Original grace* or original sin? Which one are we born with? This question – and its answer – is the root of many of the differences between denominations. And Romans 5:12-21 is the passage of Scripture most often used to defend the teaching of original sin. But what if that common understanding is wrong? How does that effect our understanding of grace?
What Is Original Sin?
Original sin is the belief and teaching that all babies are born sinners and are born depraved. The extent of this depravity at birth – either partial or total – is also a major distinction among denominations. Some believe babies are born only partially depraved and retain a certain ability to respond to God’s grace once they are older. Others teach that babies are born totally depraved and completely incapable of responding to God positively in any way, shape, or form. And then there are those between these views.
How a particular denomination answers the question also determines their practice of baptizing infants or not. Those who accept total depravity often baptize infants for salvation. Others teach that God “elects” some babies and condemns others. Still others don’t practice infant baptism and believe only mature persons of a certain age/comprehension should receive baptism. All of these practices and variations hinge – to great extent – on interpretations of Romans 5:12-21.
The real question is, what is Paul’s point in drawing out the comparison between Adam and Jesus? What is he emphasizing and why? Missing the point is what has led to a great many false assumptions and false teachings.
Paul’s comparison has one sole purpose: to point out how the cross of Christ has overcome every effect of Adam’s first sin. Whatever Adam’s sin did bring or potentially could have brought upon mankind, Jesus has overcome. In effect – in actuality – the cross and God’s grace through it has negated all the negative effects of Adam’s sin on humanity. Therefore, every person is born, was born, and will be born with original grace.
(*The phrase original grace was coined by Dr. Jack Cottrell, Professor of Theology, Cincinnati Christian University, retired.)