CHRIST AND SIN
To what degree did Adam's fall into sin affect Christ's human nature, a nature like our own? Before this question can be answered we must understand the nature of sin.
Next to the word God, the word sin is the most closely packed with meaning for the human race and for the universe. "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight" (Ps. 51:4). Sin is more than the violation of moral principles. It involves man's standing with God and is therefore religious in its nature. It refers primarily to what has happened in man's personal relationship to God, His Lord and Creator. Man's failure before his Maker involves his eternal destiny.
Is there any other aspect of sin besides the actual thought or act committed in sinning? There are two aspects: man's personal acts of transgression for which he is responsible, and the sinful state or condition into which he is born as a member of a sinful race. The act of sin springs from this disposition, this direction of the will and of the whole being, that is contrary to the will of God. Man is not born free to do the righteous thing on his own.
This state of sin into which all men are born is called original sinnot in the sense of inherited guilt, but of an inherited disposition to sin. It goes back to an original source, the sin of Adam and Eve, the first parents of the human race. Involved is the sinful condition of all members of the human race before they are actually guilty of committing sin themselves.
The Scripture leaves no doubt that man's nature since the fall of Adam is degenerate and prone to sin. This defect of our nature at birth is not due in any way to our voluntary assent. It involves man's independence from God with an inevitable egoism and selfishness, which is the consequence of Adam's sin. This is the state of all infants who have not yet come to the age when they begin to exercise their rational and voluntary faculties. Thus the Bible makes a clear distinction between original and actual sinning.
The evidence for the universality of sin in this world is overwhelming and inescapable. Moreover, the Bible affirms it. "There is none righteous, no, not one" (Rom. 3: 10). As Adam's descendants we inherit from him the sinful state and, consequently, death that involves all men without exception. The sinfulness of the human race rests upon a real identification with Adam and Eve. Our union with Adam and what his sin brought to the human race is not to be lightly dismissed or ignored. "It was through one man that sin entered the world, and through sin death, and thus death pervaded the whole human race, inasmuch as all men have sinned" (Rom. 5:12, N. E. B.).
Adam and Eve were created in a state of innocence, in oneness and in harmony with God. But they sinned. Thereby they became alienated from God and were sent forth from the Garden of Eden. Their relationship with God was lost, not only for themselves but for all their descendants. As a result, all men are born in a state of separation from God, subject to sin and death, unable of themselves to return to innocence.
This state of man's original sin at birth is clearly taught in Scripture. "Thou . . . wast called a transgressor from the womb" (Isa. 48:8); "The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born" (Ps. 58:3); "In iniquity I was brought to birth and my mother conceived me in sin" (Ps. 51:5, N.E.B.). The meaning in the Hebrew is that the mother communicated this state of sin. David is applying this to himself. From the earliest period of his existence he affirms that the sin principle was potential in him, antecedent to all voluntary transgression. "And you . . . were dead in trespasses and sins; . . . and were by nature the children of wrath" (Eph. 2:1-3).
The term "by nature" designates the unregenerate and sinful condition of all men. They have no righteousness that is acceptable to God. The predominant tendency of their propensities is the reverse of what it was before Adam fell. These propensities grow and strengthen as men grow, and lead to sinning unless and until men are renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The key Biblical texts for the doctrine of original sin are found in Romans 5:12-21. The whole passage, which is a unity, teaches the solidarity that exists between one man, Adam, and all other men. The reason death passed upon all men is that all are sinners by virtue of Adam's fall.
This is a great stumbling block to faith for many people. That children are born in sin as a result of one man's transgression seems on the face of it to be very unjust. How can God impute sin or guilt upon any person who has not, by his own choice, consciously disobeyed Him and gone contrary to His will? it is asked. How could God so structure the whole human race as to involve all in the sin of Adam, who lived thousands of years before they were born? How could God cause billions of people to suffer for Adam's one sin? On this point Dr. Wm. G. T. Shedd makes a significant observation: "To suffer in consequence of the sin of another, is not the same as to be punished for it."Dogmatic Theology, vol. 2, p. 187.
