A number of Church Fathers thought that the main human problem is not that we sin, for if sin had been our main problem, God had already appointed repentance for sin. The Law of the Old Covenant would have been good enough for dealing with sin. Humans could repent, perhaps offer the appropriate sacrifice and be done with the problem. For many Fathers, the real human problem was corruption – death, we had become mortal beings as a result of sin. This was something that repentance could not undo or fix. Repentance itself was not enough to overcome the corruption – the fact that we died as a result of sin. And they understood that it was not sin that we inherited, for sin was something committed by the will and not by our nature. Corruption, mortality had entered into human nature and now was passed on from one generation to the next.
It was that our nature had been corrupted which required salvation. That humanity had become corrupt, mortal, made God’s own incarnation necessary. God took on human flesh in order to heal it. And God took on death in the flesh in order to overcome death/corruption/mortality. The death of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, meant the defeat of death and the salvation of the human race.
In baptism, we humans die and rise with Christ, thus baptism was our way to participate in the salvation which Christ offered humanity. We “put on Christ” as St. Paul says – we put on Christ’s resurrected humanity so that we too can defeat death and rise from the dead.
This is also why we baptize infants. Baptism is not only for the remission of sins. We die with Christ in baptism in order to rise with Christ in the resurrection. Baptism is to overcome death and corruption. St. John Chrysostom said those who think baptism is just for the remission of sins misunderstand baptism. As we read in Acts 19:3-6, baptism only for the remission of sins was what John the Forerunner offered, but Jesus offered something more in baptism:
And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.
The baptism in Christ gives us salvation from corruption, it offers us eternal life. As Chrysostom notes, Infants have not sinned, they are sinless. We baptize them not because they have sinned but because they are subject to death and corruption. We baptize them so they too can rise to life after death. Even if they haven’t sinned, they will die, for they have inherited human corruption.
Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:14-17)
It is our understanding of death, corruption, as being the real enemy of humanity that causes us to oppose abortion. Abortion is inflicting death and corruption on a human being who has not sinned – an innocent, sinless human whom we by abortion condemn to an unrighteous death.
Again, we can think about Chrysostom’s comment in which he says, our warfare doesn’t make the living dead, but makes the dead to live.
A human is a composite being consisting of soul, body and spirit. The body is also part of who I am, or who you are. The corruption of the body, death, is destroying “me” – you and I. God brought us from non-existence into being and death wants to return a human to non-existence by destroying the human body.
It is this thinking that leads us to oppose abortion, but also tells us why we should not use our body for sin. The body is part of who you are. If you sin, you unite yourself, your body to that which is ungodly, to death itself. We should never do that because our bodies were meant to be temples of the Holy Spirit.
If we Christians over focus on “sin” as being the main or only human problem, we can easily miss why we consider human life to be sacred. God is at work in us to save us from death and to give us life in abundance.