It is not within our capacity to say anything about God beyond what he has revealed to us. Sometimes it is best to step away from our presuppositions that we proof-text with the Bible and read the Bible in such a way as to let it speak for itself:
- For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Gen. 2:17).
Some read Gen. 2:17 as though God said to Adam, “If you eat the fruit, I will kill you,” or, “On the day that you eat, die,” but Genesis 2:17 doesn’t say those things; rather, it says, “In the day you eat, ye shall surely die.” Look again at what the verse really says: God is simply stating a fact to Adam that Adam will die if he eats because by eating, Adam will separate himself from God who is the source of life. Because Adam isn’t immortal by nature, he will die as a result of the loss of communion with God. Why will Adam die? Because Adam is immortal only by grace and not by nature. Adam was immortal only because of grace. When Adam sinned, he broke fellowship with God who is the source of grace and became mortal as a result. Therefore sin and death entered the world with the loss of fellowship with God and grace God provided to Adam. Because Adam fell from grace and became mortal his children were born into the same ungraced state as Adam which is to say they were born mortal. All mortals are sinners because they die.
So simple a child can understand and all without any need for further speculation. However, simplicity did not stop people from further speculating and the results of that speculation have come to be ingrained within Christian tradition for a variety of reasons. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself a diagnostic question: Before God why are we condemned? Many will answer from the tradition of original guilt. Original guilt says that the posterity of Adam is tainted by Adam’s guilt. Original guilt says that humanity is condemned not because of personal sin (some times called actual sin) but because Adam’s sin. In other words, a person, an infant or stillborn perhaps, could hypothetically live a sinless life, perish, and then be condemned at the judgment by God because of the guilt of Adam’s sin. More interested in what the Bible really teaches than protecting cherished traditions, Wesley came to pitch the view of original guilt into the waste basket.
For Wesley, original sin is the theological explanation of humanity’s innate sinfulness, which is the natural result of an obliterated imago dei, not a universal inheritance of Adam’s forensic guilt, as many Western theologians have claimed.* Following Wesley, many within the Arminian-Wesleyan position adapted a view of original sin that is much the same as the Eastern Orthodox view. In this sense, mans’ fall stems from the lost “nearness” of God that results in man seeking finite goods to replace the infinite good (missing the mark) that has been lost. In this sense Jesus can be born without sin and the nearness to the proclamation of Jesus’ birth of his perfection (“full of grace and truth”) by John the Evangelist can be justified (cf. John 1:14). Likewise, are the saints brought to sinlessness in heaven in a personal way of relationship by the recovered and then restored nearness to God and not through abstracts such as legalistic and juridical imputation. As such, a symmetry can be seen in the fall and the eschatological restoration of man by the withdrawal of God and subsequent reconciliation with God. The saints here on earth presently experience a foretaste, a first fruit of this restoration but await the full consummation of this restoration as a face to face reconciliation that awaits us in heaven and fills us with hope and expectation as a bride waiting to meet the bridegroom.
In summary, Wesley affirms original sin in that
- Wesley holds that all of humanity participates in Adam’s disobedience in the sense that Adam passes on the consequence of death to his posterity.
- Subsequent to Adam’s fall from grace the human moral compass seeks gratification and fulfillment through means other than what God intended. In this way all human failings find there foundation in Adam’s sin.
- With Adam’s fall grace, the human condition finds itself predisposed to an ungraced state that is manifested by all natural inclinations following self-serving ends.
- Subsequent to Adam’s fall from grace, Wesley sees man separated from God by the gulf of death which is manifested in mankind by the natural inability to seek God, desire the good, or manifest any virtue without divine intervention.
If you’re experiencing trouble understanding the above presentation then all you need to walk away with is this: Adam was immortal only because of grace. When Adam sinned, he broke fellowship with God (the source of grace) and became mortal as a result. As such, sin and death entered the world with the loss of fellowship with God. Because Adam fell from grace and became mortal his children were born into the same ungraced state as Adam as mortals themselves. All mortals are sinners because they die.
* See Maddox, Responsible Grace, 73-83 (especially p. 82). Note that in Wesley’s early thought he stressed humanity’s inherited guilt from Adam, but in his more mature works he backed away from such a pronounced emphasis upon culpability. He would later claim that all of Adam’s guilt is nullified at birth by the universal efficacy of the atonement (see p. 75 note 76). See also Wesley, “On Working Out Our Own Salvation,” in Sermons 3.207.