Question: "What does it mean that we are conceived in sin?"
Answer: Second Samuel 11 gives the account of how David committed not only adultery with Bathsheba but also conspired to have her husband killed. Feeling the weight of his sin, David penned several psalms that speak directly to his regret and his desire for God’s forgiveness. Nathan, a prophet of God and David’s trusted friend, goes to David regarding his sins. It is during this conversation that David is fully convicted of his sin and realizes the depth of his depravity. The result was Psalm 51, where in verse 5 David states the following: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me” (NKJV). Are all people conceived in sin? Or was David a special case?
Sin is missing the mark that God sets. It is against God’s law: “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). When a person fails to obey God’s commandments, he commits sin. The first instance of human sin in the Bible is the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. God gave them a clear command: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:16–17). Even though Adam and Eve had free rein to enjoy the vast bounty that God had provided for them, the lure of the forbidden fruit was too much. Genesis 3 gives the account of their sin and God’s righteous punishment. Adam and Eve had a choice to either obey or disobey God’s commandment. They freely chose to sin. After that, Adam “had a son in his own likeness, in his own image” (Genesis 5:3). That likeness included a sinful nature. In that respect, all of Adam’s children were “conceived in sin.”
Sin Nature Passed Down
Romans 3:23 states, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Why do all sin? Where does the sinful nature come from? Paul gives the answer: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). This passage refers to the original sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The sinful nature has been innate in all people since the moment Adam blatantly disobeyed God’s commandment and ate the forbidden fruit. Adam, being the first man and therefore the father of the human race, passed down this sinful nature to all who came after him. Sin has been our inheritance from Adam ever since.
“Conceived in sin”
Looking again at Psalm 51:5, David said, “In sin did my mother conceive me” (ESV). This doesn’t mean that he was conceived illegitimately. Instead, this verse speaks to the fact that David’s mother was a sinner. She inherited that sinful nature from her parents, and they from theirs, and so on throughout the genealogical line all the way back to Adam and Eve. Psalm 58:3 states the same truth: “Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies.” The birth of a human being means that one more sinner populates the earth. Everyone is “conceived in sin.”
The only exception to those born with a sin nature is Jesus Christ. Jesus, the virgin-born Son of God, was sinless from the moment of His conception. First Peter 2:22 speaks of Jesus’ sinless nature: “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
Conceived in Sin — Conclusion
Human beings sin, but that’s not the only reason they are sinners. They are born sinners. David realized this fact and expressed it as having been conceived in sin in Psalm 51:5. All humans are similarly conceived in sin; that is, we all have this inbred sin nature. The good news is that there is a solution to this problem. In Adam we die, but in Christ we live. “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” (Romans 5:17).
Though all are born sinners, deserving of death, all have the opportunity for salvation. God offers us the gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:1–18). The curse of sin that all people inherit from the “first man Adam” can be broken by faith in “the last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45).