Sunday, April 15, 2012

Original Sin

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Sin is more than simply doing wrong things. Sin is a condition of human kind; it is a disease that permeates and contaminates the human nature to its deepest levels. St. Paul says that we, mankind, are dead in our trespasses and sins – the unrighteous acts we have committed. However, St. Paul goes on to explain that we, human beings, “were, by nature children of wrath.” Because of the total corruption of our human nature which we received from our first parents Adam and Eve, we were counted as “children of wrath” – as sinful.

St. Paul does not write that God reckoned mankind as children of wrath because every human being who would be born would be unable to resist the desire to temptation produced by our fallen sin-nature and would eventually commit actual sins; St. Paul writes that because of our nature, which was created as perfect by God and corrupted utterly by the willful disobedience of Adam and Eve, mankind is under condemnation. The initial state of mankind upon his entrance into this world is thus one of sin. The unregenerate man is, because of his corrupt nature, a slave to sin. And, while our human nature is not in and of itself sin, the disease which permeates it is.
“The main NT [New Testament] words [in Greek] for sin are hamartia, “a missing of the mark, sin”; adikia, “unrighteousness”; anomia, “lawlessness”; asebiea, “impiety”; parabasis, “transgression”; paraptoma, “a fall,” indicating disruption of the right relationship to God; poneria, “depravity”; epithymia, “desire, lust”; apeithenia, “disobedience” (Harrison, Bromiley, & Henry, 1999).

One aspect of sin certainly is the commission of actual acts that God has commanded us not to do. It is sinful to steal. It is sinful to murder. Certainly sin, Scripture teaches us, does not encompass only overt “physical” acts, but also words, thoughts, and intentions of the heart as well. Not only have we been commanded not to hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, God has commanded us not to bear false testimony against his as well. Not only are we not to steal our neighbors possessions, but we are also not to desire and scheme to get our neighbor’s possessions. Even though no physical act may be done, to covet is an actual sin; to slander is an actual sin. Jesus tells us so in his sermon on the mount:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell (Matthew 5:27-29).

Of course, by telling us to pluck out our eye if it causes us to sin, Jesus is showing us that it isn’t our members that cause us to sin. Sin comes from inside us because of our corrupt nature. In fact, our every natural inclination is to turn away from God and what he commands, and to embrace the acts of sin[1]. So, is this inclination of man’s heart to evil itself sin? Does this condition into which we are all born condemn us? This concept is called original sin, and Christianity has taught from its very beginning that this powerfully strong tendency in us to sin does indeed condemn mankind.

Let’s take a look for a moment at the first commandment – You shall have no other gods. In good Lutheran fashion I ask, “What does this mean?” Every Lutheran out there in the blogosphere should be reciting these words at their computer screen – We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things (Luther, 1986). In the first commandment God forbids idolatry, and requires that human beings fear, love, and trust in Him above all other things. He commands righteousness; he commands holiness. We are told in Scripture to be holy, because he, God, is holy[2].

If you look back to the list of Greek words used for “sin” in the New Testament, to be sure you will find words that mean overt acts of thought, word, and deed such as “a missing of the mark,” “transgression,” and “a fall.” However, the majority of the words used in the New Testament to describe sin are intangible concepts. They are states of being or existence such as “unrighteousness,” “lawlessness,” “depravity,” and “disobedience.” The use of such terminology suggests strongly that sin is more than simply a disobedient or lawless act of thought, word, or deed against God’s command; it is also a state of being unrighteous. Sin is also a state of being depraved. Original sin is, “the absence of original righteousness and the root cause of all sinful thoughts, words, and deeds” (McCain, Baker, Veith, & Engelbrecht, 2005). St. Paul writes to the Romans:

As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:10-18).

Certainly St. Paul is describing actual sins of thought, word, and deed as he quotes the Old Testament Scripture to describe the fallen state of man. However, in the last verse of this passage, St. Paul makes clear that this corruption of the human nature is not simply “tinder” which stokes the fire of sin, and thus is not actually sin itself. That idea was taught by Rome and became a major issue between the Lutheran reformers and the Roman theologians during the Reformation (McCain, Baker, Veith, & Engelbrecht, 2005). We believe, teach, and confess that, in fallen and unregenerate man there is no fear of God.

Because of our corrupt nature, there is no fear of God in mankind; we are incapable of it because of our disease. From the beginning of our mortal existence in our mother’s womb, we have no fear, no love for, and no trust in God. If nothing else, this is a breach of the first commandment, and we are guilty of it by virtue of our very existence. Further, it is certainly the wellspring from which actual sins of thought, word, and deed arise. And, left in this, our natural state since the fall, we have no hope for a right relationship with God. Our sinful nature puts us into a state of unrighteousness from the get-go. Indeed, I believe this is what the psalmist means when he writes, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me…Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.[3]

Original sin is born in us because of the sinful seed and is a source of all other actual sins (McCain, Baker, Veith, & Engelbrecht, 2005)[4]. This is why we need some other outside force to create in us clean hearts and right spirits. We are, as St. Paul described, dead in our transgressions; and not simply our actual transgressions of thought, word, and deed, but because our nature is diseased with sin. We are so blind, so corrupt, that we cannot help but choose evil. We are hostile to God[5]. We are enemies of God[6]. Indeed, St. Paul writes again:

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Such was the state of mankind after Adam’s fall. Praise be to God that he has rescued us from this sorry state through the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross. While we were still his enemies, Jesus took on human flesh and became a man. He emptied himself of his divine power and glory as God the Son[7]. He lived a sinless and perfect life keeping God’s law, doing for us what we were by our very nature unable to do. And when the time appointed by the Father came, he bore the guilt of all of mankind’s sin on the cross. He stood in for us and received the punishment for sin - death - that all mankind deserved. And when he rose from the dead that first Easter Sunday, his victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil was completed. Through faith in Jesus the Christ, created in us by the working of the Holy Spirit, through God’s means of Word and Sacrament, we are regenerated. We are made into new creations. We are adopted into God’s family as sons and daughters. All this is done, not by any power, work, or inclination of our own, but purely by the grace and mercy of God alone.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:1-2).

Works Cited

Harrison, E. F., Bromiley, G. W., & Henry, C. F. (Eds.). (1999). Wycliffe Dictionary of Theology. Peabody, Massachusetts, USA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.

Luther, D. M. (1986). Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

McCain, P. T., Baker, R. C., Veith, G. E., & Engelbrecht, E. A. (Eds.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord. Saint Louis, MO, USA: Concordia Publishing House.

End Notes

[1] Genesis 6:5
[2] Leviticus 20:7
[3] Psalm 51:5, 10
[4] FC Ep. I 12
[5] Romans 8:7-8, Colossians 1:21
[6] Romans 5:10
[7] Philippians 2:5-11