Image of God & the Fall
Theologians often divide the fall of Adam and Eve, and by extension, all humankind, into two polar opposite extremes. The most common one is "original sin," meaning the fall of Adam and Eve resulted in us loosing the "image of God" (Latin: imago Dei). Therefore, we are totally depraved and incapable of seeking God. In contrast, "original blessing" means we still have God's image and our libertarian free will to know God without being limited by sin. Historically, "original sin" was the key doctrine by Carthaginian theologian Augustine of Hippo (354–430) and expanded on by the French theologian John Calvin (1509–1564). The "original blessing" view is often ascribed to the British monastic Pelagius (c. 354–c. 418). However, true biblical theology implies an equilibrium between "original sin" and "original blessing."
Jesus: Mediator Between Sin & Blessing
If humankind was totally depraved according to "original sin," Jesus would have been unable to walk among us. Instead, the evangelist John made it clear: "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only Son, full of grace and truth" (1:14). In contrast, Augustine believed that humankind totally lost God's image after the fall, with "original sin" being transferred to everyone through conception and birth. He based much of his view on Plato's theory of forms, which stated that all matter is a corrupted "shadow" of a higher universal ideal. Yet, many Protestants today distinguish between the spiritual inclination to sin from a physical one; the doctrine of "original sin" cannot exist without the latter. In fact, many church leaders refer to Psalm 51, when King David repented, "Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me" (v. 5). Nevertheless, David was using hyperbole, exaggerating the level of guilt about committing adultery with Bathsheba. He was not making a doctrinal statement about God's image formed in all humankind. That said, our will exists in bondage to sin. For this reason, the concept of libertarian free will is categorically impossible. Paul of Tarsus wrote, "For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom. 8:7-8). We cannot be good without God, which is why Jesus must save us from sin. Paul also said, "But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:21-23).
When Paul wrote, "For people will be lovers of themselves . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid them!" (2 Tim. 3:2a, 4-5), he was alluding to the human inclination to sin. Furthermore, it is clear that whenever we think or attempt to do God's will, we not only fall short, but we also sin because we put our own self-interests ahead of him. That said, Paul's warning about the end times suggests that humankind has both the inclination to sin, but also one to seek God. So, it follows, that our depravity cannot be total in the Augustinian or Calvinist senses. Instead, our inclination to sin is merely radical because it prevents us from obeying God willfully. The human desire for fairness, justice, and peace never goes away, as it would if our depravity was total. However, we pollute those ideals with our own means and goals. We must not confuse our enemies for God's enemies, nor can we save those people of whom God does not save. Jesus perfectly, and without sin, always followed God's will and never added his own ideas to it (cf. John 10:30-38). Jesus alone follows God's will to a T, but he also gives us that power by removing our inclination to sin (see "Salvation: Romans Road Less Traveled").
So, where does evil come from if our depravity is not total, but merely radical. Augustine believed that human beings pass on sin to consecutive generations through conception and birth. However, God made sexual intercourse to be a good and wholesome experience between a husband and a wife. Just like the incarnation of Jesus, we must avoid calling something God created as good "evil." The tension between "original sin" and "original blessing" is the result of the fall, but God does not abandon us. Through the process of sanctification, the Holy Spirit gradually restores the full nature of good the Father intended us to have. Evil is the result of human free will (cf. Rom. 1:30), which is bound to the power of sin. However, when Jesus saves, we are then freed from that bondage. To be sure, Paul accurately described the bondage of the will: "For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom. 8:7-8). However, the scriptures also tell us, "If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). While it is important to teach the depraved nature of humankind, we also need to emphasize God's faithfulness in leading us toward righteousness.
Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, our condition after the fall of Adam and Eve is such, that we cannot turn and prepare ourselves, by our natural strength and good works, to faith, and to calling upon God: Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without his grace by Christ preventing us from sin, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will. Amen.
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