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What is "Original Sin"?

F. Earle Fox

See also, The Law & the Grace of God

An article by John Eldredge, ....and the Soul Felt its Worth..., spurred this article which I have been long contemplating.   

A great amount of my growth out of the negative judgmentalism and anti-self theology of much of practicing Christianity came decades ago when the Lord told me that anything which might be considered wrong, evil, criminal, etc., on the human level ought NOT to be attributed to Him on the divine level.  Eldredge makes the same point in different words. 

Christians had imbibed too much of the Hellenic mindset about the division between the material and the spiritual (see article on Nancy Pearcey).  The Biblical view is that they are wedded, and that the division between them is wholly due to the Fall from a relation of trust and obedience to God, a relation of ontological and moral security. 

That word from God makes good common sense, even though many Christians do indeed defend such behaviors because, it is said, God is "above" our powers of reason.  But if God wants to have a free-will covenant with His people (which necessarily requires reasonableness on both sides of the covenant), He cannot relate to us in that manner.

No doubt we will never understand all there is to know about God, but He understands the law of non-contradiction, and is bound by it (that is not a comment which demeans God - because reason is part of the image and nature of God).  God understands that a freewill covenant relationship logically requires both sides to be open, honest, and reasonable with each other.  Anything less than that will produce puppet-like creatures, who are incapable of honoring God.  Honoring, like love, requires a freewill response. 

In contrast, for example, to the Muslim view of God, the God of the Bible holds Himself accountable to both reason and justice (see Genesis 18:25).  God has the ability to do as He wishes, because there is no one who can hold Him accountable.  But He has unilaterally committed Himself to such grace and mercy that we can depend on our rational human sense of justice to help discern the nature and will of God.  That is the very meaning of our "living by grace".  
 

 One of the major culprits of this sort of Christian judgmentalism has been a misguided version of "original sin", which (1) imputed guilt to all persons for the misbehavior of Adam and Eve, and (2) imputed guilt to our being as well as our doing

Both are wrong and have been very destructive in the life of Christians.   The principle that "I am innocent until proven guilty" is a Biblical principle.  I am not a-priori guilty of anything at all.

(1) If sin means the willful (and therefore conscious) disobedience to the law of God (the Biblical definition of 'sin'), then I cannot be held guilty for any act committed even before I was born.  Not even the Fall.  God told the Hebrews to drop any such notion  

In both Jeremiah 29:31-1, and Ezekiel 18:2, we read that the proverb is to be rejected which says, "The fathers have eaten a sour grape and the children's teeth are set on edge."   The father may sin (eat a sour grape), but the son is not guilty (his teeth are not set on edge).  The son does not inherit the guilt of the father, so the punishing of a whole clan or family for the sins of the father (as often done) was being ruled out of Hebrew behavior. 

These passages signal the shift toward a deeper understanding of our individuality in the midst of communal relationships. 

Each man thus stands trial for his own sins, not those of his predecessors.  That rules out an inheritance of original sin.  We do not stand trial for the sins of Adam and Eve, or any other predecessors. 

(2) Sin is a potential quality of behavior, attitude, or motive, but not of my being

Some Christian mystics have said things like, "My own existence is a sin..."   That is a slander on God since He, being our Creator, is responsible for our existence. 

That, again, does not mean that our being is undamaged.  We are often severely damaged by events in our lives, or perhaps even more importantly, by how we react to those events.  We can react with rage, resentment, retaliation, etc., or we can react with grace, love, patience, constructive response, including firmness and clear decision-making.  Which way we choose will have deep and lasting effects on our physical as well as emotional well-being. 

So my being can be twisted and broken, but it cannot, insofar as given by God, be sinful.  My basic being is God's doing, and God does only good.  But because we are co-creators with God of our being and identity, building on that primal level given by God alone, we can build a "self", an "I", which is warped, what Christians call the "old self".  That old self is contrary to God's plan for us, and so that old self is what must be crucified and die -- so that the self of original goodness can live. 

The deepest level of my being is always good, so that it is true to say that "It is always a good idea to be myself."  That Original Goodness is what makes redemption possible.  If I were made totally evil by the Fall, there would be no ember left to fan back into life.  I would have lost my free will to respond to the love of God.  So my Original Goodness can be destroyed only by my persistent unto death rejection of the will and purpose of God for my life. 

C. S. Lewis describes such situations in The Great Divorce.  

Satan is the father of lies, and the promoter of guilt of our being.  That is why he is called the "accuser of the brethren".  Any accusation directed at my being is likely coming from, or being promoted by, Satan, and can be rejected out of hand. 
 

None of this excuses us from repenting of our sins, that is, our sinful doings.  Focus on sinful being is a ploy of Satan's because it distracts us from the real target, our sinful doings, and thus make real repentance impossible. 

Furthermore, none of this rules out our inheriting the effects of the original sin by Adam and Eve, or our parents.  We obviously do.  We are born into a sinful, rebellious, ignorant, and broken world, much of it believing that it knows what it is doing.  It does not, and thus inherits the effects of that brokenness instigated by Adam and Eve,  and promotes the same into the future.  A sinful, rebellious, ignorant, and broken world breeds people after its own kind. 

There is only one way (see "Uniqueness of Christ" in newsletter, and also  #2 ) to stop that cycle of death and decay -- to come back to our relation of trust and obedience right down to the deepest possible levels of our lives -- for which we must follow Jesus on the Way of the Cross.  There is no other way back to the Father.   

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Date Posted -  01/03/2009   -   Date Last Edited - 09/15/2012