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Original Sin - Reflections for Personal Devotion and Conversation with Others

Inspired by Sermon 44 in the Standard Sermons of John Wesley
By: Lauren DeLano

1. Do you believe at their core that humans are good, evil, or some combination?

In this sermon, Wesley points out that humans are prone to think highly of ourselves. We think we’re “a little lower than the angels” or “a little less than God.” Rather than seeking God’s guidance or finding hope in God, “we leave [God] to manage [God’s] own affairs, to sit quietly, as we imagine, in heaven, and leave us on earth to manage ours.” Thus, we begin to think so highly ourselves: our virtues, our accomplishments, that we don’t need God. This may be even truer today than it was in Wesley’s time.

Before we get too caught up in this way of thinking, Wesley calls humanity to look towards the scriptures to see what the scriptures say about humanity’s goodness or lack thereof. If we start in Genesis we don’t have to look very far to see that humanity was separated from and disobedient towards God. We have sinned and fallen short of the original image of God into which we were called to live. The theological term for this is “Original Sin.” It is so named, not only because it occurred at the beginning of time but because it is at our very core or our very origin. Do you believe at their core that humans are good, evil, or some combination?

2. What is your understanding of sin?

When asked what sin is we often define it as being visible acts we do that go against what God tells us to do. For example, sin is stealing or hitting someone or saying mean words. In all of these instances, they are outward manifestations of sin. Yet, sin is not only defined as an immoral action. Instead, sin is a disconnect from God’s will or God’s law as if God’s will and law don’t matter. Rather than living by the phrase “Thy [God’s] will be done,” we live by the phrase “my will be done.” In these moments, we become enthralled by our love of the world or our love of our own will and we are unable to live out God’s will in the world. Sometimes this is done as an individual, and sometimes it is done as a society. Sin is not only an outward, visible act, but can also be done inwardly or done by neglecting to act or speak.

3. Why did Jesus die for us?

Many theories of atonement have developed over the centuries, each illuminating our understanding of how humanity is reconciled to God through Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. The earliest theory is called Ransom Theory, suggesting that Christ’s death was payment in order to set humanity free from sin and death. Other early theories revolve around Christ as Victor (Christus Victor), pointing to how Christ overcame the power of sin and death on the cross and did so for us. Another popular theory is Satisfaction theory, which focuses on how our sin dishonors God and Jesus, as both God and human, satisfies God’s demands for righteousness. In Jesus’ death, the debt we owe is paid and we are made right with God. Moral influence theory states that Christ died for humanity so that we might experience God’s love and learn how to show this same love in the world, through forgiveness, mercy, and grace. Finally, the most popular atonement theory in Protestant churches today is called Substitutionary atonement. Rather than saying that God was dishonored by sin, the emphasis on this theory is on God’s justice and holiness. In this theory, Christ dies for us, taking our sins away and bearing them for us, freeing us from the penalty of law. God is satisfied by this substitution of Jesus’ death for our sins.

In John Wesley’s sermons and Charles Wesley’s hymns, the brothers used a combination of the various atonement theories. But regardless of which theory was used, their sermons and hymns all point to our salvation – to God’s love and grace offered to us when Christ dies for our sins. So, what do you think? Why did Jesus die for us?