This is a Bible study for Sunday morning on original sin. It is taken from the Formula of Concord, Article I as translated in Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. There is additional editing and a few paraphrases of my own.
I. ORIGINAL SIN
Is sin part of mankind’s very essence? No, for if it were, God could be accused of creating sin.
- THE BIG QUESTION
- Is original sin really, without any distinction, a person’s corrupt nature, substance, and essence? Or even after the fall, is there a distinction between original sin and a person’s substance, nature, essence, body, and soul, so that the nature itself is one thing and original sin is another, which belongs to the corrupt nature and corrupts the nature?
- One side argued this: through Adam’s fall, mankind’s nature, substance, and essence are corrupt. Since the fall, the nature, substance, and essence of a human being is original sin itself.
- The other side taught that original sin is not truly the nature, substance, or essence of mankind is something in mankind’s nature, body, and soul, and in all a person’s powers. It is a horrible, deep, inexpressible corruption of mankind’s nature and powers.
2. WHAT WE BELIEVE
We believe, teach, and confess that there is a distinction between man’s nature and original sin. This applied not only when he was originally created by God pure and holy and without sin [Genesis 1:31], but it also applies to the way we have that nature now after the fall.
- “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”
- There are two ways of looking at sin: the actual transgression of God’s commandments and also the horrible, dreadful hereditary sickness by which the entire human nature is corrupted. Martin Luther called that “nature sin” or “person sin,” meaning that even if a person would not think, speak, or do anything evil, his nature and person are nevertheless evil.
- God does not create, make, or cause sin. By the temptation of the devil through one man, sin (which is the devil’s work) has entered the world (Romans 5:12; 1 John 3:7).Even after the Fall, God does not create and make sin in us. Original sin is multiplied from sinful seed, through fleshly conception and birth from father and mother [Psalm 51:5]. God at the present day still creates and makes the human nature in people.
- Original sin is not only the loss of the image of God in mankind, it is also a total corruption of man’s nature and powers – both physical and spiritual.
- This distinction is as great as the distinction between God’s work and the devil’s work.
If we make no distinction between our corrupt human nature and original sin, it conflicts with the chief articles of our Christian faith about creation, redemption, sanctification, and the resurrection of our body.
God created the body and soul of Adam and Eve before the fall. But He also created our bodies and souls after the fall. Even though they are corrupt, God still acknowledges them as His work, as it is written in Job 10:8, “Your hands fashioned and made me.”
- “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.” (Deut. 32:18)
- “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Is. 64:8)
- “It is he who made us, and we are his;” (Ps. 100:3)
Jesus took our same nature [John 1:14], but without sin. He did not receive some separate nature, but our own. Hebrews 2:14 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things.” Again, “For surely it is not angels that He helps, but He helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in every respect… yet without sin” [2:16; 4:15]. In the same way, Christ redeemed human nature as His work, sanctifies it, raises it from the dead, and gloriously adorns it as His work. In the ‹blessed› resurrection original sin will be entirely destroyed [1 Corinthians 15:51–57].
- Original sin is so great and horrible that, only for the sake of the Lord Christ, can it be covered and forgiven before God in those baptized and believing. Furthermore, human nature, which is perverted and corrupted by original sin, must and can be healed only by the regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit [Titus 3:5]. However, this healing is only begun in this life. It will not be perfect until the life to come [Ephesians 4:12–13].
Original sin is not a minor corruption. It is so deep a corruption of human nature that nothing healthy or uncorrupt remains in man’s body or soul, in his inward or outward powers [Romans 3:10–12]. As the Church sings:
Through Adam’s fall is all corrupt, Nature and essence human.
This damage cannot be fully described [Psalm 19:12]. It cannot be understood by reason, but only from God’s Word.
3. WHAT WE DON’T BELIEVE
We do not believe that original sin is just a debt charged by another person and put on us without any corruption on our part. We also do not believe that original sin is just a spot on the outside, some blemish on human nature, leaving nature good on the inside.
- We do not believe that original sin is something mixed into human nature by Satan – like mixing poison into wine.
- We reject the teaching that the natural man does not sin, but something else sins apart from man and, on account of this, human nature is not accused but only original sin in the nature.
We do not believe that evil lusts are not sin, but are created, essential properties of human nature.
Thus, we also deny that human nature after the fall is not corrupt, most especially in spiritual powers. We reject the teaching that original sin is only an outward obstacle to the good spiritual powers and not a spoiling or lack of the powers.
- These and similar contrary doctrines are condemned and rejected because God’s Word teaches that the corrupt human nature, of and by itself, has no power for anything good in spiritual, divine things, not even for the smallest things, such as good thoughts. Not only is this true, but the corrupt nature can do nothing in God’s sight of and by itself. It can only sin (Genesis 6:5; 8:21).
4. SOME CLOSING ARGUMENTS
If there was no difference at all between the nature or essence of our body and soul and original sin, one of the following would be true: because God is the creator of our nature, He also created and made original sin, which would also be His work and creature. Or, because sin is the devil’s work, Satan would be the creator of our nature, of our body and soul. Both of these teachings are contrary to the article of our Christian faith.
Therefore, in order that God’s creation and work in mankind may be distinguished from the devil’s work, we say that it is God’s creation that a person has body and soul. Also, it is God’s work that a person can think, speak, do, and work anything. For “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). But human nature is corrupt. Its thoughts, words, and works are wicked. This is originally Satan’s work, who has corrupted God’s work in Adam through sin. From Adam, sin is passed down to us by inheritance [Romans 5:12].
In the article of Redemption the Scriptures testify forcefully that God’s Son received our human nature without sin. So He was in all ways—sin excluded—made like us, His brethren (Hebrews 2:14–17). Therefore, all the old orthodox teachers have maintained that Christ, according to His received humanity, is of one essence with us, His brothers. For He has received His human nature, which in all respects (sin alone excluded) is like our human nature in its essence and all essential attributes.
If there were no distinction between the nature or essence of corrupt mankind and original sin, one of the following must be true: Christ did not receive our nature, because He did not receive sin. Or because Christ received our nature, He also received sin. God’s Son received our nature, and not original sin. Therefore, it is clear from this fact that human nature (even since the fall) and original sin are not one and the same thing. They must be distinguished.
In the article of Sanctification Scripture testifies that God cleanses, washes, and sanctifies mankind from sin [1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 John 1:7] and that Christ saves His people from their sins [Matthew 1:21]. Sin, therefore, cannot be a person himself. God receives a person into grace for Christ’s sake, but remains hostile to sin eternally. Therefore, it is unchristian and horrible to hear that original sin is baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, sanctified and saved.
In the article of the Resurrection Scripture testifies that precisely the substance of our flesh, but without sin, will rise again [1 Corinthians 15:42, 54–57]. In eternal life we shall have and keep precisely this soul, but without sin.
If there was no difference at all between our corrupt body and soul and original sin, one of the following would be true: our flesh will not rise again at the Last Day, and in eternal life we shall not have the present essence of our body and soul, but another substance (or another soul), because then we shall be without sin. Or ‹at the Last Day› sin will also rise again and will be and remain in the elect in eternal life.