This article is about the imputation of guilt and the relation between Adam and the second Adam, Jesus Christ.

Source: Clarion, 1991. 2 pages.

I Wasn't There!

A young member of one of the churches wrote asking why the LORD God holds us responsible for the sin of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve took and ate the forbidden fruit. We didn't. We weren't even there. It seems unfair to hold us responsible for something we didn't do.

What is at stake here is the question of original sin and how it is imputed (attributed or ascribed) to us. In article 15 of The Belgic Confession we confess what we believe about original sin. We say:

We believe that by the disobedience of Adam original sin has spread throughout the whole human race. It is a corruption of the entire nature of man and a hereditary evil which infects even infants in their mother's womb. As a root it produces in man all sorts of sin. It is, therefore, so vile and abominable in the sight of God that it is sufficient to condemn the human race. It is not abolished nor eradicated even by baptism, for sin continually streams forth like water welling up from this woeful source. Yet, in spite of all this, original sin is not imputed to the children of God to their condemnation but by His grace and mercy is forgiven them. This does not mean that the believers may sleep peacefully in their sin, but that the awareness of this corruption may make them often groan as they eagerly wait to be delivered from this body of death…

In order to understand the question of how we can legitimately be held responsible for Adam's sin, we should first understand that Adam was the head or the representative of the whole human race. He acted for us. You can compare it to how the head of a nation acts for the citizens of his country. Imagine our prime minister, the Rt. Hon. Mr. Brian Mulroney, visiting a third world country and offering it financial aid. He might say: “We, the people of Canada, promise to give you twelve million dollars of aid next year.” In such a case Mr. Mulroney acts for each citizen of Canada, whether or not we like it. In the same way Adam acted on our behalf, whether or not we like it. He represented the whole human race when he sinned.

We want to object to that idea. We want to say: “I wasn't there! I wasn't in Paradise! I didn't commit that original sin!” We want to say that, but we shouldn't. For the Bible teaches that as Adam is our representative when it comes to original sin, Jesus Christ is our representative when it comes to salvation. We were not in Paradise – true enough. But neither were we on Golgotha. And yet Christ represented us on Golgotha. We were “in Christ” as he hung, nailed to the cross. In Romans 5:18, 19 the apostle Paul wrote:

Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous.

In 1 Corinthians 15:22 Paul wrote: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” In the same way as Adam is the head of the human race unto sin and death, so Christ is the head of a new human race unto life for all who believe in him.

The Bible teaches that we do share in the guilt of Adam. Because he represented the whole human race when he sinned, we are all guilty of that original sin. However, the great comfort we have is that God sent another Adam, a second Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our new representative. He is innocent, sinless. Because he now represents all who believe in him, God declares believers not guilty.

The Bible also teaches that Adam's sin pollutes us. As Job said in Job 14:4: “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one.” Because Adam and Eve become unclean by the original sin, they could not produce clean (sinless) children. As we confess in article 15 of our confession, the sin of our first parents is a hereditary evil which infects even infants in their mother's womb. Some diseases can be passed on from parents to children. E.g., if a parent has Huntington's disease, each child has a 50 percent chance of developing the disease as well. The disease called Original Sin is even more virulent. Each child has a 100 percent chance of developing it. Original sin is an evil root which causes each of us to sin our own personal actual sins. Original sin is a woeful source which gushes forth only contaminated water.

But there is good news. Our Lord saves us from our actual sins as well. Not only does he save us from the guilt of sin; he also saves us from the pollution of sin. You see, the Holy Spirit can do something that men and women cannot do. Men and women cannot bring a clean thing out of an unclean (Job 14:4). But the Holy Spirit can, and did! He brought the clean Jesus out of Mary. By faith we are grafted into Jesus Christ. In John 15 the Lord Jesus says that he is the vine and that we are the branches. By faith we become part of him. We become one with Christ. Just like the branches of a vine receive life from the vine itself, so we receive new life from our Lord Jesus. His life flows to us. The holy and perfect life of Jesus Christ flows towards us and through us. The Holy Spirit makes this happen. We can only have it by faith.

There is bad news and there is good news:

  • First, Adam was our representative when he sinned. We are guilty of his sin. But Jesus Christ was our representative when he was perfectly obedient. We are innocent in him.
  • Second, the sin of Adam pollutes us. It turns us into sinners. But, by faith, we are grafted into Jesus Christ. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ begins a process of sanctification in us. The Spirit makes us begin to hate our sin and to love serving God in obedience.

And he makes us look forward to the day when Christ shall deliver us forever from the ugly chains of sin.

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