I received a book from a good friend of mine for graduation titled Letters to Young Scholars - An Introduction to Christian Thought by William Carey Ringenberg. The first chapter presented two questions that got me thinking and writing. One - How do I understand the distance between God and man (humanity)? and
Two - Two what extent do I accept the doctrine of original sin?
These questions are related, at least in my answer, so here goes.
Originally, God walked side-by-side with man, visiting him in the cool of the day, as was normal (Genesis 3). When sin entered in, man no longer was able to commune so easily with God. There was a gap. This gap continues today, a canyon that separates man and God in a way that no man can bridge. We can't go around, we can't cross through, but we can see the other end, and long for it. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, my cry of repentance brings the blood of Christ to bridge that canyon and enables me to access and commune with God.
The next question directly relates to that - whose sin separates me? Are we separated from God because of inherited sinfulness and guilt from our father, Adam, or are we born with a fallen, human nature, and a capacity for and propensity towards sin?
The former, a tenet of classic Calvinism, teaches total depravity at birth, a result of Adam's sin in the garden, passed on to all generations. I have multiple issues with this. First, most Calvinists don't teach infant baptism, which they should, if we're all born guilty and condemned. The sooner we can get them into the water, the better. Secondly, this argument hinges heavily (almost exclusively) on a particular reading of Romans 5:12-21, most notably 5:18-19 - "Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous." If, according to the reading of this scripture, we are all condemned by Adam's sin, how can you not say that the work of Christ accomplishes the opposite? If we are all made guilty by Adam's sin, aren't we all made righteous by Christ's act of righteousness? The Greek word, kathistēmi (Strongs G2525), is the same in both instances. So, if we are all MADE guilty by Adam, are we all MADE righteous by Christ? Unless you are a universalist, no. Not everyone is saved by Jesus' sacrifice at Calvary, but we all can be saved, if we will receive it.
The other notion is the correct understanding. We are sinners because of our actions. We are guilty because we have done things we shouldn't, don't do things we should, or because we do them from the wrong reasons. As humans, since the garden, we are fallen, and all of us have a fallen, human nature that is guided, primarily, by selfishness. Even our initial response to grace at repentance is selfish, a desire to be saved from certain death and condemnation. But when we call out to Jesus, He responds and begins changing our hearts, causing us to be driven by a new motive. The selfishness can be overcome by the working of the Spirit, but not outside of it.