Arminian Today

A Jesus-Centered Arminian Blog

Brief Thoughts on Original Sin

There is no doubt that Arminius affirmed original sin.  He wrote,

The whole of this sin, however, is not peculiar to our first parents, but is common to the entire race and to all their posterity, who, at the time when this sin was committed, were in their loins, and who have since descended from them by the natural mode of propagation, according to the primitive benediction. For in Adam “all have sinned.” (Rom. v, 12.) Wherefore, whatever punishment was brought down upon our first parents, has likewise pervaded and yet pursues all their posterity. So that all men “are by nature the children of wrath,” (Ephes. ii, 3,) obnoxious to condemnation, and to temporal as well as to eternal death; they are also devoid of that original righteousness and holiness. (Rom. v, 12, 18, 19.) With these evils they would remain oppressed forever, unless they were liberated by Christ Jesus; to whom be glory forever.

Later Arminians such as John Wesley or Richard Watson affirmed with Arminius the doctrine of original sin.  The doctrine of original sin is defined as:

the doctrine which holds that human nature has been morally and ethically corrupted due to the disobedience of mankind’s first parents to the revealed will of God. In the Bible, the first human transgression of God’s command is described as the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden resulting in what theology calls the Fall of mankind. The doctrine of original sin holds that every person born into the world is tainted by the Fall such that all of humanity is ethically debilitated, and people are powerless to rehabilitate themselves, unless rescued by God.

I have no problem with such definitions.  The Catholic writer GK Chesterton wrote, “Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”  Chesterton, and others, point to the fact that children have to be trained to do what is right and not what is wrong.  I heard one original sin defender state once, “Just look at infants.  They are not good.  They are selfish and always want their way.  They cry when you don’t serve them and give them what they want.”  While I think he is reaching here a bit, he is correct to note that all humans are born with the inclination toward sin and toward pleasing ourselves.

Arminians, however, disagree over whether humans are born guilty of sin.  Dr. Jack Cottrell, for example, holds that humans are born in a state of “original grace” until they are tempted by their own flesh and sin.  He rejects that any person will be found guilty on the day of judgment simply because Adam sinned but each person will be found guilty for their own sins.  The Church of the Nazarene states about original sin:

“We believe that original sin differs from actual sin in that it constitutes an inherited propensity to actual sin for which no one is accountable until its divinely provided remedy is neglected or rejected.”

My brief thought here is whether one should be viewed as a heretic if they reject original guilt or inherited guilt?  I agree with Arminius and Wesley that we are born in original sin.  No one is capable of salvation apart from the gracious work of Christ.  None can save themselves.  Our desire is for the flesh.  Our desire is to please the flesh.  Our desire is not to honor God.  Salvation is the work of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) and good works cannot save.  Why?  Because good works are measured by sinful humans who often have an eye on flesh and not God.  Our “goodness” is not that good.  God’s standard also is not good but perfection.  Any one violation of His just laws requires judgment to come (James 2:10).  We are not good.  We are tainted by sin and by our flesh.  We need a Savior (Romans 7:24-25)!

I agree that because of sin, we cannot earn God’s perfect righteousness (Romans 10:4).  We must look to Christ alone to be saved and to have His perfect righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Christ alone turns away the wrath of God (Romans 5:8-9).

What is interesting is that even those who reject inherited guilt believe that because of sin, we still cannot earn God’s salvation.  We still must look to Christ.  While they reject the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity, they hold that because of Adam’s sin, we inherit a corrupted nature that loves sin and not God.  They agree with those who would hold to inherited guilt that none of us can save ourselves because of sin.  We must look to Christ alone to be forgiven (John 3:14-18).  Christ alone is the One who washes away our sins (1 John 1:9).

The older that I get, the more I see how corrupt I am apart from God’s grace.  I don’t love God in my flesh.  I love myself.  Yet I rejoice in both the mercy of God (that He withholds His just wrath against my sins) and His grace (which enables me to be forgiven of my sins).  By no means do I want to abide in sin.  I hate sin.  I want to fear God, to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17).  I want to honor Christ as Lord through faithful obedience to Him (1 Peter 3:15).  However, I know that apart from His grace, I would be living in sin and rebellion against Him.  I read Romans 3:10-18 and I see myself.  I see my desires.  But oh the joy that comes from loving Jesus and allowing Him to guide my steps.  I am not perfect by any means but I seek to be like Christ more and more (Philippians 3:12-14).  My goal is not to see how much sin I can get away with but to look to Christ to help me, forgive me, restore me, and strengthen me to overcome sin.  He is certainly more than able to deliver me by His power (1 Corinthians 10:13).

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