jesus: Sin started with one representative human, and ends with a different representative human.) We’re Adam’s spiritual descendants as well as his genetic descendants: He sinned, so we sin. He triggered humanity’s tendency towards sin, and we inherited his problem. Now humans sin, and sin causes death, and everybody dies. And sin is so pervasive, even wholly innocent humans die too: Infanticide and abortion kills kids who never even had the chance to sin yet… though their built-in fallen human nature guarantees they eventually would.

Pelagians insist Paul’s passages don’t have to mean that, and come up with alternative theories about how everyone’s responsible for their own sins. Well, original sin doesn’t claim anyone’s not responsible for our own sins. It simply describes how the tendency to sin passed from one person to every person—like a virus. And now, all people sin.

But the Romans passage has a happy ending. Just as sin passed to all humanity through one man, grace can likewise pass to all humanity through one man, Christ Jesus.

Romans 5.15-19 KJV
15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. 16 And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. 17 For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) 18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

The virus of original sin can be cured through Jesus’s self-sacrifice and salvation. This is good news, people!—and fixating on the bad news of original sin is missing the point. Denying original sin is likewise missing the point… and kinda bollixing Paul’s whole lesson on one person’s sin ruining all, and another one person’s grace saving all.