The Doctrine of Original Sin: If You Reject it, then You Have to Reject Christ’s Righteousness

In my recent discussions with a few open theists, the doctrine of original sin became a source of contention. They argue that the Bible doesn’t teach such a doctrine—that is, all are born in the sin of Adam, inheriting his sin nature, which God has given over to all of mankind (This is also known as Pelagianism).

So, when theologians speak of original sin, they are not speaking about the first sin of humanity per se; rather, they are referring to the effects of Adam’s first sin upon his posterity. All born after Adam have inherited the guilt of his first sin, the loss of original righteousness (that state of fellowship as God originally created man to exist in with him), and the corruption of our whole nature. Adam was the head of the human race, and when he fell, we all fell in him. What it ultimately teaches is that we are all sinful not by actions but through progenation; specifically, we are not sinners we because sin; we sin because we are sinners.

Stemming from the doctrine of original sin is the teaching of federal headship. And open theists reject this doctrine as well, (1) which teaches that Adam’s action, as the head of the human race, to disobey God’s command, results in our condemnation.

What open theists believe is we are only culpable for our individual sins. Our individual sins alone are what count against us. While it is true that we are all going to have our sins brought before us (Romans 2:16), what they don’t realize is that if we don’t accept Adam’s headship, we have to reject Christ’s headship for the new humanity, for Paul is the one who makes this contrast in Romans 5:12-19 between the head of the old, fallen humanity and the Head of the new, redeemed humanity. Now, I know we would never consider rejecting Christ’s free gift; however, I think many want to reject Adam’s freely chosen trespass. But we need to be consistent!

Let’s examine these verses:

12 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— 

– Sin came into the world through the Adam’s sin, producing death.
– All die because all sinned (both Adam and his progeny, which the biblical narrative demonstrates clearly in the idolatrous nature of mankind)
– There is a causal inference here.

The Bible is clear that all people without exception sin (except Christ) (Romans 3:23). As Adam’s progeny, we are all under the power of sin (Romans 6:14). While we will answer for each sin, our judgment remains because of Adam’s sin, for Adam’s sin is imputed to us. This will be more apparent in verses 18-19. We are all separated from God. That is why Christ did not come from Adam, so he would not be in sin by virtue of Adam’s imputation of sin to all his posterity. Furthermore, if you remember the Genesis 3 account, it was Eve who actually sinned first; however, it was Adam who was held accountable for it. But what did he do? He immediately tried to pass the blame on her. So even then, we see the headship role Adam had over humanity, with the first being his wife.

13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 

– Sin was in the world before the law. Why? Because of Adam’s sin.
– Though sin was not counted before the law, people still died. Why? By virtue of entering the world in a state of death, all humans sinned. Adam’s transgression meant condemnation for all (see vv.18-19)

14 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.

– Again, ‘yet’ death reigned from Adam to Moses, explaining why people died though they did not have the law.
– Adam was a type, being head of humanity, as Christ is head of the new humanity.

15 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.

– Christ’s free gift was his perfect life of obedience to God, his offering for reconciliation, leading to eternal life and fellowship with God—which is not like Adam’s trespass; his act of unrighteousness severed that relationship.
– Many died through Adam; many are made alive through Christ (his act of righteousness).
– Though all die through Adam, the ‘many’ are those who are in Christ (Unless you are a universalist).

16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.

– The free gift results in life; Adam’s sin resulted in death (for all, the many included).
Key point: Judgment followed the one trespass, bringing condemnation—for all
Key point: The free gift, Christ’s act of righteousness, brought justification—for many
– Christ’s act does not include all, otherwise that would mean universalism.

This is really important to understand, for I know many may struggle with this. As I mentioned in my introduction, we are under judgment for Adam’s sin; it brought condemnation for all.

17 For 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. 

Death reigns because of one man’s trespass (to all and many).
Righteousness reigns because of One Man’s righteous act (only to the many).

  • Here is the conclusion of vv. 15-17; therefore
  • Adam’s trespass resulted in condemnation for all men.
  • Christ’s act of righteousness results in justification and life for all men.
  • By Adam’s disobedience many were made sinners.
  • By Christ’s obedience many will be made righteous.

It may sound a bit repetitive, but it is important that you see the contrast and groupings of the old humanity under Adam and the new humanity under Christ.

-What is the relationship between Adam and us?
-Why do all without exception sin? Verse 18-19 explains

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 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.

– Because of Adam’s trespass, death reigned through him, leading to condemnation for all men.
– Because of Christ’s act of righteousness, justification and life is given to all men in Christ.
– Verse 19 shows us what Christ’s gift does for the many, who were made sinners by Adam’s disobedience—they, the many, are made righteous.

So, what we see is that all men are physically born, stemming from the root of Adam; therefore, all men receive condemnation for Adam’s trespass. Christ’s, representing those who are born of God (the elect), act of righteousness results in justification for all of those he represents. The many that were made sinners through Adam’s disobedience are the many that will be made righteous through Christ’s obedience.

