Sunday, October 24, 2010

"Conceived in Sin"

In a recent lesson I attended, the topic turned to "original sin."

I had my lesson manual and my scriptures open on my lap, but this opening was not what was in the written word, so I asked the instructor, "Where in the lesson manual or in the scriptures did you come up with the idea we are all conceived in sin, so there's nothing we can do about it?"  I had already hoped he would end up discussing the atonement sometime before we adjourned, but this was a jolting opening for me, so I just had to ask to find some clarification.

I'm afraid I wasn't very patient as the instructor attempted to defend his use of that phrase without a satisfactory scriptural reference, so I offered, "You'll find it in Moses 6:55."  The first verse cited in the manual was Moses 6:57.  I thought he was just confused, but then he went on to defend his idea, "because it's right there -- that's what it says, 'conceived in sin.'"

This is a situation confronting us week after week as we attempt to teach one another.  None of us in the Church is a professional minister.  No one is paid to teach and instruct.  That's what makes the Church true (among a million other things).  We come together from all walks of life with varying degrees of gospel knowledge, and we have to learn to be patient and kind with one another as we all learn together.  

However, In the Introduction to the Gospel Principles manual, instructors are admonished:

"Before you teach from a chapter, study it thoroughly to be sure you understand the doctrine.  Also study the additional scriptures listed at the end of the chapter.  You will teach with greater sincerity and power when the teachings in the chapter have influenced you personally.  Never speculate about Church doctrine.  Teach only what is supported by the scriptures, the words of latter-day prophets and apostles, and the Holy Spirit (see D&C 42:12-14; 52:9).

"If you have been called to teach a quorum or class using this book, do not substitute outside materials, however interesting they may be.  Stay true to the scriptures and the words in the book.  As appropriate, use personal experiences and articles from Church magazines to supplement the lessons."

We sometimes make an honest mistake in what we say and how we express ourselves on gospel subjects.  But remember, words have meaning.  They are symbols standing for revealed truths when we are discussing gospel principles, and the Lord is very precise in the way He uses words.  Words in one place, when they can be found in another, give harmony and round out the truths involved.  We cannot, therefore, take one slender phrase out of context and pass it off as truth, when everywhere else in scripture it is refuted.

I went on to briefly explain:  Reading back five or six verses, then reading forward five or six verses from verse 55, would help to flesh out the false idea Moses was being shown by the Lord in this vision.  The additional verses wrapped around this one phrase correctly set forth the true doctrine:  There was no such thing as original sin, or original guilt, but instead "all men everywhere must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence."  (Verse 57).  

These things, Moses was instructed, should be taught unto our children as the way to correct the false idea of original sin.  

We memorize the Articles of Faith in Primary. The first four are these:

1.  We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

2.  We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression.

3.  We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

4.  We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Our First Parents, Adam and Eve
There can be no dispute about this:  We are born into a wicked and fallen world.  When Patsy and I were having our family, there were more than a few people in the Church who reminded us how irresponsible we were to conceive and bear children and how unfair it was to even think about bringing them into such a wicked world.  Gee, I always thought that was the whole point of our existence, if you believe words in the scriptures actually have meaning.  (You have probably already discerned -- I have been routinely out of step with the world most of my adult life.)

We are confronted with a conundrum in our attempts to first understand and then to live the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Salvation (which we have already said is the equivalent of exaltation) is not to be gained by teaching ethical or moral principles.  While important, ethics and morality do not produce salvation.  Neither does loosely using a few phrases that sound plausible but are simply heresies, like "conceived in sin."

Let me put a fine point at the end of that sentence by citing Elder James E. Talmage in Jesus the Christ, 30-31):

