“Yet you say, ‘Why should the son not bear the guilt of the father?’ Because the son has done what is lawful and right, and has kept all My statutes and observed them, he shall surely live. 20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. (Ezekiel 18:19,20)
Is a Sinful Really Nature Passed Down?
It is possible not to go as far as Calvin and his followers, and yet believe, with Augustine and others, that we were born with a sinful nature inherited from Adam. I would say that the vast majority of Christians today believe this. There are various proof-texts used to support this idea. But we are still left with the uncomfortable conclusion that the “God of faithfulness, who is without injustice” (Deuteronomy 32:4) has somehow so loaded the playing field against all the sons and daughters of Adam, that they really have no power to do what is right. How could they, since “a bad tree cannot produce good fruit” (Matthew 7:18). How can God make bad trees and then expect good fruit? But does God really make bad trees? That is a big issue and has bothered me off and on for some time.
You can say that God made things this way, and He decides who He will save, and it is right because God does it, even if it doesn’t seem right to our fallen minds. Many do say that, but it seems to contradict the way God Himself defines justice in other places in the Bible. But what if Augustine and his understanding of the Bible was actually wrong on this issue? It is something at least worth considering. I don’t know about you, but I would like to worship a God whose definition of justice is consistent to His own revealed standards, and thus makes sense to my conscience. But to find out if such a desire is just wishful, sinful thinking, or whether it can be fulfilled while believing the Scripture, we will have to carefully examine a lot of the Scriptural texts that have been used to justify and defend the ideas about Original Sin mentioned above. In doing so, we might have to kill a lot of sacred cows. So we ought to tread carefully and thoughtfully.
A lot of my ideas have been informed by the book “DOES MAN INHERIT A SINFUL NATURE? A Discourse on the Human Constitution” by Evangelist Jesse Morrell. At the time of writing you can get a copy of this book by subscribing to Jesse’s mailing list here. This book is quite scholarly but more importantly it gives what I believe are really good answers refuting the idea that we inherit a sinful nature from our fathers. You see, the Bible teaches us that God individually and personally fashioned our hearts and bodies in the womb. Can we really believe that God made us evil? This book examines the issue in greater depth than I will here. It deals with proof-texts for traditional understandings of Original Sin that come from passages like Romans 5:12-19; Ephesians 2:3, Psalm 51:5 and others. So I recommend you take a good look – but it is 205 pages long!
I do have some minor disagreements with the above book. I believe both of the basis of Scripture and experience that something evil IS passed down in many cases from parents to children besides the bad example and behaviour of the parents – which can’t always explain the rebelliousness of some small children. I believe that people inherit demonic bondages and curses through their ancestors’ sins and these things operate through demons. I don’t particularly like this belief or this state of affairs, and I suppose we can’t make a watertight biblical case to prove it is so (even though I think Scripture supports it with the idea of iniquities of the fathers and so on). It is outside the scope of this article to examine this subject more fully. But the thing is, that the demons that may be in a child are not the same thing as the child itself. The child is a good creation of God. The child’s NATURE is not evil. “Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices.” (Ecclesiastes 7:29).
What About those Verses Mentioning the Sinful Nature?
If you read the New International Version of the Bible or the New Living Translation (which I DON’T recommend for serious study) you may be familiar with verses that talk about the “sinful nature” in the Book of Romans and Galatians.
“For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” (Romans 7:18)
When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, (Galatians 5:19 NLT).
In both cases, the translators have decided to insert a bit of Augustinian theology in their translations. The Greek word here translated as “sinful nature” is in fact sarx, which most of the time is translated as “flesh”. There are Greek words for sinful and for nature, but these words are not in the text. So “sinful nature” here is a construct not based on the text itself, but rather on the theology of someone who couldn’t even read Greek – namely Augustine, Bishop of Hippo.
There are both lawful and unlawful ways to fulfil the desires of the body. What the Galatians verse means is that if people unlawfully follow the desires of their body (urged on by demon spirits) and don’t listen to their consciences, the Law of God and the Holy Spirit, they will do all these kinds of sins – which feel good to the body or to the mind, but afterwards leave the sense of guilt and shame – at least at first. When people do these things, it begins as a VOLUNTARY choice which they could have refused to make. They were not forced to do it, because of some innate “bondage of the will” inherited from Adam. After a while though, people do get into bondage to certain sinful habits. The neural pathways of the brain predispose people to more sin, and not only that, but demons usually get in and fortify it all – making it very difficult indeed to break free. In this way, a kind of corrupted nature is formed within people. But this corrupted nature didn’t come from the nature God created us with in the womb, but from our own bad choices. People corrupt themselves. It isn’t that God made them corrupt and they are just playing out their destiny as helpless victims. People are guilty because they sinned wilfully, just like Adam did. People in sin are so messed up they can never save themselves. Only in Christ can we be delivered, cleansed, washed and set free from the effects of this sin. Thank God for the blood of Jesus Christ shed at the cross!
The verse in Romans 7:18 also uses the word “flesh”. It is really doubtful that this passage is referring to Paul’s way of being as a man who exercised himself towards godliness, was free in Christ and not conscious of anything against himself. Even though Paul writes in the present tense, it could easily be a literary device, and not a description of his present reality as an apostle of Christ writing one of the most important books of the Bible. King David said that his flesh longed for God. Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit. But without the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, indeed there is no good spiritual thing dwelling in us. There are mostly likely demons, which are working in the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2). Even though Paul describes his wretched state at some time in Romans 7, he was clear to point out that his own conscience was active and delighted in the law of God. So there is something from birth in all people that inclines us to what is right.
for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) (Romans 2:14,15)
According to this Scripture, the nature that Gentiles have from God is not a sinful nature, but one that causes them to obey the godly principles in the moral law of God. It is only by going against this nature, and thereby perverting it, that people go into sin. So we can’t blame God or the way we were made for our sin.
By God’s grace I will spend more time on this in order to help people see why many more of the proof-texts used by followers of Augustinian ideas about the sinful nature are not appropriate for that purpose.
Conclusion (for Now)
My hope is that this article helped you see that it is not God who made you or anyone else sin. When you sinned, you chose it. That is why you are morally responsible. You were given a good nature by God, a conscience and a knowledge of what is good and what is not good. God is not unjust to condemn sinners who deliberately chose to do what is wrong. But thank God, there is a Good News message of forgiveness and restoration to sonship and holiness through Jesus Christ. Please check it out.