Sin is anything that is contrary to the holy character of God. The Bible teaches that everyone is a sinner (1 Ki. 8:46; Prov. 20:9; Eccl. 7:20; Isa. 53:6; 64:6; Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:20-23; Rom. 3:9-23; 7:18-21; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 2:1-3; 1 John 1:8-10). Sin separates us from God and renders us helpless to save ourselves (Isa. 59:2; Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3). When the subject of sin is studied, it results in a basic threefold classification that we are sinners in Adam (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12, 19; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), by nature (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17), and by choice (Jas. 1:14-15). The focus of this article is the original sin of Adam and its impact upon humanity.
Original sin refers to Adam’s sin in the garden in which he disobeyed God (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:1-24). Adam is the head of the human race. When Adam sinned, we all sinned with him. His fallen position is our fallen position. His guilt is our guilt. The pure image of God (imago Dei) that belonged to the first couple was marred when they sinned and all Adam’s children are born with a distorted image and a proclivity toward rebellion against God (Ps. 51:5; 58:3; Eph. 2:1-3). Adam’s sin is imputed to all his offspring (Rom. 5:12-21; cf. 3:9-23), excluding Jesus, who was neither born with sin, nor committed sin. Scripture reveals Jesus “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21), was “without sin” (Heb. 4:15), and “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). His sinless life qualified Him to die a substitutionary death in our place, “the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).
Related to the subject of original sin is the biblical concept of total depravity, which means that sin permeates every aspect of our being. Our mind, will, sensibilities and flesh are all submerged in sin. We often think of total depravity as meaning that people are as bad as they can be; however, this is wrong. The truth is there are many moral unbelievers in the world who rely on their good works to gain them entrance into heaven. The fact of Scripture is that God declares everyone under sin, and this includes the most moral persons who have ever lived. Is there any person who can say, “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin?” (Pro 20:9). The answer is an emphatic NO! The human heart is corrupt, for “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl. 7:20), and “There is none righteous; not even one. There is none who understands; there is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become useless. There is none who does good, there is not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12; cf. 8:8). Some might argue, “What about unbelievers who live moral lives and do good? Certainly they exist. Doesn’t their morality provide something worthy in the eyes of God?” The biblical answer is NO! Even the most moral unbelievers are unacceptable to God. Scripture states:
For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isa. 64:6)
Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. (Gal. 2:16)
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5)
By human estimation, even the worst person can do some good. But human estimation is lower than God’s estimation and it is God’s standards that define what is truly good. “Total depravity must always be measured against God’s holiness. Relative goodness exists in people. They can do good works, which are appreciated by others. But nothing that anyone can do will gain salvational merit or favor in the sight of a holy God.”
The phrase total depravity is commonly used to make explicit the implications of original sin. It signifies a corruption of our moral and spiritual nature that is total not in degree (for no one is as bad as he or she might be) but in extent. It declares that no part of us is untouched by sin, and therefore no action of ours is as good as it should be, and consequently nothing in us or about us ever appears meritorious in God’s eyes. We cannot earn God’s favor, no matter what we do; unless grace saves us, we are lost.
Only the work of Christ on the cross satisfies God’s righteous demands toward our sin (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2), and only by faith in Jesus can we accept God’s gift of salvation (John 3:16; 14:6; 20:31; Acts 4:12; 16:30-31). To be saved, we must turn from all other considerations of merit, and trust in Christ alone as Savior. At the moment of faith in Jesus, God gives us the gift of His righteousness (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:8-9), which is imputed to us, ungodly sinners (Rom. 4:5), solely because of His goodness and not because of any worth in us (Eph. 2:3-9). The gift of God’s righteousness means that we are declared as perfect as He is perfect. Won’t you accept God’s free gift of righteousness by turning to Jesus as Savior and trusting that what He accomplished on the cross is sufficient to save? It’s simple; “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
Steven R. Cook, D.Min.
- The Sin Nature Within the Christian
- When God’s People Sin
- When a Believer Perpetually Sins
- The Sin that Leads to Death
- The Doctrine of Simultaneity
- The Sin of Idolatry
- When Believers Hide
- The Worthless Person
- Atonement for Sins
- Restoring Fellowship with God
 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 253.
 J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993).