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Original Sin: Fallout from the Fall

This series offers an overview of the chief teachings of the Christian church.

When we think of Genesis, we think of beginnings. This is where we learn of creation, the making of man and woman, marriage, the nation of Israel. It is also where we find the beginning of sin ( Lutheran Spokesman, July 2022, page 9). It is in Genesis where we also learn how pervasive sin is; that it is, in fact, an inherited quality of human nature. We speak of “original sin.”

The Sydow edition of Luther’s Catechism defines original sin as “the sin which every human being inherits from his or her parents.” (page 208) The Augsburg Confession teaches that “since the fall of Adam all men begotten in the natural way are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with concupiscence [wicked desire].” It goes on to emphasize that this “disease, or vice of origin, is truly sin.” (Article II)

So, that’s what the theologians say. But what does the Bible say? Remarkably, this understanding of how thoroughly sin inhabits the human is taught throughout Scripture. As we said, it appears in Genesis (5:3, 8:21), but also comes up in the Psalms (51:5), the Gospels (Matthew 15:19, Mark 7:21, John 3:6), and the Epistles (Romans 7:18; Ephesians 2:1).

Many of these passages teach us that original sin exists and how it impacts our spiritual lives, but perhaps the most dramatic discussion is Paul’s, in Romans 5:12: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” By Adam’s rebellious action, inwardly, spiritually, we were all separated from God. The dread of God, the resistance we feel to obeying Him, the tendency to turn other things into “gods,” all these quickly show themselves in the world and in our lives.

Man was created in the image of God, but with sin that image was lost. In Genesis 5, which traces the family of Adam and Eve, we hear that sinner Adam begat a son “in his own image.” (verse 3) The spontaneous, freely given fear, love, and trust that we were created to render to God were spoiled and lost. Jesus, in His day, described the result: “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” (Matthew 15:19)

This explains the world we have inherited, and if we’re honest, it explains even more our own actions and inner lives. Because sin corrupts and distorts our view of God and His will, it makes us unable to do right. From the start—yes, from infancy—we are wretched and condemned before the holy judgment of God.

“Not so fast,” many in the world say; this doctrine of original sin has been assailed right and left. We hear the objections: “Look at that baby—so innocent and so pure! There’s nothing sinful there,” “I believe that there’s a spark of good in everyone,” “Come now, make your decision to follow Christ.” The Bible answers all these notions, but for now, it is enough to let the Law of God uncover our own simmering resistance to God and our self-interest at others’ expense. As Paul, the great Pharisee, came to realize, “The good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil that I will not to do, that I practice.” (Romans 7:19)

To realize the impact of original sin is to have every excuse swept out from under us, which is where we need to be, before we can appreciate the other great beginning we find in Genesis and throughout the Bible. After the Fall came the Promise; the Promise of another “Man,” through Whose obedience we are declared righteous: “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, . . . even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.” (Romans 5:18)

Peter Reim is a former pastor who now teaches English at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. He makes his home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.