Friday, March 16, 2007

Damned or Saved by the Act of Another: Understanding the Connection of Original Sin and Justification

by JM

Pt. 1 - Am I Damned to Hell Because of Another Man’s Sin? – The Biblical Basis of Original Sin.

Original Sin is often mistakenly defined as the first sin committed by our parents. Part of this misunderstanding comes as a result of a terribly misleading term like “Original Sin,” and part of this misunderstand stems from the challenging concept meant by it. By Original Sin, I mean that both the guilt and pollution of Adam’s sin is charged to all of his offspring, such that God justly punishes his offspring for the sin and pollution of Adam.

The challenge immediately arises,

“How can God justly hold people accountable for the sins of another?”
Now before I address that challenge, let’s first establish that this is derived from Scripture. There’s no reason to worry ourselves about a challenge made to an unbiblical statement on Original Sin. So what does Scripture say? Most will turn to Romans 5:12-21 to establish this doctrine. Let’s take a look.

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned--
Paul declares that through Adam sin made its entrance into the world. In this phrase, we’re not yet clear to what degree it made its entrance. Was the universe constitutionally different - like shockwaves sent out to every corner of creation by this one sin? Or, is it just the bland statement that insofar as Adam sinned, the door had been cracked open? Paul continues by saying that through Adam’s sin, “death entered.” Certainly the day that our parents ate of the fruit they had died in a spiritual way. But at this point of the text, we still have yet to understand this man’s sin and consequential death in relation to his offspring. In particular, is this sin and death communicated to his sons and daughters?

Now the next two phrases, by themselves, do little to help us answer this question:

“and so death spread to all men, because all sinned--.”
Here we see that the consequence of someone’s sin is that death spreads to all men. So at this point, we see that the effects of sin, namely death, are communicated to Adam’s seed. But still, the basis of this universal death isn’t spelled out. Specifically, death is the consequences whose sin: Adam’s sin, or the sin of each person born from Adam? Paul continues,

“and so death spread to all men, because all sinned--”
Now on the surface, it would seem like death spreads to each individual because of each individual’s sin. However, this will run aground in the next verse.

13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

Paul declares that from the time period between Adam and the giving of the Mosaic law, though individuals sinned, God didn’t impute these individual sins to the individuals sinning. God chose not to treat people in an ultimate way on the basis of their personal sins. Consequently, God did not punish people in an eschatological way on the basis of their personal sin. Yet in verse 14, we read

14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
We know that death is a punishment of sin (6:23), and yet according to verse 13 God did not punish individuals during this time for their individual sins. But, in verse 14 we see the presence of death (or punishment) on these individuals that God will not visit with death for their individual sins. So if the punishment isn’t the result of their sins, but we know that it’s always the result of somebody’s sin, then it must be the sin of another, namely Adam. Paul says that the same death reigns over those who had not even sinned like Adam did. That is, the particular punishment by God on humanity wasn’t the result of the “lesser sins” committed by his offspring, but of the unique treason committed by Adam. Adam, in virtue of his unique position, committed a particularly horrible act, the punishment of which is transferred to us.

Revisiting verse 12, if “death spread to all men because all sinned,” this must mean something like “death spread to all men because all were accounted sinners in virtue of Adam’s sin.” Or put simpler, “because all sinned in Adam.”

The remainder of the chapter seals the classic position on Original Sin:

“15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. 18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. 20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:15-21).
Whatever problems we may have of the doctrine of Original Sin, it’s derivation from Scripture isn’t one. A clear reading of Romans 5:12-21 obligates the Bible-believer to hold to the doctrine. I’ll demonstrate in the next installment that Original Sin is powerfully reinforced by what some may think to be an unlikely place - the basic and essential ingredients of the gospel.