Elder James E. Talmage
"Here, let me say, that therein consisted the fall — the eating of things unfit, the taking into the body of the things that made of that body a thing of earth: and I take this occasion to raise my voice against the false interpretation of scripture, which in some instances has been adopted by certain people, and is current in their minds, and is referred to in a hushed and half-secret way, that the fall of man consisted in some offense against the laws of chastity and of virtue. Such a doctrine is an abomination. What right have we to turn the scriptures from their proper sense and meaning? What right have we to declare that God meant not what He said? The fall was a natural process, resulting through the incorporation into the bodies of our first parents of the things that came from food unfit, through the violation of the command of God regarding what they should eat. Don't go around whispering that the fall consisted in the mother of the race losing her chastity and her virtue. It is not true; the human race is not born of fornication. These bodies that are given unto us are given in the way that God has provided. Let it not be said that the patriarch of the race, who stood with the gods before he came here upon the earth, and his equally royal consort, were guilty of any such foul offense. The adoption of that belief has led many to excuse departures from the path of chastity and the path of virtue, by saying that it is the sin of the race, it is as old as Adam. It was not introduced by Adam. It was not committed by Eve. It was the introduction of the devil and came in order that he might sow the seeds of early death in the bodies of men and women, that the race should degenerate as it has degenerated whenever the laws of virtue and of chastity have been transgressed.

"Our first parents were pure and noble, and when we pass behind the veil we shall perhaps learn something of their high estate, more than we know now. But be it known that they were pure; they were noble. It is true that they disobeyed the law of God, in eating things they were told not to eat; but who amongst you can rise up and condemn?"  (Emphasis mine).

Instead, the way to salvation is by doing those things producing God's power in our lives, the influence, the regenerating force we call the Gospel.  Yes, it requires high ethical standards, but the centerpiece is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We must take action, not merely believe.

Here's an example from today's lesson (among many) of what we must do to be saved.  Adam asked God why it was necessary to be baptized.  He got a straight answer:

And our father Adam spake unto the Lord, and said:  Why is it that men must repent and be baptized in water?  And the Lord said unto Adam: Behold I have forgiven thee thy transgression in the Garden of Eden.  [That one sentence obliterates the false doctrine of original sin -- everyone born on this earth starts fresh and clean].  Hence came the saying abroad among the people, That the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world.  And the Lord spake unto Adam, saying: Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin. . . (Moses 6:53-55).

Full stop.  There's that statement, "conceived in sin," that made me see red this morning, linked with "and there's nothing we can do about it."  The true doctrine involved here has been perverted.  When properly understood, it is true; and the Lord used it in His vision to Moses.  The revelation states Adam was forgiven of the original sin and his children were freed from its effects (except for physical and spiritual death), but God still said Adam's children were conceived in sin.  

To be conceived in sin is therefore something different than the original guilt of Adam's transgression about which we can do nothing and for which we are not held accountable.  God declared the latter doctrine to be true, but He means by it that man is conceived in a fallen situation where sin is dominant, where the natural man is dominant, where other effects of the Fall are dominant over him in his fallen or natural state.  He does not mean that conception in itself, properly controlled, is transgression or sin. 

Note that God said:  ". . . Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good."  (Moses 6:55).

King Benjamin said essentially the same thing later (proving the need for multiple sources to fully reveal the correct doctrine) -- there is evil in the flesh, so that when man's physical body develops, he is introduced to Satan's temptations through the corrupt elements in the flesh. People are not predestined to sin and to transgress just because Adam and Eve were their parents.  We can never say to ourselves, "There is nothing we can do about it, because we were conceived in sin."  That is a perverse and Satanic notion.  

When born into mortality, however, each of us is introduced to those weaknesses which can, if not checked by spiritual powers coming from Christ, cause us to transgress.  But father Lehi was quick to remind us we can and we must choose for ourselves.  (2 Nephi 2:25-29).  We must act and not be merely acted upon.

So when do these weaknesses and perversions we attach to sin become associated with each individual?  Are they inherited at birth?  Later?  Before?  When?  When are the seeds of corruption and death planted within the body?  Is it after one has been born, at birth, or when the physical embryo is first started — at conception?  It's logical that it happens at conception.  If the seeds of death are transmitted to each new embryo at conception, are not the other effects of the Fall also present in the flesh at conception?  Is not a person then conceived in sin and not born in sin?  There is a time differential in the meaning of the two terms.  The embryo formed at conception is predestined to die because the seeds of corruption are there at conception, but it is not predestined to sin.  If that person lives beyond childhood, it is also predestined to grow up with certain weak and fallen tendencies which, if not checked and overcome, produce sin and its effects.  

