Original Sin or Original Grace?

Below I have outlined a chapter in Dr. Jack Cottrell’s book “The Faith Once For All.” The chapter attempts to discuss the issues regarding the doctrine of original sin and specifically how one should understand Romans 5:11-21. I found the content fascinating. What do you think of Dr. Cottrell’s conclusions?

 

Original Sin or Original Grace?

What is the meaning of Romans 5:12-19?

Cottrell believes that this passage teaches original grace not original sin.

Cottrell seeks to answer four questions in explaining original grace in Romans 5:12-19.

 

Question 1: What is the purpose of this passage in relation to the epistle as a whole?

  • It is best understood as continuing the theme of assurance that began in 5:1.
    • Paul assures his readers that we can put all our hope and confidence in one saving act (the cross) of one man (Jesus Christ).
    • In verses 1-11 there are 10 references to the saving efficacy of Christ and his cross.
    • Some may wonder “isn’t this expecting a lot from just one man?” Yet this is essentially what the gospel asks us to believe. Therefore, the one act of Jesus on the cross has the power to save the whole world.
    • In order to show that Jesus’ one act can in fact save the whole world Paul shows how the one sinful act of one man (Adam) effected the whole human race.
    • So, in verses 11-19 Paul compares and contrasts the one sin of Adam and the one act of righteousness of Jesus. His argument moves from the lesser to the greater: If we can accept the fact that the one sin of man brought sin and death upon the whole world then surely we can believe the one act of Christ can bring salvation upon the whole world

Question 2: Does this doctrine teach the doctrine of original sin?

  • This passage definitely teaches that humanity has inherited more than just physical death; there is a spiritual death as well.
  • However, the biggest problem to the approach that every child is conceived in a sinful state is that it assumes that Paul’s main subject is Adam’s sin and its consequences. This is not the case however; Paul’s subject is Jesus and his cross, and the universal, all-sufficient consequences of that saving event.
  • In reality it does not matter which view of “original sin” one takes because Paul’s main point is this: whatever the whole human race got (or would have gotten) from Adam has been completely canceled out for the whole human race by the gracious atoning work of Jesus Christ.

Question 3: What is the scope of the words “many” and “all” as they are used in 5:12-19?

  • If the answer to the above question is correct why do so many still teach a doctrine of original sin? The answer lies in how they interpret the words “many” and “all” in these verses.
  • Most all interpreters view the words “all” and “many” to be synonymous terms not contrasting each other but contrasting the words “one” in reference to Adam and Jesus. In other words the term “all” is used to convey totality, but is not meant to be broader in scope than “the many.”
  • The problem lies in how one applies these terms to Adam on the one hand and Jesus on the other. The common approach is that when the terms are used in relation to Adam they are universal in scope but when used in conjunction with Jesus they are more limited and do not literally mean all people. Therefore, Adam’s sin did in fact come to all people but Christ saving work is only given to those who have received Christ by faith.
  • More often these terms are understood in light of an Augustinian view of original sin which are stated thus: The consequences of Adam’s act extended to all who were in him or belonged to him when he sinned—which includes the whole race; but the consequences of Christ’s act extended only to “all” who were in him or belonged to him when he died—which only includes the elect.
  • It must be emphasized that the above approaches are false. The reason is that all attempts to reduce the words “many” and “all,” when used of Christ, to anything less than their scope when used of Adam, would negate the whole purpose of the Adam-Christ comparison!
  • The question of assurance is this: can I have confidence that Christ’s work is sufficient for taking away all of my sins—and the sins of the entire world? Paul’s answer is yes based on how Christ one act of righteousness has already counteracted everything brought upon everyone by Adam’s one sin.

Question 4: Does this passage teach universal salvation?

  • Some do take Paul’s use of “all” and “many” to teach universal salvation
  • However Cottrell argues that this passage does not teach universal salvation for the following reasons:
    • The primary focus of this passage focuses on how Christ’ one act of righteousness counteracts the one sin of Adam for every single individual.
    • However, Paul here absolutely does not say the same thing about the consequences of all our personal sins. Personal sins are only removed through personal faith.
    • The universal language in this passage only refers to what we have inherited from Adam.
    • From a practical point of view this passage addresses the question of the spiritual state of infants when they are conceived and born. Infants are therefore born in a state of original grace because of Christ one act on the cross negating the one act of sin committed by Adam.
    • However, when one reaches the age of accountability they enter into a state of personal sins which requires personal faith in Christ to receive forgiveness.

Am I doing enough?

I recently received the following question: Do you feel like you do enough for God or was that a motivation for you to go into the ministry? Below are some thoughts I had in response.

I have to admit, that I never feel as if I do as much as I can. I think that this reaction is only human. We strive to give God our best, but when Jesus is the paradigm how does one compete with that! Here are some thoughts I have had on the subject (for what it is worth):

First, we are dealing with two areas of our Christian walk. One is our conversion. That is, the point in which we are declared just in the sight of God (we see baptism as this point in time). Justification, as the Bible teaches us, is given to us solely on the basis of Jesus’ work on the cross. Nothing we could ever do brings justification, we are saved by grace though faith, not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9).

However, there is a second aspect to our Christian walk, namely, sanctification. Sanctification involves the process in which we grow or mature spiritually into the image of Jesus. There is no questioning our salvation, because that was taken care of on the cross. However, while we are justified in the sight of God, we still struggle with the reality of sin and battle with our spiritual maturity. This is what I think the apostle Paul is referring to in Romans 7:7-25. Here Paul paints a picture of the struggle we face: living by the flesh or the Spirit. Our daily lives consist of numerous choices wherein we decide whether to live by the flesh or by the spirit. Paul makes it clear that we don’t always follow the Spirit’s guidance; sometimes we choose to follow the ways of the flesh (vv. 14-24). So, the Christian walk consists of living with this struggle. However, the more we grow in Christ the easier it is to follow the Spirit. Do we still struggle? Of course we do! But when I think back 20 years ago and reflect upon how I was as a young Christian, I can see evidence of growth and spiritual maturity. I can say now that I look more like Jesus than I did then, and that’s what I can find comfort in. Are we ever doing enough? No! But with the Spirit’s guidance, and constant study in his word I believe we can get closer and closer. Then one day, we will have the opportunity to stand in front of Christ and hear those words: “Well done good and faithful servant, enter in your father’s rest!!!”

I don’t think the Bible seeks to keep us in a state of fear and worry, wondering if we are doing enough. Instead I think the Bible gives us principles and guidelines for us to follow so that we can keep our eyes on the finish line. Therefore, if we are constantly thinking upon Jesus and his Kingdom we should live in a state of gladness and joy (Read Philippians!). It is only when we neglect God’s work that we should begin to fret over our Christian life.

In direct answer to the initial question, maybe. I do feel that initially I went into ministry because in ministry, I would always be involved in “God’s work.” However, I have found that you can be completely immersed in ministry and be as far from God as an atheist! I have come to discover that we are all minister’s for the kingdom, and I have just happened to be called out among the church and serve in a full-time manner, As Paul so eloquently puts it in Ephesians 4: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”