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Sure, the Pharisees Preached Original Sin -- But Jesus Preached Original Innocence

One of the reasons Jesus got a bad reputation amongst the religious community of his day was because he was not afraid to associate himself with mankind, all of mankind: The best and worst, the clean and unclean, the accepted and the rejected.
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Girl enjoying the freedom in a wasteland
Girl enjoying the freedom in a wasteland

It's interesting to note that Jesus knew his identity as the Son of God, yet he did not speak of himself with that terminology; rather, he repeatedly called himself the Son of Man. Why did he use this term? I'm sure many scholars will give you a list of theological reasons, and they may be valid, but one reason they may not say that I will throw out there is this: Perhaps Jesus was showing us that in order to fully understand our union with God as 'sons of God' we first need to identify and understand our union with our own humanity.

One of the reasons Jesus got a bad reputation amongst the religious community of his day was because he was not afraid to associate himself with mankind, all of mankind: The best and worst, the clean and unclean, the accepted and the rejected. He was not afraid of being fully immersed in humanity. He came into a world where every "holy guru," no matter the religion, separated himself from humanity, from the world, from the unclean, from the worst of mankind. They offered a pious example of exclusion, hidden in prayer closets, temples or mountaintops, in order to be closer to heaven. Jesus, on the other hand, did the opposite.

Yet, for many believers the idea of embracing and celebrating our humanity is rejected, as if our humanity is contaminated, dirty, and sinful. The doctrine of original sin -- that we are supposedly born sinners, as if it is ingrained in our core identity from birth -- is so deeply ingrained in Christianity's tradition it is hardly ever brought into question. But it should be, for there are some fundamental flaws in such a doctrine.

For starters, original sin is a doctrine that was taught and preached by the Pharisees, not Jesus.

The Pharisees were quick to denounce people as sinful from birth, but Jesus did the opposite. He actually pointed to the little children as an example of the Kingdom of God. The notion Jesus thought any of us were born sinners is completely contrary to everything he taught in regards little children being our perfect example of pure citizens of heaven.


But it's more than just Jesus' teachings that reveal how Jesus believed we are all born in original innocence. His actual life also demonstrated original innocence for mankind. Jesus was born into humanity, born through a woman -- born fully human -- yet was without sin. This reveals to us a very significant truth: Sin is not the default nature we are born with. If it were, then Jesus himself would have been a sinner simply because he was human, but the reality is actually the opposite. That is precisely why we shouldn't shun our humanity or the humanity of others, but rather embrace our humanity, including the quirky, complicated, and uniqueness of it all, so that we can be liberated to truly love. For we are all human, and in our humanity we were made in the image of God, and God is love. It is our core image.

As I see it, according to Jesus the human experience does not start with original sin, but original innocence. We may not have remained innocent as we became adults, but it is important to see that when we are born, we are born innocent, we are born pure, we are born in the image of God, and it is this innocence Jesus calls us to return to, not by trying to be someone else, but by actually giving up on trying to be someone else.

What Jesus succeeded in doing, it seems to me, was remain in his original innocence all the way into adulthood, and ultimately to the cross. Jesus did not fall into the trap of trying to be someone he was not, he did not build his own religious persona or allow someone else to mold him into a different version of who he truly was: He did not embrace an image that was not his own; that is something that most of us, if we're honest, find hard to resist.

In the gospels we read how Jesus continually used children as his example of how we, as adults, are to become if we are to live within the reality of the Kingdom of God. His message was not about striving to become a better version of yourself, or to be someone else entirely; rather, Jesus' message was about returning to where we can embrace our true self without any shame. Back to when we lived innocently in a simple and uncomplicated union with God. Back to when we related with God in innocence. Back to when we lived out of our true identity. Back to when we remembered what it was like to be our true self. Because it is only when we return to this place, where we remember what it is like to be fully human, to be at peace with who we truly are, that we can truly experience what it means to be made in the image of God.

To be free, to be honest to oneself and to God is the way of life Jesus exemplified, it is the way we are called to follow, and I believe is the ultimate goal of every individual. We enter a world that hands us a mask as soon as we are capable of putting it on, and sometimes it takes us a lifetime to find the faith and courage to take it off. But don't be afraid; the real you is the most beautiful person you'll ever meet.

While the Pharisees will surely continue proclaiming your guilt, the good news is that Jesus declares your innocence.

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