Latter-day Saints sometimes think that we do not believe in the concept of “original sin” found in Christianity. This concept suggests that, because of the fall of Adam and Eve, we have all become sinful and hence must be rescued by Christ from our fallen state (see Romans 3:23-24).
Actually, the Book of Mormon clearly teaches this idea. Where we differ from some other Christians is that we do not believe that the sin of our first parents was sexual in nature or that infants are born in sin. 1
Jacob, son of Lehi, declared that “if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more. And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, 2 to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself” (2 Nephi 9:8-9). 3
Having delivered this bad news, Jacob proclaimed that the atonement of Christ was the “way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit” (2 Nephi 9:10; see also vs. 19):
For the atonement satisfieth the demands of his justice upon all those who have not the law given to them, that they are delivered from that awful monster, death and hell, and the devil, and the lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment; and they are restored to that God who gave them breath, which is the Holy One of Israel (2 Nephi 9:26).
Jacob’s brother Nephi also noted that “save Christ should come all men must perish” (2 Nephi 11:6).
The brother of Jared acknowledged that. “Because of the fall our natures have become evil continually” (Ether 3:2). Alma, explaining the fall of Adam and Eve, noted that “they had become carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature” and that mortality became a “probationary state” during which mankind might strive to overcome their evil nature (Alma 42:10).
Carnal, Sensual and Devilish
Humans are also called “carnal, sensual, and devilish” in other passages of scripture (Moses 5:13; 6:49; D&C 20:20; James 3:15). Mormon lamented, “O how foolish, and how vain, and how evil, and devilish, and how quick to do iniquity, and how slow to do good, are the children of men; yea, how quick to hearken unto the words of the evil one, and to set their hearts upon the vain things of the world!” (Helaman 12:4).
The prophet Abinadi expounded on this topic:
For they are carnal and devilish, and the devil has power over them; yea, even that old serpent that did beguile our first parents, which was the cause of their fall; which was the cause of all mankind becoming carnal, sensual, devilish, knowing evil from good, subjecting themselves to the devil.
Thus all mankind were lost; and behold, they would have been endlessly lost were it not that God redeemed his people from their lost and fallen state.
But remember that he that persists in his own carnal nature, and goes on in the ways of sin and rebellion against God, remaineth in his fallen state and the devil hath all power over him.
Therefore, he is as though there was no redemption made, being an enemy to God; and also is the devil an enemy to God. And if Christ had not risen from the dead, or have broken the bands of death that the grave should have no victory, and that death should have no sting, there could have been no resurrection.
But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ. (Mosiah 16:3-8)
King Benjamin taught these same principles in his final discourse to his people: “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19). 4
Hearing his words, the people “viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men” (Mosiah 4:2).
Alma also discussed the fallen state of mankind, the atonement that rescues us from that fall, and the probationary state of mortality:
Adam did fall by the partaking of the forbidden fruit, according to the word of God; and thus we see, that by his fall, all mankind became a lost and fallen people.
And now behold, I say unto you that if it had been possible for Adam to have partaken of the fruit of the tree of life at that time, there would have been no death, and the word would have been void, making God a liar, for he said:
If thou eat thou shalt surely die. And we see that death comes upon mankind … which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead.
Now, if it had not been for the plan of redemption, which was laid from the foundation of the world, there could have been no resurrection of the dead; but there was a plan of redemption laid, which shall bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, of which has been spoken.
And now behold, if it were possible that our first parents could have gone forth and partaken of the tree of life they would have been forever miserable, having no preparatory state; and thus the plan of redemption would have been frustrated, and the word of God would have been void, taking none effect. (Alma 12:22-26)
To his errant son Corianton, Alma explained that “all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state” (Alma 41:11), and noted that this came about because of the fall of Adam and Eve:
And now, ye see by this that our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will . . .
Therefore, as they had become carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature, this probationary state became a state for them to prepare; it became a preparatory state .
.. if it were not for the plan of redemption, (laying it aside) as soon as they were dead their souls were miserable, being cut off from the presence of the Lord …
And thus we see that all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence. And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also. (Alma 42:7, 10-11, 14-15)
Overcoming Our Nature
We can overcome our fallen nature because of two factors: 1) we are spirit-children of God, who can be guided by the Holy Ghost, and 2) the atonement of Christ brings us, through adoption, back into the family of God. 5
Moreover, we know from Lehi’s teachings that the fall was essential to God’s plan of happiness. He said that “the Lord God … showed unto all men that they were lost, because of the transgression of their parents” (2 Nephi 2:22) 6 but that
if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.
And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin. But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.
Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy. And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. (2 Nephi 2:22-26)
From this, we see that the fall was a two-edged sword. It cut us off from the presence of God, but it also enabled Adam and Eve to have children. Without this, there would have been no necessity for the atonement of Christ. God’s plan of happiness for his children was laid “from the foundation of the world,” 7 and its three main components are the creation, the fall, and the atonement. 8
By the creation and the fall, we are able to come to earth and take a physical body, learning to master the elements. Through faith in the atonement of Christ, we are given the opportunity to repent, be cleansed in baptism, and receive the Holy Ghost to guide us back into the presence of God (see Articles of Faith 2-4). 9
Two examples from the Book of Mormon will illustrate. The first is drawn from the story of King Mosiah’s son Aaron, who came to teach the plan of salvation to the Lamanite king.
