Sin isn’t just what we do; it’s who we are. On this first episode of Simply Put, Barry Cooper defines the term “original sin” and explains how it became our natural state.
I’d like to talk to you about sin. Original Sin.
I should say up front that it is almost impossible to commit an original sin. That’s because they’ve all been done already. To be quite honest, there’s a terrible lack of originality where it comes to sin.
But that of course is not what theologians mean when they talk about “original sin”. What they’re referring to is the idea that because the entire human race is descended from one man, a man who rebelled against God, we have all inherited his sinful nature – and his guilt. We are all of us—to use a biblical phrase—“in Adam.”
A friend of mine was born in Australia simply because one of his ancestors, a lady called Ann Forbes, was deported from England to Australia as a criminal in 1787. Now my Australian friend hadn’t done anything wrong himself, but because of the crime of his ancestor, he is now part of a family that is Australian. He’s Australian by birth. And everyone in his extended family owes their existence and their identity to one person, one crime, one exile.
So you see, sin isn’t just a question of behavior, it’s a question of being. It’s not just what we do, it’s who we are. It’s in our DNA. It’s our natural state, and, despite what your local grocery store might have you believe, natural is not always good.
Whether we like it or not, you and I are part of a highly dysfunctional family that stretches all the way back to Adam. We all bear the family likeness. And we’re all the black sheep of the family, because there are nothing but black sheep in the family.
Sometimes, after one of our less commendable moments, we’ll say of ourselves, I really don’t know what came over me. That’s not who I am. But the reality is that nothing came over you, and it is who you really are.
Jesus says in Mark chapter 7: “From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within.”
In other words, because of Adam, you and I were born with a serious heart problem. And the idea that we can somehow cut sin completely out of our lives is as absurd as the idea that we could somehow cut out our own hearts and still live.
I see the clearest evidence of my own heart problem when I’m caught off-guard. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, if you really want to discover whether you have rats in the basement, you have to catch them unawares. You can’t walk noisily up to the door, make a lot of noise jiggling the door knob, open the door with a crash, and then clomp slowly down the steps. No, if you really want to know whether you have rats in the basement, you have to silently creep up to the door, open it ever so gently, and then suddenly jump to the bottom of the stairs—then you’ll see the rats scuttling off in all directions.
It’s when we haven’t had time put on a disguise or make ourselves presentable, that we see what’s really inside us.
Let’s say a driver cuts in line in front of you, or a customer service representative drops your call after you’ve been on hold for 30 minutes—that’s typically the moment when you see the black gunk in the human heart, as the anger and indignation pour out. Neither the driver nor the customer service representative put the black gunk in there. But, like hands twisting a wet sponge, they merely revealed what was already inside.
At these kinds of moments, our emotions can feel “out of our control.” And that’s because sin isn’t just something that we do. Sin is something that does us. Scripture says we’re enslaved by it; it drives us to feel and to do things we don’t want to feel or to do.
The Apostle Paul says, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . . It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
Now, as my Australian friend points out, having been born in Australia because of his ancestor’s crime, it would be impossible to get back to England under his own steam. Nobody is that good a swimmer.
In the same way, neither can we find our way back to God, having been exiled far from him because of Adam’s crime.
But that’s not how the biblical story ends. Instead, knowing that it is impossible for us to get to him, God in his love comes to us.
Jesus Christ comes into the world as the “Last Adam”.
Unlike the first Adam, Jesus lived a life that was perfectly without sin. And he did that so that you and I could inherit righteousness from him, just as we inherited unrighteousness from the first Adam.
Death entered the world through the first Adam, but eternal life enters the world through the last Adam.
Because of that last Adam, you and I can return from exile, be adopted into a new family, take on a new family name, and slowly but surely, start to take on a new family likeness.