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  • Writer's pictureElaine Kelly

Original Sin: What Is Its Impact on Salvation?

Updated: Dec 26, 2022

This is Part 3 of a 4-part series on Original Sin: How our view of Original sin impacts our views of salvation, atonement, predestination, and free will. In earlier blogs, I examined Part 1: Original Sin: Are We Born Bad? and Part 2: Original Sin: What is the Meaning of Baptism? Today we will examine Part 3: Original Sin: What Is Its Impact on Salvation?

I will put it all together with Part 4: Original Sin: Constructing Your Faith Interactive Activity.

Disobedience Separates Us from God

For the first few hundred years of Christianity, the church did not focus on our sinful nature and our guilt; the focus was on attaining freedom from sin and salvation in Jesus. The Genesis story was often seen as an allegory showing how human disobedience separates us from God. In the 1st century, Clement of Rome, Christian Bishop, wrote about salvation requiring both a belief that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour and living a life of holiness. Clement discusses that our good deeds are prompted by our faith. We are justified by faith and our actions. The Bible repeatedly calls us to both faith and obedience (Matthew 19:17-19, Luke 11:28, John 14:15, 1 John 5:3, James 1:22 1 Cor 7:19).

Salvation by Faith; Obedience Demonstrates Faith

Protestant leaders have often pointed to the words that Abraham was blessed for his faith: he believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3). However, Clement says that Abraham was blessed because he acted in righteousness; his faith prompted him to act. Looking again at Genesis, we see that after "Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness." (v. 6), Abram questioned the Lord about how he could know what God said was true. God replied by giving Abram a task, and Abram obeyed and acted (v. 7-10). His questions show his doubt; his actions show his faith. We are saved by faith, but faith requires obedience. Paul commends believers for their faith and obedience and says they will be blessed by being slaves to God, resulting in being holy and having eternal life (Romans 6:16-22). Paul puts it simply here, "the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6). Faith cannot be separated from having proactive, loving relationships. Faith and obedience work together to produce righteousness.

"The early Christians universally believed that works or obedience play an essential role in our salvation." —David W. Bercot, Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up, p. 57.

Author David W. Bercot explains that the early Christian belief that faith and obedience act together for our salvation and that unfaithfulness or disobedience could mean losing salvation. The early church preached that salvation was in Jesus alone and that we are saved by God's grace through our faith, and that faith shows in our loving actions. Our actions do not earn salvation but they demonstrate our faith. Immoral actions demonstrate we have become unbelievers.

Salvation for The Elect

The 5th-century theologian Augustine believed God predestines all people regarding their salvation. Augustine said that all humans are born carrying the guilt of original sin and deserve condemnation, yet for God's own pleasure, God gives grace to the elect to have salvation and never lose it. Humans can do nothing to earn salvation. The Holy Spirit acts first, moving the elect to make the faith decision and receive salvation (2 Timothy 1:9, Galatians 1:15, Ephesians 1:4-11, Eph. 2:8-10, John 6:44, 1 Peter 2:9, Luke 2:14). Augustine taught double predestination: the belief that God also elects and predestines others to damnation as their just reward. Facing the fact that many baptized as infants decide as adults not to believe, Augustine explained that God gives the elect a second gift of grace that allows them to persevere and confirm their faith as adults. This idea may be based on Jesus being the author (origin) and perfecter (finisher) of our faith, starting our faith and bringing it to maturity, completion, and perfection (Hebrews 12:2).

God's Grace is greater than human effort
Michelangelo - Sistine Chapel - public domain, wikimedia - God's grace is greater than human effort

Salvation for the Obedient

At the time of Augustine, Pelagianism taught that God makes salvation available to all persons (1 Timothy 2:4, John 12:32, Col. 1:19-20, Philippians 2:9-11, Matthew 18:11-14, 1 John 4:14-15). Pelagius opposed the idea that God elects some and not others since God wants all people to be saved (John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9) and God does not show favouritism (Romans 2:11, Col. 3:25, Acts 10:34, Matthew 5:45).

Pelagius denied the idea that all humans are born bearing the guilt of Adam's original sin and that humans are totally depraved. He taught that babies and children are innocent until they reached an age when can be accountable for choosing to believe (John 3:16-18). Whoever rejects the Son will not see life (John 3:36) but children are too young to reject God. He said that the human tendency to sin is a free choice and that humans can and must decide to do God's will (Matthew 7:21, Luke 11:28, John 8:11, John 14:15, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

However, Pelagius may also have said that humans can do good of their own volition, without God's grace, and might earn salvation by their good works, without faith. As we all know, human goodness does not compare to God's goodness, and we cannot be good enough to earn salvation by our own power. Heavily opposed by Augustine, Pelagius was excommunicated and in AD 418 the Council of Carthage condemned him as a heretic.

Salvation by Faith and Grace

By the 16th century, the Roman Catholic church had centralized power over the church and governments in Western Europe. Some of the priests of the time protested corruption and abuses and wanted to reform the church. A few of the items Reformers opposed:

  • the centralized power of the Pope over religious and civil life

  • the idea that the church had equal authority to the Bible (Reformers believed the Bible was the ultimate authority)

  • the use of the Latin Vulgate Bible instead of the original Greek and Hebrew Scriptures

  • the idea of purgatory, a place the deceased go to become purified and holy enough to go to heaven

  • the sale of indulgences, papers the church sold promising to give the parishioner or their loved one less time in purgatory, going more quickly to heaven

  • the idea that salvation was offered from or by the church (Reformers said salvation is only through faith in Jesus)

  • the number and the nature or meaning of sacraments

  • the idea that forgiveness came from the church, intercessors, or financial contributions (Reformers said forgiveness comes only by God's grace)

  • the hierarchy of Bishops and Popes, believing all Christians are equal before God, all may read and interpret the Bible, and that Jesus Christ alone is our Lord and Master

  • the glorification of the church or believers, instead of the glorification of God

Protestant Reformers stated strongly that we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ and because of God's grace. We do not earn salvation by our actions and are not made righteous by our good works or by the church.

Protestant Reformer Martin Luther agreed that because of the Fall, humans do not have the power or free will to accept salvation without first the Holy Spirit calling them. Salvation is based on God’s grace alone and does not depend on an individual’s response. God predestines the elect to be saved and since nothing happens outside of God's sovereign control. While Luther advocated double predestination, today's Lutherans teach single predestination, that God elects some for salvation and does not decree absolutely the salvation of the others. Today's Lutherans believe Christ’s atonement was not limited to the elect but is sufficient to save whoever believes (John 3:16), God wants all to be saved (2 Peter 3:9), yet knows and foresees that not all will be saved.