Are Men Born Sinners?

by Alfred T. Overstreet    

Chapter 12


"I hate the doctrine of the Nicolaitans." Rev. 2:15. The Bible does not tell us who the Nicolaitans were. But most Bible scholars believe they were one of the Gnostic sects. Gnosticism began to have a corrupting influence upon Christianity as early as the first century A.D. John, in two of his epistles, refuted the doctrine taught by them that Christ did not come in the flesh, in a physical body. I John 4:2, 3; II John 7. This Gnostic doctrine was taught to preserve Christ from the pollution of sin, since they believed that man's flesh was inherently sinful. Whether the Nicolaitans were or were not one of the Gnostic sects cannot be conclusively proved. They probably were, but that is not the important point. What is important is to know that they taught false doctrine and that God hates false doctrine because all false doctrine works evil.

One of the veiled objections I have heard to the question of whether men are born sinners or not, is: "What difference does it make? We are all sinners and need to be saved anyway." This objection implies that it doesn't make a difference whether we were born sinners or not, as long as we recognize we are sinners and need to be saved. However, what we believe does make a difference. We need to do away with this friendly, cozy attitude toward false doctrine that says, "What difference does it make?" Doesn't what we believe concerning the origin of our sin have an effect upon our conduct and how we view sin, God and the Bible? Doesn't it make a difference in our attitude toward our sin, our guilt, and our ill desert whether or not we believe that we are condemned for a sin which we did not commit, and which was committed thousands of years before we had our existence? Doesn't it make a difference in our attitude toward God whether or not we believe that the heathen, who have never heard the Gospel and had a chance to be saved, were created by God with a corrupt sinful nature which makes sin unavoidable and their damnation inevitable? Doesn't it make a difference in our attitude toward living a separated and a holy Christian life whether or not we believe that we are born with a morally depraved physical constitution that makes sin unavoidable and holiness impossible?

Doesn't this false doctrine make a difference in our thinking concerning all the true doctrines of the Bible? John had to denounce the false teachers of his day who would not accept the biblical doctrines of Christ's incarnation, i.e., that Christ came in the flesh, because they believed the false doctrine that the physical nature of man was polluted and inherently sinful. And now, those who believe in the doctrine of original sin are compelled by this false belief to believe that Christ was not really a man with a nature like other men, as the Bible teaches, but that he was somehow different in his humanity, with a different human nature than all the rest of mankind. A belief in this false doctrine does make a difference. It affects how we view and interpret all the true doctrines of the Bible. It affects our attitude toward God, the Creator of our nature. It affects our attitude toward our sin and our guilt. It affects our attitude toward everything that is connected with the doctrine of sin. God hates this Nicolaitan doctrine because it has a corrupting influence on the Christian's conduct, attitudes, and thinking. No other false doctrine has so profoundly warped the Christian's understanding of the biblical doctrines of sin, holiness, and God's grace to deliver from sin. This false doctrine makes sin necessary, holiness impossible, and the power of God's grace nothing but a feeble, empty promise. Listen to what the doctrine of original sin promises the Christian:

This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated..." Westminster Confession

By reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil. Westminster Confession

They deplore their inability to love their Redeemer, to keep themselves from sin, to live a holy life in any degree adequate to their own convictions of their obligations...They recognize it as the fruit and evidence of the corruption of their nature derived as a sad inheritance from their first parents. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. II, p. 273

No man is able by any grace received in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed. Larger Catechism

But the Word of God promises something completely contrary to the false teaching of original sin. It promises a new birth, a new life, and total deliverance from all sin. Paul said, "If any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new." I Cor. 5:17. The angel said to Joseph: "Thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins." Matt. 1:21. Jesus said, "Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin...If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." John 8:34, 36 Paul repeated again and again in Romans that the Christian is made free from sin through the grace of God in Christ Jesus:

How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein? Rom. 6:2

Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. Rom. 6:6

Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. Rom. 6:14

But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine that was delivered unto you. Being then made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness. Rom. 6:17, 18

But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. Rom. 6:22

Is God telling lies when he makes these promises? If the doctrine of original sin is true, he is, and he is also powerless to destroy the dominion of sin in the heart of those who put their trust in him. Such a low concept of God's grace does not bring much honor and glory to him. In fact, those who really believe the doctrine of original sin gravely dishonor him by believing the doctrine that his grace and the presence of his indwelling Holy Spirit are infinitely less powerful than sin.

The doctrine of original sin is a grossly false doctrine that demeans the power of God's grace and soothes the conscience of worldly professors of religion. Great evil has been done in the church by this false philosophy of sin. It should be banished from pulpits, and the truth of the liberating power of God's grace preached to those who hunger for God's righteousness and holiness in their lives.

What are you going to do with the doctrine of original sin? Randolf S. Foster makes some penetrating comments on the moral turpitude of clinging to error once we know the truth:

The known and willful support or perpetuation of an error is a crime against humanity and a sin against Him who is Truth. To cling to error or defend error when one has reason to suspect it may be error reveals a heart that does not fully love the truth for the truth's sake.

To strenuously support and shield from scrutiny what we believe when we are aware that its truth is questionable reveals a heart that is not completely candid. We are supposed to be children of light, and to be afraid to shine light upon what we believe shows a love still for darkness.

To stop short in curable error is criminal; to cherish delusions after we have been forced to suspect them is debasing to our moral nature.

To persist in a belief against evidence, to refuse evidence, or avoid proof...shows insincerity and lack of moral integrity.

Slavish adherence to inherited traditions, merely on the ground of their wide acceptance and long continuance, would forbid the overthrow of error and the acceptance of redeeming truth. If a doctrine cannot bear the light of the Scriptures and reason If it is shown to be false and unreasonable under their burning light, it must consent to shrivel up and perish with all other error.

One more passage from Randolf S. Foster's Studies in Theology states:

Although all men have an innate and genuine thirst after truth and a corresponding disgust for error, there may exist, strange as it may seem, extreme opposition to the acceptance of certain truths an absolute hatred of them, because they differ from what we now believe, because they require changes in us which we do not want to make, because they require the confession that we have been mistaken and have held error so the mind will not give them fair treatment It hardens against them and imposes unjust tests and will not give them the courtesy of fair and respectful attention. Prejudices, vicious habits of thought, pride of opinion and of denominational belief, ignorance, suspicion, bigotry, blind following of religious and denominational leaders so becloud and benumb the mind that it cannot and will not see its own errors, or the truth of others when with a little unprejudiced examination the truth could be seen.

To cling to a doctrine which we know to be false is sin. God hates false doctrine, and as Christians, we cannot take neutral ground respecting the things that God hates. With God, there is no neutral ground.

The doctrine of original sin has corrupted Christian theology and spawned a false teaching of inability that excuses sin in the Church of Christ. It is difficult to find a Christian today who believes it is possible to live without sin. "The key of knowledge" has been taken away by this doctrine. Ministers "have not entered in themselves" and they have "hindered them that were entering in." Matt. 23:13, Luke 11:52. With this grossly false doctrine men have been taught that they can never expect to fully obey their Lord until they die and go to heaven. They have been taught that they will live more or less in rebellion against God as long as they are here on earth. What a low opinion this doctrine permits men to have of God's power and sanctifying grace! The church's idea of the grace of God is only that it forgives us while we continue in sin. God hates this Nicolaitan doctrine! Can we go on giving place to such a God dishonoring doctrine? Can we accept a doctrine that allows men to believe that they will go to heaven without holiness? Can we coddle a doctrine that excuses sin in the churches and that stumbles professing Christians into hell? Can we any longer embrace a doctrine that God hates?

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