4. Sin and Humanity - Original Sin

Sin & the Fall 4

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  

(I Cor.15:21-22)

 When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. 


 Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one!

(Job 14:4)

Individualism is rampant in our culture and dominates our thinking of ourselves.  Currently we so prize independence and self-reliance, that we periodically consider legalising a method of allowing people who feel they are becoming a burden on others to commit suicide.  Whereas other cultures tend towards collectivism, or primarily defining themselves in terms of relationship with family, Britain, for better or for worse, turns out to be the most individualistic nation in the EU (according to a Telegraph report before Christmas, 19th Dec, 2017, which opened with, ‘Britain is the most individualistic country in the European Union, according to a major survey of political attitudes in all 28 of the bloc’s member states’.  Hold all the Brexit jokes!)

 This propensity to think of ourselves as individuals makes it particularly difficult for us to grasp the Bible’s teaching on our relationship with Adam, or what has become known over the years as ‘original sin’.  Nevertheless, as we focus on our own relationship with sin and the fall, we must negotiate this key area of theology.  Without it a great deal else in the Bible and in our experience of being human in a fallen world will simply remain unintelligible.

 It has been said that all of Christian belief is governed by the fall of Adam and the raising of Christ.  Certainly all of humanity is governed by its relationship with these two men.  When John Donne wrote in 1642 that ‘no man is an island’ he may well have written more than he knew.  It is not just that we are ‘involved in mankind’, or somehow vaguely connected to each other (Acts 17:26), but it is that we deeply integrated into one or other humanity that is in in turn indelibly connected to one of these two Representative Humans.  We are in Adam or in Christ, and everything about us is determined by who we are united with.

 Adam’s original sin is not like any other sin - even any of his own other sins.  For a start, he sins from a different state to us.  In the case of Adam a sinful state followed a sinful deed; in our case, the sinful state gives rise to sinful deeds.  Secondly, in the wisdom of God, this first sin introduces sin to creation, welcomes death, changes the rules of the game, the structure of creation.  Nothing is the same after this cataclysmic moment of dislocation from God.  It is the originating sin, which plunges the entire subsequent experience of creation into guilt, pollution, shame, and curse.  The trajectory of history changes, jumping tracks into sin and death.  We are used to thinking of the hereditary transmission of certain personality traits, or of physical appearance.  In the sin of Adam, we are confronted with a devastating spiritual heritage, a universal dereliction that is passed in its fullness from generation to generation.  As Jesus so succinctly puts it, ‘flesh gives birth to flesh’ (Jn.3:6).

 This is in fact the first of two closely connected, but separate, ideas in the doctrine of Original Sin - the relatively straightforward one of contamination, or pollution.  Humanity is corrupted in the fall, and that corruption is passed down through the generations of human history, creating an incapacity for good (Lk.6:43).  More counter-intuitively, the second is the notion of imputed guilt.  Imputation is a theological word that simply conveys the idea of crediting to an account (think of it as moving moral currency between bank accounts belonging to different people, so Rom.5:13).  Adam’s sin is credited to my account, along with its consequences.  I don’t come into the world in a position of moral neutrality, with an empty bank balance as it were, but with sin already in my account (Ps.51:5; Gen.8:21; Prov.20:11).  This is in fact the first of three imputations that any Christian has experienced:

 (i)                  Adam’s original sin is credited to my account

(ii)                My sin (original and actual, see next week) is credited to Christ’s account

(iii)               Christ’s righteousness is credited to my account.

 As has been said, all of Christian belief is governed by the fall of Adam and the raising of Christ.  That is the subject of this study.


 Do you think it is just / fair for God to relate to us on the basis of someone else’s decisions and behaviour?  Does the idea Original sin confuse the Gospel for you, or make it clearer?  Does it help in our evangelism, or make it harder?

 Do you think it is still possible for people with a corrupted humanity - and who have not become Christians - to do what is good and right before God?

 Are we responsible for the sins of our parents?  Should we apologise or repent for sins committed by our nation, or our family, or the Church in the past?

 How does the doctrine of Original Sin affect the way we think Christians should raise their children?  

Read Romans 5:12-21

 Why do you think the contrast isn’t set up as between Eve and Christ?  Why isn’t it called Eve’s trespass?   What is Eve’s responsibility in the situation, if any?

Does the fact that everything hinges on Adam or Christ take away human responsibility? 

What is the essence of Paul’s argument in 5:12-14?  How does he prove his contention that Adam’s sin is credited to everyone’s account?

How are the dynamics of Adam’s relationship with humanity and Christ’s relationship with humanity similar?  …and in which ways dissimilar?  Does this highlight the grace we enjoy in Christ in the way that Paul seems to want it to?

In 5:18, Paul writes that the one ‘righteous act [of Christ] resulted in justification and life for all people’.  Is Paul teaching that everyone is saved through Christ’s death?  Why / why not?

In 5:20 Paul tells us that the Law was brought in ‘so that the trespass might increase’.  Does that surprise you?  Why would God want the trespass to increase?

Memory Passage:

 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven.  As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven.  And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

I Cor.15:47-49


For further reflection:

 It might surprise you to realise that the Anglican Church took pains to outline and defend this doctrine in its foundational documents.  Article 9 is entitled ‘of Original, or Birth Sin’ and locates original sin in ‘…the fault and corruption of the nature of every man (sic) that is naturally engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil … and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation’.    And this infection of nature doth remain in them that are regenerated … although there is no condemnation for them that believe’.

 It did so because at the time, very few Christians took seriously this aspect of the Bible’s teaching, preferring to think that humanity still had a free will that, with the right education, a good role model and favourable circumstances, could still live righteously (do good).   Most Christians didn’t believe that we had inherited consequences from Adam’s transgression so that we were all born sinful, and under God’s judgement.  In such a context, Cranmer et al felt the need to remind people of the Bible’s teaching that we do what we do because we are what we are.  They understood this was at the very foundation of the Christian faith, and that without it, Christianity would be fatally compromised.  We are corrupt, therefore all our actions are corrupt (Gen.6:5).  This is not how God created us, it is what we have become in Adam.  ‘All have become corrupt’ (Ps.14:3), and only in Christ can we become anything else. 

 Only with this in place can we really claim to understand the Gospel.  In fact one theologian, Warfield, went so far as to write in the early 20th century that ‘Until we repent of original sin, we have not properly speaking, repented in the Christian sense at all’.  We must repent of what we are, not just what we do.

Print Friendly Version of this pagePrint Get a PDF version of this webpagePDF