We believe and teach
– that sin is breaking God’s law;
– that sin entered the world through the Fall, when the devil tempted man to rebel against God and he wilfully succumbed to the temptation to turn away from God and follow his own ways;
– that man’s original righteousness and godliness was lost in the Fall, so that in the spiritual realm he has no longer free and good will, which wants what God wants;
– that Adam’s fall provoked such deep damage to human life that irresistibly dark evil desires propagate and are thus handed down from generation to generation, and that this innate original sin is the cause of all other sins in thoughts, words and deeds (sins of commission);
– that the legacy of Adam has poisoned the human mind and will so that it is spiritually blind and ignorant about God and lives unable to rightly fear, love and trust in Him;
– that every human being for the sake of sin stands truly guilty before God and threatened by His holy wrath and righteous punishment;
– that the penalty of sin is death, which is of three kinds: spiritual death (the soul lives here without communion with God), bodily death (the soul leaves the body) and eternal death (man is finally and forever separated from God);
– that man himself does not realise the seriousness, depth and scope of sin, but God must reveal this to him by His word to make him understand his great need of salvation.
God never gives rise to sin nor is the cause of it in any form. He forbids and hates sin because it is both contrary to His very being and it corrupts us. Sin comes ultimately from the devil.
The Bible does not count only conscious sinful deeds, such as those done knowingly, as actual sins. As, for example, the Roman Catholic Church taught. But according to Scripture Original Sin is the most difficult and most serious sin. It is not a sin that we commit, but rather one we have incorporated in our character. Original sin is the source, the root and the driving force for all other sins. It is the devil’s ally in us.
Original sin is not only that Adam’s guilt is imputed to us humans. Its essence is both a genuine lack of righteousness and an evil inclination in moral and religious respects. This manifests itself mainly in man’s incurably self-centred mind. Man does not put God but himself in the centre, and he is obsessed with belief in himself and his own power in the spiritual domain. He always wants to put his own reason over God and His word and stick to his own ideas, which he gladly worships. He has no love for the God of the Bible, but on the contrary, he is hostile to Him. Original sin means that man is a slave to sin and has no free will in the spiritual domain. He can live well behaved within society’s reduced requirements, but can not perform at all the righteousness of the heart that God requires.
Physical death is in life the most frightening and tangible result of the Fall. It never stands in Scripture as a natural feature of creation, but as a penalty of sin. Death, with all its preludes of diseases, should for all be a sermon on the seriousness of sin and its dire consequences. Christ took our spiritual, physical and eternal death very seriously, and fought and defeated it as a severe enemy.
When people react against that God allows a single person’s fall to have such disastrous consequences for subsequent generations, then that too is an expression of our tendency to always minimise sin and blame God. We should remember that the Bible also teaches that salvation came through one man’s obedience (Rom. 5:15 ff.). We should take to heart the doctrine of original sin and be horrified by how serious it is to stand against God. Reality confirms that original sin is a bitter fact: people have, despite all the talk about development, not improved, but continue to hate, murder and plunder each other in a never-ending stream of atrocities. The doctrine of original sin, which the world’s people today often deny the most, is oddly enough the most proven by reality.
Both ordinary people and reason recognise that evil exists and that there must be limits set to it, so that society and human relationships can be maintained. There is, therefore, in all societies the quest for care and compassion, honesty and a decent life and the protection of good law and order. All those good and sensible forces we as Christians shall support and promote. But even if different degrees of external righteousness can be achieved and evil to some extent is prevented and controlled, it nevertheless remains that man is a sinner before God. Original sin and its desires, living in the heart, can not be eradicated. Only by faith in the gospel is a human being born again and thus can in the strength of the Spirit successfully fight against the flesh. But it is a battle that will last a lifetime. Because the carnal mind can never be improved or cured, but instead must daily be killed.
The doctrine of sin is essential to a right understanding of grace and salvation through Jesus Christ. The biblical gospel of salvation by grace without works responds to the biblical doctrine of sin and can only be understood against that background. If man after the fall had maintained an inner core or spark of goodness, power and ability to overcome sin and become righteous, then Christ would not have had to come to earth and carry out his divine work of salvation.
No other religion in the world talks so deep and pessimistically about sin and man’s captivity under it as does Christianity. No other religion, on the other hand, gives helpless and lost sinners such grace and freedom, life and hope as does Christianity.
