The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Are we programmed to sin?

Hi Richard:

I suppose this question is more about “original sin” than about being “programmed to sin”.

The story (of Adam and Eve and sin being passed along to us…) implies a kind of programming to sin it seems to me. Romans 5:18 (NASB – as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men… KJV – by the offense of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation…) as well as 1 Cor 15:22 (For as in Adam all die…) seem to be talking about us being as we are, doing as we do (ie being sinners) because somehow Adam’s act is passed down to us and is demonstrated in our tendencies (well, it’s more than a tendency isn’t it; it’s a certainty…) to sin. Born to/in sin.

But if we really are condemned because of One man’s act, it seems there follows some rather awkward consequences for typical Christian notions of “free will”.
That is, it would appear I’m a sinner not because of my own choice, but because of my ancestors. (Therefore, to what extent is sin “my fault”?)

Further, if I can be condemned through no choice of my own (born a sinner because of Adam’s act) why would I protest (I don’t actually; but those Arminians who reject Universalism do…) also being saved through no specific choice of my own?

Well I think you get the idea here. It’s really a question about what you think the doctrine of original sin means… If it helps, or obscures, the true nature of the changes and solutions Christ brings to our problems, which are said to have arisen because of Adam…

I’d be interested to know how you put all this together.


Clearly we have the power to make choices (God created man in His image, and free will may be the main factor here).

We inherit many things from our parents, grandparents, and other ancestors. We notice not only physical characteristics in families, but mental characteristics as well. Though there may be tendencies in a particular family to act in a particular manner, they are not forced to do so. Whenever they do act in that manner, it is their choice. It is possible for any member of that famly to do otherwise.

Thus even if we inherit a tendency to do wrong because the fall of our first parents, we are not FORCED to sin. Indeed, it is possible not to sin. Can we go without sinning for 30 seconds? Yes? How about a minute? Yes? Then why not an hour? A day? A month? A year? A lifetime? All of these seem possible, though unlikely for the longer periods. But with the enabling grace of Christ it becomes much more likely, for He died and was raised in order to deliver us from sin.

Hi, Bob :slight_smile:

In my view (fwiw), our problem, inherited from the Garden, is that we are living in our own strength – and since we separated ourselves from God, we have no strength. We are unable to resist evil and have become its slaves. The only way out is death, and Jesus took care of that as our representative (the 2nd Adam). Then He rose as the head of the One New Man – Christ the head and the ekklesia (and Christ) the body. In this case, “head” means “source” (as the headwaters of a river), though the more familiar (to us) definition also applies, that is that He is also the leader, the one in charge, etc.

So . . . the Arminian view isn’t so very strapped in this case, imo. We were born out of fellowship with Him, and we choose to rejoin Him in fellowship, being reconciled to the Father. We can choose not to rejoin Him if we insist (again, imo), but it’s inconceivable that anyone with freedom of choice (rational mind, full information) would or could continue to choose that which was against his own happiness and comfort forever and ever and ever. (My paraphrase of Talbott, and likely a bad one, but that’s the way I remember it.)

However your point is well taken. There are many, many, many logical inconsistencies in Arminianism (as there also are in Calvinism). That’s the beauty of UR (or one of them), that everything fits together and works like a well-engineered clock. UR ties the Bible back together. We no longer end up with all these conundrums we like to euphemize as “dynamic tension,” assuring one another that we are meant to simply accept seeming mutually contradictory scriptures, that there are mysteries in God we won’t know until . . . . Personally, I think that if scripture clearly contradicts itself, that means I need to look harder and work harder and seek God to understand, because I’m OBVIOUSLY not getting it!

God is infinite and there will ALWAYS be new discoveries and new depths to explore in Him. Hallelujah!!! However, we’re to be in process of discovering Him always – not just sit back and say, “Well, it’s a mystery, isn’t it?” And when we find truth in scripture that makes His word cohere, that’s a matter for rejoicing and giving a serious look into, not for heresy hunting. :wink:

Love, Cindy

Thanks for the comments/observations Cindy and Paidion, and Richard has yet to comment on this, but let me expand a bit on where my thinking/questioning has been drifting…

Romans 5:12 says

So I might ask:

Is it fair of God to allow sin to enter the world via ONE man?

Fair for Adam to make choices for US?

Doesn’t that setup seriously undermine the notion of personal responsibility?

Since it therefore appears that we have no ability to reject that “gift” from Adam (what’s been termed inheriting a “sinful nature”) on what basis do we have the ability to reject inheriting a holy nature from Christ? (ie unless we “choose it”…)

We say that all are sinners – the bible seems pretty emphatic about that – that there is no conceivable exception. It is then less a choice than simply a matter of describing reality.

