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Born Sinful?
Babies Innocent?   

Q. I am wondering if babies are really innocent. Are we born evil with a sin nature? Or are we born as a blank slate? If we are born pure then when does evil enter into us? If we were born like a blank slate then who wrote the rules? Wouldn't we remain blank? After all, we can't get something from nothing…right? It seems a sin nature is the only rational answer.

But, then my next question is, was Jesus pure? Did he not have a sin nature? If he was pure, would it have been impossible for him to sin? I know he was tempted…so was he both?


Yours are good questions! Let's see if we can find the answers.

Born Innocent?

It's an important subject because many in the church are really conflicted about these issues. All of us want to believe that babies are completely innocent - born without sin. Yet, the Bible doesn't really teach us that babies are innocent in that way.

In Psalm 51:5 we read,

"Behold, I was brought
forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother
conceived me."

Charles Ryrie points out that "it is not that the acts of giving birth or conceiving are in themselves sinful, but that from the moment of conception a person possesses a sinful nature" (Ryrie 1996, 877).

The book of Job reiterates this idea:

"What is man, that he
should be pure,
Or he who is born of a
woman, that he should
be righteous?"

(Job 15:14, NASB)

Another compelling verse declares without apology,

"The wicked are estranged
from the womb.
These who speak lies go
astray from birth."

(Psalm 58:3)

Ouch!…This verse clearly points to man's inborn sin nature.

Transference of Sin through Adam

The Apostle Paul explains, "Therefore…sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned" (Romans 5:12).

Genetic Sin Transference

Paul is not referring to the daily sins that we all commit. Rather, he is pointing out the generational sin that infected all men because of Adam's sin. I guess we could call it "genetic sin" or our tendency to sin due to a genetic "flaw."

Grudem notes,

…even before birth children have a guilty standing before God and a sinful nature that not only gives them a tendency to sin but also causes God to view them as 'sinners' (Ps. 51:5)" (Grudem 1994, 499).

2nd Law of Thermodynamics

So we are born in sin - we are genetically flawed. Because of this we commit sinful acts. As a result, we all die. "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).

Entire Universe&Creation

In fact, our entire universe and the creation have been infected with decay and death because of Adam's sin. That includes hostile forces on earth and throughout outer space. It includes all of the animals who die, and so on.

Romans 8 gives us a vivid picture of the extent of sin's damage throughout the universe:

"For the anxious longings of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility…the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now" (Romans 8:19-22, NASB).

Everything is Dying

In other words, everything is dying. It is a scientific law called the "Second Law of Thermodynamics." Everything is running down, decaying and dying.

Devolving - Not Evolving

Everything evolves from order to disorder - not the other way around. In fact, evolutionary theories violate scientific laws. It just takes a little common sense to observe this throughout our world and the universe.

Tempted as We Are?

Although Jesus was tempted as we are He is not exactly like us, either. He was born like the original "first Adam" - not the sin-infected Adam from whom we inherit sin.

Hebrews 4:15 explains,

"For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin."

Ryrie further clarifies the issue for us:

It is "not that Christ experienced every temptation man does, but rather that He was tempted in all areas in which man is tempted (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, 1 John 2:16), and with particular temptations specially suited to Him. This testing was possible only because He took the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3), for had there not been an incarnation, Jesus could not have been tempted (cf. James 1:13)."

Continuing Ryrie says,

"Yet our Lord was distinct from all other men in that He was without sin (i.e. He possessed no sin nature as we do). Because He endured and successfully passed His tests, he can now offer us mercy and grace to help in time of need, for He knows what we are going through."

(Ryrie Study Bible 1996, 1950).

Man Before the Fall

Before Adam fell he was a "true man," created in the likeness of God. He was pure and without a sinful nature. Adam had the ability not to sin. He could be tempted and he could reject temptations like Jesus did.

But, when Adam did fall, he chose to give in to his own pride and selfishness. He may not have realized just how destructive his fall would be, but he exercised his free will to disobey God and became less than the man God created.

Sub Species

In effect Adam became a "sub-species" of "true man." So it is inappropriate to define Jesus as having a sinful nature which he overcame. We are a "sub-species" like Adam after he fell. Like Adam we do have a sinful nature.

So when we speak of human nature and Jesus, we need to identify what kind of human nature we are talking about … before or after the fall of Adam. Jesus came so that we can become like Him…a "true and pure human."

We Instinctively Know Better

None of this genetic sin we inherit excuses us from bad behaviors or the law, however. Paul notes there are unbelievers who through a combination of conscience and morality do good things.

"For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves" (Romans 2:14).

Paul points out "they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus" (Romans 2:15-16).

Instinctively Knowing Better

Many unbelievers feel this is totally unfair.

Yet, is it?

In fact, unbelievers don't really need missionaries or pastors to teach them that murder or infidelity or incest or theft is wrong. They already know it. It's written in their conscience. God put it there like he put a bird's navigation system within its genes, its instincts.

Right to Life with a Silver Spoon?

Remember, the fact that unbelievers are alive is a gift in the first place. There is nothing in nature or science that says we all have a right to be born with silver spoons in our mouths. We may wish this were true. But, wishing doesn't make it so.

Natural Instinct

Instead, we all have innate instincts concerning what is right or wrong (Rom. 2:15). God put the law in our hearts. Thus, we will be judged according to that which is already written in our hearts.

Furthermore, the Lord has already provided us with a means to gain eternal life and to overcome the effects of genetic sin - death.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16, ESV).

We tend to ignore the next verse:

"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him" (3:17).

That was a very loving thing for God to do on our behalf. All we have to do is accept His gift to us.



Grudem, Wayne. 1994. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Ryrie Study Bible NASB. 1996. Chicago: Moody.

Authors Valorie Emilio holds an MA in History from UCLA focusing upon early church history. Ken received his MA in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University.

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