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Insight #259 – Are We Born Sinners?

Do I believe in original sin? Absolutely. I believe the Bible account that Adam and Eve committed the original sin of the human race. I have my own sins, but if I was born a sinner, it wasn’t the original sin, was it? Leaving the term “original” behind, let’s just examine this question: Are we all born guilty of sin?

Practical Before Theoretical

Let’s start on the practical side. If it is true that we all are born guilty of sin inherited from Adam, what can we do about it? How can a little child erase the guilt? Does the Bible answer this? Some religions say, “Yes, the Bible gives the solution; the answer is to baptize the baby shortly after birth.” Is that true?

God’s Word says:
Mark 16:16: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.”
Acts 2:38: “Repent, and be baptized.”
Acts 2:41: “Those who gladly received his word were baptized.”
Acts 18:8: “They heard, believed and were baptized.”
These texts show hearing, believing, and repenting as preceding baptism. Therefore, they cannot be applied to infants. There is no Scripture that shows baptism taking place before hearing, believing, and/or repenting.

How about “household baptisms”? In the first place, who of us does not know many households that have no small children? An oft-cited case is the household of the Philippian jailer. Acts says that he “was immediately baptized, he and all his household.” Praise the Lord! Who made up that household? We are not told, so this presents zero evidence that infants were included. And notice the context: “They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ They spoke the word of the Lord to him, and to all who were in his house. He… was immediately baptized, he and all his household” (Acts 16:31-33). Did you notice? The first thing mentioned to the household was that they must believe. That eliminates newborns. Secondly, “They spoke the word of the Lord to him, and to all who were in his house.” Can you speak the word of the Lord to infants? Let’s be real. This household example is clearly another example of hearing and believing before being baptized.

In short, even if infants are born with sin, the Bible offers no “solution” to the “problem.”

Distinguishing Between Consequences and Guilt

It is one thing to say that the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin have passed down to us. Guilt for their sin is a different story.

You may know someone who was killed by a drunken driver. Clearly that person suffered the consequences of the drunkard’s sin, not the guilt. How many millions in Syria today are suffering the consequences of the sins of a few! A person may repent of smoking yet still die of lung cancer because of the damage done.

The case of David and Bathsheba is enlightening. When David finally repented of his sin, the prophet Nathan told him, “Jehovah also has put away your sin. You will not die. However… the child… shall surely die” (2 Sam. 12:13-14). Not only that, but “the sword will never depart from your house… I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he will lie with your wives in the sight of this sun” (vss. 10-11). God forgave David, but David still had to suffer severe consequences.

Scripture says: “As in Adam all die” (1 Cor. 15:22). This famous resurrection chapter is about physical death and resurrection from beginning to end. “Christ died for our sins… was buried… was raised on the third day.” “At the last trumpet… the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed” (vss. 3-4, 52). And read the immediate context: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead… For since death came by man, the resurrection of the dead also came by man. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then those who are Christ’s, at his coming” (vss. 20-23). It’s about physical death coming from Adam to “all,” and resurrection coming to “all” because of Jesus. It’s about the consequences of Adam’s sin, not about our personal guilt.

Did Jesus Inherit Adam’s Sin?

“The Word became flesh… born of the seed of David according to the flesh… Since then the children have shared in flesh and blood, he also himself in the same way partook of the same… he gives help to the seed of Abraham. Therefore he was obligated in all things to be made like his brothers… every spirit who doesn’t confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God, and this is the spirit of the Antichrist” (John 1:14; Rom. 1:3; Heb. 2:14-17; 1 John 4:3).

If the whole human race inherits Adam’s sin, then Jesus inherited Adam’s sin. If all humans are born with sin, Jesus was born with sin. If all babies are guilty before God, the baby Jesus was guilty before God. Who can believe it! And if someone denies that Jesus came in the same flesh as us, “this is the spirit of the Antichrist.”

In high school, a friend directed me to Psalm 51:5: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity. In sin my mother conceived me.” But whether David is speaking of his mother or of the world in general, he says he was “in iniquity. In sin.” He doesn’t say that sin was in him. If this verse means that David was born a sinner, then Jesus was born a sinner.

The church of Rome fully recognizes this dilemma. So, they invented a “solution” called the “Immaculate Conception.” The Catholic Encyclopedia says: “In the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of 8 December, 1854, Pius IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary ‘in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.’ ” In short, the “solution” was to have Mary born without original sin, so that Jesus could be born without original sin.

Rome realizes, more clearly than many Protestants, that Jesus becoming flesh forces us to deny that humans are born with the guilt of Adam’s sin.

What About Romans 5?

The Apostle Peter said that “Paul… wrote to you; as also in all of his letters… there are some things that are hard to understand” (2 Pet. 3:15-16). Agreed! Surely, the second half of Romans 5 is one of those sections “hard to understand.” I do not claim to have the final word, but here are a few of my thoughts.

Verse 18 says, “So then as through one trespass, all men were condemned; even so through one act of righteousness, all men were justified to life.” What is this that “all men were justified to life”? Who but a universalist would claim all men are justified in the sense of being forgiven of sins with resulting eternal life? What does it mean then? That takes me back to 1 Cor. 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” As far as our physical bodies are concerned, because of Adam “all die,” and because of Christ “all” will one day live again.

Also, consider verse 12: “Sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin; and so death passed to all men, because all sinned.” How are we to understand “all sinned”? First notice that it does not say “all do sin,” or “all will sin,” much less “all inherit sin,” but rather “all sinned,” past tense. I believe that Hebrews 7:9-10 can help us here: “We can say that through Abraham even Levi, who receives tithes, has paid tithes, for he was yet in the body of his father when Melchizedek met him.” Levi is spoken of as being in the body of his great-grandfather. The argument is that Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek via his great-grandfather. A stretch? Yes, but an inspired stretch. I believe that is what we have in Rom. 5:12. We all sinned because we all were in Adam’s body when he sinned. Or, to look at it another way, when Adam sinned, “all sinned,” because he represented the entire human race. Adam and Eve were the whole human race at the time, so the whole human race (“all”) sinned. Death was a punishment for the whole human race.

I think that striving to grasp verses 18 and 12, and then applying that viewpoint to the balance of the verses can help to unravel the entire section. In any case, it is a difficult text. If the text teaches that all humans inherit Adam’s sin and are guilty, then Jesus inherited Adam’s sin and was guilty at birth. God forbid.

We Are Responsible For Ourselves

“Yet you say, Why doesn’t the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son has done that which is lawful and right, and has kept all my statutes, and has done them, he shall surely live. The soul who sins, he shall die: the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be on him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be on him” (Eze. 18:19-20).

He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).

“So then each one of us will give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12).

“God, being rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Eph. 2:4-5).

“Each one is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed. Then the lust, when it has conceived, bears sin” (James 1:14-15).

He who desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17).