Midweek Advent 2
Romans 2:1-16 + Luke 1:26-35
In Article I of the Augsburg Confession, we confess who our God is—the one God who is three distinct Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is the God for whom we wait during the season of Advent, and the God whom we celebrate at Christmas: The Father Most High, who, as we heard in the second lesson tonight, caused His only-begotten Son, who was God with Him from eternity, to be conceived as a man in the womb of the virgin Mary by the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit.
In Article II of the Augsburg Confession, we are presented with the “why” of Christmas—why the Father had to send His only-begotten Son into this world if mankind was to be saved, and why the Son of God had to be conceived miraculously in the womb of a virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit. Why? Because of Original Sin.
Our churches teach that since the fall of Adam, all who are naturally born are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with the inclination to sin, called concupiscence. Concupiscence is a disease and original vice that is truly sin. It damns and brings eternal death on those who are not born anew through Baptism and the Holy Spirit.
Since the fall of Adam. God created Adam and Eve in His own image and likeness, that is, without sin, with the fear of God, with trust in God, and without the inclination to sin called concupiscence. They were created in a state of “original righteousness,” without anything bad and with everything good. In their hearts, they were inclined to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love their neighbor as themselves. And that was the nature that God intended to be passed down from Adam and Eve to all their children.
So when the devil tempted Eve and actually got her to distrust God and His Word and to want something that went against God’s commandment, that was a monumental change. Her perfect fear of God and trust in God and inclination to obey His commandments cheerfully was twisted and warped into something ugly, so that God was no longer her God but her enemy. Her soul was damaged beyond repair. And when Adam sinfully followed her lead, our entire race was plunged into sin.
All who are naturally born are born with sin. All who are naturally born. You heard Paul make the same accusation in the first lesson this evening, Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. The big sins that we see really bad people committing are the very same sins that dwell inside our nature. Maybe we keep them concealed better; maybe we don’t let them get out. But they’re there within our flesh. No one fears, loves and trusts in God above all things by nature. A sinful mother and a sinful father always pass this sin down to their children. There’s no getting around it. It’s like a genetic disease that is passed down 100% of the time, except it’s worse, because it’s a spiritual disease, and while the worst genetic disease in existence only lasts for a person’s earthly lifetime, this disease of the soul lasts forever; there is no cure for it, no remedy at all. No one is born spiritually healthy.
No one, that is, who is “naturally born.” And right there in that phrase lies the “why” of the virgin birth. Why did Gabriel bring those glad tidings to Mary, that she would conceive and bear a child as a virgin—without the involvement of any man? Because “all who are naturally born are born with sin.” But the child conceived in the virgin’s womb was not naturally born. There was no human father to pass down his corrupt nature to his son, because this child was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and therefore, conceived without the corruption and disease of original sin. That’s essential for our salvation, because a sinner cannot save sinners. A sinner cannot die for sinners. A sinner has no righteousness of his own to offer sinners. Only a righteous child, a sinless child, a spiritually healthy child could trade places with sinners so that sinners could be justified, while the Righteous Child of Mary would be condemned in their place.
The Christian doctrine of Original Sin removes all power and righteousness and goodness from human beings. It negates any idea of human merit or worthiness before God. It rips away from everyone the ability to earn God’s favor for him or herself, or to fix him or herself by working really hard at it. Sin is a horrible, ugly disease. We cannot be cured of it. Instead, we must be forgiven for it. And that can only happen if the Child of Mary pays the penalty for it, and if the Holy Spirit applies that payment to us, which He does in Holy Baptism.
Jesus is speaking of Original Sin and Holy Baptism when He says in John 3: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” That which is born of the flesh is flesh. In other words, the child born of a sinful mother and a sinful father is sinful, like his mother and father. That sinful flesh cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven. But then the Holy Spirit comes in Holy Baptism and washes away sin and regenerates or gives new birth to a new man, a spiritually healthy person created in the image of Christ Jesus, so that the new, healthy man lives in the Christian together with the old, diseased man. Original Sin is not erased from the Christian’s nature. Instead, it is forgiven.
So, you see, this article concerning Original Sin is fundamental to the Christian faith, which is also why we condemn any teaching concerning sin that diminishes the depravity that dwells in us, or that limits that depravity to only some people, or to only some age groups, or that makes sinners somehow able to contribute to their own salvation.
Our churches condemn the Pelagians and others who deny that original depravity is sin, thus obscuring the glory of Christ’s merit and benefits. Pelagians argue that a person can be justified before God by his own strength and reason.
Pelagius lived in the 300’s AD and taught that Original Sin isn’t really sin. It doesn’t condemn a person or make a person guilty of God’s wrath and punishment. It’s a minor defect in human nature that you can fix, all by yourself, if you try really, really hard. If you work really, really hard, you can overcome this natural defect, Pelagius taught, and so be justified before God by your own strength and reason. Others after him weren’t quite as crass. They were called Semi-Pelagians. They taught that Original Sin is a minor defect in human nature that you can fix, not all by yourself, but with a little help from God, so that as you use the grace God gives you, you can overcome sin and so be justified before God by your own strength and reason combined with God’s grace and help.
You see remnants of this Semi-Pelagianism in Roman Catholicism, where you hope to someday be justified before God by faith that is made complete by good works that you have to do to earn God’s favor, and don’t worry, God will infuse His grace into you so that you can overcome sin. You see it in Baptist-type churches, too, where a sinner is said to have just enough strength in himself to reject the wrong and choose the right and to make a decision to accept Christ as Lord and Savior.
You see how all this “obscures the glory of Christ’s merit and benefits”? If there is no Original Sin, or if Original Sin doesn’t make us worthy of God’s wrath, or if Original Sin isn’t a complete and total corruption of our nature from birth, then we are not totally lost and condemned creatures. We can still contribute something of our own to our salvation—something, either great or small. But if, according to Christian doctrine, man is thoroughly and totally corrupt and unable to do anything good in God’s sight and born in sin and condemned to die, then we need a Savior who will do everything to save us. And that’s what we have in Christ Jesus. It’s 100% His merits that earned our salvation. It’s 100% His righteousness that covers us poor sinners. It’s 100% His benefits that make us able to stand in God’s favor. And all this is ours only by faith in Christ which is worked by His Holy Spirit, so that He gets all the glory.
So, in this Advent season, we ponder anew just how ugly and just how horrible our Original Sin is, not so that we despair, but so that recognize why we so desperately needed a Savior, and why our Savior had to be born of a virgin. We give thanks for the first Advent of the only Man ever to be born in the unnatural way—the One born of a virgin. And we long for His second Advent, because it is at that time when He will finally strip away our sinful flesh, corrupt as it is with Original Sin, and allow us to live the holy, sinless lives that believers in Christ long to live. Amen.