We all sin. That is, we all commit moral crimes against our Maker, against our neighbors, and even against ourselves. And, we are all sinners. But do we sin because we are sinners, or are we sinners because we sin? Or is it both?
Yesterday I listened (as long as I could) to 3 guys claiming that the doctrine of original sin was manufactured by St. Augustine hundreds of years after the New Testament was complete. They knew their history well enough. Smart guys. But due to my annoyance with what I would describe as naive suppositions, I finally had to turn them off. Allow me to elaborate.
If by original sin we simply mean, "Who did it first?" Well, that question isn't difficult. Satan committed the first sin. It was pride. Pride led to lying. Lying led to rebellion.
It could be claimed that Eve was the first human to sin, but the Bible seems to lay the burden of the failure on Adam's back, rather than on Eve's back. Sure, both endured the curse. But the reason Adam was the one primarily blamed appears to be related to several factors.
The original command was issued to Adam and not to Eve, so it could be argued that Adam had the primary responsibility for the situation.
Eve was tricked. She was deceived. Apparently her guilt was relatively less of an offense than Adam's rebellion. In other words, Adam was not deceived.
Whatever weakness and moral frailty we are born with as humans apparently comes naturally from our father's side. The virgin birth was essential in order for Jesus to have a human nature and a divine nature, while possessing no sin nature.
So, the buck stops with Adam. We read in the Scriptures that in Adam all of us died. In the same way, all who are "in Christ" are made alive. He is the second and last Adam. Our corporate condition is linked to our spiritual head.
So, the original human rebel was Adam. He was guilty. No excuses.
He had been made in the image, likeness, and similitude of God. What did the fall do to that reflection. Did it mar the reflection? Did it destroy the reflection? Or, is the reflection still completely intact?
When Adam fathered Cain, Able, and Seth he had sons who resembled him. Whatever his traits, tendencies, and tenor was, he shared those characteristics with them, and by extension with us. No doubt this was a natural and biological condition, but admittedly it was also surely influenced by the nurture that Adam and Eve provided. So, practically speaking both nature and nurture play a part in human depravity.
But let's go back to the "original sin" concept. It is more than just the "first act" of transgressing God's law. Eating of the tree of knowledge (of good and evil) clearly put the whole of humanity on a path that includes an inbred predisposition to failure. Our nature is sinful. We tend to sin. All of us. There have been no exceptions. Jesus is the only innocent One and He had no human father. We see that there is good and evil, but we are incapable of achieving the perfection which inspires us. So the good blames and shames us, while the evil tempts and destroys us.
"Oh, but babies are innocent!" Are they though? Why do babies die then? They do, you know. Often. Oh I admit, relatively speaking, they are indeed innocent. Compared to you and me. But our innocence must be absolute in order for us to be acceptable to God -- hence justification but the blood of Christ; hence the imputation of His impeccable righteousness.
Nothing is more unfair and unjust than the punishment of an innocent person. The whole of redemption is predicated on the fact that Jesus was absolutely innocent and yet He was punished as if guilty. This infinite injustice gives Him the right to anything He wants. And what He wants is to transfer the guilt of all men to Himself so all can be rescued from the wrath of our Holy God.
So again, what is original sin? It is a brokenness in our natural disposition. We have a tendency to rebel. We have a natural tendency to worship ourselves instead of worshiping our Maker. We tend to trust ourselves rather than trusting the perfect words of our Master. This is our nature. It occurs naturally. Nobody has to train us to sin. Oh, they do train us. Don't get me wrong. Our environment doesn't help anything. I realize that full well. But even if I had been reared by angels, I would have still rebelled. It's within my heart. I was born with it. You may claim that it is more or less prominent in some; or that the rebellion is latent until a certain point in time, but the truth stands nonetheless. Every human being deserves hell simply by default. Just like every rattlesnake is the same by nature, every human is the same by nature.
Do I believe that the unborn, infants, and those too immature or too unintelligent to comprehend law and gospel are therefore covered by God's grace through the work of Christ? Absolutely, yes. But that is a reflection of God's goodness, not theirs.
We all sin naturally. There have been no exceptions. Even without Scripture to teach us, we should conclude that every man is bent toward evil. Every person is more than willing to violate his or her own conscience. In that, even if there was no law of God, our utter depravity would be recognizable in the universal failure of all people to do whatever it is that we perceive to be right. This is enough to show that we are worthy of condemnation.
Some argue, "But atheists and heathen are capable of noble and humane acts!" Indeed: reflecting the image of God stamped on us, to be sure. Intelligence, logic, experience, compassion, empathy... all of these teachers can drive us to do good things. But that good is only good in the eyes of men. Without faith it is impossible to please God. God did not make us because He needed someone to do something good. He made us to love Him and to trust Him. Without those motivators, all good deeds become worse than hollow. They become acts of defiance; demands for favor; works AGAINST the person and work of Christ.
We are by nature children of wrath. God looked down from heaven upon the children of men and what did He find? There is none that does good; no, not even one. All have gone astray. Jesus found the whole world lying in wickedness and suffocating under condemnation. So, He offers absolution. Based upon His own work on the cross and the grace He desires to give, He grants to us forgiveness, acceptance, adoption, and glorification.
We are polluted by original sin, but He pardons us by His infinite mercy.
And now, my sins are gone! My association with Adam is ended. This is called justification. My predisposition to act like Adam is ending. This we call sanctification.