The doctrine of original sin says you were born bad to the bone and hostile to God. You inherited Adam’s rebellious and sinful nature and your kids are going to hell.
Contrary to what you may have heard, original sin is not Biblical. This manmade teaching comes straight out of Judaism and was introduced into the church by Tertullian and Augustine. It has been preached by just about everyone (including me).
In my last article I looked at several Old Testament scriptures which are used to support original sin. In this article, I will briefly survey those New Testament scriptures which are (mis)used for the same purpose.
Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. (Matthew 7:17)
Here Jesus is teaching us how to recognize false prophets. “By their fruit you will recognize them.” Good fruit means a good tree; bad fruit means a bad tree. But what makes a tree good or bad in the first place?
Augustine would say all trees are born bad, but Jesus said some trees are made bad (see Matt. 12:33). If you can be made bad, you could not have been born bad. By the same token, if you can be made good, you could not have been born good.
A young child who does not know right from wrong cannot be judged good or bad. They become good or bad as a result of the choices they make.
That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man. (Mark 7:20–23)
The religious Jews were worried about what they were putting into their stomachs, but Jesus told them to watch what comes out of their hearts. When temptation is received, it gives birth to sin and this happens in the heart.
This has nothing to do with original sin and everything to do with hearts that have become corrupt. Jesus is talking about trees not acorns, men not babies. Babies aren’t tempted to fornications, thefts, and murders. These are grown-up sins for those who have been raised in a world of sin.
No one is good except God alone. (Mark 10:18)
God’s definition of goodness far exceeds our own. There are good people in the world, but no one is as good as God. We all fall short of his glory, we all need divine grace. This is different from saying everyone is born corrupt and bad to the bone.
This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. (John 3:19)
What kind of person prefers darkness to light? Some might say it is those who were stained with original sin, but that’s not what Jesus said. Those who prefer the darkness are those whose deeds are evil.
Think of Adam and Eve hiding in the garden. They weren’t hiding because they had a sinful nature. They hid because they had done an evil deed. “Everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:20). Evildoers prefer the darkness because they are afraid of being exposed by the light.
As it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become worthless. There is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10–12, NIV)
None of us is born righteous, but that doesn’t mean you were born a hell-bound rebel. On the day he drew his first breath, Adam was neither righteous nor sinful, and neither are we. Like Adam, we all get to choose the path we will follow.
Note the words “as it is written.” Paul is quoting the psalms. It was David who said there is none who seeks after God (Ps. 14:2–3). Which is a terrific piece of prose but it is not literally true, for David himself sought the Lord. “I sought the Lord and he answered me” (Ps. 34:4). People like David have always looked for God. We need to take care that we don’t turn beautiful psalms into blanket statements about the hearts of men.
In context, Paul is speaking about the Jews who sought to be righteous through the law (see Rom. 2:17). He is saying that our righteousness falls short of the Lord’s righteousness (Rom. 3:21–23). Compared to God, “there is none righteous.” We all need the righteousness that comes through faith to those who believe (Rom. 3:22).
Paul also says that all have become worthless. (Worthless in the sense that we are unfit for the kingdom of God.) We are not born worthless, we become worthless. We are not born astray, we go astray.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
Paul says all have sinned in the same way he says all have turned aside (Rom. 3:12). Which is very different to the claims of original sin.
Again and again the scriptures declare that we have all gone astray (see Ps. 14:3, Heb. 3:10, 1 Pet. 2:25). “All of us, like sheep, have gone astray” (Is. 53:6). Again, this is not proof of original sin but humanity’s lostness and need for God.
In context, Paul is comparing the Jews who have the law and the Gentiles who do not (Rom. 2:14). Although the Jews have some advantages over the Gentiles (Rom. 3:1), in the final analysis it makes little difference because all of us fall short of God’s glory. We all sin. We all go astray. We all need a Savior.
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 (Romans 5:12)
Paul wrote more about sin than any other New Testament writer, yet he never said we were born with a sinful nature. What we inherited from Adam was a death sentence. “Through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men” (Rom. 5:18).
The key phrase in Romans 5:12 is “all sinned,” which means when Adam sinned we were in him. Adam put himself and his unborn offspring on Death Row. “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned” (Rom. 5:14).
For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners – (Romans 5:19a)
To be made a sinner is to be made a slave. “You were slaves of sin” (Rom. 6:17). Religion says you were born a rebel, but the Bible says you were born a slave. “The whole world is a prisoner because of sin” (Gal. 3:22, NIrV). There are numerous scriptures showing that sinners are prisoners or slaves to sin (e.g., John 8:34, Rom. 6:6, 16–20, 22, 7:4, 14, Gal. 4:7, 2 Pet. 2:9).
Religion says your greatest need is to be forgiven for the crime of being born, but your greatest need is to be free. “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin… Who will set me free?” (Rom. 7:14, 24).
Jesus did not come to convince rebels to change sides. He came to set the captives free (Luke 4:18).
Perhaps you have heard it said, “You’re not a sinner because you sin, you sin because you’re a sinner.” But what makes us sinners in the first place? It is not a sinful gene; it was Adam’s disobedience. “Through the one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.” Your disobedience doesn’t come into it. Humanity was condemned because Adam sinned.
Why do sinners sin? We might ask why do slaves act like slaves or prisoners act like prisoners? A prisoner who acts like a prisoner, doesn’t know any other way to live. He has forgotten how life was on the outside. It’s the same with us. We were born into a world captive to sin. We act like sinners because that is how the world teaches us to act.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh (Romans 7:18a)
From this verse some conclude that our flesh is evil or that we have a sinful nature or a sinful parasite. Your physical flesh is not evil. The members of your body can be used as instruments of righteousness or unrighteousness (Rom. 6:13). When Paul says nothing good dwells in me, he is saying “My flesh is incapable of living the good and spiritual life that I desire.” That which is imperfect can never achieve perfection.
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh (Romans 8:3)
Augustine loved the phrase sinful flesh. The phrase appears dozens of times in his writings, but the phrase appears only once in the Bible.
To say Jesus came in the likeness of sinful flesh is to say he came to earth disguised as a sinful son of Adam. The Son of God was not a sinner, but he looked like one in the sense that he came in human form. The virgin-born man from heaven entered the prison of sin dressed in flesh like any other prisoner.
The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. (Romans 8:7, NKJV)
Augustine would say that a mind that is hostile to the things of God is proof of a sin gene, but Paul is contrasting two ways to walk. We can set our mind on carnal concerns or we can fix our minds on the things of the spirit (Rom. 8:6).
You do not need a sin gene to explain why humans sin. Consider the first woman. Like her husband, Eve was flawless and without sin, yet she sinned. With her God-given freedom Eve chose the wrong path and went astray.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins. (Ephesian 2:1)
In our natural state we are excluded, shut out, and disconnected from the life of God (Eph. 2:5, 4:18). We are born mortal which is to say we are condemned to die. “In Adam, all die” (1 Cor. 15:22). Our greatest need is to be raised from the dead to new life and this happens when we put our faith in the Author of Life (John 3:15–16, 5:24).
Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (Ephesians 2:3)
Before we were born again we were by nature children of wrath. This is a figure of speech. We were children of disobedience; now we are children of God. We used to have one kind of nature; now we have another. Paul is not saying that babies and children are under the wrath of God.
Contrary to what Augustine might say, you do not need to repent of the crime of being born and your children are not bound for hell. It’s true that Adam put himself and his unborn descendants on Death Row, but Last Adam demolished the prison that held us.
Because of Jesus, every one of us has the same choice Adam had. We can yield to sin and become slaves again, or we can trust God and live.