Through the centuries the Christian church has almost invariably held to the solidarity of the human race in the sin of Adam. There is substantial agreement that all members of the human race are constituted sinners as a consequence of Adam's sin. The difference in interpretation arises in seeking to explain how the sin of Adam caused all men to be involved in his sin. Various views are offered to explain this and do justice to God's character.
Historical Positions on Original Sin
1. The Pelagian View
This interpretation was propounded at Rome in A.D. 409 by Pelagius, a British monk. He argued that every human being is created innocent, free from original sin. Sin in every person's experience enters into the human heart from without, he insisted. In fact, there is no fall of the entire human race. Every man's first sinful act is his own fall. The effect of Adam's sin was no more than that of a bad example. Therefore, every man repeats the sad story of the fall in Eden, since all men sin. Adam's fall did not corrupt human nature. Sin is not inherited from the father of the race.
When Adam sinned he injured only himself, Pelagius taught. God does not impute or charge Adam's posterity with his sin. Man is guilty only of those sins for which he is personally responsible. All men have the power of choice; sin is their own voluntary act. Since man is born free, he is perfectly capable of obeying God and keeping His commandments. Death follows by virtue of man's own transgression and not because of Adam's sin.
If Pelagianism be true, what is the nature of salvation? If man is born good by nature is he not able to save himself without Christ?that is, if he would only live by the trustworthy inner light of righteousness into which he is born.
However, the Pelagian position is contrary to Scripture. Paul specifically states that sin and death passed on all men by virtue of Adam's sin against God. Furthermore, children may die before they arrive at the age of accountability or before they voluntarily transgress God's law. Their death can be accounted for only as the result of Adam's sin, as God's Word declares.
Paul compares the first Adam and Jesus Christ, the second Adam. Both stand at the head of the race and affect the entire race. By the sin of Adam sin and death entered the lives of all men. By Jesus Christ, righteousness, life, obedience, enter the lives of all who believe in Him. In both cases the destiny of the race is involved. Pelagius' view is contrary to this analogy.
There is really very little to be said in favor of Pelagius' position regarding original sin. Through the centuries the teaching has been condemned by the church and particularly by the Reformers.
2. The Augustinian View
The church father Augustine, who flourished in the fourth century, taught that the whole race sinned in Adam. Adam was the head of the race; his nature was our nature. Therefore, when he sinned he made our natures corrupt. We were involved in Adam's sin, not consciously, but as seeds. His sinful nature was individualized into billions of persons by their inheriting his sinful nature.
Augustine deduced original sin from the sin of the first pair. He saw it as a universally inherited sin of the human race. His interpretation of Romans 5:12 is obviously false. Paul does not say that all have sinned in the person of Adam, that all the descendents of Adam consequently begin their individual lives inheriting sin itself. Paul speaks of the consequences of sin and death that flowed from Adam. As a result of the sin all men have an ungodly and selfish bias. Paul does not explain how this came to be.
The Roman Catholic Church came to accept the position that sin is transmitted by generation. It is not simply imputed but actually inherited genetically. Thus, original sin is conveyed by natural generation to all men. If this position were true, it would mean that Jesus Christ inherited original sin by natural generation.
In order to maintain the sinlessness of Christ, the Catholic Church invented and teaches the doctrine of the immaculate conception. According to this teaching, the mother of our Lord was born free from sin. At conception she escaped all forms of human depravity, being immaculate and sinless from the commencement of her being. This enabled Jesus to be born sinless. This was first taught in the twelfth century by Peter Lombard. Since then increased homage and veneration have been paid to Mary.
This doctrine also fails to meet the truth of Scripture. "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin." Mary, the mother of our Lord, died. There is no evidence whatever that she was translated. Her mortality can only be accounted for on the basis that she was a sinner. She too needed salvation and atonement made by her Son, Jesus Christ. If she were sinless no judgment of death would follow. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (I Cor. 15:22).
The Bible speaks of the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, not the immaculate conception of His mother. There is no Scripture evidence that Mary was born out of the ordinary course of the rest of humanity. There is only one Person ever born sinless, not two. Jesus alone is the one Holy Being born separate from sinners. Nowhere in the Bible is His mother put on an equality with Him.