And Aaron did expound unto him the scriptures from the creation of Adam, laying the fall of man before him, and their carnal state and also the plan of redemption, which was prepared from the foundation of the world, through Christ, for all whosoever would believe on his name.
And since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance, and so forth; and that he breaketh the bands of death, that the grave shall have no victory, and that the sting of death should be swallowed up in the hopes of glory; and Aaron did expound all these things unto the king (Alma 22:13-14).
The king responded by following Aaron’s advice to humble himself before God and address him in prayer:
O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day (Alma 22:18).
I have long been impressed by the king’s willingness to “give away all [his] sins to know” God. I am convinced that we commit sins because we get some kind of pleasure in these acts. Giving up something in which we, as fallen human beings, take pleasure, is a great sacrifice that can be made only when we have sufficient faith in the saving power of Christ. 10
The other story chronologically precedes this one. In Mosiah 26:4, we read of those who, in Mosiah’s day, “would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after, even in their carnal and sinful state; for they would not call upon the Lord their God.” Among these were the four sons of Mosiah (including Aaron) and Alma, the son of Alma.
As they were journeying and doing all they could to destroy the Church that had been established among the Nephites, they were stopped by an angel, who chastised them for their actions. The younger Alma fell as though dead and remained that way for a few days, after which he arose and declared:
I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit. And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters (Mosiah 27:24-25).
During his mortal ministry and his visit to the Nephites, Christ performed many miracles. He began by changing water into wine (John 2:11), then moved on to healing the sick and the possessed, ultimately raising at least two people from the dead. He subsequently raised himself from the dead.
But, to my mind, his greatest miracle is to take a sinful, fallen human man or woman and make of that individual a divine being. Because of the agency God has given us, we are the only creatures on earth who can become either devils or gods or anything in between. Only by exercising that agency in doing God’s will and in demonstrating our faith in our Savior can we become part of Christ’s greatest miracle. 11
“ the purpose of the gospel is . . . to make bad men good and good men better, and to change human nature ” (President David O. McKay, in the Church film Every Member a Missionary )
1 The western Christian idea that the sin of Adam and Eve lay in having sexual intercourse was introduced by St. Augustine of Hippo, in North Africa. Prior to his conversion to Roman Catholocism, he had been a member of the Manichaean group, who held this belief.
He was probably also influenced by the Abelites who lived in North Africa, who believed that procreation was sinful, and who hence held their numbers by adopting the children of others. Coupled with the idealization of virginity common in both the eastern and western churches, the idea seemed to make some sense, but it ignores the fact that God’s first commandment to Adam and Eve was to “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28), a commandment he repeated after the flood to Noah and his family (Genesis 9:1).
2 Jacob also employed the term “angels to the devil” in Jacob 3:11.
3 D&C 67:12 explains that “Neither can any natural man abide the presence of God, neither after the carnal mind.”
4 A similar thought is found in Romans 8:6-9: “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.”
5 The apostle Paul wrote about this adoption in some of his epistles (Romans 8:13-23; Galatians 4:4-7; Ephesians 1:3-5). This adoption takes place through being “born again” of God (John 1:12-13; 3:3-7; 1 Peter 1:23; 1 John 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18; Mosiah 27:24-28; Alma 5:14, 49; 7:14-15; 22:15; 36:5, 23-26;. 38:6-9; Moses 6:59-60, 64-68).
6 The anti-Christ Korihor objected to this concept, telling Alma, “Ye say that this people is a guilty and a fallen people, because of the transgression of a parent. Behold, I say that a child is not guilty because of its parents. And ye also say that Christ shall come. But behold, I say that ye do not know that there shall be a Christ. And ye say also that he shall be slain for the sins of the world” (Alma 30:25).
7 For detailed discussions, see John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper, “From the Foundation of the World,” FARMS Update 144m Insights 21/3 (March 2001), posted on the Maxwell Institute site at http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=insights&id=184 and John A. Tvedtnes, “From the Foundation of the World,” posted on the Meridian Magazine web site, December 2006, at http://www.meridianmagazine.com/gospeldoctrine/nt/070103nt1sf.html.
8 Moroni wrote of “God who created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. Behold he created Adam, and by Adam came the fall of man. And because of the fall of man came Jesus Christ, even the Father and the Son; and because of Jesus Christ came the redemption of man” (Mormon 9:11). These elements are also listed together in Mosiah 4:2, quoted earlier.
9 Article of Faith 2 declares that “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” This, however, does not abrogate the effects of the fall of Adam. Because Christ atoned for Adam’s sin, young children and repentant sinners will not be held accountable for the actions that led to the fall (Mosiah 3:16, 19). The Lord told Mormon, “Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me” (Moroni 8:8). See also D&C 93:38, “Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God.” For a detailed discussion, see “Becoming as Little Children,” chapter 41 in John A. Tvedtnes, The Most Correct Book: Insights from a Book of Mormon Scholar (Salt Lake City: Cornerstone, 1999; later re-issued by Horizon).
10 I am convinced that simply having faith that Christ lived, died, and was resurrected, is insufficient. We must have faith in his power to save us .
11 For an excellent discussion of Christ’s saving power and how we can receive its blessings, see Elder David A. Bednar’s devotional talk delivered at BYU-Idaho “In the Strength of the Lord,” delivered 8 January 2002, posted at http://www.byui.edu/Presentations/Transcripts/Devotionals/