Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST005/8 Original sin and Inherited Depravity.


Original Sin and Inherited Depravity.

In dealing with the consequences of Adam's sin we have already implied the fact that the effects of sin when it entered could not be limited to Adam and Eve, but must also affect the human race as a whole.

We face the fact, in other words, of the universality of sin, and this very fact produces certain problems, such as the reason for sin's universality, the means of its transmission, the connection between hereditary depravity and hereditary guilt, the extent of inherited depravity i.e. the meaning of total depravity, the effect of inherited depravity on the freedom of the will, and the connection between inherited depravity and infirmity.

(a.) The Scriptural teaching concerning Original Sin.

By "original sin" is meant the fact that Adam's sin was the fountain of all succeeding sin and had an actual effect on the rest of the race, and therefore all who have been born since Adam, have been born sinful and subject to death in its fullest sense, as the consequence of sin.

The statements in Romans ch.5 seem quite clear in this respect. In verses 12 to 18 four things are evident;

  1. Sin entered the world by dara's first sin;
  2. Death entered as a result of sin;
  3. Judgment unto condemnation came upon all as a result of this first sin;
  4. Something in the nature of a disease of sin must have entered the race in that Paul says that death reigned over all, even over those who had not sinned as Adam sinned; in other words, man, as a result of adam's sin is born with a depraved nature.

(b.) The Scriptural Teaching concerning Inherited Deprayity.

By "inherited depravity" is meant the actual ''moral condition of man as he is found today and as ho has been throughout history. Here again the Scriptures repeatedly assert that man is born in a state of spiritual death, with a nature that is defiled and estranged from God. The main Scriptural references in this connection are; Ps.51:5; 58:3; Gen.5:3; 8:21; Ps.14:2,3; Jer.17:9; Mk.7:20-23; John 3:5,6. There are also the passages in Paul's writings which use the word "flesh'' as meaning human nature separated from God and defiled by sin; Romans. 8:5, 8, 9, 13; Gal.5:24 and Romans. 7:17,18.

Those two terms "original sin" and "inherited depravity",though not strictly speaking synonymous, are more often than not used synonymously.The definition of original sin in the Articles of the Church of England is an example of this; "Original Sin is the fault and corruption of every man whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation." What is mentioned here is really 'inherited depravity" and not "original sin".

(c) The Transmission of Inherited Depravity.

The next point to consider is the means by which this inherited depravity has been passed down or to put it in another way perhaps more suitable to our purpose, the reason why man is still today suffering the penalty of Adam's sin. There are three main theories; 

  1. One that the race was in a sense in Adam when he sinned, since we have all descended from Adam, and therefore we must share Adam's guilt;
  2. Two, that Adam is the legal head of the race and therefore the legal representative and so his sin is legally imputed to the race;
  3. Three, that sin has been handed down according to the natural laws of heredity. Sin entered the race and has been transmitted from generation to generation since and, because man is therefore sinful, he must suffer the penalty of sin oven though not personally responsible. An example may be seen in the way a child may suffer the penalty of his parentst disease. Likewise, in the days of slavery, a child born into a slave family would also be a slave. None of the theories is free from difficulty. The first two seem rather far fetched and not really in accord with the character of God. The last may have scientific objections, but in spite of this, still seems to he the most reasonable.

(d) Hereditary Depravity and Hereditary Guilt.

From the above paragraph it will be seen that there are those who maintain that man is born actually guilty before God. While some do indeed hold such a theory, there are others who use the term "guilty" with a slightly different meaning from our usual understanding of it.

They say that, while man is not guilty in the sense of being personally blameworthy yet he is guilty in the sense of being subject to the penalty of sin. Hereditary guilt, in the strict sense of the word, seems to be incorrect. No guilt can be attached to man until he actually sins, but on the other land, he is liable to the penalty attached to a soul with a sinful nature, cut off from God, and that penalty is death.

This, howover,is just where the atoning work of Christ comes in. The death of Christ atones for man in this condition and brings him under the reign of grace and thus brings him into a state of salvation prior to the time when sin becomes an actual fact and act in his own life.

Man becomes guilty for his inherited depravity when, being conscious of his condition, he rejects the remedy and at the same time makes his indwelling depravity his own responsibility. This would appear to be the meaning of the free gift coming upon all men unto justification of life. (Rom.5:18).

(e) The Nature and Extent of Inherited Depravity.

The Church of the Nazarene in its articles of doctrine describes original sin or inherited depravity in the following words, "We believe that original sin, or depravity, is the corruption of the nature of all the offspring of Adam, by reason of which everyone is very far gone from original righteousness or the pure state of our first parents at the time of their creation, is averse to God, is without spiritual life, and is inclined to evil, and that continually."

The Westminster Confession reads as follow, "By this sin (our first parents) fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generation. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions."

From those statements three questions arise,

  1. What is the nature of this original sin?
  2. What is the extent of it, or what is meant by total depravity?
  3. What is man`s moral condition at birth?

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