From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession
Concerning Original Sin
It is quite evident that such subtleties have originated in the schools, not in the council of the Emperor. But although this sophistry can be very easily refuted; yet, in order that all decent folk may understand that we teach nothing absurd on this matter, we ask that the German Confession be examined first. This will free us from the suspicion of novelty. For there it is written: Weiter wird gelehrt, dass nach dem Fall Adams alle Menschen, so natuerlich geboren werden, in Suenden empfangen und geboren werden, das ist, dass sie alle von Mutterleibe an voll boeser Lueste und Neigung sind, keine wahre Gottesfurcht, keinen wahren Glauben an Gott von Natur haben koennen. (It is further taught that since the Fall of Adam all men who are naturally born are conceived and born in sin, i.e., that from their mother's womb, they all are full of evil desire and inclination, and can have by nature no true fear of God, no true faith in God.) This passage testifies that we deny to those conceived according to carnal nature not only the acts of fearing and trusting in God but also the power or gifts to do so. For we say that those naturally born have concupiscence and cannot produce true fear and trust in God. What fault can be found in this? Indeed, we imagine that we have sufficiently vindicated ourselves to respectable people. For in this sense the Latin passage denies the power to human nature—even to infants. Specifically, it denies the gifts and power to produce fear and trust in God. In adults, beyond this innate evil disposition of the heart, it also denies the acts. So when we cite concupiscence, we mean not only the acts or fruits but the constant inclination of our nature that does not cease as long as we are not born anew through the Spirit and faith.
Pulling It Together: A young family lives across my street and yesterday, the little boy brought their heavy trash can down the driveway to the street. His father was already teaching this seven- or eight-year-old some family responsibility. He will probably grow up, being able to care for his own family, providing all the good they need, including properly teaching his own children. We are quite capable of doing some good in this world, once taught to do so.
Yet Lutherans teach that original sin is a lack of power to do good because of a proclivity for evil. By good, we mean a righteousness of life that excludes sin. In our natural beings, we lack the power of such good. We may learn to take out the trash but even the finer acts of our lives are polluted with sin (Isa 64:5–6). This sinful nature is inherited, part of the basic human constitution. It skips no one.
More to the point, though we may learn to do some basic, good things, we are born incapable—and remain unable—of fearing, loving, and trusting God. Therefore, throughout life, we scramble after our lusts. The unceasing disposition to fulfill these natural desires remains in us until we are reborn through the work of God's Spirit and faith (John 3:5–7).
Prayer: Holy Father, set my heart and mind on the things above, not on the things of this earth. Amen.
The Basics of the Christian Faith is an edition of the catechism that is aimed at seekers, visitors, and those that may not come from a Lutheran background. It is recommended for use in outreach, as a visitor welcome gift, or in new member packets.