These principles destroy the idea, "There's nothing I can do about being _____ (fill in the blank).  I was just born this way."  That excuse is dead on arrival, when the gospel plan of salvation is properly understood and taught.  If people commit suicide rather than accept the gospel and humble themselves before the eternal requirements set forth for salvation and exaltation, it means they are without hope in this world because they have misunderstood the foundational principles of the gospel which are founded upon the principle of hope!  There is always hope!  It is the plan of hope!

Again, without the light and truth emanating from our Redeemer Jesus Christ, the power of the Fall in the flesh becomes dominant and masters the spirit.  An angel told King Benjamin, "Men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ. . ."  (Mosiah 3:18).

Here in mortality we stand at the crossroads.  We are in a position where, through the natural development of our physical nature, we are introduced to the temptations of Satan.  He perverts marriage, destroys families, and inspires sophistry.  To overcome these lies and false doctrines is one of the great purposes of mortality. In order for man to be born out of this fallen condition into a new spiritual awareness, the Lord continued:  "Therefore I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children, saying:  That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory;"  (Moses 6:58-59).  

This is the doctrine of birth into the Kingdom of God and it contains a statement of the blessings to be received — the blessing of being sanctified from all sin, of enjoying the words of eternal life by the revelations of the Spirit in this life, and of receiving eternal life in the world to come, even the divine endowments of immortal glory.  Then, to those who are born into the Kingdom of God, the Lord made this promise:  

"Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment."  (Moses 6:61).

The promised Comforter is the Holy Ghost; and by birth into the Kingdom of God its divine power begins to abide within man. The light and the truth in their fulness constitute God's glory as it begins to abide within us.  That quickening power — the power of God that is in all things and through all things — likewise begins to abide within us.  We do not arrive in an instant suddenly.  Sanctification is the journey of a lifetime, but we begin to get a glimpse of what we may receive by being born into the Kingdom of God.  In conclusion:  "And now, behold, I say unto you: This is the plan of salvation unto all men, through the blood of mine Only Begotten, who shall come in the meridian of time."  (Moses 6:62).  Notice the use of the word ALL -- it means the conditions apply to all:  Heterosexual, homosexual, kind, hateful, generous, stingy, loving, spiteful, in short, ALL, everyone, even people who think they can perfect themselves under the law.

What is the plan of salvation, according to this statement?  It consists of the need to receive two births.  By the first birth, we receive a physical body. By the second birth, we may attain those powers necessary to make this physical body a celestial body.  The acquisition of a physical body is received upon obedience to the requisite irrevocable laws of birth.  The acquisition of a celestial body is also contingent upon the processes of birth into the Kingdom of God.  It is only through this channel those powers that quicken all things, that have all knowledge, and that are the enlightening powers of truth in all things, can be developed within us to enable us to receive an eternal fulness.  

If we have been born of water and of the Spirit, we say as Paul did, "For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection."  (Romans 6:5).

John Baptizing Christ
There are those who will say one cannot enter the celestial kingdom unless he or she has been to the temple, that the temple is the gateway to the celestial kingdom.  That isn't what the Lord teaches.  The ordinance of baptism is the essential ordinance for those who have reached the age of accountability.  The ordinance of baptism is the gateway to the celestial kingdom.  That is the way by which we become sons and daughters of God.  However, in order to receive exaltation in the celestial kingdom there are certain higher ordinances, including the everlasting covenant of marriage which are also essential, as we can learn in D&C 130

When we begin to receive these divine powers by living the law, observing the commandments and repenting of our sins, we can then begin to have hope of being like Christ in the resurrection, as John said:  "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." (I John 3:2).

This is the path — the only path — by which the perfecting powers of God are given to mankind in sufficient quantities to make us celestial beings in the resurrection. Then, having received these ordinances in faith, we must develop and mature in the powers of the Spirit until we come back into the full measure of God.

The scriptures teach in the overall plan of life, from the time we existed as "intelligence or the light of truth" until we rise in the resurrection to be endowed with eternal life or celestial glory, there are three basic birth processes. 

In the first, the basic intelligence of man with the spirit matter of which it was inherently a part, we were organized by a conception and birth process into an organized spirit personage.  Our Eternal Father and Mother were our divine parents in this pre-mortal spirit life.  Jesus Christ Jesus was our Elder Brother, the Firstborn of every creature.  This was the first birth and the first situation of life in which we were required to mature along the great pathway to eternal life.  By that organization, the basic intelligence constituting our primal creation was given greater powers of expression and a greater capability for development.