What did Adam’s act pass along TO us then? A “sinful nature” perhaps?
This theology has a serious weakness to me though, for it seems rather contrived to suggest that Adam did not have a sinful nature, therefore did not have a “tendency” to sin, yet he is the very one who spectacularly did sin! (Spectacular because of it’s far reaching – ie all the way down to you and me – consequences) Isn’t it awkward to say it wasn’t his tendency, yet he DID it???

I’m beginning to think that maybe all Romans means here is that Adam’s nature was, in fact just like OURS! That is, capable of sinning. The reason we are born/created “in Adam” is that we are made just like him. That is, with the capacity to act upon the illusion, upon the false belief, that we can go it alone, apart from God.

A big part of the reason I’m questioning this “inherited sinful nature” idea is also why I’m wary of blaming sin’s entry into the Universe upon Satan. Namely, it allows ME an apparent “excuse” to sidestep my OWN participation in the illusion of independence from God; the illusion of my own sovereignty. The “sin problem” rests right here, inside of ME!

So it’s very problematic, as I’m viewing this, to say that I’m a sinner NOT by choice, but somehow I must be saved BY choice. The range of options in choices is open now, as it was for Adam. The way I’m seeing this then Paidion, is that I CAN in fact learn to make the type of choices that consistently demonstrate that I AM choosing to walk God’s way (the way of life, love, and freedom) because I DO see the truth about God as witnessed to by His Son, the Christ. Christ is the ONLY vehicle by which, and through which, God can permanently convince anyone of the rightness of His ways.

Thus I’m trying to say that perhaps a flawed understanding of “inheriting a sinful nature from Adam” leads to a flawed understanding of the nature of Salvation… In addition, it leads to a way of thinking that is unable to either understand, or accept, the reality of God’s Total Victory through Christ.

Something like that…


I remember the first time I sinned – or knew that I sinned anyway. I was probably, maybe six years old or so and one of the older girls on my street was teaching me to play “Concentration.”

(In case anyone doesn’t know, this is a kids’ card game, usually using a deck of pictures, in which the cards are turned face down on the table and you have to figure out/remember where the duplicates are.)

She went off to the bathroom for a few minutes and I remember agonizing (briefly) over whether I should cheat and look at the cards. I lost my battle with temptation, and then to make it worse, I lied to her when she accused me of having cheated. Yeah, I STILL feel guilty over that. I genuinely do. :laughing: But I did have the choice to make, and I did know it was wrong, what I did. The law came alive in me, and I died. Death came to all people because all sinned. If I never did yield to temptation, would I be immortal? I dunno – no one’s ever done that but Jesus, and He chose to die for His loved ones.

I see your conundrum, though, and I do share it. Were we made in such a state that we were doomed to fall? And since we had no strength and therefore no choice to stand, why must we enter life by choice? Why not just drag us in the same way we were dragged into sin?

I’m not going to attempt to defend this exegetically (although I feel pretty sure I could, but have never consciously tried) because it’s late enough now that it’s about to become early. And I still want a hot bath so my creaky joints won’t keep me awake! But . . . I believe deep within myself that Abba is raising us up as a loving parent raises up a child from conception on through adulthood. The child is born with absolutely no self control. He can’t even control his bladder and bowels, can’t choose when to eat or sleep or laugh or even cry. He just does what comes naturally. No one can make him do anything, though pretty much anything can be done to him.

He’s not bad, that he doesn’t display love or have consideration for his poor tired mommy. He just can’t help it. He can’t help being hungry at 2:00 a.m. and if he has gas, he’s going to scream. He’s not going to hold it in for fear of waking the household.

As he grows and matures, though, he does become capable of being either very good or very bad or somewhere in between, and he will probably do all those things depending on the situation and his mood. The hope is that he will develop toward a balanced selflessness and a desire to serve and love others. That is the ideal of growing up. To grow in stature and in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and in favor with God and with people.

And I think that is a model of what Abba is doing with us. We start with little to no free will, but as we grow, we learn to control our impulses & etc. This is made difficult because we were born out of relationship with Him. If the baby’s parents move to Abu Dhabi, to Abu Dhabi he will go, too, and if that puts him out of reach of his loving grandparents, well maybe that’s not fair to him, but that’s what his parents chose for him. Our first parents (however you may see them) chose things for us which we’re still dealing with today, just as our physical parents had a profound impact on our lives, clean contrary to our freedom of choice.

We are GROWING INTO free will. That’s why I believe Abba allows and requires us to freely choose to return to His kingdom. Yes, He knows that He will woo us in or drag us in by long time and suffering if we are that stubborn, but in the end, I DO believe that we will choose to come home, and that we will do that because we have genuinely made a fully informed, fully rational, fully free decision to return. And the sooner we know the Truth and are made free by Him, the sooner we will make that decision.

