The challenge of the doctrine of original sin

Some are challenged by the doctrine of original sin, most live their lives in the mystery of the truth of their salvation in Christ. A doctrine is a statement of belief. It is the summing up of the evidence in Scripture based on faith- it is like a scientific theory which becomes orthodox with use and accumulated evidence gathered by deepening study of the text in the light of faith. Some will also allow the evidence of nature.

Orthodox Christian faith is that everything is created by God, One person, Lord of all, and that humanity is created in God’s image. All humanity is sinful and is subject to the futility of a creation compromised by sin. This came about because of the choice of an individual, Adam, the first human male. Adam was fully human. If he was around today he could drive a bus or, if he worked hard, gain a PhD in Astro Physics. The consequence of his sin, it is believed, is that people suffer death and live separated from God. Earth has been separated from Heaven, the dwelling place of God. The Garden of Eden was the place where God and Adam walked together, where Heaven and Earth intersected.

I believe that the Christian Bible is literal, except where it is clear from the context it is not meant to be taken as literal. Your world view will dictate the extent to which you consider parts of it not to be literal. Orthodox Christian tradition tends to the position that there was a literal Adam and that Adam was the first human. From the point of God breathing humanity into him he was made the whole of humanity.

Genesis is history, prophecy, law and parable. Its author is almost certainly mostly Moses. It tells the story in many layers of meaning of how God came to call out a people for himself through Moses. In Genesis we see from the beginning there is Law, the parable of the number and symbol for ten and a story of the history of mankind in the first ten generations.

When Jesus and the early Christians taught, the context was the culture of the religion that grew up around this story and the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Some accepted prophets, histories and wisdom literature as part of this body of scripture and the early Christians taught from a Greek version that included apocryphal stories.

I don’t believe that fact of the Adam of the story is contradicted by science. I think nature would conclude that from Adam came the first Eve. We can argue about the details of how.

In Genesis we are given a message of hope we could not know except through faith in its message – all was created good, in fact, very good. It prophecies that creation is fecund and perfectible; to be subdued and stewarded for its Creator by humanity. In the text we are acquainted with the rationality of the Creation because of the personhood of God who from the beginning broods and delights, creating through time, orders creation and fills it. God spoke and it came to be and Creator God speaks to and walks with humanity in a relationship which Adam enjoys, revealing God’s holiness and parent heart. There is so much to contemplate and draw hope from in this biblical revelation.

But, in the story, darkness is also presented; disconnection from God, inhumanity, greed and lust enter the story with death and disease. Genesis explores the origins of this state of sin. Whatever our doctrine of original sin or not, the mystery revealed in Genesis is that the gift of free will given to Adam was used to disobey God and choose death. Our first ancestor chose to rebel and chose the path of independence from God and of sin and death. Christian faith says that all choose to be in Adam and all may choose to be in Christ and be redeemed and reformed. This is because, from the beginning all are made in the image of God and his light shines in all hearts. Being bought back and even recreated is possible because of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. It’s all about Jesus, Son of God. In him we get and become his holiness, just as in Adam we suffered the consequences of Adam’s rebellion.

Being “in Adam” or “in Christ” now describes our nature; our source of being. The early hearers would have known what the Christian writers meant. Being in Adam signals our being in a state of rebellion and being in Christ signals our being in a state of grace, our sins forgiven.

You can argue whether we are born in Adam or not; whether by nature we are born in Adam, full stop. That will be your doctrine of original sin or not, but, the fact is that according to the Bible we are all in Adam when it comes to the choice to sin. Creation is compromised by our sin. We are all sinners and need to be saved – being in Christ is the means and guarantee of salvation. The Bible only allows for this being our condition before God. Being in Christ is the means of salvation.

Be bold and pray this through in the confidence that God will speak peace and comfort to you. I think your reassurance will come in a word you cannot speak and certainly some will reject you as you confess your salvation.

Being in Christ is pure grace, not dependent on time or geography. The early Christian writers knew that the means of salvation, the way of answering the call of the light within, was a mystery. The good news was that the way back into Eden is the man Jesus; he is the ladder to heaven. By an accident of time or Geography we can know this, but this mystery was so from the beginning; we are doubly blessed as we see the revelation and we are able to worship God as He is, Father, Son and Spirit. It’s not our knowledge of the historical Jesus that saves us but the indwelling of the transcendent Jesus that shines a light into each person’s heart. God is a just and the whole of creation is birthed around the pouring out of love in the Godhead, Father, Son and Spirit.

Where love is, the pursuit of the light within and the knowledge of grace for repentance there is salvation. This knowledge is there for every person to know, however dimly it sometimes shines. Where the name of Jesus is known there is right worship and restoration of the dwelling place of God in the midst of his people.

I am reassured that nothing in science and nature contradicts what I have written and if it does, and at some stage I understand differently or have misunderstood, then God still loves me and the Bible is still true. The Bible is true whatever my faulty opinions or fragile understanding of the truth it reveals. My faith is that, communicated to ordinary humanity, the Christian Bible is the actual word of God and its progressive revelation was a sufficient and complete revelation of the message and means of salvation at the time it was spoken. There was never a time in history when God had not made plain what was necessary for salvation.

We live in times where so much damage has been done in the name of Christianity and around us we see the results of the abuses of the church, sometimes the reality of the gospel as set out in the Christian Bible is obscured, the advantage seemingly lost, but to the praise of Christ’s glorious name he is merciful and just. It’s our choices that sear our consciences, not accidents of history or experience.

I am convinced that salvation is not in the gift of men; their systems or words. Salvation is assured by the indwelling of the Spirit, bringing a knowledge of the holiness of God and our call by grace to be holy as he is holy. This call is in the hearts of all people and is not dependent on time or geography. The revelation of this mystery in Christ is the foundation of true worship. As Christians we are assured of this worship in spirit and truth as an ever flowing reality, knowing adoption into the family of God where the fullness of the flowing love between Father, Son and Spirit flows to us in Christ.

This is the gospel from the beginning, the good news: within you something humbly cries out for righteousness; hungers and thirsts for righteousness, is meek and knows poverty of spirit, mourns, is merciful, is pure and seeks peace – pursue it, trust it and you are blessed and rewarded in heaven. Here your identity in God is revealed, the mystery displayed: you are in Christ. Living in this light and becoming its bearer may bring persecution but we are to rejoice gladly and worship Jesus in spirit and truth, our only hope and the way to the Father. The man Jesus is the way, the truth and the life of this cosmic gospel not a well worded doctrine, however helpful it may be.

 

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