Why is original sin something you talk about a lot? Doesn't God just care about the actual sins we commit?

Reformed Christians following Augustine have understood sin to be very serious business. We uphold the biblical witness that sin is treason against God. Original sin distorts us, actual sin distracts us, and indwelling sin manipulates us. Jean-Jacques Rousseau may have believed that “man is born free” and that the chains come from society, but the Bible tells us the opposite: Man is born in the chains of original sin, and the only way to break free of those chains is through the atoning blood of Christ.

In today’s climate, we see evangelicals dividing on whether God holds us responsible for Adam’s sin. Some evangelicals, following a Catholic and Anglican rendering, believe that original sin makes us sick and only sick. The “disability model” of sin comes from this. It says that people who struggle with unchosen sin patterns like homosexuality and gender dysphoria are victims of a crime that someone else committed; they are suffering servants, and should be treated as such.

While there is no question that we suffer under the weight of original sin, the Bible stakes out a different—and more difficult—approach. The Bible declares us corrupt and guilty for the sin we inherit in Adam (and this explains in part why being an unbeliever is a sin). An analogy might help us to understand this. Let’s say I inherit a house with a lush garden, and I love the garden so much that I just let it do what it wants. I never prune the roses. I never weed the dandelions. I let the vines go where they want to go. After a decade of letting my garden flourish by doing what it wants, I notice that my garden is in shambles. It is uninhabitable. Let’s say I complain to a friend who is a master gardener. I say: “This is so unfair! I am a victim. I didn’t do anything wrong. I just let my garden do what it wants!” My friend will tell me, “Rosaria, you did everything wrong. You tried to help your garden without first understanding its nature. Gardens come with weeds as part of their nature. It is the nature of the garden to have weeds, and to deny this—to deny the true nature of a thing—is to do great harm to this thing that you love.”

The same is true for us. We do great harm to ourselves and others when we fail to deal with our nature in Adam. Sin is engraved with a diamond pen upon our hearts (Jeremiah 17:1). If we do not start there, we will never flourish. We will never cry out to Jesus to forgive our sins. We will never flourish, because the truth of any substance is found in its origin, its ontology, its spiritual core. Truth matters. It can be measured and known, and the truth about ourselves is laid bare in the pages of Scripture. The Bible holds us accountable to sinful desires that we do not choose but that seem to choose us. If we say that only sins of actual choice and execution are the ones that God will judge, we deny the words of Jesus, who says lust is adultery and anger is murder. Sin goes so deep that we cannot know ourselves without turning over the pages of our heart against the pages of the Bible. And sin is not a matter of only making bad choices. Sin is deceptive, and deception means being taken over—being captured by— an evil force to do its bidding.