3. John Calvin's Position
John Calvin was aware of the implications of original sin for the character of God. He also sought to explain how the sin of Adam could involve the race in ruin; how his posterity could be charged with his sin without their actually participating in it.
Calvin considers Adam the corrupting source of all sin. However, Adam's guilt is not transmitted to his posterity. Genetically, man became depraved because of Adam's sin; by his sin Adam corrupted our nature. Our corrupt natures are not the result of acquired wickedness or sin from our ancestors. But we bring innate depravity from our mother's womb. Whereas the Roman Catholic view speaks of the transmission of actual sin of Adam by heredity, Calvin speaks of a depravity that is the result of Adam's sin.
Original sin, or universal depravity of the race, constituted the basis for Calvin's doctrine of election. According to this view the sovereign will of God is primary. God has every right to condemn and destroy all sinners. He is under obligation to save no one. But by His sovereign will and election he decides to save some and destroy others. God's justice is thereby not open to question, since he has every right to damn all sinners. Grace does not have priority here. Where eternal damnation is justly deserved by all sinners, no one should argue with God's method of election and His right to save whom He chooses.
Calvin and Original Sin
By regarding sin as a malady rather than a condition of personal guilt and sinfulness, Calvin, and most of the other Reformers, sought to remove God at least one step from direct responsibility for the sinfulness of the race.
However, the sinful state Into which all men are born is a very real condition. It is not less than the sinful state Adam and Eve came to have. "Through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners" (Rom. 5:19, N.E.B.).
Consequently, any position that makes genetically inherited sin or its moral consequences the specific ground for the condemnation of the race, involves God in the responsibility. Once solidarity with Adam is interpreted to mean transmission of sin by a procreated posterity, responsibility gets back to the Creator. Calvin fails to clear God of the responsibility for making sin possible. His interpretation does not form a proper basis for doing justice to the character of God. This constitutes the crucial issue in the doctrine of original sin.
4. The Arminian Position
Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) was professor at Leyden University in Holland. His teaching became popular among Protestants, particularly the Wesleys and, consequently, the Methodists.
Arminius taught that all men are born destitute of original righteousness and are therefore exposed to death. Man is not guilty of Adam's sin but inherits depravity and is thereby condemned. In this he agreed with Calvin's position.
However, since men are not accountable for the sinful state, or depravity, into which they are born, God cannot justly destroy them all. To be just, God must counteract the effect of this inherited depravity. He must counterbalance the injustice of original sin.
Arminius and his followers interpret the contrast in Romans 5 between the results of the sin of the first Adam and the righteousness and life of Christ to mean that Christ pronounces a universal justification upon all men. The result is complete freedom from original condemnation at birth. In other words, the universal judgment of God upon all men is met at one's birth by a common justification through Christ. This counterbalances the injustice of inheriting depravity as a result of Adam's sin. The result is complete freedom from original condemnation at birth.
The Arminian position differs sharply from Calvin's doctrine of a limited atonement and election. Arminius gives priority to salvation by grace for all men. He deals with the race on the basis of a universal atonement, not on the basis of election. Thus all men are born free. The only sins for which man can be judged and condemned when he arrives at the age of accountability are his own. Therefore all babies and infants who die before that time will be saved. From birth man must learn to cooperate with God. Grace is resistible.
However, the position that universal justification was necessary to counteract the injustice of universal original sin and resultant condemnation has certain implications regarding the character of God. Since God ordained and provided both, as Arminius' position implies, how can God balance His injustice of universal condemnation on the one hand with His universal justification on the other? If God is right with His first judgment He does not need another act to justify Himself. On the other hand, how could God commit an act of injustice and later balance it by another act?
Neither the Calvinistic nor the Arminian position offers any real vindication of God. God is very much a partner in the universal condemnation of men. At stake is God's character of justice, love, and righteousness. A loving, righteous God cannot impute guilt or inflict depravity and condemnation upon anyone who has not, by his own choice, made himself a transgressor. How can God, as Calvinism implies, hold a baby or a child responsible for the sin he is born with? How can the child be blamed for giving expression to a sinful nature when that is the only nature he has? He did not ask to be born in sin or in a sinful world. It is not his fault. Neither did we ask to be born in a sinful world. We had no choice in the matter.
