Original Sin

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Article 9 of the Church of England - Original or Birth-sin:

Original sin is not found merely in the following of Adam's example (as the Pelagians foolishly say). It is rather to be seen in the fault and corruption which is found in the nature of every person who is naturally descended from Adam. The consequence of this is that man is far gone from his original state of righteousness. In his own nature he is predisposed to evil, the sinful nature in man always desiring to behave in a manner contrary to the Spirit. In every person born into this world there is found this predisposition which rightly deserves God's anger and condemnation. This infection within man's nature persists even within those who are regenerate. This desire of the sinful nature, which in Greek is called phronema sarkos and is variously translated the wisdom or sensuality or affection or desire of the sinful nature, is not under the control of God's law. Although there is no condemnation for those that believe and are baptized, nevertheless the apostle states that any such desire is sinful.

Let me begin by asking you this question – What's wrong with the world? The Times newspaper once asked a number of authors to answer that very question. G.K. Chesterton's answer was the shortest. He simply wrote: Dear Sir, I am. Sincerely Yours, G. K. Chesterton. Jesus said: "from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts", etc. King David wrote, Psalm 51.5: "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." Original sin (literally meaning sin derived from our origin), says we're not sinners because we sin, but rather we sin because we're sinners. Human beings are not essentially good but essentially sinful. All this has far reaching implications from locking your house and car to bringing up children, education and, without Christ, separation from God forever, eternal death.

You see, you and I were born with a nature enslaved to sin. Now it's not that sin belongs to human nature as God made it. Ecclesiastes 7:29 says that "God made mankind upright". But rather that, because of the fall, sinfulness marks everyone from birth. We're all born with a motivationally twisted heart, prior to any actual sins. The implication is that we're totally corrupt, not in degree (for no-one is as bad as he or she might be) but in extent. No part of us is untouched by sin. So no action of ours is as good as it should be. Consequently, nothing in us or about us ever appears meritorious in God's eyes. We can't earn God's favour, no matter what we do. Unless grace saves us, we're lost. It also means we don't have it in ourselves to respond to God and his word in a sincere and wholehearted way. We were dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1). Our fallen hearts are unresponsive. Only God can make us alive in Christ. That's why prayer is so important in evangelism.

So as one Christian singer puts it in street language: "We're cursed from our birth, sinful from the beginning, from the womb to the tomb..." – In Adam all die, Shai Linne. But why? Well let's take a look at Romans 5. The term original sin isn't found in Scripture – it was first coined by Augustine. But the truth of it is, and these verses show, that there's one fundamental problem in the human race that began with Adam at the beginning: sin. And the burden of this text, expressed over and over and over again, is that the problem with humanity is not most deeply our individual sinning that might seek out individual remedies; but our problem is the connection that we all have with Adam's sin. Look at:

  • v15: Many died through one man's trespass.
  • v16: The judgement following one trespass brought condemnation.
  • v17: Because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man.
  • v18: One trespass led to condemnation for all men.
  • v19: By the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners.

One of the pains of modern life that many of us now have to contend with is computer viruses, some of which are absolutely devastating. There are individuals who spend all their time making up these viruses which they release via the internet or email, perhaps for some perverse enjoyment or for money, as they try and con us into giving them our bank details. Yes, it's possible for one person to create a massive problem for millions of people.

And when we come to verse 12 of Romans 5 we find Paul telling us that the work of one man has had devastating effects, not in ruining computers, but in ruining the lives of every person who has ever lived on the planet. That man is Adam, and through his rebellion, death and sin came into the world and we've been living with the consequences ever since. But Paul also tells us that another man, the God-man Jesus Christ, has come to reverse that devastating work of Adam, and has done a work even more amazing in its good effects than the destructive work of Adam.

Do you ever ask why do I do what I don't want to do? Do you ever doubt that this world's pain will ever end? Or that God loves you and will keep loving you or that you can be forgiven and accepted by God? Well, be assured that God's done everything to secure our salvation and to set us free from the power of sin, and the most terrible of our enemies - death itself. So first:

1. Our Ruin (v12-14)

"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—" (v12)

Now Paul never quite finishes this verse because his quick mind leads him to something else. He picks it up again in verse 18. But here in verse 12 he's talking about our ruin. And there's a deadly progression that takes place. Sin enters the world through Adam, death comes through sin, and so all sinned and thus die. Paul's taking us back to Eden where Adam ate the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and so broke God's command. It's a clear rejection of God's rule. Adam wants to be the boss of his own life. He wants to be God, in effect. But the judgment that comes upon Adam is death. "For dust you are, and to dust you will return," says God (Genesis 3.19). So sin, rejection and rebellion against God enters the world with Adam's first sin and so death comes in too. Death is the punishment for that sin. But Paul also says that we were all somehow involved in Adam's sin. Death has come to all men, that is all people, because all sinned.

