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“The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18:20).

IN THIS OFTEN-QUOTED TEXT, A PRINCIPLE OF GREAT IMPORTANCE IS ENUNCIATED: THE PRINCIPLE OF INDIVIDUAL ACCOUNTABILITY. Our eternal destiny will be determined not by the deeds of others but by our own. As for righteousness, we won’t go to heaven just because we’re in a group of good people, and as for sin, we won’t be sentenced to death because of someone else’s ungodliness.

Physically, we die as a consequence of Adam’s removal from access to the tree of life (Genesis 3:22–24). The false doctrine of Calvinistic “original sin,” however, goes much further than this. It teaches that we are all born guilty of the sin that Adam committed. Standing under the condemnation of God for what Adam did, we are in a lost spiritual condition because of our eldest forefather.

If original sin were true, there is no reasonable way the principle found in Ezekiel 18:20 could be said to be valid. In the world we presently live in, it’s an obvious fact that we can be impacted by other people’s sins. Every day, people are hurt by the deeds of others, either directly or indirectly. But to say that even as infants we are guilty of Adam’s sin and are in a lost spiritual condition because of what Adam did is to make a cruel joke out of Ezekiel’s statement, “The wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” The wickedness of Adam would not only be “upon” us; it would be upon us in a much more devastating way than is ever the case when we suffer in this life as a consequence of someone else’s sin.

To make matters worse, the doctrine of original sin is part of a package of other beliefs, as we will see in the next two readings. These doctrines, if true, would mean we are cosmic game pieces, moved around by a God who decides who will be saved and who will not. But thankfully, the gospel of Christ tells a different story.

“Behind these errors is the long history of a misconception of the grace of God that denies man has free will, and accepts the doctrine of total hereditary depravity. The idea is that man is so depraved and wholly separated from God that without miraculous aid he can do nothing to bring about his redemption. The idea finally ends in the doctrine of preservation: once God has saved a person, He could never allow him to be lost” (Robert F. Turner).

Gary Henry — +

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