Here are some important points to see in this:

Did we do anything to earn righteousness on own individual efforts? No
Did we do anything to earn condemnation by our own individual efforts? No

However, after the fall of Adam, our nature in Adam is corrupted, and we can do nothing but sin, so we are judged by our works. But after the resurrection of Christ, our nature in Christ is restored, and we can now live righteously.

This is the big picture of Paul’s argument. And if one rejects the portion regarding Adam, then one also has to reject his argument about Christ because the logic of the argument is the same for both.

If you don’t get the sin from Adam, then you don’t get the righteousness from Christ.

If you struggle in accepting Adam’s sin, just think of it this way: if you were in his place, you would have done the same exact thing, and we could all be under the headship of Bob or Jack or Steve. We know we sin because we are sinners and that is why we need a Savior who can redeem us and regenerate our hearts to love God and no longer turn away from him


—Romans 11:36


1. I don’t intend to speak for all open theists; however, my experience has demonstrated that this is so.

The Grace of God: More than Just a Pardon

If there could be one word that Christians find most comforting when meditating on who God is and what he has done for us through Christ, it is the word Grace. When I hear the word grace, I (and probably most Christians) immediately think of Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” So what does this text mean? Most pointedly it means that our salvation is not based on the merits of what we do but on the basis of God’s unmerited favor toward us. He, by his mercy and grace, gives us faith to believe in Christ.

Now, while we can see that God gives us grace, are we to think of grace merely as a divine pardon? Is it an act of benevolence on God’s part in granting forgiveness to lost sinners, or when God gives us grace, is it something that actually empowers the believer to do something, to think and act differently?

We will read a few humble words from the apostle Paul, which will be our foundational text to start from as we search the Scriptures to understand what this grace is.

In chapter 15 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he reminds them of the gospel—the one he preached to them, forming the foundation of the faith by which they have been saved through. The message of the gospel he received is: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (vv. 3-4). After listing all those whom Christ revealed himself to, he lastly mentions himself—the one “least of all the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle” (v.8).

Paul is deeply humbled that the Lord revealed himself to one who “persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Gal. 1:13). Paul speaks of God’s elective purposes in having set him apart for this calling as an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). For the sake of the gospel and the church, Paul “had far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death” (2 Cor. 11:23) than any of the others. “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (v.10).

Paul persevered not merely by his own will or strength but by the grace of God that was with him. So what is this grace that was with Paul? By Paul’s words we see that grace, though a noun, seems to have an element of enablement, even action, to it. We see in this text that grace accompanies Paul, enabling him to work for the Lord. He says, “it was not I, but the grace of God.” Lets look at some other texts to help elaborate on what we see in this passage.

In the first chapter of Colossians, Paul begins the letter with an exaltation of Christ, demonstrating his preeminence and supremacy over all things, reminding them of what they once were, where they are now, and how they are to remain in him. Paul then expresses his joy though having suffered for their sake but understanding what God has called him to do: to “present everyone mature in Christ” (1:28). And “For this,” he says, “I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (1:29, emphasis added). Notice Paul does not refer to his own energy; rather, he is speaking of God’s energy that God powerfully works within Paul. So, what does that mean?

The Greek word for energy here is ἐνέργεια (energeia), and in this context it refers to a functioning power. We can see this in some other translations: The NET Bible says, “according to his power that powerfully works in me”; HCSB says, “striving with His strength that works powerfully in me”; and the LEB says, “striving according to his working which is at work powerfully in me.”

Paul’s encouragement to the Philippians in 2:12-13 to continue in their obedience I believe provides more clarity to understand what this grace is. He tells them “to workout out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and work for his good pleasure” (emphasis added). Here we see that it is God who works in the believer—God’s grace is God himself.

I think Ephesians 3:14-20 clearly supports this understanding, demonstrating the clearest definition of grace:

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

So, when Paul says, “not I, but the grace of God,” it is really God working through him to accomplish his purposes of making Christ known to every tribe, tongue, and nation. It is the action of God to complete the work that he has begun in you (Philippians 1:6).

Though our study here is not exhaustive, the few passages we have looked at I believe demonstrate that grace is what flows through us from the indwelling of the Triune God in our hearts. Grace is what we have now that we are in Christ, which is renewing our minds, guiding our path, strengthening our faith, and pressing us “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

Grace is more than a pardon; it is the power to overcome sin and grow in holiness; it is the power to endure suffering for the sake of the gospel; it is the power that grows our hearts in greater affection toward Christ and others; it is what opens our hearts and minds to see who God truly is in Christ. And ultimately, it enables us to glorify God in all that we do. Grace is the power of God; it is the Spirit of God; it is the Son of God, all working in us to fulfill his purposes.

—Romans 11:36