Now Paul is teaching something very important here. He's saying that because of Adam's sin, the whole human race is condemned. Paul is saying that Adam represents all humanity, and because of him, the whole of humanity is ruined. Death has come to all. We're all condemned. Now we might be a little taken aback at this. Why should we be condemned when Adam sinned? Why should we have to suffer for something that someone else did many years ago? To us 21st century individualists such representation and corporate identity is unfair. But it's not as alien as we might think. Just cast your minds back, to that moment at St James' Park the other week (it seems like last year doesn't it after yesterday's thrashing by Chelsea), when Newcastle actually won a match, beating West Brom. Now there were 50,000 fans there, and as they were leaving the stadium all they could say was, "We won! We did it! We can't believe it!" Now those fans hadn't been on the pitch. I hadn't been playing or scoring the winning goal and neither had you, if you were there. And yet they all said, "We won! We played well!" They were identifying themselves with those 11 men on the pitch. They were representing us. They were us in a way. So when Newcastle wins, we win. And when Newcastle loses, we lose. Now that illustration doesn't fully work, especially if you're a Sunderland fan, but it shows us that we do think as a unity in some situations. And it's the same in the Bible. What Adam did, we did. He's our representative. When sin entered the world through him, all were ruined. As he ate of that fruit in Eden, he was acting on our behalf. And his actions were catastrophic. Sin and death entered the world, and we were all ruined.

But there's more to it than that. Because not only are we already ruined by being part of Adam's line as human beings, but also we do exactly the same as he did. We're sinful to the core. That's not to say there's no good in us, but that sadly we are thoroughly sinful, rebels against our maker. Paul proves that in verses 13 and 14. His point is that sin and death have been in the world since Adam's fall. The law given to Moses didn't change anything. The law was added so that the trespass, sin, might increase (v20). Law shows us where we're wrong. It's like a torch that shows up dirt behind the oven. It's not that the dirt wasn't there before but the torch shows up the dirt. Humanity is horribly corrupt, and we are truly ruined. Children are a perfect example of this. Have you ever known a child that has to be taught to be naughty and disobedient? I heard one parent say, children don't have will power, they have won't power. You don't need to train children to sin. They're natural born sinners.

These are very sobering and deeply troubling truths. Paul's saying that in Adam we're condemned. But not only are we held accountable for our ancestor's rebellion, but we too make his mistakes. We carry on his horrific legacy of sin leading to death. Truly we're ruined. Our forefather Adam sinned by rebelling against his maker, and ever since then sin and death have been in the world. And we need to be honest about ourselves and admit that. Do we truly realise how lost we really are without Christ? And if anyone really honestly believes they are truly a good person, then you simply haven't understood God's Word properly. None of us are good enough, none of us have the capacity to please God. None of us deserve his rescue and love. It's not that Christians are obsessed with sin. It's that Christians are realists. And the sooner we see that, the sooner we realise what a terrible situation we're in and that we need to look outside of ourselves for help. So secondly:

2. Our Rescue (v15-19)

Here Paul is drawing both a contrast and a comparison between Adam and Jesus which helps us to see the incredible work of Jesus in all its glory. First:

a) The Contrast (v15-17)

In verse 15 Paul contrasts their work.

"But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many."

So between Adam's trespass, his sin in rebelling against God, and Jesus bringing grace, how much more was grace better than the trespass? The gift here refers to Jesus' saving work on the cross. If the first man Adam sinned, then Jesus did a better work in bringing grace. You couldn't have a greater contrast could you? One sins, the other brings grace. And in verses 16-17 there's another contrast between their results. Verse 16:

"And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgement following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification."

Adam brings judgement and condemnation. He sinned and therefore brought God's just judgement on the whole human race. But the results of Jesus' actions were to bring justification, meaning to be declared right with God, friends with God again. His death for us on the cross, the gift of grace that he brings, allows us to be justified, to have our sins forgiven. You couldn't have two more opposite results of two people's work, could you? It's the difference between an assassin and a surgeon. The one destroys life, the other saves life.