The only basis for vindicating God in the doctrine of original sin is to find an interpretation that makes Adam and man responsible rather than God.
Pointers to a Solution
Two factors are involved in a proper interpretation of the solidarity of the human race with Adam and his fall, by which all men are constituted sinners: first, what is the nature of sin that Adam transmitted to his posterity? Second, what are the consequences of God's withdrawal from the race as a result of Adam's fall?
Adam was created to live in harmonious fellowship with, and dependence upon, God. This relationship predisposed him to right thinking, right feeling, right conduct, and to love God with all his heart, mind, and soul. But Adam fell into sin.
How did Adam and Eve sin? Satan did not infuse them with an entity called "sin." He led them into a life apart from God and from obedience to His will. They chose to gratify themselves rather than to trust and obey God. Eve's sinful choice was not so much in eating the fruit as in gratifying herself contrary to God's will. The fruit was good in itself, since God created it. But it became the means for Adam and Eve to please themselves, to assert their independence from the will of their Creator.
The same principle holds true in most things in life. There is nothing wrong with the acquiring of wealth; but when it is done for the sake of self -gratification, for the worship of self, for the expression of selfish desires, and not for the glory of God, then it is sin.
The sin of Adam and Eve was the wrong use of their freedom. Freedom does not, and cannot, mean independence from God. Man may be free in the only way a created being can be, free to follow the God-given nature, but not free from his Creator. Selfishness is sin. Every form of sin flows from this. Our own will exercised to please ourselves in opposition to God is always sin.
Satan led Adam and Eve into a life away from God and centered in themselves. From that point they lived with this broken relationship, which became the heritage of all their descendants. Man's life, personal responsibility, and the function of all his faculties are ultimately unintelligible except in a right relation to God. Life apart from God is distorted, it is the ultimate source of all selfishness, evil, perversion, weakened propensities, all inherited tendencies to sin. Because of sin, man's nature, mentally, morally, physically, spiritually, is crippled. "The doctrine in question [original sin] does not imply that fallen man is unable to be moral; but that he is unable to be spiritual, holy, and religious."SHEDD, op. cit., Vol. 2, P. 214. Thus man became the rival and competitor of his Maker and capable of every kind of sin and wickedness. Sin is the corruption of the very center and highest part of man. It is his affirmation to please himself, free from divine control.
The doctrine of the fall of man is a religious concept throughout. Man's sinfulness and his transgressions are a consequence of religious misplacement. Out of fellowship with God, man is spiritually fallen, alienated from God, the source of spiritual life.
Apart from a right relationship with God, man cannot obey Him. Scripture recognizes this when it tells us that men are "by nature children of wrath" (Eph. 2:3); that "the carnal mind is enmity against God" (Rom. 8:7), that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (I Cor. 2:14).
Observation and experience bear out this fact. In sin, the human capacities are impaired. Man idolizes himself and prides himself on his ability and power. He is more concerned to display his sense of superiority and self-sufficiency to win the praise of others than the praise of God.
Through Jesus Christ God seeks to reconcile man with Himself. Not until a person is born again of the Holy Spirit and reconciled to God and His will is the sinful situation changed. Then man can live in a right relationship to God. His tastes, tendencies, sympathies, predispositions, are given a new spiritual capacity by the presence of the Holy Spirit. His life style and center are now toward God. The total man is made right with his Creator.
Is Sin Inherited?
As a result of their sinful choice, Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden, separated from God. Their relationship with God, which involved them as whole persons, was broken. God respected their free will and choice, and withdrew from the human race. The most dreadful of sin's consequences is that it estranges man from God.
After the Fall, Adam and Eve had children. The children did not enjoy the oneness with God that their parents had enjoyed before they sinned. Thus, all Adam's offspring came into the world without God, before they had personally transgressed. "At that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12). Since God respected Adam and Eve's choice to live independently, and since their moral powers were weakened, there was no way they could bring their children into the world in a restored relationship with God. The children inherited the results of the parents' sin, separation from God.