What the Holy Scriptures say
Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4)
Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” (John 8:34)
He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. (1 John. 3:8)
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Ps. 51:5)
The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth. (Gen. 8:21)
That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:6)
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells. (Rom. 7:18)
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God. (Rom. 8:7)
...that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts (Eph. 4:22)
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God. (1 Cor. 2:14)
You (...) were dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1)
(We) were by nature the children of wrath, just as the others. (Eph. 2:3)
For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. (Matt. 15:19)
A bad tree bears bad fruit. (Matt. 7:17)
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Rom. 3:23)
But to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath. (Rom. 2:8)
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned. (Rom. 5:12)
For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. (Rom. 5:17)
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 6:23)
The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the Law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:56-57)
What the Lutheran Confessions say
Also they teach [our churches] that since the fall of Adam all men begotten in the natural way are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with concupiscence; and that this disease, or vice of origin, is truly sin, even now condemning and bringing eternal death upon those not born again through Baptism and the Holy Ghost. (AC II, Trigl. p. 43)
Here we must confess, as Paul says in Rom. 5:12, that sin originated [and entered the world] from one man Adam, by whose disobedience all men were made sinners, [and] subject to death and the devil. This is called original or capital sin.
The fruits of this sin are afterwards the evil deeds which are forbidden in the Ten Commandments, such as [distrust] unbelief, false faith, idolatry, to be without the fear of God, presumption [recklessness], despair, blindness [or complete loss of sight], and, in short not to know or regard God; furthermore to lie, to swear by [to abuse] God’s name [to swear falsely], not to pray, not to call upon God, not to regard [to despise or neglect] God’s Word, to be disobedient to parents, to murder, to be unchaste, to steal, to deceive, etc.
This hereditary sin is so deep [and horrible] a corruption of nature that no reason can understand it, but it must be [learned and] believed from the revelation of Scriptures, Ps. 51:5; Rom. 6:12ff; Ex. 33:3; Gen. 3:7ff. (SA III:I, Trigl. p. 477)
God is not a creator, author, or cause of sin, but by the instigation of the devil through one man sin (which is a work of the devil) has entered the world, Rom. 5:12; 1 John 3:7. And even at the present day, in this corruption [in this corruption of nature], God does not create and make sin in us, but with the nature which God at the present day still creates and makes in men original sin is propagated from sinful seed, through carnal conception and birth from father and mother. (FC SD I, Trigl. p. 861)
Of Free Will they teach [our churches] that man’s will has some liberty to choose civil righteousness, and to work things subject to reason. But it has no power, without the Holy Ghost, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness. (AC XVIII, Trigl. p. 51)
1. Concerning this subject, our doctrine, faith, and confession is, that in spiritual things the understanding and reason of man are [altogether] blind, and by their own powers understand nothing, as it is written 1 Cor. 2:14: The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them when he is examined concerning spiritual things.
2. Likewise we believe, teach, and confess that the unregenerate will of man is not only turned away from God, but also has become an enemy of God, so that it only has an inclination and desire for that which is evil and contrary to God, as it is written Gen. 8:21: The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Also Rom. 8:7: The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither, indeed, can be. Yea, as little as a dead body can quicken itself to bodily, earthly life, so little can man, who by sin is spiritually dead, raise himself to spiritual life, as it is written Eph. 2:5: Even when we were dead in sins, He hath quickened us together with Christ; 2 Cor. 3:5: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything good as of ourselves, but that we are sufficient is of God. (FC Ep II, Trigl. p. 787)
We warn against
all kinds of false doctrines that contrary to the Scripture teach, for example,
– that the fall is not an event in history, but is just an example of a myth or story;
– that God somehow has created man with sin;
– that man has no responsibility for what he is and what he does;
– that only conscious sins in words and actions count as real sins;
– that man, despite sins and shortcomings, deep down is good (pharisaic self-righteousness);
– that man in his own mind can seek and find God (Gnosticism and self-adoration in various forms);
– that man has a remaining free will and ability to repent to God (Pelagianism) or contribute to his salvation (synergism);
– that Christians in this life can become perfect and sinless.
Holy God, you have shown me through grace my great and grievous sins. Continue in your mercy towards me. Give me the repentance that seeks after your mind. Cast all my debt into the depths of the sea, so that you in your severe judgement never more remember it. Bring in me abhorrence of sin and help me to always live according to your will. Comfort and draw me in your goodness. Hear me, a poor sinner, for Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bernard of Clairvaux
 named after Pelagius, English monk (died c. 418) that emphasised free will and denied original sin.