What is Original Sin?

A recent survey of American evangelicals found that 53% of them believe “that everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature.” I suspect that if we surveyed our own South African context, the figure would be similar, if not higher.

Few Christians would deny that we don’t sin. Sure, we’ve all told a lie, gossiped here and there and had the odd lustful thought. There’s a temptation to see our sins as some minor blips. Many of us would agree therefore that despite the odd sin here and there, we’re actually pretty good and decent people by nature. I mean most of us aren’t exactly murderers, rapists, serial killers, corrupt politicians and evil people like Hitler and Stalin. We consider ourselves absolute saints in comparison!

Yet this is not how the Bible describes our condition. Psalm 51:5 says that we were sinful from the time of our birth. We were not born innocent and then only later became sinners. We were born sinful – into original sin. What then is original sin? It is the result of the first sin committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3:6. From enjoying perfect relationship with God, completely good and righteous before him, they sinned by disobeying him. From that point on, all their descendants, which includes every single one of us, have been born with a corrupted nature. This means that on our own, our inclination is to always run away from God and rebel against him rather than seek him and do his will. We cannot help but sin. Romans 3:10-12 describes our condition like this: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside… no one does good, not even one.”

The truth is that we are more sinful than we realise. No part of our being has been left untouched by sin’s destruction. Our minds, wills and bodies are affected by evil. We speak sinful things, do sinful acts and think sinful thoughts. Jeremiah 17:9 says that, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” It is because of this that apart from God, we were considered to be “dead in the trespasses and sins” and “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1, 3). It is because our condition is so bad that it is only by God’s power, through his Holy Spirit, that he can turn a sinful heart toward him and raise a dead heart to life in Jesus Christ. On our own this is simply impossible, we cannot save ourselves. But by God’s grace, he calls us sinners to himself, forgives us of our sins, clothes us in Christ’s perfect righteousness and calls us his own beloved sons. Yet even in Christ we still struggle daily against sin – we are sinning saints – and therefore remain forever dependent on God and in desperate need of his grace. But because of Christ, the power of sin that once dominated and controlled us has been broken and we are now truly free to live for God’s glory.

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