But Paul also states that Jesus' work was far greater than Adam's because it required a greater deed. Judgment followed just one sin, but Jesus' work of justification followed many (v16), that is, Jesus had a greater work to do to reverse the effects of all the sin in the world. All Adam needed to do was to sin once and set the whole process in motion. When I lived in Yorkshire, there was a very bad winter in which snow was a real problem. And the problem was we lived at the top of a slope. It was easy to get the car down the slope. We just let the brake off and rolled down. But coming up was virtually impossible. We pushed and skidded all to no avail, and eventually left the car at the bottom. Well Jesus has done the much harder task of pushing the car up the hill if you like. He has reversed the effects of the fall and given us grace and justification. You couldn't ask for a better rescue.

b) The Comparison (v18-19)

But Paul doesn't just contrast Jesus and Adam. He also compares them. First a comparison of single acts in verse 18:

"Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men."

Both Adam and Christ did one act - the only trouble for Adam was that his led to condemnation. But Jesus' act led to justification. One death on the cross of the Son of God was what it took to rescue us and brings us back from the grip that death and sin has upon us. But there's another comparison, a comparison of single attitudes. Verse 19:

"For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous."

Adam's attitude was one of complete disobedience against God. Jesus' attitude was one of complete obedience to his Father. And through that obedience many are righteous, forgiven and free from the power of sin and guilt. Is that clear? The work of Jesus in his death and resurrection is far better and greater than the work of Adam. Instead of condemnation, Jesus has brought justification. Instead of death, Jesus has brought life. Instead of bondage to sin, Jesus has brought grace and freedom. Can you think of a message as liberating as that? Perhaps the weariness of life has dulled you to the wonder of Jesus. The joy of knowing him isn't quite what it once was. The wonder at being forgiven has worn off. There's no Saviour other than Jesus, and there's no rescue other than the one he provides. So if your heart is lukewarm, repent and recommit yourself to him this morning, because he's given us an extraordinary rescue which we didn't deserve.

3. Our Reign (v20-21)

"…so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (v21)

Paul brings this chapter to a conclusion by showing us two realms. One realm or reign is the reign of death. Every human being suffers under that reign and rule. But Paul's good news is that through and in Jesus we can live under a new reign, and a new monarch Jesus Christ. This new reign is the reign of grace, and it brings to us, through Jesus Christ, eternal life. Adam brought eternal death, Jesus brings eternal life. So we must ask ourselves which realm, which reign am I under? Am I still in Adam's reign of death, unforgiven, weighed down by sin and guilt and shame? Or am I living in the reign of grace, having come to Jesus for forgiveness and new life?

Let no-one ever tell you that being a Christian is dull. Yes, there can be great pain. Christians aren't immune from suffering and death. And this side of heaven we still sin – that's not to condone our sin or to say that we can't live differently in the power of the Spirit, but even the Apostle Paul still sinned and he writes about it in Romans 7. But wonderfully we're living under the reign of King Jesus who has broken the power of sin and death and who will bring us through and eventually to reign with him as his co-heirs. Is that the hope by which you live day by day? Grace reigns through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. John Bunyan wrote:

"I got a glimpse of heaven, where there'll be no more sin. The whole city blazed like the Sun. The streets were paved with gold, and the clothes of those who walked the streets shone with a lightness I'd never seen before. And they wore crowns as kings praising God."

That's our hope in the face of death. The reign of sin and death is defeated. The reign of grace and life will last forever. Believe it and live in the light of it. So the problem with the human race is not most deeply that everybody does various kinds of sins - those sins are real, they are huge and they are enough to condemn us. Paul's very concerned about them. But the deepest problem is that behind all our depravity and all our guilt and all our sinning, there's a deep mysterious connection with Adam whose sin became our sin and whose judgement became our judgement. And the Saviour from this condition and this damage is one Saviour - Jesus, who stands in Adam's place as a kind of second Adam (or "last Adam", 1 Cor. 15:45). And in one great life and death of obedience he undoes what Adam did. In Adam all men were appointed sinners (v19), but all who are in Christ are appointed righteous. In Adam all received condemnation (v18); in Christ all receive justification.

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