Original Sin vs. Superabundant Grace

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November 21 2016
Author: Pastor Bill Henderson

Supplemental teaching for session Eight of Wayne Grudem’s 20 Life Transforming Truths 

"Original sin" is actually a tricky expression but with a centuries-old history. At first blush it appears pretty simple to understand but it is technical jargon specific to the field of theology. Personally, I think “original sin” is an expression worth preserving and explaining because the more accurately we think about human sin the more accurately we grasp the amazing grace of God in salvation.   

In the beginning, when Adam and Eve turned on God their natures changed; and somehow we inherited that fallen nature. Ever since, all of Adam’s children have received bad blood so to speak. Historically, theologians have called this “original sin.” Be careful though, and don’t confuse original sin with the originating sin. Original sin is not the first human sin committed; instead, original sin is the result of that originating sin. In other words, original sin is a kind of inherited sin, the sin with which we were born. 

Romans 5:12-19 is the classic passage on original sin because Paul makes a causal connection between Adam’s sin and the sinfulness of all people throughout all time. He says, for example, “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” and “one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people,” and “through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners” (5:12, 18, 19). It’s plain to see that original sin is caused by Adam.  

Let me illustrate. Suppose a corporate company dumps contaminated waste into one end of a stream (think Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s crime in the movie Erin Brockovich), that toxic waste doesn’t remain there but travels and pollutes the whole stream. Similarly, Adam’s rebellion against God did not just corrupt his own nature; our whole human race was poisoned. We’re all in this thing together. God counts us guilty in sin because of Adam’s sin. We ourselves practice sin because we’re sinners; and we’re sinners because of original sin. 

I clearly recall when the Lord powerfully illustrated original sin to me when one of our children was still an “innocent” infant. One night, I was roused to the sound of a shrill cry. Why was there so much commotion? Standing in the bedroom doorway, I was completely disarmed to see our little baby half-propped up clenching the bars of the crib with white-knuckled grip, and screaming with red-faced anger. From where did this innate anger come?!? It came as a consequence of the Fall. That’s why David, in brokenness and repentance, confessed, “I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). We are born with a disposition to sin because of original sin. 

Therefore, original sin ought to inform the way we approach Sunday School, the way we parent and grandparent, the way we advise and evangelize. Kids don’t even have to be taught how to do wrong and think wrongly! They can discover wrongdoing and wrong thinking all by themselves. The same goes for all of us. We are born in a war zone, not a neutral zone. And left to ourselves we are on the wrong side of the front! 

But truth be told, we’re not left to ourselves because of the abundant grace of God in Christ Jesus. There is good news: “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). Yes, Romans 5 proves Adam’s achievement, original sin, but by contrast it also proves Jesus’ achievement, original righteousness: 

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:17-19).

If it ever feels unfair that in God’s universe Adam’s trespass and guilt were reckoned as belonging to you for your condemnation (even though we all indict ourselves with our own daily sins that probably make Adam look like a Puritan by comparison) then you should equally think it unfair that Jesus’ cross-work and his righteousness be reckoned as belonging to you for your justification. 

But this is how we know we are saved by superabundant grace. God deals with those who believe in His Son not on the basis of their just deserts, but on the basis of His justifying grace. Adam’s unrighteous act brought sin and death upon the human race, but through the second Adam’s righteous act on a Roman cross a new race of Christian people are counted justified before God. Miracle of miracles this. Let the doxology ring:

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace.

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