Man's state of separation from God is not one of guilt and condemnation resulting from Adam's sin. It is the consequence of his sin. God does not punish men for the sin of Adam; but separation from God followed as a result of the sin of one man.
Every child is born with an impossible self-centeredness. This Biblical truth is the primary fact of all human life at its beginning. Left to himself he becomes a law unto himself. As he matures he thinks, believes, feels, and actsas much as he canas he chooses. His subjective propensities to self-will, self-exaltation, pride, envy, jealousy, and all the host of sins is but the natural expression of a life without God, a life preoccupied with itself.
So, every child is deficient in his relationship to and dependence on God. All children stumble over this total-life problem. Excessive self-concern reaches into every motive, tendency, function, and act of life. To understand original sin, we must seek its meaning in man's life apart from God. To lack oneness with God is to be deficient as a person, to be wrong in heart and mind.
To enter the world without a full and true dependence on God is not a neutral thing, but a positive deficiency. Actual sinning on man's part is the natural expression of this alienation. It is an affirmation of it. Therefore it is not possible for any man naturally to live without committing acts of sin. Original sin is not per se wrong doing, but wrong being. So there is a causal connection between the first sin of the first man and the self-centeredness of his posterity.
The consequence of Adam's sin was total. Accordingly, original sin is a state of the whole self in relation to God. It is never simply a physiological or biological problem. Trying to locate sin or the transmission of sin genetically simply misses the real problem. The issue is a spiritual one and not something in a gene. Sin is not transmitted genetically from parents to children. Sin must not be reduced to something physical. Man feeds on himself as the center of importance. He seeks glory from men and gives none to God. His self-centeredness remains hidden from man himself. Consequently, he is unable to sense any need of God. He becomes his own frame of reference. Consequently, God cannot have the right place in his life.
To believe that the flesh or the genes are in themselves sinful tends to throw the blame upon our organic system rather than upon the whole man as he stands before God. Our physical structure, including the glands, genes, and chromosomes with all their biological and physiological possibilities would be no problem were it not for the perverseness of our minds. We do not commit sin by some mechanical action of the genes or of the flesh. Men become limited and crippled in mental capacity owing to the weakening of the genes. The effects of sin are seen primarily in the brain and its functions.
Because of his essential self-centeredness, each child confirms Adam's sin in that he opts to live by and unto himself. This is the fundamental crisis for all men. Innately, they are never able to get beyond the limits of their own egoism. Man finds himself on an endless treadmill of frustration and self-seeking.
In his search for fulfillment and meaning man forgets his need to depend on God. He fails to grasp the nature of Satan's temptation, "Ye shall be as gods." So he stands over against God and seeks to live by his own puny power and greatness. All this points to man's alienation from God as his basic problem. Therefore man's broken relationship with God is not something inherited biologically.
When Scripture declares that "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9), it emphasizes the fact that sin lies, not on the periphery of a man's life, but at the very center of his being, his depth dimension. And in the born-again Christian there is no such thing as a spiritual entity that is closer to God than some other part of the person. God always addresses man in his totality.
Let it be emphasized: Sin cannot be reduced to something in a gene. Separation from God is spiritual. Bad habits and practices are developed, they do not come via the genes. Always the whole man is involved, not just some bad part of him. The fundamental difference between the born-again Christian and the non-Christian is that the one is directed and controlled by God and the other by self, away from God. It is not a difference in genetics.
As a result of man's rebellion the whole person is subject to all manner of degeneracies, for human capacities are impaired without God. The mind is subject to its own selfish choices. The understanding is darkened by reason of a stubborn independence from God. It may be granted that physically and emotionally this alienation from God must have been a great shock to man's whole system. In his entirety man began to die when he rebelled.
The Biblical doctrine of the Fall does fit the facts. We come into the world a depraved species. Every newborn child soon casts his vote on the side of selfishness. He is trapped by this estrangement from God.
Men speak of inheriting a propensity or a proclivity to sin. Invariably these things are qualities or characteristics of a life apart from God. From this state grows every other form of sin.