Love you, Brother :slight_smile:

I think you’re absolutely right about this.

These are questions I wrestle with as well. I think you already know my tendency to come down on the side of God’s sovereignty in this, but I’m not entirely sure how helpful that is to our understanding of the answers to the questions you’re posing. This is indeed a sticky one…

It seems to me that the “genetic” outlook is probably a somewhat helpful one. We definitely inherit a proclivity to sin, but due to Christ thankfully that doesn’t mean we must, just as genetic factors don’t guarantee illness (or health!) Perhaps that’s part of what we’re trying to sort here; just exactly where is the line between nature and nurture, God’s sovereignty and our choices. Still, it seems as though a good deal of this was all planned out. Perhaps our choices in the here and now only affect our role in the life to come; our destiny rather than our destination…

Hi Total Victory,
So sorry it has taken me so long to see your question. My apologies.

It’s a hard question to answer, especially as I don’t know if we should read the story of Eden in a literal way. More, I side with the Eastern Orthodox on this in that I see the story as less about Original Sin than about the origins of death. That is, I don’t think it’s a moral story. It’s an ecological story. The story is trying to answer the question: Why, if God is good and loving, is the world so awful? The Genesis story is a theodicy.

Starting with this ecological frame I’ve tended to see “Original Sin” as the product of us being biodegradable creatures in a world of real, potential or perceived scarcity. Separated from God’s Spirit we are “flesh” (sarx), to use Paul’s word. Animals, basically. So our condition isn’t one of spiritual wickedness but biological weakness, a weakness that makes us susceptible to death anxiety which is described in Hebrews 2.14-15 as “the power of the devil.”

So my views here are pretty idiosyncratic, although I make connections with the Eastern Orthodox. I don’t believe in Original Sin and its transmission. I think Genesis is a theodicy. I think our “inheritance” is an ecosystem and the mortal condition. And those two things explain our moral weakness–why sin, if not inherited, is universally inevitable.

I agree that we have all inherited, not sin, but the tendency to sin from our first parents. And yes, Christ’s death and resurrection (and maybe His life also) have provided us with enabling grace (Titus 2). However, even slaves can choose to disobey their masters, and have often done so. So people can also choose to disobey their “sin master” and to do the right thing. Many non-Christians have done so — not consistently, but occasionally.

I just read an article recently on whether men (male gender) are programmed to lie (which many consider to always be a sin, and there are certainly forms of lying that I think are pretty much universally accepted as sin).
The interesting twist in the article was that men who had reduced testosterone levels were more likely to lie for (illicit) self-gain than the men who had normal or higher levels. Not sure how this fits into the discussion really, just thought I’d throw it out there.

Richard; I’m intrigued by the idea of “Original Sin” as theodicy/ etiology of death vs. the Western “traditional” view. I think there’s some merit to that.

I wonder what your thoughts are on how that idea is affected by the fact that Adam had not yet partaken of the tree of life, and therefore did not have immortality yet.

In the Orthodox view being separated from the Tree of Life is a central fallout from Eden, but it’s also separation from God’s life giving Presence. As exiles of Eden we are separated from spiritual communion with God and, thus, mere flesh–we are simply animals, biological creatures subject to death and decay. Paul describes this as having “a body that is subject to death” and it’s the root of his “sin problem.” He cries out: “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” Because a “body subject to death” makes Paul incapable to do the things he knows he ought to do. A body subject to death is governed by the “law of the flesh” and is, thus, ontologically incapable to follow the “law of the Spirit.” That’s the root of the post-Eden condition. Our problem is not “Original Sin,” an inherited moral taint or depravity. It’s an ontological incapacity. The inability of flesh to follow the law of the Spirit, the royal law of love.

According to the Orthodox, then, salvation comes to us when we are reconnected to God’s vivifying, animating, energizing and life-giving Spirit. It’s that connection that was lost in Eden and it’s that connection that must be restored for us to have life.

Ah, Ok. Thanks for that. I can see some really great tie-ins between that and the points you raised in your “Slavery to the fear of death” series. (One of my favorites on your blog).

Oh yes! It’s all a part of the grand master plan I have in my head. :slight_smile:

I know St. Gregory of Nyssa was a Universalist, and he seems to have believed that the devil and his angels will eventually repent, but what could possibly be taking them so long.

From an Orthodox pov, what could possibly account for the fall of the angels, what did they hope to gain, and what do they hope to gain by their continued opposition to Christ and His Church?

Did Gregory or any of the Church Fathers offer any speculation on that?