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Original Sin or Final Decision?

  • “You can't do anything to be saved.”

  • “You can’t turn to God and be converted. Only the Spirit can do that.”

  • “You can't really understand the Bible until you get saved.”

Why do preachers say these things? It's because of an old doctrine called original sin or inherited depravity. Here is how John Calvin explained it 500 years ago in The Institutes of the Christian Religion:

“Original sin, then, may be defined as a hereditary corruption and depravity of our nature, extending to all the parts of the soul, which first makes us obnoxious to the wrath of God, and then produces in us works which in scripture are termed works of the flesh.”

“The mind of man is so entirely alienated from the righteousness of God that he cannot conceive, desire, or design anything but what is wicked, distorted, foul, impure, and iniquitous; that his heart is so thoroughly envenomed by sin that it can breathe out nothing but corruption and rottenness.”

What a different view of human nature than what society in general believes! A study at the Cultural Research Center of Arizona Christian University revealed that almost 7 out of 10 Americans think human beings are basically good. The doctrine of original sin, which is taught in the Roman Catholic Church and in most denominations to some degree, says just the opposite.

This belief is underneath many of the issues about salvation we discuss with people in different kinds of churches. How can we hope to agree on how to be saved from sin if we disagree on how we became sinners to begin with? This doctrine says you can't avoid being a sinner because you were born in sin. It teaches that this inherent depravity clouds and blinds your soul. It says there is nothing you can do about this and that you have to wait on the Spirit of God to remove these effects of original sin. Only then can you truly understand God’s Word and desire to obey Him.

This is why so many say you don’t have to be baptized to be saved. Baptism is something you do, and according to this doctrine you can’t be converted by anything you do. Why? Because you are born so depraved you can’t really turn to God. The Spirit has to do that. “It’s not what we do that saves us; Jesus did it all for us.” If that is true, then what about believing? Isn’t faith something you choose to do?

This is also behind the idea of once saved, always saved. That belief is just the logical consequence of the doctrine of original sin. If there is nothing you can do to be saved, then it follows that there is nothing you can do to stay saved. In this way of thinking it's all up to God and we have no choice in either becoming sinners or being saved.

This old and widespread belief is unbiblical. God doesn’t make anyone a sinner; He doesn’t bring a soul into this world tainted by sin for which that person is not guilty. “God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes” (Ecc. 7:29). Sin is something we do, not something we inherit. It is a choice. God told the people of Israel, “I have set before you today life and good, death and evil…therefore choose life” (Deut. 30:15, 19). Being saved from sin is also a choice. On Pentecost Day in Acts 2 Peter told the crowd, “Be saved from this perverse generation” (v. 40). The next verse says, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (v. 41). They chose to be saved.

It will always be true that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sin and salvation and heaven and hell are left to our decision.


West End church of Christ bulletin article for July 16, 2023


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