Man's only hope lies in a return to God through Jesus Christ. And true Christians intelligently and wholeheartedly commit their lives to Christ to be led by the Spirit, rather than to govern themselves and serve themselves.
Modern man is reluctant to diagnose his problem in terms of his need to repent and return to God. A shift in our center of reference is needed. Our motivations and commitments need to be Christ-centered. Unless there is a deep involvement of our whole lives with Christ, our Saviour and Lord, we have no way of survival or recovery from sin.
Surrender to God and to the Holy Spirit does not mean that man has now changed his genes, or simply improved his propensities. God seeks control of the whole person. Crucifying the flesh does not mean that one denies to himself certain undesirable and unchristian things. The issue involves shifting one's whole center from self to Christ. This requires the conscious, willing commitment of the whole person.
Man's living by Jesus Christ is the fundamental need: "As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me" (John 6:57). Only in a right relation to God can man understand what it means to be made in the image of God. The purpose of the gospel is to bring about an acknowledged dependence on God, to lead one to live by Jesus Christ. The individual is born again in the whole of his being.
When this happens his tastes, tendencies, proclivities, predispositions, are given a new spiritual capacity by the control of the Holy Spirit in the life. The whole man now comes into a right relation to God.
Did Christ Inherit Original Sin?
The issue of Christ's sinlessness arises because He was born into the world as we all are. The implication of Adam's sin for all his posterity brings us face to face with the fact that Christ was born of a sinful mother, who was a daughter of Adam. Did Jesus contract from Mary the taint of original sin as do all men born of sinful parents? Or was Jesus, alone of all men born of women, entirely free from the state of sin that marks all other human beings?
To what degree did Adam's fall affect Christ's human nature? Was Jesus born exactly as we are? And if God made one exception in His Son, is He not playing favorites? Why, then, could He not have done the same for all of us and made us free from original sin?
If the transmission of sin is by natural propagation, then Jesus must have inherited from Mary what we all inherit from our parents, unless we favor some form of the immaculate-conception doctrine.
Sin is a spiritual thing caused by the alienation of the whole person from God. We cannot apply this alienated condition to Christ. He was not born as we are, separate from God. He was God Himself. He could inherit from Mary only what could be transmitted genetically. This means He inherited the weakened human physical constitution, the results of sin upon the body, that we all inherit. As concerning all other men, they are born without God. All men need regeneration. Christ did not. Here lies the great difference between Christ and ourselves.
Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit. We are not. He did not begin life with a tendency toward independence from God as we do. From birth to the resurrection His tendency was total harmony with, and dependency on, the Father. There was not the slightest taint of sin about Him. The self-centered spirit of the fallen Adam and Eve was totally absent in Christ. Always, from the dawn of consciousness, He delighted to do God's will. He was never selfish as all other men are.
Jesus was meek and lowly in heart. He stooped to the death of the cross in His love for sinners. He stooped to everything but sin and selfishness. To behold Christ always denying Himself in His love for lost men is the supreme revelation of God to man. The glorification of the Father was the supreme purpose of His life. His choices never varied. This was the expression of His innate sinlessness, the utter purity of His love and devotion to God.
Only once in the history of our world has man been able to witness a flawless, stainless, perfect human being. Only one Person ever born of a woman lived an absolutely righteous life and was then able to offer this perfect righteousness as a gift to unrighteous men.
In Jesus we are confronted with this Man. He has no parallel. All other human beings are sinners. In all the universe and before all of His creatures, God has one sinless human being. One noble vessel that ever remained in its purity came from the Potter's hand. He was perfect in surrender and obedience, perfect in faith and righteousness. There is but one spotless Lamb in the flock, given up to death for our sins. In Him we see God giving Himself for sinful man.
If Christ was stained by sin at any point along the way, then He could not offer to unrighteous men a perfect righteousness.
Jesus is not merely an example for us to follow. He alone is our righteousness, our life, our wisdom, our sanctification, and our redemption. Let us proceed to examine the Biblical evidence on the sinlessness of our blessed Lord.