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Why Are We Born Sinners?

Q. If we’re made in God’s image, why are we born into the world as sinners?

A. We are truly made in God’s image (see Genesis 1:26–27). That means we are, like God himself, persons:We have a rational intellect so that we can think, and we have a free will so that can love and make other choices.

Nevertheless, the image of God in us has been marred, like the image of a face on a coin that has become scratched and worn. Our intellects have been darkened and our wills have been bent in the wrong directions.

How did this happen? Because of what we call original sin.

Our first human parents used their free wills to turn against God through sin. The result was that they lost the righteousness they originally possessed. They could not pass on to their offspring what they themselves no longer possessed, so all their descendants (except for Jesus and His mother) have been born with a deficiency, a defect, a disorder, that we call original sin.

This defect deforms God’s image in us, but it cannot totally erase that image. We still have the ability to think and love and choose. Yet the deformity is compounded by our actual sins — the wrong choices we make.

We can be grateful that the sacrament of baptism washes away original sin in us. Nevertheless, we are still left with a weakness called concupiscence, the tendency to sin.

How does concupiscence work? It doesn’t force us to sin. Rather, it inclines us to do so. Because of this weakness, it’s as if we walk on an incline that leaves us sliding down into sin if we don’t actively resist the slide.

We can rejoice that God’s image is not totally obliterated even in the most wicked human being. That means we can hope for a person’s salvation no matter how hopeless a cause he or she may seem. It also means that no matter how terrible we know our own sins to be, we can hope for God’s grace to save us, too.

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