Original sin does not refer to the first sin committed by Adam and Eve. It describes the fallen and sinful condition of the human race. We have a corrupt nature, out of which flow the actual sins we commit. Original sin is itself a judgment of a righteous God upon creatures that He created to be good. As a penalty upon Adam and Eve for their sins, God gave them over, along with their progeny, to their wicked inclinations.
When Adam and Eve were first created, they had the ability to sin, and they had the ability not to sin. At the fall, the human race lost the ability not to sin. The power of sin is so deeply rooted in our hearts and souls that it is impossible for us not to sin. We have not lost the ability to make choices, but we have lost the ability to make good choices.
God’s standard of goodness
This does not mean we cannot do anything that conforms outwardly to the law of God. People keep the speed limit. Mothers sacrifice for their children and people return the wallets of strangers without keeping the money they find inside.
But for an act to be truly good, according to God’s standard, it must correspond outwardly to what the law requires and it also must be motivated by love for God.
Sometimes we obey the law of God because it serves our personal best interests. We might not steal because we have found that crime does not pay. We might do noble gestures for the applause of men, but fallen man lacks the motivation to obey the law out of love for God. Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
We are not able to do the good that God requires: “no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:12). We are so corrupt that we are spiritually dead – not just sick but dead. Jesus said, No one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6:65). So, to embrace Christ, to come to God and to do the things of God, requires that we somehow be liberated from the prison of original sin. This is accomplished by the sovereign, supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. That is why Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:3).
When churches reach out to “seekers,” I do not know whom they have in mind, because the Bible says that no one in his natural state seeks after God: “no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11).
[Adapted from Everyone’s a Theologian by R.C. Sproul]