Are Men Born Sinners?

by Alfred T. Overstreet    

Appendix A

The Nature and Attributes of Sin

Man must sin to be a sinner.

The foregoing statement may seem too obvious to need stating, and something that no one could deny. But those who advocate the doctrine of original sin both ignore what is clearly obvious and deny what is palpably undeniable. They teach that an infant who has never sinned is not only a sinner, but is guilty, condemned and under God's wrath.

But, what is sin? The Bible says, "Sin is the transgression of the law." I John 3:4. But what law does a newborn baby transgress by being born? Has God given a law that makes it a sin to be born? But if children violate no law in being born, then they are surely not sinners. One might as well call a man a drunkard who has never tasted drink, or a man a thief who has never stolen, or a man a murderer who has never killed, as to say that an infant who has never sinned is a sinner.

Or does God's law legislate over our nature, requiring us to be born with a certain nature? No, God has given no law requiring us to be born with a certain nature. The fact is that God is satisfied with the nature he has given us. He legislates only over the use we make of our nature. Since sin is the transgression of the law, an understanding of the nature of law will give us a clearer understanding of the nature of sin.

1. Law, in its generic sense, is any rule of action.

2. Physical law is a rule of necessary or involuntary action. The law of gravity is a physical law. The law of gravity is a rule of action that operates by a law of necessity or force as opposed to freedom and voluntary choice.

3. Moral law is a rule of free and intelligent action as opposed to involuntary or necessary action.

It is the rule for the government of free and intelligent action, as opposed to necessary and unintelligent action. It is the law of liberty, as opposed to the law of necessity--of motive and free choice, as opposed to force of every kind. Moral law is primarily a rule of the direction of the action of free will and strictly of free will only.1

We see then what must be the necessary attributes of sin. They must be liberty, voluntariness, and intelligence. By the word intelligence, it is not meant that sin is a good or reasonable choice. It is meant that the choice to sin is made with the full knowledge that it is wrong. It is an intelligent choice because the sinner knows the moral character of his actions before he sins. He knows that he is doing wrong, and if he had no knowledge of right and wrong, he could not sin. Moral law, then, cannot govern the actions of infants, who have no knowledge of right and wrong. A moral agent is a moral agent only because he has an understanding of the moral character of his actions. Infants, therefore, cannot be sinners.

Liberty, or freedom, is another attribute of sin. Without liberty there could be no such thing as sin. It is affirmed that babies are born sinners. Have they had the liberty to make a choice about this? Are they free to choose not to be born sinners? If not, then they cannot be born sinners. To speak of them being sinners involuntarily and by a law of necessity is to talk utter nonsense. Liberty, or freedom to choose (free moral agency), is a necessary attribute of sin, and if there is no liberty, there can be no sin.

The very idea of sin implies free choice. It implies that the sinner is free to do good instead of evil, and that he is able to avoid sin. If his actions are not free, and if his actions are necessitated, his deeds cannot have moral character and he cannot be a sinner. To talk of being born a sinner is the same nonsense as to talk of a wicked gun. If man is a sinner by birth, he can no more be wicked or sinful than the gun which is used to commit murder can be wicked or sinful. A sinner is a sinner only because his actions are free. Without free choice, sin cannot exist.

Voluntariness is an attribute of sin. Children cannot be born sinners because their birth is involuntary. They do not choose to be born. Their birth is completely involuntary. An involuntary sinner, a sinner by birth, is a contradiction because one of the attributes of sin is voluntariness. It is a contradiction of terms to speak of being born a sinner. The term sinner implies liberty, voluntariness, and intelligence. So to speak of being born a sinner is to speak of an impossibility. It is to use terms which contradict each other.

By necessity the attributes of sin are liberty, intelligence, and voluntariness. Any doctrine that assumes, as does the doctrine of original sin, that sin can be predicated of unfree, involuntary, and unintelligent action is absurd. There can be no unfree, involuntary, and unintelligent sin. All of these attributes pertain to physical law, rather than moral law, and completely negate the idea of sin.


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