My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about Original Sin:
Q: I have heard even newborn babies are guilty of sin. How can this be true when they have not had the opportunity to do anything good or bad in their life?
This teaching is probably one of the most difficult for the average person to accept in all of Christian doctrine, because it seems so contrary to what we can observe. As far as our senses can tell us, children seem innocent. Based solely on our own observations, we would be likely to conclude that a baby could not sin, because they seem capable of doing very little at all.
But, in spite of what our observations would seem to indicate, the four oldest and largest theological traditions in Christianity (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, and Calvinist) all teach that all humans are guilty of sin, even as newborn infants. They do so, because it is so clearly stated in Scripture.
In Psalm 51:5, King David writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, "I was sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." This verse is the primary Scriptural evidence for this teaching.
Paul also writes a more lengthy description of this in Romans 5, when he says, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned… Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many… For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:12-19 ESV)
The doctrine expressed in the verses above is called Original Sin. Typically, when we think of sin, we think of something that a person has done, such as theft, murder, assault, gossip, or adultery. That type of sin is called Actual Sin. Original Sin, on the other hand, is passed on to a person like a hereditary disease even before they have attained the capability to commit Actual Sin. Even though the theological traditions that hold the doctrine of Original Sin give different explanations regarding how Original Sin occurs, they are agreed that it occurs.
In Lutheran theology, Original Sin consists of two parts. The first is that a person is guilty of sin because they are Adam's descendant. Paul expresses this in the verses above from Romans. Because Adam sinned against God, all of his descendants are therefore guilty of sin. The second part is that a person is born with the inclination to sin. While it cannot be observed in infants, this characteristic of Original Sin becomes quite obvious as soon as children become able to speak and act. No parent has ever had to teach their toddler how to disobey or misbehave. It comes naturally. This is the first evidence of Original Sin's effects on a person.
Even though we are able to explain what original sin is, we cannot thoroughly explain why or how original sin comes to a person, because Scripture does not give us these details. Christians in general and Lutherans in particular hold that Scripture is the only source for spiritual truth, so we boldly affirm what it does say, while avoiding the temptation to supplement with our own thoughts and reasons where it has not answered.
Although it may be difficult to accept based on our sensory observations, and it is certainly contrary to many people’s instinctive conclusions about infants, I do believe that the doctrine of Original Sin is an accurate reflection the Bible’s teachings about human sinfulness.