Original Sin

by Benjamin Foxen
An angel drives Adam and Eve from Eden

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

All human beings since the time of Adam have been born with a corrupt nature. While there are some who understand and accept this, there are many people who do not. This article intends to show the proof for original sin, as well as its definition and its effects on man.

First, let us take a look at when everything changed for the world. When God created Adam and Eve, he did so in his own image: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27). Adam and Eve were perfect in every way: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). However, it was not to last. They lost their perfect nature the very moment that the desire to disobey entered their minds: “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, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked” (Gen 3:6-7a). This first sin changed them and their descendants for the rest of their lives. Instead of being holy and having a will perfectly in line with the will of God, mankind was now utterly evil, and every inclination of their hearts was against God’s will. Mankind’s nature became totally depraved of anything good.

The definition of original sin can be divided into two parts. The first is called hereditary guilt. Because of the Fall, every human being has inherited the guilt of Adam’s sin. God holds every one of us responsible for that first sin. This can be seen in Romans 5:18a: “Consequently…the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men.” Because we are held responsible, we will also be punished for that sin. Perhaps one would think that God is unfair in punishing the entire human race for the sin that its first parents committed. It does not seem justifiable to human reason that all people of all time should be punished for a wrong committed by the first two people long ago. One would probably argue, “I had no part in it; it’s not my fault!” Human reason would agree. Nevertheless, God does hold us responsible, and although some may wonder why, it is not our place to question him. He is God, the creator of all things, and is entitled to do as he wills. Although we may not understand it, this doctrine makes one thing perfectly clear: We are in need of a Savior from our sin. Because of this, we can praise God for allowing us to benefit from Christ’s righteousness. For we surely had no part in the righteous life of Christ, and yet God imputes that righteousness to all, as Romans 5:18b says, “…the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.” This, too, is nonsense to human reason (in this case, however, nobody seems to mind since it comes as a benefit).

The second part is called hereditary corruption. Before the Fall, the will of man was completely in line with the will of God. Afterwards, mankind became God’s enemy. Before the Fall, mankind had a free will in the area of spiritual matters. They had a choice: they were both able to sin and able not to sin. Obviously God wanted them to obey him and not sin. This was Adam and Eve’s act of worship to God. However, after the corruption of human nature, this free will was destroyed, and mankind now has only one option, we are not able not to sin. In other words, we must sin. This hereditary corruption which original sin puts in our hearts is the source from which all other sins flow. The effects of this corruption are evidently visible in our society today. In fact, it is the same as Paul described it in his letter to the Galatians, chapter 5 verses 19-21a: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” Mankind is completely unable to do any good in God’s eyes because this corruption affects every part of our being.

As a result of original sin, our faculties and abilities are only a shadow of what they once were. Our intelligence is now incapable of understanding spiritual matters on its own: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). It follows naturally from this then that man cannot have any part in his salvation, but everything must be done by God.

Not only do we not understand God and his grace because of our sinful nature, but we hate him. Romans 8:7a says, “The sinful mind is hostile to God.” We hate him for making such an impossible demand of us (that we be holy). We end up blaming God for our sin because, without his law, there would be no sin. This is exactly the same scenario that Adam and Eve found themselves in after the Fall when God confronted them with their sin. First Adam blamed God for giving him a wife who had given him the fruit, thereby “forcing” him to sin, and then Eve also blamed God by saying it was the serpent (one of God’s creatures) that deceived her. They tried to excuse themselves to escape God’s wrath and punishment, just as we do today.

For all the evil that original sin causes, it is not, as some have thought, the essence of man. “If that were the case, our bodies would be incapable of redemption.”1 Original sin is not one and the same as human nature, but rather is a horrible corruption of that nature. As Article I of the Formula of Concord states, “We believe, teach, and confess that there is a difference between original sin and human nature-not only as God originally created it pure, holy, and without sin, but also as we have it now after the fall. Even after the fall this nature still is and remains a creature of God…For God created not only the body and soul of Adam and Eve before the Fall, but also our body and soul after the Fall, even though they are corrupted. God also still recognizes them as his own work, as it is written, Job 10:8: “[Your hands shaped me and made me.]’”2 Indeed it is necessary that human nature not be evil in itself, because Christ took on our human nature, but was not himself sinful. “For the Son of God assumed the human nature, without sin, indeed, but according to its substance, its essence, into the unity of his person.”3 If human nature were evil in itself, Christ would have also been infected with this corruption and would not have been able to redeem us poor sinners.

Let us now look at the solution to this horrible filth of original sin. It is much easier than most people in the world think. We cannot make up for our original sin with any amount of works that we do, since all our works are tainted with sin. They are like filthy rags before God, as Isaiah 64:6a says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” The only solution we have is to look to the one who has done everything for us already-Jesus Christ. As John the Baptist said in John 1:29b, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Christ has forgiven all the sins of the entire world by his perfect life and his innocent suffering and death. Man does not need to do anything, but must only receive that which is freely offered by grace. Through God’s Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper the Holy Spirit makes us wise to salvation and creates a new man within us. This new man fights daily against the original sin which completely contaminates everyone’s nature.

However, even after we have been brought to faith, we are still sinners. We still have the corruption of original sin within us. As Luther says, we are at the same time both saint and sinner. We will continue to have these two natures fighting inside of us until either we die or Christ comes back to judge the world. At that time, we will be raised in a holy state, as Paul says, “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed-in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51-52). To be imperishable is to be without sin, for death is a consequence of sin. When we are changed, then, the corruption which we have lived with all our lives will be forever separated from our natures, and we will spend eternity with our God, Lord, and Savior in heaven. May he speed the day when this will come to pass!

  • 1. Lyle W. Lange, ed., Our Great Heritage. (Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House, 1998), 2:320.
  • 2. Robert Kolb and Timothy Wengert, ed., The Book of Concord. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 488.
  • 3. Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics. (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1950), 1:548.