The second birth is our birth into mortality here on this earth.  Through our physical birth we acquire all the physical attributes necessary to possess eternal life because our spirit is clothed with a physical body.  By birth into mortality, we embark upon a series of physical relationships and acquire the endowments and attributes required for eternal life.  And thereafter we must mature these endowments to their destined fulness.

Those who would enter the Kingdom of Heaven must undergo a third birth process based upon covenant making by being born of water and of the Spirit, as Jesus explained to Nicodemus.  (John 3:5).   This is the rebirth or the second birth required of each in mortality to obtain celestial glory.  Thus having become sons and daughters of the Eternal Father, Elohim, in the premortal spirit birth, and having become sons and daughters of mortal parents in the flesh, those who would enter into celestial glory must then become sons and daughters of Christ in the divine endowments that lead to eternal life by being spiritually reborn.  These are the three essential births required to attain eternal life.

All people living on the earth today are children of the Eternal Father, Elohim, by reason of a pre-mortal birth.  With that common parentage it is amazing there is so much hatred, bickering and fighting among us.  Sadly, as we enter mortality our physical bodies serve as a "veil" of forgetfulness drawn across our memories of our former home and parentage so we may walk by faith not seeing.  We become accountable before God at age eight, we become estranged by our deeds of misconduct and thereby lose our former rights and prerogatives as members of the divine family.  

We no longer have immediate access to the spiritual blessings and powers of Deity we had as the sons and daughters of Elohim in the pre-mortal world. To acquire these family rights again and thereby have access to the Divine powers rightfully belonging to the sons and daughters of God, we must subscribe to what Joseph Smith called "the articles of adoption."  (See TPJS, 328).  In doing so, we then become sons and daughters of Jesus Christ, and through Him partake of the divine attributes and powers of Deity lost to us by our estrangement from God. 

The challenge is to stand at the crossroads in mortality and to choose to become the sons and daughters of Christ. (See D&C 39:1-4).  The Apostle Paul declared:  "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." (Romans 8:14).  Continuing, he explained: 

For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.  The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:  And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.  For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.  For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. (Romans 8:15-19).

To say we are true Christians means just this:  We stand in the hope of someday acquiring the same glory of God. (See, for example, Jacob 4:11; Mosiah 4:12; Alma 14:11, 22:14; 36:28).

Christ in Gethsemane
Since we are fallen, we cannot merit anything of ourselves, but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for our sins, through faith and repentance. . .

It was through reading the scriptures and then pondering and listening to the voice of the Spirit that I have been able to understand in part at least the power of the Atonement.  Can you imagine how I felt when I could finally see that if I followed whatever conditions the Redeemer had set, I would never need to endure the agony of being spiritually unclean?

The prophets like Nephi, Paul, Joseph Smith, Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah, to name a few, have set me free from the bonds of sin.  I could do something about my sins, I was not condemned or cast off forever because I was "conceived in sin."  It's not because they are my Redeemer, but because they knew Him.  They have introduced me to Him.  I believed His words.  I acted upon them.

Imagine the consoling, liberating, exalting feeling available to everyone when you see the reality of the Atonement and the practical everyday value of it to you individually.


  1. David B. Goates: There was no such thing as original sin, or original guilt.

    I think you have to be careful saying that. As you mentioned later in this post, there is such thing as "original guilt," else why would the Lord say he had atoned for it? Granted, the phrase doesn't mean the same thing that traditional Christians have in mind when they use the term "original sin," but there must be some kind of entity, some principle, that the Lord is referring to as "original guilt." If there was no such thing, then why would the Lord say he had atoned for it?

    It must have been some kind of cosmic principle that had to be dealt with in the "awful arithmetic" of the Atonement. I don't know know exactly what the Lord meant by the term, but it seems to me that the proper response is to continue searching, rather than say there's no such thing. (And you did seem to continue that search later in your article, so I may have been misunderstanding you.)

  2. So Adam & Eve partaking of the forbidden fruit is symbolic of them stepping into worldly ways, partaking of the world.

  3. It wasn't a bite out of an apple ;-)